Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Punishment and The Pardon

Item: Document
Object #: 1901.8
During the American Revolution, two soldiers John La Brun and Christopher Fofsill, of Captain Read’s Troop of Virginia Light Dragoons, were “charged with Desertion and Carrying Harnesses, Arms, and Accoutrements belonging to said Troop.” A court martial was held at Albemarle Barracks on March 24, 1780, and was presided over by Colonel Francis Taylor.  This record of the court martial proceedings describes the fleeing soldiers and their capture, based on the testimony of two other troops in Read's Dragoons. The document is also signed by Colonel James Wood and at the bottom “In Council July 14, 1780” Thomas Jefferson states the remission of the above sentence on La Brune and signed his name. 

A court martial is a trial in a military court for members of the armed forces. The two soldiers on trial were part of Captain Read’s Troop of Virginia Light Dragoons. According to one historian, the Light Dragoons “were first raised in the middle of the Eighteenth Century for reconnaissance and patrolling - in other words scouting - but soon acquired a reputation for courage and dash in the charge.” The court martial of these two soldiers was held at Albemarle Barracks.

Albemarle Barracks was located just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, where the Convention Army was imprisoned from 1779-1781.  Some 4,000 British regulars and German mercenaries (also known as “Hessians”), collectively called the Convention Army, captured at the Battle of Saratoga, in New York, arrived at Albemarle Barracks in January 1779.  They were marched from outside New York City to Cambridge, Massachussetts in 1777 before boarding ships for Virginia.  It took them nearly three months to get to their new home just west of Charlottesville. One historian describes the living conditions of the Barracks as “primitive huts spread out over several hundred acres” where the prisoners “endured great hardships.” Supplying and guarding the Convention Army drained the resources of local community and militia.  As a result, by February 1781, the last of the prisoners had been relocated. 

The record states that, based on the evidence, both soldiers were found guilty and sentenced accordingly.  The court was of the opinion that La Brun “Ought to suffer Death by being shot” and Fofsill “Ought to receive Corporal Punishment and do sentence him to run the Gauntlet through the troop of the Garrison twice a day for three Days.”  Fofsill’s sentence, running the guantlet, “was a form of punishment in which the culprit was made to run stripped to the waist between two rows of men who whipped and beat him as he passed by. These beatings were extremely severe and the victims often died as a result.”  To “run the gauntlet” was originally “to run the gantelope.”  Gantlope, being the Anglicized form of the Swedish word 'gatlop', or 'gatu-lop', which refers to the gate of soldiers that the victim had to pass through.

This account of the court martial was signed by Colonel James Wood.  In 1776, James Wood of Frederick County was appointed colonel in the Virginia military and was named superintendent of the prisoners of war held by the Virginia militia.  At the time of the court martial Thomas Jefferson was governor of Virginia.  Among his duties as governor was signing official documents and granting clemency to those convicted of crimes.  On July 14, 1780, Jefferson wrote to Col. Wood declaring, “Sir, I inclose you a remission of the sentence against La Brun...”  Jefferson's pardon, rescued La Brun from his death sentence.  Jefferson also remits "The above sentence of La Brun" at the bottom of the court martial record, before signing the document.  It is not yet know if La Brun ever received a punishment less severe than what previously delivered.
Thomas Jefferson visited the Randolphs of Wilton on more than one occasion, including a visit in May 1781.  Jefferson was a relation to the Randolph family, through his mother, Jane Randolph. The Randolphs of Wilton were well involved with the American Revolution. Peyton Randolph, son of William III, was commissioned as a Major in the militia in 1777 and, according to the family, was also an aide-de-camp to General Lafayette.  Peyton's patriotism was so strong that in 1775 Archibald Cary recounts an altercation between him and brother-in-law Lewis Burwell, in which Peyton is stabbed with a dinner knife. 


Alexander, Arthur J. “Desertion and its Punishment in Revolutionary Virginia”. The William and
Mary Quarterly. Third Series, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Jul., 1946), pp. 383-397. Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. <>
Martin, Gary. “Running the Gauntlet”. The Phrase Finder. 13 September 2012.
Maurer, David. “New Marker commemorates Revolutionary POW march”. The Daily Progress
Online. May 6, 2012. 13 September 2012.
“Court Martial”. 13 September 2012.
“Charlottsville, Va.”The Journey through Hallowed Ground: Monticello to Gettysburg. 13
September 2012. <
“Albemarle Barracks Burial Site”. The Historical Marker Database. 13 September
2012. <>
“Convention Army The Barracks”. The Historical Marker Database. 13 September
2012. <>
“Watch Albemarle Barracks Video” OvGuide: Your Online Video Guide. 13 September 2012.
 “Colonel James Wood II”. Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Virginia Society  Sons of the
American Revolution. 13 September 2012. <>
 “Finding Aid for Thomas Jefferson Collection, 1780-1881”. William L Clements Library. 20
September 2012. <>
“Using Virginia Governors’ Records, 1776-1998”. Library of Virginia. 20 September 2012.
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, Main Series, Volume 3 (18 June 1779–30
September 1780) ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. < [accessed 20 Sep 2012]>
“History”. Light Dragoons Regimental Association. 21 September 2012.

Image Credit