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The Bowmaster and Sullivan Families

By William J. Flynn

The first forefathers of the Bowmaster and Sullivan families to settle in Canada were military men from the Royal West India Rangers.

Private Michael Sullivan enlisted into the Rangers for unlimited service on 11th December 1816, aged 26. Michael was a deserter from his previous regiment, the 62nd Foot. He was born in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland and was a labourer by trade. He was five feet six inches tall with dark hair, grey eyes, fair complexion and a slender build.

Sergeant Henry Bowmaster (Heinrich Bauermeister) enlisted 7th January 1808 for unlimited service and was a commuted man from the King’s German Legion. Commuted men in these cases means men who were sent abroad in commutation of punishment or instead of being brought to trial for offences which they may have committed in their former regiments. These men, together with deserters and men convicted of civil offences, were sent to the army depot at Albany on the Isle of Wight (off the south coast of England), where they would be drafted into regiments like the Royal West India Regiment of Rangers. Henry was born in Norgatton, Hanover, Germany. He was aged 22 on joining and was five feet two inches tall and a labourer by trade. Henry had light hair with grey eyes, a fair complexion and was of slender build. Further research shows that Heinrich Bauermeister (Henry Bowmaster was the anglicised version of his name) was recruited into the King’s German Legion on 27th November 1804, aged 19 years. The Kings German Legion was formed to protect the Kingdom of Hanover which was under the rule of the King of England during the period of the Napoleonic War.

The reason for his dismissal from the KGL has not been determined. Both Henry and Michael Sullivan were discharged at Saint John, New Brunswick on 24th June 1819 when & where their regiment was disbanded.

Michael Sullivan was accompanied by his wife Ellen Elizabeth and 3 children. Ellen’s family name has not been determined as yet.

Henry was accompanied by his wife Sarah (Everett) and 3 children. Sarah was from Milton Bryant, Bedfordshire, England. Since Henry and Sarah’s brother William were both sergeants in the Royal West India Rangers one can imagine that this is how he met Sarah. Henry and Sarah’s son Henry was born on route from St. Kitts, West Indies, to Saint John, N.B.

William Everett, Sarah’s brother was born in Milton Bryant in Bedfordshire and joined the Rangers as a deserter from the 82nd Foot on 15th December 1813.

The Royal West India Rangers were formed in October 1806, when the African Corps, a regiment originally raised in 1800 (for the defence of the Island of Goree in West Africa) and known as Fraser’s Corp of Infantry was divided into two regiments. The Royal African Corps (as they were now titled) remained in Africa while the other, The Royal West India Rangers, were sent to the West Indies. The Rangers remained solely in the West Indies, taking part in the campaigns in St. Kitts, Antigua, Barbados and also saw action on the island of Guadeloupe before embarking for Canada and eventual disbandment at Saint John, New Brunswick. The Rangers recruited mainly from men held at the British Army depot at Albany where deserters and men sentenced to General Service in the army for civil crimes were held. There were also large numbers of deserters and prisoners from Napoleon’s army in the Peninsula being held at Albany.

You might think that this all sounds bad but you have to understand the conditions these men and their wives and children as well endured while in the West Indies and then settling in the forested land of the north west portion of New Brunswick. On route to the West Indies many died of typhoid and in the West Indies men were dying in droves from malaria and yellow fever. The living accommodations were poor, especially for women and children, few of whom came with their husbands. Soldiers were given a daily ration of rum which in the early days was contaminated with lead from the distilling process. The soldier’s belief was that the rum prevented yellow fever but the alcohol resulted in many of the soldiers suffering from diseases associated with alcoholism, cirrhosis etc. The death rates from disease from the years 1793 to 1815 have been reported as high as 41% and total deaths over this period in the neighbourhood of 65,000 men. The regiments were plagued with deserters as well. This was attributed to the soldiers being permanently stationed there with no relief from the harsh conditions and diseases, it was their only escape.

On route to Saint John the 3 ships, Abeona, the Buena and the Starr docked in Halifax harbour for a month with all passengers confined to ship. On arriving in Saint John on June 10, 1819 these were anxious people and reports are that many of the soldiers who didn’t accept land spent the pittance of 10 pounds sterling that they were given on booze in the city. These men in many cases ended up on the welfare roles of the parish.

The families who accepted the land grants in what was called Ranger Settlement were taken up the Saint John River in flat bottom boats referred to as bateaux by the Acadians. This was a long journey but after the time on the ships it was reported a relief to them. The settlers were dropped off at their lots by the middle of July 1819 with some supplies. Many of them spent the first two winters at the barracks in Presque Isle and the children were reported to be very ill the first couple of years in the settlement.

Through history mankind has endured hardships that one wonders how they survived it and had the strength and courage to keep going. None could have been much worse that what these men, women and children endured and current generation owe them a debt of gratitude for this.

Little history has been written about the Royal West India Rangers. It appears that the importance of their service to England has been discounted because of the nature of the recruitment for the regiments. Hopefully this will be corrected sometime in the future and these people will be given their rightful place in history of honour and dignity.

For reading more detailed reports the following books are available:

The British Army in the West Indies by Norman Roger Buckley, available through inter-library loan there is a copy at Queen’s University Library in Kingston, Ont.

The Famished The Hungry and the Cold, a report written by Ernest Clarke for the Carleton County Historical Society, available through inter-library loan from the Hartland, N.B. Public Library.

These two men successfully managed to plant their roots in the Perth/Andover area, Medford, Tilley in particular and their descendants number in the thousands. Many still live in the area, others have moved to other parts of New Brunswick, across Canada and to the U.S. They can be found in all walks of life, nurses, teachers, lawyers, trades people, factory workers etc.

This article was written by William J. Flynn for his wife Emily’s family tree. She is a direct descendant of both of the above men, 6th generation.

November 5, 2007.