Posts Tagged ‘American War of Independence’

The United States declared war on Britain in 1812 when all Britain’s attention was focussed on, and resources stretched, fighting Napoleon’s French, who had subjugated much of Europe. Many factors were involved but essentially it was an attempt by the Americans to grab more or all of British North America (Canada) while Britain was occupied elsewhere. So Britain had to fight a war on two fronts, on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a long and fascinating story, at one point the British captured Washington D.C. and burnt the White House; the Americans were only saved by a huge storm which forced the British to withdraw. The war dragged on the two and a half years before being formally ended by the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814, although fighting continued into early 1815.

Throughout all this time the Royal Navy was actively involved, blockading the American coast, fighting American ships and landing troops on the coasts. One young Royal navy Lieutenant involved in all of this was a certain Charles Grisdale. Charles was most likely involved when a fleet of some 30 warships sailed out of Negril Bay, Jamaica on 26 November, 1814. ‘The fleet under command of Admiral Cochrane moved into the Gulf of Mexico ready to attack New Orleans. Cochrane’s fleet was transporting 14,450 British troops who had recently been fighting in the Napoleonic wars in France and Spain.’

Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans. January 1815

Perhaps Charles Grisdale was injured at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, whatever the case shortly thereafter Charles was back in Jamaica where he boarded the ‘postal packet’ Princess Mary bound for Falmouth in England.

But shortly after leaving Jamaica the ship ‘experienced the most dreadful weather’, in fact a ‘hurricane’, during which it ‘was struck by lightning… by which Lieutenant Charles Grisdale, of the Royal Navy, was killed, and several of the crew seriously injured’.

Princess Mary

Princess Mary

The newspapers reported the ‘instantaneous’ death after the Princess Mary arrived in England and mentioned Charles’ father, the Reverend Benjamin Grisdale of Withington in Gloucestershire. When Benjamin and his family heard of Charles death in their Rectory in Withington they must have been devastated. Whether Charles was buried at sea or brought back to England I don’t know, I presume the former.

Charles was only twenty-two and Benjamin’s first born child. He was named after Benjamin’s close friend General Charles Cornwallis, the commander of the British forces which had surrendered to George Washington’s Americans at Yorktown in 1781. Benjamin had been a long-time chaplain in the British Army and served throughout the American War of Independence; he was with Cornwallis at Yorktown. I wrote about him in a story called Rev Benjamin Grisdale and the siege of Yorktown 1781.

But in 1815 Benjamin still had three other living sons: Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William (1807), another son had died in infancy. He and his wife Elizabeth Unwin also had two daughters, all born in Withington Rectory. But before his death in 1828 aged eighty-four, Benjamin would have another tragedy. His next oldest living son, Edmund, had joined the Indian Army been made an Ensign then a Lieutenant and was shipped with his regiment to Bombay in 1819. But on 4 December 1820 Edmund died at Surat. We don’t know the circumstances of his death – I suspect he died of something like malaria rather than in battle.

Bombay 1820

Bombay 1820

Before I tell of the fate of Benjamin’s other children after his death I would like to say a little about his family and particularly that of his younger brother Browne Grisdale.

Both boys were the sons of Matterdale-born Benjamin Grisdale and his wife Anne Browne. They were born in Threlkeld, the next-door parish to Matterdale – Benjamin in 1744 and Browne in 1750. I don’t yet know which Grammar School they attended; it might have been St. Bees or Barton, or possibly Carlisle where Browne was later headmaster. But no doubt with the help of their uncle, Joseph Browne, who was both the provost of Queen’s College and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, they both went to study to be priests at Queen’s College in Oxford.

Joseph Browne was elected Fellow 1 April 1731, and became a successful tutor; took the degree of D.D. 9 July 1743, and was presented by the college with the living of Bramshot, Hampshire, in 1746. In that year, he was appointed Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy and held that office until his death. He was instituted prebendary of Hereford Cathedral on 9 June of the same year (he was later called into residence), and on 13 February 1752 was collated to the chancellorship of the cathedral.

On 3 December 1756, Browne was elected Provost of Queen’s College. From 1759 to 1765 he held the office of Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He had a severe stroke of palsy 25 March 1765, and died on 17 June 1767.

In 1776, while his older brother Benjamin was still in America with the army, Browne by now a priest and schoolmaster in Carlisle, married Ann Dockray in St. Cuthbert’s church in Carlisle. Five children followed, one after the other: Joseph Browne 1777, named after the Rev Joseph Browne, Mary Ann 1778, Elizabeth 1779, John 1780 and Caroline 1782.

Carlisle Cathedral - where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Carlisle Cathedral – where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Of course this family had sprung from yeoman farming stock in Matterdale, but Browne and his brother had both gone to Oxford and entered the priesthood and so other courses were expected of their children. Both of Browne’s sons, Joseph and John, were pupils at Carlisle Grammar School where their father was first a teacher and then headmaster. Browne himself later became the Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle and a powerful local Justice of the Peace.

Son Joseph entered the army and became a Lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot, which was posted to the island of Minorca in 1800 as part of the long struggle with Napoleon. And there he died in early 1801, aged just twenty-three. In April 1801 an announcement appeared in The Monthly Magazine which, under ‘Deaths Abroad’, reported:

At Minorca, J. B. Grisdale, esq, lieutenant in the 17th regiment of foot, much lamented by his brother officers.

I wrote of Joseph in a story called Death in Minorca.

Browne’s younger son John on leaving Carlisle Grammar School (where he was a bit of a star) had gone to Christ’s College, Cambridge and won the second highest prize in mathematics. John had first entered Trinity College in 1799 but switched the following year to Christ’s. His decision to move to Christ’s was probably connected with Dr William Paley. Paley had graduated from Christ’s in 1763 as “senior wrangler”, became a tutor at Christ’s and since 1782 had been Archdeacon of Carlisle Cathedral and a colleague and friend of John’s father Browne Grisdale.

I told John’s story in an article called Alas how false our hopes! – the short life of John Grisdale.

Christ's College, Cambridge

Christ’s College, Cambridge

Not to repeat the story here, but John became at lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn in London but died suddenly ‘in his office’ there in 1812, aged just thirty-two. His father Browne, the Chancellor of Carlisle, died two years later

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Down in Gloucestershire, Browne’s brother Benjamin, the Rector of Withington, would have heard of his nephews’ deaths with sadness. But then as we have seen he was soon to experience the deaths of two of his own sons: Royal Navy officer Charles returning from Jamaica in 1815 and army officer Edmund in Bombay in 1820.

What became of Benjamin’s other sons – Henry and William?

Henry followed a career path I don’t yet know, but on 27 June 1829 the Oxford Journal reported that ’an inquest was held at Withington, Gloucestershire, by Joseph Mountain, gent. coroner, on the 10th..  (for) Mr. Henry Grisdale, who, in a fit of temporary insanity, destroyed himself with a razor’

When I get a copye of the inquest report we will know more of Henry and his suicide.

After attending Rugby School youngest son William had followed his father and uncle and studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. He became a curate at Cubberley in Gloucestershire where his brother-in-law William Hicks was Rector. (William Hicks had married Mary Grisdale in 1833.) But in August 1841 William died in Cubberley Rectory aged just thirty-four – I don’t know the circumstances.

Cubberley Church

Cubberley Church

So the upshot of all this tragedy and death is that not one of the six sons of the ‘successful’ cleric brothers, Benjamin and Browne Grisdale, had survived long enough to have families of their own! There are no descendants bearing the Grisdale name.

On another occasion I might tell something of the daughters. Brown’s daughter Mary Anne married the Reverend Walter Fletcher who became Browne Grisdale’s successor as Chancellor of Carlisle. Benjamin’s daughter Mary married the Rev William Hicks of Cubberley as already mentioned.

On the 19th October 1781 the British and German forces besieged at Yorktown, Virginia commanded by General Lord Charles Cornwallis “having little ammunition, food and supplies left” agreed to surrender to the French and American armies, the latter under General George Washington. Cornwallis had been waiting for a relief force under General Henry Clinton, but it came five days too late. The British and Germans marched out into captivity with their colours furled, the drummers playing a British march, reputedly (but in no way proved to have been) The World Turned Upside Down. This defeat led to Britain eventually acquiescing to American independence and the creation of the United States. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. But not far from Cornwallis on this day in 1781 would have been his good friend Benjamin Grisdale from Matterdale in Cumberland. One more example of how members of this small rural family seem to have spread throughout the world and been present at some key moments in history.

Surrender at Yorktown 1781

Benjamin Grisdale was born in Threlkeld in Matterdale and was baptized there on the 21st February 1744. He was the son of Benjamin Grisdale and Ann Browne. Benjamin followed a route already well trodden by the clever children of poor Cumberland families. He was probably a pupil at the Free Grammar School at Barton in Westmorland and entered Queen’s College, Oxford University in 1760 to study Divinity, aged 15. His maternal uncle Joseph Browne had been educated at Barton School and Queen’s College and was later to become the University’s Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy.

Benjamin received his BA from Oxford in 1764 and his MA in 1767. His brother the Rev Dr Browne Grisdale would follow the same route to Oxford and to ordination and was subsequently to become “Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty”, “Chancellor” of Carlisle and a powerful Justice of the Peace.

On the 22nd February 1768, shortly after receiving his MA, and probably through connections he had made at Oxford, Benjamin became the Chaplain of the British army’s elite infantry regiment: the 33rd Regiment of Foot, commanded by Colonel Charles Cornwallis, the “Earl Cornwallis”. For its conduct, professionalism and discipline during the War of Independence the regiment was later given the nickname ‘The Pattern’. One Sergeant commented:

I am bound to record here that I have felt a certain shamefacedness, on visiting the barracks of the 33rd Regiment, who were commanded by the young Earl of Cornwallis, to compare their high state of appointment and the steadiness of their discipline with the slovenly and relaxed bearing of most of our own companies. One can always correctly judge a regiment by the behaviour of its sentries. I have seen men go on duty in the 9th dead drunk and scarcely able to stand, but with the 33rd the sentry was always alert and alive in attention; when on duty, he was all eye, all ear… During the two hours he remained at this post the sentry continued in constant motion and could not have walked less than seven miles in that time. The 33rd thus set a standard of soldier like duty which made me secretly dissatisfied with the 9th, and which I have never since seen equalled but by a single other regiment [the 23rd RWF] which was brigaded with the 33rd under the same Cornwallis in the later campaigns of the American War. – Sjt. Roger Lamb, 23rd RWF

We know nothing of Benjamin’s early years in the army but when the American colonies rebelled the 33rd of Foot was sent to help in their repression. Benjamin Grisdale went with them. The 33rd landed at Cape Fear, North Carolina on the 3rd May 1776.

Cornwallis wrote this aboard the HMS Bristol about two weeks before their arrival in America:

I have nothing to inform your lordship of but that our passage has been very tedious and that we are still 370 leagues from our rendezvous at Cape Fear. We have with us twenty ships in company, besides two artillery-ships and four victuallers…. The troops are in general healthy…

The 33rd Regiment of Foot Guards

The regiment saw action almost immediately after landing; starting at the first siege of Charleston, South Carolina in June-July 1776. They then fought in many of the engagements of the American War of Independence: Long Island, NY (August 1776), Harlem Heights, New York (September 1776), Fort Washington, New York (November 1776), Brandywine, Pennsylvania (September 1777), Germantown, Pennsylvania (October 1777), Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania(December 1777), Monmouth, New Jersey (June 1778), the defence of Newport and Quaker Hill, Rhode Island (August 1778),  Old Tappan, New York (September 1778), Charleston, South Carolina (March-May 1780), Camden, South Carolina (August 1780), Wetzell’s Mill, North Carolina (March 1781), Guilford Court House, North Carolina (March 1781), Green Spring, Virginia (July 1781), before arriving in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781.

Benjamin Grisdale was there throughout.

There is much to tell about the exploits of Cornwallis’s regiment over the course of the war, but this story is not about the Americans’ struggle for independence but rather about Benjamin Grisdale himself.

General the Earl Cornwallis

Cornwallis himself was quickly “paroled” after Yorktown and returned to England but many of the men of the 33rd were not so lucky and were to remain in captivity until 1783. It is not known exactly when Chaplain Grisdale was released. But after returning to England and leaving the army, through the benefaction of Queen’s College he was given the “living” of the parish of Chedworth in Gloucestershire in 1785 and, through the intervention of the Cornwallis family, he also received the living of Withington Gloucestershire in 1791.

Benjamin Grisdale and Charles Cornwallis had obviously become good friends during their time together both in England and America, because they were to exchange numerous personal letters when Cornwallis was subsequently posted all over the world and until his death in India 1805. Here is one written by Cornwallis to his friend Benjamin from a “Camp near Banglalore” on September 8th 1791:

Dear Grisdale

In the same packet of letters which contained yours of the 18th December, I found one from Mrs Cornwallis, informing me that she had given you the living at Withington. I trust you will know me too well to doubt the sincerity of the joy which I felt on that occasion: may you long enjoy every comfort and happiness of domestic life.

God know when our war will end, I hope and trust it will be soon, or it will end me; I do mean that I am sick, I have stood a burning sun and cold wind as well as the youngest of them, but I am plagued, and tormented, and wearied to death.

God bless you my dear Grisdale, I have no time to send you news, but can only assure you that I am with great truth,

Your most faithful and affectionate friend,


Benjamin didn’t marry until 1791 when he was 47 His wife was Elizabeth Unwin  the daughter of William Unwin of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. They had seven children: Charles (1793), William (1795), Elizabeth (1797), Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William 1807/8. Of the boys only the second William was still alive in 1841 when he died at Cubberley Rectory in Gloucestershire where he was curate, aged just 34. He had attended Rugby School and followed his father to Queen’s College Oxford.

The Rev Benjamin Grisdale died on 18 June 1828. He had a full life indeed.