It was commonly believed by soldiers of the British army that the colonial militia consisted of low-quality soldiers who came from the dregs of society. They believed that the militia would not have the strength or organization to match the British War Machine. They were mistaken.
In fact, the soldiers of the colonial militia included doctors, teachers, and young boys who contributed greatly to the war effort.
Often, the ranks of the colonial militia were filled by average citizens. Soldiers of the Revolutionary War came from all walks of life and from different ethnic groups. Some were native-born colonists, some were British immigrants, and some were freed, black slaves. A majority of the men were Scotch-Irish, as seen in the Pennsylvania regiments.
The average soldier of the militia served alongside Rangers, Highlanders, Iroquois Indians, and British regulars.
Much of the British regular army was recruited from the lowest social classes. The enlisted were often petty criminals, beggars, common laborers or subsistence farmers. Because the British officer’s own troops often consisted of these types, they were more than willing to believe the same about the colonial soldier.
British officers showed contempt for both the colonial enlisted soldiers and colonial officers alike.
While it was true that many of the militia came from the lower social classes, more than a few were from middle-class families. A soldier’s social status and civilian occupation depended greatly upon where he was recruited. Soldiers who came from Pennsylvania were usually laborers.
The surviving muster rolls show that about sixty percent of the soldiers listed were laborers. The remaining forty percent were either artisans or skilled workers.
The majority of the artisans from the Pennsylvania colony worked in the cloth, wood, or leather trades. Most of the artisans were cloth workers, while the remainder came from the cooper and carpentry trades.
Evidence of this can be seen from the statistics for those soldiers recruited from the Philadelphia area.
Soldiers who were recruited from outside Philadelphia had a higher percentage of manual laborers in their ranks. Only about half the number of skilled trades seen in the city were present in the rural areas. About twice as many skilled artisans came from the cities of colonial America.
Soldiers who enlisted from other parts of the colonies had almost the exact opposite percentage of laborers versus artisans. Only twenty-six percent of those soldiers who came from the colony of Massachusetts were listed as laborers before entering the militia.
Approximately 52% of the Massachusetts soldiers were skilled artisans before enlisting, which was very different from those who enlisted from Pennsylvania.
Many of the soldiers who fought for the colonies in the Revolutionary War came from well-to-do families. These were not men who saw the army as a career and they did not need to rely on their military income to survive.