Connecticut Revolutionary War Deserters: An Experiment in Digital History

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Dana Meyer, Eastern Connecticut State University
Desertion is commonplace in war. Historians have tried to ascertain motive and estimate how many soldiers deserted during any given war. However, the numbers used to document desertion rates in secondary studies are often faulty, incomplete, or unsubstantiated. Applying digital tools to Connecticut Revolutionary War desertion provides a preliminary answer to this question. The combination of Muster Roll records along with transcribed newspaper Desertion Ads humanizes the individual deserter, while providing answers to quantifiable inquiries and exposing new research questions.

Until now, the newspaper ads and the Muster Rolls have remained independent primary sources for Revolutionary War desertion. Muster Rolls from the Adjunct Generals Office provided the raw data required to validate my statistical findings. Using the Record of Service of Connecticut Men in the I. War of the Revolution, II. War of 1812, III. Mexican War, I compiled a list of Deserters from 1775-1783. This list formed the foundation of my relational database which includes approximately 1400 deserters, and more than 50 searchable attribute fields to analyze historical queries. Combining this with the Deserter Advertisements adds a new dimension to understanding desertion rates. The collation of Deserter Ads allows a quantitative method of counting soldiers from each individual ad and adding them to the Muster Roll total. Most significant of the findings, are the additional names of soldiers not included in the Muster Roll. The discrepancies between the Deserter Ads and the Muster Roll leaves many research questions to be answered.

The lack of a dedicated historical study to Revolutionary War desertion in Connecticut incited my interest in compiling a database to explain a history that is incomprehensible without the tools of digital history. I have been able to help clarify and identify who the Connecticut deserters were and discover why they left the military. My research and methodology represent a step toward combining the quantitative and the qualitative approach needed to offer a new vantage point to contextualize the written material historians rely indiscriminately upon. This poster will explain the digital methods used, the sources consulted, and the conclusions reached.

See more of: Undergraduate Poster Session
See more of: AHA Sessions