Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Runchey's Company of Coloured Men, 1812

The British did leave us the names of the men who served in what became known as ‘Captain Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men’. Runchey’s Company was a part of the small group of soldiers that fought the first wave of American invaders at Fort George on May 27, 1813 according to Bob Foley’s book, War of 1812. Casualties were high and the British regulars and the Canadian Militia were forced to withdraw.

I didn’t have much time to look at the list of names as I’m still working my way through the 2nd Lincoln Regiment, but I did jot down a few interesting points. (For more information, the Mayholme Genealogy and Historical Foundation is open Thursdays and Fridays from 10 to 5 or by appointment. The phone number is 905-934-1173. All they ask is a $5.00 donation.)

Richard Pierpoint was apparently captured by slave traders in Senegal when he was about 16 years old and sent to North America. Once here he was sold to a British officer.

Slavery’s gradual abolition in Canada began in the late 1700s, but when Pierpoint was freed and how he got to Canada was not recorded. It would have been before or around 1776 because the record notes that he fought with Butler’s Rangers during the American Revolution.

Decades later he was the person who suggested the formation of a company of ‘coloured’ soldiers to help defend the Peninsula during the War of 1812. He must have been about 50 by that time but nevertheless took up arms to defend his new country. He was granted 200 acres in Grantham for his service and became the first black settler in the area. He died in Grantham in September of 1838.

The soldiers in Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men wore a grey great coat, black gaiters and breeches, a felt cap with a plume and a green jacket with yellow facing.


As I have typed my way through the list of local men who served in the 2nd Lincoln Militia during the War of 1812 I have noticed a high number of desertions. Most of the entries on the list don’t specify why the men left the regiment or what happened to them. I just assumed that as most of them had been farmers who lived in the area, they had simply gone home when it was necessary to look after things. I imagined that they must have driven the highly trained British officers around the bend, but I didn’t imagine that the punishment would have been severe.

I have reached the names on the list that begin with the letter M and it’s the first time I have come across the comment that someone ‘deserted to the enemy’. That made me sit up a little straighter but it was the fate of Private McMillan that gave me the greatest shock. The notation after his name said ‘shot for desertion, Oct. 1814’.

Shooting a local man wouldn’t have endeared the British to the people living in Niagara. What could have happened? Were the British fed up with the unorthodox comings and goings of the militia men? Was McMillan the last straw? Did some Brit decide to show the local farmers they meant business or did McMillan do something that jeopardized the safety of the populace? Sadly nothing more is recorded.

This is the fifth of eight of my 7th Decade Girl blogs. By far this one held the greatest number of surprises. It also left me with the most unanswered questions. If I ever get to the National Archives in Ottawa I’ll try to find out why young Private McMillan was shot.

Till later,

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