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Women in Garrision in Upper Canada


"It was normally quite typical for soldiers' daughters to marry other soldiers.   At that time,  soldiers were considered to be at the very bottom of the social scale.  Civilians normally avoided them, you didn't want your son becoming  a soldier and you didn't want your daughter marrying one. There was a definite stigma attached to the common enlisted man.  A modern parallel might be "Hells Angels."  People generally avoid contact with them, most don't want there sons joining or their daughters fraternizing.  Not so for the officers who were courted by the upper classes of Canada who would be pleased as punch to have a daughter married to an officer.   Soldiers could only marry with their commanding officer's permission and officers normally discouraged marriage.  Regulations permitted six men per company to have their wives and children live in barracks on rations.  Women were given half rations and children were on a sliding scale depending on age. Children could be supported in this way until the age of 14 when they were considered old enough "to shift for themselves."  In most regiments,  a regimental school which taught the soldiers their three "r's" was extended to their children.  The idea was that the children would become more employable if educated.  Wives and families could stay in barracks as long as their husbands were with the regiment.  If the husband died, the women and children had to apply to the Military Secretary and Commander in Chief to stay on rations.  They would be shipped back to Montreal, to Quebec and ultimately back to the British Isles on the first available government ship and be given passage money to return to the parish in which their husband enlisted.  Many chose to marry another soldier before going through that hardship. Many of the girls married before the age of 14 to stay on rations. The same deal, by the way, went for a soldier whose wife died.  The children would be shipped back to his home parish.  This could be a very unpleasant surprise for the relatives eking out a questionable existence in Ireland or Scotland when half a dozen of Private O'Whatever's children land on their doorstep!  Often the husband would remarry before his children were shipped off.  We also see cases of the children adopted by other married couples in a soldier's company.  Most officers were compassionate enough to bend the regulations.

We know that many soldiers had their wives and children with them at posts in Upper Canada--Kingston, York, George, Erie, Amherstburg and St. Joseph. They do not seem to have gone with their husband on detached duty so that,
for example, when the flankers of the 49th were posted to Queenston prior to the American invasion which resulted in the Battle of Queenston Heights, they seem to have arrived without their wives who were presumably left back at Fort George. Same thing when Brock brought men from George to Amherstburg for the capture of Detroit.  HQ issued an ordnance just after the war began to the effect that wives should be shipped from posts in Upper Canada to Lower Canada unless they were serving as nurses.  They were to be shipped back by the first available transport.  We know that there were many wives
and children at Fort George when it was captured on May 27, 1813, so the orders must have been ignored to a large extent.  However, I think that they were enforced for regiments being sent to Upper Canada after the issuing of this ordnance. I suspect that the families of the 100th and others would have stayed in Lower Canada while the men marched to Upper Canada.  I am
equally sure that there would have been exceptions.  Women had proven invaluable as laundresses and as nurses.  Soldiers paid to have their laundry done by other soldiers' wives.  This kept them in clean linen and the soldier and wife with enough income to clothe and properly feed their children.  Clothing in particular was very costly.  Consider that a few yards of simple cotton for a dress could cost as much as 30 shillings--a soldier's take-home-pay for two months!  Linen was a little less expensive but still costly enough that soldiers' women normally only had one dress protected by an apron.  The dress would actually be turned inside out and resewn when worn to present unfaded fabric.  Scrap cloth was kept for patching and making children's clothing.  Tough life!

At least in Upper Canada the women were supplied with shelter.  At the same time in the Pensinsular war. wives and children followed Wellington's army.The men did not even have tents but slept in the rough under blankets etc along with their families.
 

-Extracted from a message from Ron Dale, January 2004