"The button, a pewter disc with the number '52' in the centre corresponds with the 52nd Regiment of Foot, a light infantry regiment of the British Army that tried to suppress the colonial uprising in the northeast, an AKRF researcher told the New York Times."
Actually, the 52nd was not designated a light infantry regiment until 1803, and more than just the light company of the 52nd was involved in the American Revolution. It ought to be possible to narrow down the times when elements of the 52nd might have been transported in this vessel by reviewing the service history of the 52nd in America during the Revolution. As will be seen, however, there are still many possible vectors for depositing that button in that old ship.
The entire 52nd regiment, together with its grenadier and ligth companies, left Canada to reinforce the Boston garrison, arriving by October 1774. Its flank companies were subsequently detatched, and each participated in the march on Lexington and Concord. The entire regiment was heavily engaged at Bunker Hill - the flank companies along the Mystic River and the battalion companies against the redoubt. All but 8 of the grenadier company were killed or wounded at Bunker Hill.
The 52nd was expanded in August, 1775 from 10 companies to 12 with 56 men each After the evacuation of Boston in March, 1776, the 52nd went first to Halifax, then to Staten Island for the New York campaign. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that a portion of the regiment, perhaps one of its companies, sailed to New York in a Pennsylvania built coastal sloop such as dendrochronologists believe this 50-60 ft. shipwreck to be. The ship worms that have marred the recovered timbers attest to its ability to sail to warmer waters.
During the in the summer and fall of 1776, the battalion companies of the 52nd regiment fought under Lt. Col. Mungo Campbell in the 3rd Brigade (Gen.Jones). They crossed over to Long Island and later across the East River to New York. On either occasion, they might have been moved in the vessel that has been discovered at the WTC site. Their service in the fall and early winter of 1776 included the assault on Fort Washington at the north end of Manhattan. They were also part of Sir Henry Clinton's Rhode Island Invasion force that occupied Newport in December, 1776, and this would also be a plausible time for part of the regiment to have been transported in the ship that has been unearthed.
During this same period, the light infantry company of the 52nd regiment was detached as part of the provisional 2nd light infantry battalion, consisting of the light companies from the 40th, 43rd, 45th, 49th, 52nd, 55th, 63rd and 64th regiments of foot. This battalion was officered by Major John Maitland, and it too fought at Long Island and later pursued Washington into New Jersey. It was at Princeton at the close of the year.
The grenadier company of the 52nd was part of the provisional 2nd battalion of Grenadiers, which included companies from the 43rd, 44th, 45th, 46th, 49th, 52nd, 55th, 63rd, 64th, 1st and 2nd marines under Lt. Col. Henry Monkton. They were at Long Island, reaching Brunswick NJ at the end of 1776, and also at Princeton. Both of these flank companies of the 52nd could have been transported across New York Harbor to Long Island, the East River to Manhattan or the Hudson North River to New Jersey in the boat that has been found.
The flank companies of the 52nd were part of the Philadelphia Campaign in 1777, and fought at Brandywine in their provisional battalions. They made a journey by sea from Staten Island to Head of Elk on the Chesapeake, which would have been a particularly miserable trip in a 50-60 ft. boat, even if it were of recent make. Still, it is possible that the ship was snapped up as a transport vessel for this massive invasion force at the outset of Howe's move toward Philadelphia by sea. The return from Philadelphia in June, 1778 was overland to Sandy Hook, and from there by boat to NY, marking another time when the flank companies of the 52nd might have travelled in the WTC shipwreck.
As for the battalion companies of the 52nd, these remained with Sir Henry Clinton after leaving Rhode Island, and were the sole British Regiment in the Staten Island Garrison during Sullivan's Raid in August, 1777. They were in the advanced guard of Clinton's drive up the Hudson that Fall in a belated effort to join up with Burgoyne. On October 6th, 1777, the battalion companies of the 52nd and 57th regiments successfully attacked Fort Montgomery, where Lt. Col. Campbell was killed.
After the burning of Kingston, Clinton returned with his force to New York, where the 52nd remained until August, 1778, when the officers of the regiment were sent back to England and the remaining men transferred to other regiments. The flank companies also returned to their regiments at this time from the provisional battalions, so presumably these men were absorbed into other regiments along with their fellow enlisted men in the 52nd battalion companies.
The two years from August 1776 to August 1778 described above mark the likely time when the button was lost on the ship. However, it is quite possible that some of the transferred from the 52nd men kept the buttons from their uniforms, as it has been documented that British soldiers of this period swapped buttons and sometimes wore the buttons of several regiments on their coats.
In summary, the vessel containing the button from the 52nd found together in the fill beneath the World Trade Center site could have been used on a number of occasions between 1776-1778 to transport elements of this regiment, including the following:
- From Halifax to Staten Island, Summer 1776
- From Staten Island to Long Island, August 1776
- From Long Island To Manhattan, September 1776
- From New York to Newport, RI, December 1776
- From Newport, RI to NY/Staten Island, Spring/Summer 1777
- From Staten Island to New York, September 1777
- From NY to Kingston NY and Back.October, 1777
- Halifax to Staten Island, Summer 1776
- Staten Island to Long Island (August 1776)
- Long Island to Manhattan (September 1776)
- Across the Hudson to NJ (November/December 1776)
- Across Arthur Kill to Staten Island (July 1776)
- Staten Island to Head of Elk, MD (August/Sept 1777)
- Sandy Hook to New York (June/July 1778)
However, this ship could well have transported someone who had previously been part of this regiment but transferred to another after August 1778, or who had traded for a button from a member of the 52nd. Given this possibility, it will be difficult to further narrow down when the button found its way into the timbers of this ship, unless another button is found from a regiment or company bridged with the battalion companies or amalgamated in a provisional battalion with a flank company of the 52nd.
A button from the 10th, 37th or 38th regiments, for example, would reinforce an association with the Jones' 3rd Brigade, and the Long Island - Newport movements of the 52nd. One from one of the provisional grenadier or light battalions (the composition of which does not overlap with the 3rd Brigade, even though they changed somewhat in the Light division between the 1776 and 1777 campaigns) would likewise suggest that the button came from one of the 52nd's flank companies. Other artifacts may provide further clues. I understand they have found peach pits, musket balls, a spoon and a clay pipe bowl.
Or maybe someone else just picked up the button.
More than this is mere speculation.