VERY RARE 1776 OFFICIAL BRITISH ENLISTMENT CERTIFICATE FOR A DRUMMER BOY, RECRUITING AN ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD BOY INTO THE BRITISH MILITARY ONLY TWO MONTHS BEFORE THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, SIGNED BY THE BOY—“CHAS. HIS X MARK ASHBY”—DECLARING HE “VOLUNTARILY INLISTED [SIC] HIMSELF A DRUMMER, TO SERVE HIS MAJESTY KING GEORGE THE THIRD”
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) ASHBY, Charles. Enlistment document. Charles Town, South Carolina, May 1, 1776. Folio, single leaf of laid paper (measures 6-1/2 by 8 inches), partially printed and accomplished by hand. $6800.
Rare May 1, 1776 Revolutionary War enlistment certificate, dated only two months before the Declaration of Independence, recruiting a young boy in South Carolina to enlist as a drummer boy in the British Royal Regiment of Artillery, with the boy clearly signing an “X” as “his mark… to serve His Majesty King George the Third,” co-signed by a Justice of the Peace, dated the same month British ships closed in on Charleston in what became a failed attempt to anchor their assault north and gain the “active support by the Loyalists, who… had been counted upon as a primary component in the military suppression of the Rebellion” (Tuchman, First Salute).
This exceedingly rare Revolutionary War document, dated May 1, 1776, only two months before the Declaration of Independence, is an official British enlistment certificate for the British “Royal Regiment of Artillery.” Here a young eleven-year-old boy in South Carolina, Charles Ashby, having signed with “his X mark… voluntarily Inlisted [sic] himself a Drummer, to serve his Majesty King George the Third.” Co-signed by William Jones, the Justice of the Peace for “Charles Town in South Carolina,” this extraordinary document is dated the same month British ships neared Charleston harbor in one of the Revolution’s most crucial early battles. “One of the major goals of the British was to capture Charles Towne. From there they felt they could move north and conquer other colonies.” Ultimately their failed attack on the harbor “would keep them from attacking South Carolina until 1780” (Hasen, Primary Source History, 43).
During this Revolutionary period in South Carolina the British Royal Regiment of Artillery was under the command of “George Lord Visc. Townshend,” Master General of Ordance from 1772-1782. Despite the outbreak of war, many colonists remained divided over whether to sever their ties to Britain. In colonies such as South Carolina, where the British aimed to conquer “the area that contained the greatest number of Loyalists in the hope of mobilizing their support,” Britain nevertheless failed “to arouse active support by the Loyalists, who had been expected to rise up and overwhelm their misguided countrymen and had been counted upon as a primary component in the military suppression of the rebellion.” Ultimately when Charlestown finally fell to the British four years later, it would mark America’s “heaviest defeat… [and] threatened to split the South in fatal division from the northern colonies” (Tuchman, First Salute, 151-2, 178-83).
The identity of the young drummer boy named in this certificate remains elusive. Yet whether he was an impressionable young Loyalist, or following the lead of another, or his own convictions, Ashby seems to have been a very young recruit, for “even drummer boys needed stamina. Pre-Revolutionary War British army instruction manuals advised that ‘boys much under 14, unless they are remarkably stout, are rather an incumbrance to a regiment (especially on service) as they are in general unable to bear fatigue, or even carry their drums on a march… In the American army, there might be some boys “as young as nine or ten enlisted in the army, though at that age they were usually enlisting with officer fathers, uncles or family friends.” Nevertheless both British and American officers often “preferred to hang on to their boy soldiers, no matter how young and useless, in order to keep their rosters at maximum strength” (Marten, Children and Youth in a New Nation, 20-21).
The document reads in full: “I, Charles Ashby aged Eleven Years 5 Feet 4 Inches high, by Trade a ‘None’ born [‘in the Parish of’ crossed over] Charles Town [‘in the County of’ crossed over] in South Carolina do acknowledge to have voluntarily Inlisted [sic] myself a Drummer to serve His Majesty King George the Third, in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, commanded by the Right Hon.ble George Lord Visc. Townshend Master General of the Ordinance. Witness my Hand, this First Day of May 1776 [signed] Chas. his X mark Ashby.” [unclear word] (To wit) This is to certify, That Charles Ashby came before me, one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the said County, and acknowledged to have voluntarily Inlisted [sic] himself a Drummer, to serve His Majesty King George the Third, in the above Regiment; and made Oath that he was not an Apprentice, a Militia Man, or a Soldier in any other Corps [italics in original], at the time of his above Inlistment [sic]: And doth acknowledge to have heard read unto him the Second and Sixth Sections of the Articles of War against Mutiny and Desertion, [italics in original] and took the Oath of Fidelity mentioned in the said Articles of War. Sworn before me, this First Day of May 1776. [signed] Wm. Jones.” Docketed on the verso in manuscript: “Attestation of Chas Ashby 1st May 1776” and intitialed “Ent. R.H.”
Printed text and signatures fresh, light soiling, mild foldlines, slight edge-wear to extremely good document. An exceptional Revolutionary War enlistment certificate.