Men from the Four Corners of the Globe
The company of marines on HMS Invincible was an international bunch. They were made up of men from both the Portsmouth and Chatham companies, some descended from kings and princes, others from countries that might be considered Britain’s enemies.
A Huguenot refugee
Marine Captain Joshua Sabine led the company on HMS Invincible. He was a protestant Huguenot refugee from Catholic France. He must have been very persuasive, because many of the marines on Invincible were personally recruited by him.
Marine Private Thomas Reynolds, the company’s drummer boy, was perhaps the humblest of Invincible’s marines. Thomas was a collar maker when he was recruited near Chatham by Captain Joshua Sabine. One of his jobs was to beat the quarters to summon the crew to their stations for action against the enemy.
Distant Irish royalty
Marine Lieutenant Robert Gahan was a proud descendant of Ballach O’Cahan, an Irish Prince who was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1608. The land owning O’Cahan family anglicised their name to Gahan and served as soldiers under many English kings.
Distant Scottish royalty
Young marine Lieutenant William Horsburgh was from a modest Scottish aristocratic family, very distantly descended from King James II of Scotland and so very, very, distantly related to King George II – the owner of His Majesty’s Ship Invincible.
Marine Private Jonah Coxhead, a 31-year-old cooper (barrel maker), was recruited by Joshua Sabine at Gravesend, though he was originally from Switzerland. He was promoted to Corporal, but for some reason was demoted back to private again and remained a private for the rest of his career. Maybe that suggests something about his temperament.
For King and Country, but whose king and whose country?
Marine Private William Blewford was a Black man born in the British colony of Virginia, North America. We can’t be sure of William’s motives for joining the Royal Navy’s Marines, but it was a common route out of slavery. We know William wasn’t a slave on Invincible, because he’s listed on the ship’s muster roll alongside the wage he earned. After leaving the marines he joined the United States Continental Army under George Washington and fought against the country he once fought for. He finally settled down to farm as a free Black man in Virginia, on a war bounty land grant given for services to his very new country, America.