Extra Duty and Literacy Among the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot

By Steve Baule, 55th Foot

The general inclination is to believe that the average British redcoat was not only blindly obedient to orders from his foppish officers, but that he was not too bright. Few sources have ever been able to give an insight into the literacy rate among the red-coated private. Though not intended to be an experimental sample, the extra duty pay list for Lieutenant Colonel Wilkin's Company of the 18th Foot from January 1 to June 30th, 1774 does give some insight into the literacy rate among the troops stationed in Illinois.

The pay list includes the names of twenty-seven enlisted soldiers. Walter Elliot, listed on the paysheet as overseer, prepared the pay list and was a sergeant in the Royal Irish. He was paid for his additional work at a rate of 1/6 per day (that being one shilling, six pence). Two of the soldiers are listed as artificers and were paid at the rate of 1/3 per day. Walker (first name illegible) was listed as waggoner and paid at the rate of 1/0 per day. He is the only soldier who had not signed or made his mark on the pay list. The other twenty-three soldiers are all listed as laborers and paid 0/10 per day. All the above were paid in New York Currency.

The civilian artificers hired by Captain Lord were paid at the rate of one dollar a day plus provisions. He wrote to Gage that he would have otherwise have had to pay them at the rate of one and a half dollars a day (Lord to Gage Nov. 13, 1772). This pay rate was equivalent to 8 New York shillings a day.

Only the waggoner worked the full 181 days. Walter Elliot was paid for ninety days as the overseer. The artificers worked for ninety-five and twelve days respectively. The laborers worked for as many as eight or as few as two except for John Loage, a literate man, who only worked one and a half days for 1/8 in compensation. He would have earned as much at a private's rate of pay, after deductions, in only ten days. You must wonder why soldiers would volunteer for extra duty?

The duties performed during this period most likely included upkeep on the palisade, repair of the batteau kept at the post, and work on the building's roofs. All of the former repair work or need for such was listed in letters between Captain Hugh Lord, commanding in Illinois for the 18th Regiment and General Thomas Gage. Though Gage's original correspondence made it clear no work should be done, Lord is later told: "if there is anything that needs to be done either for the convenience of the troops or the security of your post, you will have it executed without delay (Lord to Gage, June 10, 1772, Gage to Lord Aug. 30, 1772, and Gage to Lord, Feb. 20, 1773)".

While extra duty for "the King's Work at Fort Gage" was not uncommon, the amount of signatures on the pay list is. Only thirteen of the soldiers acknowledged their pay with a mark. The other twelve signed their own names. This would lead to a literacy rate among the company of nearly fifty percent. This appears to be a higher rate of literacy than normally suspected among the redcoats.

More on the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot's Illinois Garrison in later issues.


Letters listed appear in the Gage Papers held by the Clement's Library in Ann Arbor, MI.
The Pay List is held by the Illinois State Historical Society Library in Springfield, IL.