The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780

Christmas party blog hop logoWelcome to the Christmas party blog hop, and thank you for stopping by. Have you ever wondered how people from other times and places celebrated the winter holiday? Each of the authors on the list at the end of this post is sharing an idea about it today. Some authors also have giveaway prizes for you. Visit the blogs, and enjoy this festive season with us.


It certainly wasn’t “all work and no play” for King George III’s army when it attempted to subdue that pesky insurrection in North America. The Brits did their share of “entertaining” while on American soil. Mischianza, anyone?

Banastre Tarleton Some Brits qualified as true party animals, and one of those party animals, Banastre Tarleton, commanded the British Legion, a provincial unit that wreaked havoc among the patriots living in the southern colonies in 1780 and 1781. A drinker, gambler, and womanizer, Tarleton had goofed off at University College, Oxford and blown through his inheritance before hitting his stride as a light cavalry officer during the American Revolution.

Tarleton is a secondary character in my novel Camp Follower: A Mystery of the American Revolution, set in late 1780 and early 1781. (Here’s why I included him.) And because Tarleton was the kind of fellow who’d never have passed up seasonal festivities, there’s a December winter holiday feast and dance in Camp Follower to give readers an idea of how a Crown forces unit might have celebrated in the backcountry of South Carolina. It’s a Yule party, not a Christmas party—and here’s why. Writing that scene gave me the opportunity to show another side to Tarleton and the Legion: soldiers at rest, not fighting their way through the backcountry. A devastating battle would come all too soon for them on 17 January 1781 and is depicted in the book’s climax.

Here’s an excerpt from the Yule party in Camp Follower:

The morning of the twenty-fourth, day of the Yule celebration, [Helen] awoke to the aroma of roasted hog and root vegetables, slow-cooked the night before in pits…A substantial amount of cooked hog and vegetables, baked apples and pears, and cornbread vanished before dark — largesse from Tarleton, distributed among the rank and file.

After nightfall, in a torch-rimmed field north of the manor house, Helen, her garnets at her throat and ears, wandered from a huge bowl of mulled cider to a huge bowl of waes hail to a supply of the best wines from market…During the first course of onion soup, she was seated next to Fairfax, but they ignored each other, and the fellow on her other side stayed sober long enough to hold a lucid conversation about deer hunting…The soup was cleared away, a bell rang, and the men scrambled to switch seats, to the laughter and surprise of the ladies. Broiled bass appeared on the tables, and Helen got to hear about horse racing and advantages of various firearms from a cornet and a captain…

The bass vanished, the bell rang again, and Tarleton, ruddy-cheeked, wine goblet in hand, redirected an officer of the militia so he could plant himself next to Helen and scowl at her. Gold and braid on his uniform winked in the candlelight. “You’ve no idea how I’ve had to fight my way over here…Madam, I need your advice on a delicate matter. With whom should I dance the first tune?”

Camp Follower book coverGiveaway prize: Want a book to read? Use the comment form to tell me something you learned from this blog post and what your 2014 holiday plans are like. I’ll send you an ebook copy of Camp Follower, nominated for two awards. Make sure you provide your name and an accurate email address so I can contact you. Offer expires 31 December 2014.

Happy holidays to all my readers. And don’t forget to check out the authors’ posts on the following list.

Thank you for joining our party
now follow on to the next enjoyable

1. Helen Hollick : “You are Cordially
Invited to a
Ball” (plus a giveaway prize) –  
2. Alison Morton : “Saturnalia surprise – a winter party tale”  (plus
a giveaway prize) –
3. Andrea Zuvich : No Christmas For You! The Holiday Under Cromwell –
4. Ann Swinfen : Christmas 1586 – Burbage’s
Company of Players Celebrates –
5. Anna Belfrage :  All I want for Christmas (plus a giveaway prize) –
6. Carol Cooper : How To Be A Party Animal –
7. Clare Flynn :  A German American Christmas –
8. Debbie Young :  Good Christmas Housekeeping (plus a giveaway prize) –
9. Derek Birks :  The Lord of Misrule – A Medieval Christmas Recipe for Trouble –
10. Edward James : An Accidental Virgin and An Uninvited Guest – and – 
11. Fenella J. Miller : Christmas on the Home front (plus a giveaway prize) –
12. J. L. Oakley :  Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 (plus a
giveaway prize) –
13. Jude Knight : Christmas at Avery Hall in the Year of Our Lord 1804 –
14. Julian Stockwin: Join the Party –  
15. Juliet Greenwood : Christmas 1914 on the Home Front (plus a giveaway) –
16. Lauren Johnson :  Farewell Advent, Christmas is come” – Early Tudor Festive Feasts –
17. Lucienne Boyce :  A Victory Celebration –
18. Nancy Bilyeau :  Christmas After the Priory (plus a giveaway prize) –
19. Nicola Moxey : The Feast of the Epiphany, 1182 –
20. Lindsay Downs:  O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree (plus a giveaway prize) –
21. Regina Jeffers : Celebrating a Regency Christmas  (plus a giveaway prize) –
22. Richard Abbott : The Hunt – Feasting at Ugarit –
23. Saralee Etter : Christmas Pudding — Part of the Christmas Feast –
24. Stephen Oram : Living
in your dystopia: you need a festival of enhancement…
 (plus a giveaway prize) –
25. Suzanne Adair: The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 (plus a giveaway prize) –



Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:


The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 — 40 Comments

    • Hi Lauren! “Banastre Tarleton” has an interesting ring to it, does it not? :-) He has a band named after him and a huge fan club. In his day, he was quite the dashing fellow. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Peter, I’ve been to RAF parties where the men swapped between courses – it it a Forces tradition generally, I wonder? And how far back does it go?

    • Peter, thanks for popping in. Others have told me about military parties that resembled this one. I guess some things in history don’t change. Merry Christmas to you, too!

  1. Is onion soup a good idea if the men and women want to have a good flirt?!! I really enjoyed reading this – though I’m glad I don’t have to go to parties like this one!

    • Hi Lucienne! Yeah, they cooked what they had available. Lots of onions in the backcountry of South Carolina! If they’d had a French chef with a liberal touch with garlic, it would have been worse. Then there’s the booze factor. Enough of it in your system, and you never notice another person’s smelly breath. 😀

  2. Pingback: Good Christmas Housekeeping | Debbie Young's Writing Life

  3. Pingback: Celebrating a Regency Era Christmas on the Christmas Party Blog Hop + a Giveaway of “Christmas at Pemberley” | ReginaJeffers's Blog

  4. What an interesting tale, Suzanne! Tarleton sounds quite the cad… I enjoyed your explanation of Yule, too. Sounds a very god way to reground yourself.

    • Nicky, I made an effort to present Tarleton in a neutral light. What with the people who demonize him on one side and the people who adore him on the other, it was such a difficult line to walk. And instituting Yule was such a good decision when my kids were younger. It gave them focus on the meaning of the season. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. We celebrate Hanukkah and very Christian Christmas in our extended family but never Yule. Festivals for light in the time of darkness extend across cultures and time periods in many forms. Your take on military life is interesting. I had to smile about Mis­chi­anza. We had just heard a guide in one of the Fairmount Park (Philadelphia) mansions describe it, while we were looking at a portrait of Rebecca Franks who helped organize it. The Franks family eventually had to flee. She married a british officer and ended her life in Bath.

    • Caroline, Happy Hanukkah! Spot on about the various festivals of light throughout history. Thanks for the info about Rebecca Franks. I can think of worse places for exile than Bath. :-) Many loyalists who left to save their lives wound up in Nova Scotia or the Caribbean. But some loyalists who kept quiet about politics and didn’t buck the changes were allowed to stay.

  6. Pingback: Christmas 1914 on the Home Front | Juliet Greenwood

  7. Pingback: Christmas at Avery Hall in the Year of Our Lord 1804 |

  8. Pingback: All I want for Christmas – The Christmas party Blog Hop | Anna Belfrage

  9. Living in North Carolina (very close to the SC border), I found this story most enlightening. I was aware of Tarleton from some of my reenactment friends. Thanks for sharing this with us. I must add it to my TBR list.

    • Regina, thanks for stopping by. If you’re in the Charlotte area, you’re right up the road from Cowpens National Battlefield (, where Tarleton’s army was defeated by the Continentals under Daniel Morgan. The park hosts a big annual event there to commemorate the battle. This year it’s on 17-18 January 2015. It makes for a great morning or afternoon trip. If you go, and Ranger John Robertson is there, tell him I said hello.

  10. Banas­tre Tar­leton is an interesting name. I liked the description of the food eaten. I can see eating roast hog, especially if it was wild hog.Some parts of Europe still favour roast pork or ham. When, why and how did the turkey usurp the position of being the main course? I didn’t know about Yule parties versus Christmas celebrations either(and have pinned the article).

    • Thanks for commenting, Denise. In this case, the army was encamped on someone’s plantation in the back country, so the hog would have come from the property owner’s livestock supply. And it isn’t true that these armies always stole livestock from farmers. Many accounts show an army paying the owner for the livestock.

      Traditional Christmas dinner in the U.S. is either ham or turkey. I’m not sure when the turkey became so popular in America; there are many myths about it floating around. The interesting point here (if you read the connecting articles) was that the next day, the soldiers would have attended a Christmas service. It would have been low-key, unlike our flashy modern Christmas services.

  11. What a fascinating character. Not desperately attractive behaviour for these days, despite his obvious military talent, but very much a man of his times.

    • I agree, Alison. Tarleton has a fan club that romanticizes him somewhat. He’s also demonized by some Americans who believe the nasty myths that were concocted about him during the decades following the American Revolution. The truth of the man lies somewhere in between those extremes, and that’s what I tried to capture in my book.

  12. Interesting that Banas­tre Tar­leton blew his inheritance before joining the British Army. Impetuous man!

    As a child, my family didn’t open any presents until Christmas Day, but my husbands opened all of their on Christmas Eve and the stockings Christmas morning. I’ve succumbed to his customs!

    Your books were recommended to me and I look forward to delving in! Merry Christmas!

    • Thank for stopping by, Sheila. My guess is that Tarleton wouldn’t have joined the army if he’d hung onto his inheritance and been able to make it earn more money for him. But if he’d been a financial wiz, maybe he wouldn’t have been a decent cavalry officer. :-)

      Interesting custom from your husband’s family. It stretches the mystery of gift-giving into two days. Sweet! Merry Christmas to you, too.

  13. Very interesting! I’m also intrigued by the custom of the men changing places between courses. I wonder when it did start. The theme of the blog hop is in keeping with the Yule feast, for it covers every kind of winter solstice festivity!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ann. I have no idea when the idea of swapping places between courses may have showed up historically. Certain types of events would lend themselves more readily to such a swap, and Georgians were an earthier bunch than Victorians. Obviously this wouldn’t have happened during a formal Victorian supper. :-)

      I’m still working my way through the hop. What fun information there!

  14. Always interesting to read about people and events that I’d never heard of before! Thanks – great articles, and a great Blog Hop, thanks for taking part – and have a Happy New Year!

  15. Thanks for the post Suzanne, an interesting insight into this time in the United States. I have another author friend who lives in Durham North Carolina but a swift glance at Google maps suggests this is not really very close!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Richard. Durham, NC isn’t far from me — 25 minutes with no traffic. It’s all part of the Research Triangle.