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update on the Crosbie-Pitcairn pistols

I’ve now found confirmation of Captain (later General) William Crosbie’s place in the Anglo-Irish gentry Crosbie family which bore the swords-and-snake crest found on the pistols traditionally identified as Major Pitcairn’s (see my previous post, linked here). I had suggested that he belonged somewhere in the Ardfert Crosbie family found in Burke’s 1866 Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited and Extinct Peerage and similar Landed Gentry of Ireland account. Crosbie’s brief stint in parliament proved the clue to further data: his sketch in R. G. Thorne’s House of Commons, 1790-1820 (5 vols., London, 1986, 3:540), shows him as born about 1740, son of “Major John Crosbie.” This puts him among the “numerous family” stated (but not named) by Burke as children of Major John Crosbie, “living in the County Wicklow in 1752,” Major John being sixth son of Sir Thomas Crosbie of Ardfert, grandfather of Sir Maurice Crosbie, 1st Lord Branden of Branden (d. 1762), who was therefore General William Crosbie’s first cousin. Elsewhere we learn that Major John (William’s father) died sometime before 1762, and was a long-serving Captain in the 21st Foot (later the Royal Scots Fusiliers), present both at Dettingen—where he lost an arm—and Culloden (google turns up snippets on him in Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 27-28 [1949], 71; and Aberdeen University Review 34-35 [1952], 359). This no doubt provided the basis for the well-connected careers of his sons William and Charles, who both became army generals. The House of Commons entry sketches William’s military career, beginning with commission as an ensign in the 38th Foot in 1757, promition to captain in 1769 and to major in 1778 (following the British evacuation from Boston), and on (as sketched in my previous post) to the rank of major-general in command of the 22d Foot.

Looking at his will had already revealed General William Crosbie’s mistress and bastard son. The House of Commons sketch adds one more interesting element: Crosbie’s death on 16 June 1798 was apparently suicide, as the Duke of York later wrote to the King that Cosbie “made away with himself at Portsmouth. . . . He had appeared very low and unwell for some time, and was undoubtedly under the influence of mental derangement.”

The fact that Crosbie, who was indeed on the Lexington & Concord foray on 19 April 1775, had a hereditary right to the swords-and-snake crest on the pistols, certainly cements J. L. Bell’s reidentification of their original ownership—though of course they still might have belonged to Major Pitcairn on the day of the battle. However, I am not sure, given these glimpses into Crosbie’s character and career, whether the pistols, as artifacts, are thereby burnished or tarnished.

One Comment

  1. Robert M. wrote:

    Just a slightly different, but more accurate, Tale of the Spoils of War for licensed Concord & Lexington Tour Guides like myself to tell. (And yes, I’ve told the “traditonal version” more than several times.) I don’t know the provenance of where the pistols were found after the battles, but as captains usually walked, they should most likely have been on Crosbie’s person.

    A great clue-hiding-in-plain-sight example, based on actualling “seeing” and then “reading” an artifact. Thanks again for the quick & thorough follow-through.

    Friday, July 29, 2011 at 21:04 | Permalink

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