Gillon's marines were made up of Europeans who composed a military unit known as the Legion (or Volunteers) of Luxembourg. These troops served under somewhat unusual circumstances in that they were considered to be a type of private army of the Chevalier de Luxembourg, the owner of the frigate L'Indien (or the South Carolina as it became known after the signing of the agreement between the Chevalier de Luxembourg and the representative of the State of South Carolina, Commodore Alexander Gillon). These men were certainly members of the French military establishment but, due to the nobility relationship of the King of France and the Chevalier de Luxembourg to each other, these men formed a portion of the French army that was directly under the control of the Chevalier de Luxembourg. Dr. Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, points out that most of the last names of the legionnaires were French but, probably there was also a significant minority who spoke either German or Dutch as their mother tongue. All three of these languages Commodore Gillon spoke and wrote fluently. There is no indication that any of the members of the Legion of Luxembourg - officers, NCOs, or enlisted men - spoke or comprehended English.
(Note: The name of this infantry unit in French is - Volontaires de Luxembourg. Thus, the more correct name in English might be "The Volunteers of Luxembourg". Yet, in all of the English-language articles and sources the men who were a part of this unit were referred to as "legionnaires". Hence, the name "The Legion of Luxembourg".)
There were, initially, about twelve officers on board who were attached to the Legion. Three of these were captains with the most senior one being their commanding officer on board the frigate South Carolina, the Chevalier Francois Etienne Laurent D'Aubry. There were three companies present on board the frigate, numbering right at 279 NCOs and enlisted men. The 1st company, commanded by a Captain Collinson (Irish?), consisted of 88 enlisted men, 5 sergeants, and a single corporal. The 2nd company, commanded by Captain Antoine Augustin Dufaquet, Chevalier des Varennes, consisted of 89 enlisted men, 5 sergeants and a single corporal. The 3rd company, commanded by Captain Eustache Morel Disque, consisted of 90 enlisted men with no ranks above that of soldat (private) indicating that this company had been assembled at the last moment. There was a medical staff of three - one surgeon and two surgeon's assistants. Finally, they had at least seven musicians attached to their unit. Total personnel for the unit - including attached officers, medical staff and musicians - the Legion of Luxembourg must have numbered just over 300 men on board the frigate South Carolina. The Legion of Luxembourg was clearly the largest single group on board the frigate South Carolina.
(Note: There were some non-Luxembourg marines also on board the frigate South Carolina. These were commanded by Captains Michael Kalteissen and John Spencer, who are both mentioned at length earlier in this blog. There is no indication whatsoever as to the number of these marines, what nationalities they represented, and whether they answered directly to Commodore Gillon or through the offices of the Chevalier D'Aubry. One source that this writer has seen quotes the number of marines under the command of Captain Kalteissen as 200. This is almost certainly a mistake because the total of marines on board the frigate South Carolina would equal the reported total number of crew members for the entire frigate. In the opinion of this blog writer, these men could easily have been recruited in Europe from various different sources. Some of them may well have represented escaped/released prisoners-of-war who had made their way to France or Holland from England and signed on with Commodore Gillon and the frigate South Carolina in hopes of getting home soon. Others may well have deserted from other patriot ships then in port and signed on with the frigate South Carolina. It is recorded that when John Paul Jones entered Amsterdam harbor on board the captured HMS Serapis, several of his crew promptly deserted. Among these deserters was William Hamilton, the sailor largely responsible for turning the past engagement with the HMS Serapis in favor of Jones and the sinking Bon Homme Richard. Finally, there may have been drifters - "free white men on the move" in 18th century jargon - who saw an opportunity for adventure or a one-way passage to the Americas if they signed on with Gillon and the frigate South Carolina. These men could easily have represented any of a number of nationalities of Europe or even beyond.)
The first mention we have of the Legion (or Volunteers) of Luxembourg is contained in a letter from Commodore Gillon to John Laurens, a Colonel in the South Carolina Continentals, dated April 22, 1781. In this letter, the main concern is getting to frigate South Carolina out of Amsterdam harbor and into the Texel. Gillon enumerates the difficulties that have extended the time it has taken to get the ship to where it can be prepared for the open ocean. Gillon states that "...this was nearly accomplished when ye winter began to set in, that, and ye Marines not having arrived as expected compelled us to get ye Ship out of her Eminent danger of ye Ice into ye same winter quarters as ye Dutch Men of War were in near ye Texel". (This letter is cited in D.E. Huger Smith, "Commodore Alexander Gillon and the Frigate South Carolina", The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 4 (October, 1908), page 202.) This almost casual mention of "ye Marines" and their tardiness in reporting for duty on board the frigate leads to one of the most interesting stories of the frigate South Carolina - the invasion of the Island of Jersey and the role of the Legion of Luxembourg in that military action.
The sources here are a bit vague on how this unit came to be involved with the frigate South Carolina and the invasion of Jersey. The Huger Smith article states that this unit "...had been enlisted by the Chevalier to serve as marines on the South Carolina." But, Dr. Lewis's book, Neptune's Militia, gives one the impression that this unit already existed at the time of the signed agreement between the Chevalier de Luxembourg and Commodore Gillon and their services were offered by the Chevalier de Luxembourg to Gillon. At any rate, these troops had been assigned duty on board the frigate South Carolina and had gathered at Dunkirk in order to wait for the arrival of the frigate and to avoid interference by the Dutch government due to her neutral status with England. Around the middle of November 1780, by order of the Chevalier de Luxembourg, the entire unit shifted to Havre, France where they, once again, waited for the arrival of the frigate. The commander of the Legion at the time, the Baron de Rullecour, who had also assisted in recruiting the unit, took the opportunity of the delay to suggest to the Chevalier de Luxembourg that the legionnaires participate in the expedition against Jersey. The Baron de Rullecour had already participated in an earlier assault on the island in 1779 that had failed. He was desirous to gain personal glory - the Huger Smith article states that he had been promised by the King of France that if he were successful and Jersey fell, he would personally be rewarded with a commission as a general in the French army, be awarded the Order of St. Louis, and the appointment as governor of Jersey.
The assault force was composed primarily of the Legion of Luxembourg and drafts from other units, bringing the total strength of the force up to 2,000 men. They gathered at Granville, on the coast of Normandy, where transports were provided for them as well as some privateers for protection and escort duties. On the night of December 25, 1780, they received the pre-appointed signal, a bonfire ignited on Jersey between Rozel and La Coupe and buring for eight minutes, to assure the troops that there were no British ships in the vicinity. Baron de Rullecour embarked in the teeth of a storm in which many ships had to turn back for France, losing him over half of his invasion force. the Baron de Rullecour and the remainder of the force sought shelter in a group of small islands off the coast and waited out the storm. They set sail again on the night of January 5, 1781 and landed on Jersey. Due to unforeseen difficulties, the Baron de Rullecour was only able to land about 600 men on the island but, he pushed on. His troops quickly captured a small redoubt near their landing spot and pushed on for the main town of St. Helier. The guard of this place was captured along with the Lieutenant-governor, Major Corbett, but, not before he sent out an alarm to the rest of the island. The British forces consisted of 1900 regulars of the 78th, 83rd, and 95th Regiments of Foot, as well as a similar number of militia. Again, the Baron de Rullecour pushed on. He called for the surrender of the island but, the garrison of Elizabeth Castle, Captain Aylward commanding, refused this demand. In the mean time, Major Pierson, in command of the 95th Regiment of Foot, with some assembled militia as well, gathered outside the town and issued their own surrender terms for the French invaders. When this was refused by the French, he split his forces into two flying groups and counterattacked the French forces. Both Pierson and Baron de Rullecour were mortally wounded in the ensuing engagement. Pierson's death is immortalized in the famous Copley painting which hangs in the National Gallery in London, England.
The British easily retook the island of Jersey. Total British losses were 81 killed and wounded with the French losing 152 killed and wounded. But, the French also lost 417 prisoners to the British. These two figures added together account for 569 French prisoners which constitute almost the entire invasion force. So, the second attempted invasion of Jersey ended in a fiasco. Exactly how many of these French soldiers belonged to the frigate South Carolina is unknown but, among the claims against the State of South Carolina, adjudicated after the end of the American Revolution, appear those of the Class 3 of the Legionnaires, those who had been a part of the invasion of Jersey. So, at least some of the French prisoners taken on Jersey must have been legionnaires destined for service on board the frigate South Carolina and, thus, they filed for pay they did not receive due to their imprisonment by the British.
One must assume that a considerable amount of the Baron de Rullecour's captured troops were destined for service on board the frigate South Carolina. First, that a Class 3 of the Legionnaires even existed meant that at least some of his intended marines were captured on Jersey. Later, in this post the various different classes of legionnaires claiming against the State of South Carolina will be discussed and identified. Second, there is the issue of the 3rd company of marines having no ranks above that of soldat (private) while both the 1st and 2nd companies have 5 sergeants and one corporal a piece. This has been pointed out earlier as a possible indication that this company was "thrown together quickly" to make sure that Commodore Gillon received his quota of marines for service on board the frigate South Carolina. These troops finally came on board the frigate South Carolina on June 8, 1781.
(Note: Much of the above information was taken from the Huger Smith article in SCHGM, Vol 9, No. 4 (Oct. 1908) pp. 202-205).
The frigate South Carolina raised its anchors in the Texel on August 4, 1781. Almost immediately, there was need for the services of the Luxembourg marines. Many of the sailors on board the frigate South Carolina were disappointed at not having their wages paid up to that point in time. According to Dr. Lewis's, Neptune's Militia, (page 36) the mutiny began among French sailors that had been recruited in Dunkirk as well as among those sailors whose enlistments were about ended. The mutiny spread quickly to some of the American and Irish sailors who were also on board and harbored ill feelings about the situation. These disgruntled sailors were making one last desperate effort to settle accounts before the frigate South Carolina headed for the open seas. Gillon, the appointed Commodore of South Carolina, and Captain John Joyner, the acting captain of the frigate, both used force and persuasion to suppress the mutinous sentiments of the sailors of the crew. Initially, Gillon used his marines to separate the hard-core leaders of the uprising from the rest of the sailors and then, together, they spent the next six hours quieting the disturbance. In the end of it all, and due to the extreme challenges to his authority, Commodore Gillon quelled the mutinous activity by "...handing out 125 lashes to one leader, 50 blows with the flat of a cutlass to the back of another, slashing one arm, breaking three swords over recalcitrant heads, and placing a final laggard in irons." (Neptune's Militia , page 36). Upon hearing of this disturbance on board a rebel ship, the British press - far from an unbiased source - labelled Commodore Gillon's punishments as "cruel". Through out this episode, Gillon's marines proved themselves loyal and efficient in the execution of their duties. This would, interestingly, remain the same when Gillon had taken on a completely different set and kind of marines later on in Philadelphia, PA. His choice of marines always proved sound, in this regards.
So as to place this mutiny in its proper context, the Texel was not immune to this type of past behavior from sailors docked there. In 1779, the Dutch fleet moored there had experienced a major mutiny while in that harbor. Memory of this disturbance undoubtedly influenced the incident on board the frigate South Carolina in early August 1781. This would not be the last mutiny on board the frigate South Carolina nor would it be the most serious. But, it would point out the degree to which the Commodore's financial straits would effect every aspect of the operation of the ship - from this inauspicious beginnings just off the Texel in August 1781 to its final sailing on December 20, 1782.
It would seem from the writings of Dr. Lewis in his work, Neptune's Militia, that there were a couple of purposes for marines on board ships-of-war during this time period. First, they were to form any boarding parties needed in case of the capture of enemy ships at sea. these troops would be the first ones to cross onto an enemy's deck once the opposing ship had struck its colors (indicated that they were surrendering). Second, these same marines would form at least a portion of the "prize crew" on board these captured vessels to take them into a friendly harbor where these captured vessels could be disposed of through "condemnation" (public auction) or impressment into the naval forces of that country's navy. Third, and possibly, the most important reason, the presence of these marines would help deter or suppress any mutinous activity or intentions on the part of the sailors on board the frigate South Carolina. The marines of the Legion (or Volunteers) of Luxembourg served well on board the frigate South Carolina by all accounts. As stated above, they boarded the frigate on June 8, 1781. they served faithfully on the maiden voyage from the Texel to Corunna, Spain. From there , they served well from Corunna to Tenerife to Charleston, SC and back to Havana, Cuba where they would have formed the troop contingent of the frigate South Carolina as it participated in the Spanish lead assault on the British Bahamas. Then, they would have been on board as the frigate South Carolina sailed for Philadelphia, PA, mooring there on May 28, 1782.
Dr. Lewis, in his work - Neptune's Militia, comments that once the frigate South Carolina docked in Philadelphia, PA, all of the Luxembourg marines took the opportunity to leave the ship since their terms of enlistment were long expired. One would think that it would be a great inconvenience to debark from a ship on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean from one's home. But, the war was winding down quickly and there were several French Army units in the neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA that were awaiting their shipment home from the now-free colonies. The marines simply sought out these units and easily attached themselves to these returning units and achieved their goal of a trip home to Europe. Exit Gillon's Legion (or Volunteers) of Luxembourg who had faithfully served on board the frigate South Carolina since her departure from the Texel on August 4, 1781.