The Battle of Queenston Heights was a British victory. Of the captured American soldiers it was determined that 23 were former British soldiers who were charged as deserters.

Is there a reliable list of their names? Were other captured Americans accused of being deserters?

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    BTW: If you are interested in this primarily for the purpose of doing geneology research rather than historical curiousity, I might suggest long-term your questions may be better asked on the Genealogy stack. They should be much better than we are at knowing how to dig out life details of specific mundane people from what records exist today. Its kinda their thing.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 14, 2016 at 21:25
  • @T.E.D.: I'm writing a book on early Detroit, 1780 to 1830, through the stories of people who came there, how and why they came, and the changes decade by decade. These are the stories of regular people; many happen to be relatives, but it's not intended as family history. Apr 15, 2016 at 1:56
  • You can be sure your ancestor was not among those 23. They were not returned to the U.S. until 9 July 1815(from Memoirs of Lieut.-General Scott, LL.D.), so none could not have been present at the Battle of Lake Erie.
    – justCal
    Apr 15, 2016 at 16:41
  • @user2448131: thanks for the book reference; I already knew that he wasn't in this group, but this "famous" incident is part of the context of his story. I'd like to trace any of these 23 that had lived in Detroit. Apr 15, 2016 at 16:49

3 Answers 3


I didn't find the names themselves, but the practice of the British claiming anyone born on British soil as 'deserters' caused a lot of controversy, with U.S. also taking 'hostage' prisoners, and the British claiming more 'deserters' from a later battle as well.

You can be sure your ancestor was not among those Original 23. They were not returned to the U.S. until 9 July 1815(from Memoirs of Lieut.-General Scott, LL.D.), so none could have been present at the Battle of Lake Erie.

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    I read the chapter in Scott's Memoirs, where he referred to Mansfield's [The Life of General Winfield Scott] (archive.org/stream/lifeofgeneralwin01mans#page/56/mode/2up/…), published 1846, where chapter 5 is devoted to this topic, with references to original documents. A note on p. 57 has the desired list of names of the 23 Irishmen. This is the sought after list, with references to the original documents! Bravo! Apr 16, 2016 at 0:27

Picking up on the theme of National Archives War Office records, you might have some luck with WO 28/304, "General Orders issued on behalf of the Commander of the Forces in Canada [Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost] by the Adjutant General's Office at the headquarters in Quebec.", covering 20 February to 18 October 1812.

WO 28/303 (similar records from a slightly different department) goes up to 25 August 1812, which probably means it won't contain what you're after, but there's a slim possibility it'd be useful.

WO 28/304: The orders cover the following subjects: [...] courts martial [...] exchange of prisoners of war [...] surrender of Detroit [p.163]

It feels like there's a reasonable chance names will be listed there, or at the very least some form of clear indication of whether sailors as well as soldiers were captured and identified. No guarantees, of course, but it's a start.

Another potentially useful resource is WO 90, "registers from the Judge Advocate General's Office of general courts martial confirmed abroad from the end of the eighteenth century", but this is several volumes long and there does not appear to be an index to it.

Again, though, you'll have to get someone to do the copying for you; it's not yet digitised. Paying for an entire volume on spec is going to be expensive; going yourself (if in the UK) or commissioning a researcher might be cheaper.

It's also possible that we're chasing a red herring by looking at War Office court-martial records. The services were very demarcated in those days, to the point of answering to different ministries, and it's quite plausible that the Army wouldn't have wanted to try a sailor (or a marine?) even had they caught an admitted deserter. He might have been slung in the back of a cart and handed over to more appropriate authorities as and when convenient - which means he might appear in the Admiralty court-martial records.

In that case, ADM 12/27F seems to be an "Index and digest of court martial verdicts", 1812-1855; there are also two "Index and Register of Courts Martial", ADM 13/103 (1803-1856) and ADM 13/104 (1812-1856). It seems likely that if court-martialled by the Navy, he would be named in there. Once you've found an index entry, more detailed papers appear to be stored on a monthly basis in ADM 1 - eg/ ADM 1/5429 covers August 1812. But until you know what month it happened, looking in these might not be very productive.

It's worth noting that there were no individual records for ratings in those days; if you knew what ship he deserted from, you could look at its records and see if he's named. But with only a rough date and potentially any ship which called in North America in that timeframe, this is certainly a dead end.

  • "Commissioning a researcher" still sounds expensive. I wonder if this is a situation where Mechanical Turk might come in handy.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 14, 2016 at 21:20
  • @T.E.D. sadly not - it's basically paying someone to sit in the reading rooms for you! If it were digitised and MT could get at it, you could look through them yourself... Apr 14, 2016 at 21:31
  • I think you didn't click the link. MT is sort of an "uber" for general work. Of historical interest, the name is a reference to a fake Chess-playing "machine" from the 18th century, that actually had a real human in it. Point being, yes, MT uses real humans.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 14, 2016 at 21:37
  • I'm familiar with MT, but my understanding is that it's entirely online piecework, rather than a general job marketplace - it's not really intended for tasks where you're sending someone to a specific place to do offline work. Apr 14, 2016 at 21:43
  • @Andrew: I spent three days reading digitized microfilm from the Canadian Archives last year; plus many days at archives in southeastern Michigan. Archive research requires a definite direction, or you do, indeed, turn into a "Mechanical Turk", just reading through stuff mechanically. My approach is to find an appropriate resource, understand how it was created, and then search it systematically. Using this technique I found court records dated 1798-1802 from Detroit for several relatives; they were all the complainants. They were in the archived notes for a book published in 1935! Apr 14, 2016 at 21:50

It looks like the UK National Archives does contain records of desertions, but perhaps only as far back as the 1812. Still, it might be worth a look if you have access to it somehow (your local library, and in particular your local Librarian may be able to help).

It does appear that desertion was the most common reason for calling a court-martial in the British Army during the Revolutionary War. This included even the Hessian soldiers. This webpage makes the claim that a sixth (5K out of 30K) of the Hessians deserted to the USA. You'd think it would be even easier for an English-speaking soldier. So it stands to reason that lots of these British deserters were more successful than their unfortunate court-martialed brethren.

You'd think that not many of these people would push their luck by joining another (much less well-run) army, but its possible that for many soldiering was their only real skill.

  • I'm looking for an actual list; the UK National Archives probably has the information, but this requires a trip to Kew, in London! I'll review the information, and get back to you. Thanks for the link to the blog, it looks promising. Apr 14, 2016 at 19:52
  • @a25bedc5-3d09-41b8-82fb-ea6c353d75ae TNA will digitise material on request; it's not incredibly cheap but probably cheaper than going to London! Alternatively there's plenty of researchers who will make copies for you on commission at an hourly rate. However, my feeling is that the WO/ records won't help much - these are War Office, ie Army, desertion records, not Admiralty, which would have naval records; and they seem to be arranged on a regimental basis. Apr 14, 2016 at 20:27
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    Ah, sorry. I missed the fact that you were primarily interested in Naval records, as it wasn't in your question (which talked entirely about soldiers). I do see it down there in your bounty now, near the end of the text.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 14, 2016 at 21:18

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