Royal Irish Regiment of Foot

The Women of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment

The women of the Royal Irish Regiment are more difficult to find in the historical record than the soldiers of the regiment. However, since time immemorial women have followed the army. The time period from 1767 to 1776 was no different. We are able to find glimpses of the women of the regiment in a wide range of records, from courts-martial to laundry bills. Some of the women are mentioned only briefly. Others seem to have been quiet workers and still some were scandalous in their behavior.

One of the most interesting women to be associated with the Royal Irish was definitely, Elizabeth House Trist, a young lady from Philadelphia who fell in love with Nicholas Trist, an ensign in the regiment. They most likely met near the boarding house that her mother ran. In 1774, it was serving the members of the First Continental Congress. Among those members was Thomas Jefferson. Elizabeth seems to have served as a nanny while his family was in Philadelphia. After the death of her husband, Jefferson took a paternal interest in Trist and she lived the end of her life at Monticello. She left a travel diary of her journey to meet her husband in Louisiana at the end of the war.

Mary Shaw, variously married to several men of the regiment, was clearly a thorn in the side of the officers. She was charged with keeping a tipling house outside the barracks at Philadelphia and otherwise adding to the disorders of the regiment. She had previously accused one of the officers of attempted rape while still in Ireland. Three different regimental orders remain extant to state the men of the Royal Irish were forbidden to enter her home, including her own husband. Shaw was likewise banded from the barracks. It must have been an interesting marriage.

At the other end of the knowledge spectrum, is a "mulatto wench about 28 to 30 years of age, well set and active" who was to have gone off with Mark Wiley, a private of the Royal Irish, who twice deserted. Unfortunately, her owner, Persifor Frazer, doesn't even provide her name in the advertisement in May 1773. Wiley would return to the Royal Irish and be discharged in December 1773. He was to have had a wife near Wilmington as well.

In between the extremes, we know that 12 women died in the first two months of service in Illinois while 3 officers, 25 men and 15 children also perished. According to QM Buttricke, "nearly all the women and 37 children" died in the first year in Illinois. However in 1770, at least 13 more women arrived with Stainforth's Coy, which is certainly more than the 4-6 women allowed to a company of foot in many contemporary orders.

Again, a goal of this enterprise is to identify and accurately interpret the lives of the women of the regiment.


Hagist, D. (2002). Women in the British Army during the Revolution
Rees, J. (2002). "the multitude of women..." (focused on women with the Continental Army)


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