My Revolutionary Relatives
It’s Independence Day weekend! I’ve recently uncovered details about several ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. Today seems like the ideal time to share the information.
As I’ve already written, I am distantly related to George Washington, John Adams, Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Silas Deane (In each case I’m descended from their great-grandfathers, not from the Revolutionary leaders directly). And I am related to General Nathaniel Greene , Abraham Whipple and Major Simeon Thayer, Revolutionary War heroes who hailed from Rhode Island, as well as Half the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. And the dashing hero and spy Nathan Hale. And many others! I am also related to Benedict Arnold (more on him below). For the most part (actually, for the entire part) unlike the Pilgrim and Puritan generation of a century earlier and more, my direct Revolutionary War ancestors weren’t among the leaders driving the historic events. But it gives me pride and fires my imagination to know that many took part.
By the 1770s my mother’s various ancestral lines, which had been spread across Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, had begun to converge around the area where she would be born, Woodstock, Connecticut. As it happens Woodstock was the Connecticut town which would supply the greatest number of soldiers (184) to the Battle of Lexington and Concord (April 1775). If you look at a map, this makes sense; it’s in the northeast corner of the state, and thus was closest to the area of conflict. Still, it was a 60 or 70 mile march away.
One of the most important generals of the war Israel Putnam was from the next town, Pomfret. The nearby town of Putnam, Connecticut was named after him. Leading the Woodstock men was Captain (later General) Samuel McClellan, grandfather of Civil War general and Presidential candidate George B. McClelllan and great-grand father of New York City Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. (Later Samuel McClellan would also distinguish himself at the Battle of Groton Heights, the closest Revolutionary battle to my hometown). I’m related to McClellan, but not to Putnam.
Among my ancestors at Lexington and Concord were Jonathan Marcy (1742-1822), who marched with his brother Capt. Nathaniel Marcy’s company, and Ichabod Turner (1725-1809), who enlisted as a private though he was 50 years old (he was from Wrentham, Mass., not Woodstock). Other Woodstock relatives (though not direct ancestors) who went to Lexington and Concord included Benjamin Bugbee and Benjamin and Nebediah Cady (my grandmother was a Cady). I see my Woodstock ancestor Jonathan Bugbee listed in the “Graves of the Revolutionary Patriots” but haven’t learnt yet where he served. (I do know he was one of the founders of Chautauqua, New York, so I suspect he served in western or upstate New York).
My (5th) great grandfather James Ledoyt (almost all the guys I’m mentioning as “ancestors” are either my 4th or 5th great grandfathers) was in the 4th Connecticut Regiment, which took part in the Invasion of Canada (1775) and the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown (both 1777) and Monmouth (1778)
Another Woodstock area ancestor Joseph Griggs (1748-1840) enlisted three times. In 1775 he served as a corporal in the Connecticut militia in Colonel Joseph Spencer’s regiment, which saw action at the Siege of Boston, including the Battle of Bunker Hill. In August 1777 he enlisted again and took part in the three month campaign against General Burgoyne. He marched all the way from his home in Connecticut to upstate Sarataoga, New York to take part in the Battle of Saratoga. In a written account I found, claimed to have been close to General Arnold (the ad hoc battle commander) when Arnold’s horse was shot and killed from under him, resulting in the leg injury that would plague him thereafter. (I am of course talking about Benedict Arnold. He was one of the Revolution’s most important leaders prior to his treason, which is why his switching sides was such a momentous event). Griggs mustered out in Peekskill in December 1777, and then re-enlisted in 1778, although I haven’t yet found where he served the third time.
Here’s a story that made me both excited and sad. My (4th) great grandfather, Deacon Samuel Crawford (1748-1824) served in 1776, and took part in the fighting in New York City and the Battle of Long Island. This is what made me excited. Much of the fighting in the battle took place in Brooklyn right near where I live. You could almost throw a rock from my house to hit some of the battle sites from that campaign. So that was cool. What was sad? Well, I don’t think he took much part in the fighting because he came down with camp fever. His brother John came and brought him home, and John and their father Hugh cared for him. Samuel recovered — but John and Hugh caught his fever and died! Samuel went on to further service eventually attending the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, he became a prosperous land owner in West Woodstock (1000 acres) and also operated a mill. He became a selectman and state representative, and (obviously) a church deacon.
Another ancestor, Ezra Bellows (1750-1827) of Worcester, Mass served as a private and was injured in the Mt. Hope Bay Raids (some of the only fighting that happened on Rhode Island soil) in 1778.
My (5th) great grandfather David Ladd (1727-1796), of Norwich, CT was a private in Col. John Durkee’s company of matrosses. He joined Colonel Durkee’s Regiment when they went into camp in Peekskill, NY in Spring 1777. In September, the Regiment was ordered to join General Washington’s army in Pennsylvania. The Regiment was engaged in the Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania, October 4, 1777. Soon after, the Regiment was ordered to Fort Mifflin on Mud Island near Red Bank on the Delaware River. They were engaged in the defense of Fort Mifflin for about five or six weeks, lost a great many men, retreated and took up winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Ladd left the unit at that point (as many did).
OKAY! That’s my mom’s side of the family (at least, those I know about). Here’s the ones I know about on my dad’s side.
As you saw above, the northern theatre mostly saw action at the front end of the war. My dad’s folks were from the south, which mostly saw action at the back end of the war. (Something we often forget — the Revolutionary War dragged on for EIGHT years!)
My dad’s family comes from Tennessee, and several of his ancestors were among the state’s founders. The American Revolution played a big role in the creation of the state in the first place — it was settled largely by veterans of the war who were awarded land grants in the new territory for their service (mostly men from Virginia and the Carolinas). And some people who had already settled the area at the time of the war (when it was still officially part of North Carolina) went back over the mountains to take part in the Revolution in the decisive Battle of King’s Mountain (1780) . They were known as the Overmountain Men. The leaders of this decisive battle included General William Campbell (who my great-great-great grandfather William Campbell Stewart was named after), and Colonel Isaac Shelby (a cousin of my [7th] great grandmother]), who went on to become the first and fifth governor of Kentucky, among many other distinctions. (Isaac’s brother Moses Shelby also fought at this battle, and was wounded). Two of my (5th) great grandfathers also fought in the battle, and were among the founders of Tennessee: John Hale (1743-1816) who was one of the members of the Wautaga Association, one of the first attempts to set up an autonomous (non-British) government on American soil and also a member of the North Carolina Provincial Assembly and signer of the North Carolina Constitution of 1776; and Robert Allison (1749-1826), who helped set up in the first law court in 1787 in what was to become Tenneessee (but then still regarded as Washington County, North Carolina). Robert served alongside his brother John Allison; other relatives who fought in this battle included John Ross (1747-1791), Captain John McClure, and Perrin Cardwell. If you look at a map of Tennessee, you will that huge percentage of the counties are named after Revolutionary era military and political leaders.
One of my Southern ancestors Nathaniel Bilbrey (1751-1836), of Edgecombe County, NC was clearly one of those guys who is addicted to action. He pretty much served the ENTIRETY of the war. Most guys served three month hitches. If you remember your American history, Washington’s number one problem was the constant evaporation of his troop strength. Nathaniel Bilbrey was not part of the problem. He first enlisted as a private in 1776, re-enlisted numerous times, and was mustered out for the last time near the war’s end in 1783. In 1777 and 1778 he took part in all the major battles in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. For the last years of the war (1780 til the end) he served in the Carolinas. His rank went from private to lieutenant to sergeant major. You can read much more detail about it here.
Another North Carolina ancestor Joseph Howell Jr (1733-1835) served at a fairly old age, but he had valuable experience. He had served in the NC militia ten years prior to the revolution. He was 43 when Independence was declared and given the rank of captain in the NC, militia, serving in the Battles at Guilford Courthouse and King’s Mountain. He also furnished supplies and money to the Continental Army. His father-in-law, Col. William Starling (1756-1826) (also my ancestor) was in charge of a temporary local regiment whose mission was to defend Mecklenburg County, Virginia, although the unit didn’t see action.
My (6th) great grandfather William King (1750-1818) served in the Duplin County (NC) Militia under his brother, Capt. Michael King. William King’s son William Rufus Devane King was America’s 13th vice president. (much more on THAT later).
Here’s an interesting one: my (5th) great grand father John Nichols (1743-1817) was an immigrant from Yorkshire, England who came over as a child. Despite this, he chose not to be a Loyalist, but a Patriot who enlisted in Orange County, North Carolina. He enlisted for three years in McGlauhan’s Company, 7th Regiment on 11 March 1777. In 1780, he was captured at the Battle of Camden, but released by General Cornwallis, whom he’d known in England. In 1778, he married Sarah Stout Lytle, the widow of Andrew Lytle, who was killed in action at the Battle of Brandywine.
Another (5th) great grandfather from North Carolina Peter G. Ledford (1758-1854) served for six months in 1781 as a trooper in the Company of Cavalry as a private. Most of his unit’s service was spent in pursuit of a Tory colonel by the name of Thomas Fanning who terrorized the citizens of central North Carolina (they never caught him).
And yet another (5th) great grandfather from North Carolina Jonathan Knight (1729-1809), served as a Major in the Granville County Regiment of Militia.
Further afield: William Lee Davidson (for whom Davidson County, Tennessee, where Nashville is located) was a North Carolina militia general and my first cousin, 8 times removed. He fought in many important battles including the Snow Campain, Germantown, Valley Forge, and Colson’s Mill. He was killed in action at the Battle of Cowan’s Ford.
One last salvo:
Another Virginia ancestor, James Cox, (1760-1810) is listed in the Revolutionary War rolls as having served in the continentals as a “musician.” And, folks? If the war were to be fought again today? That’s probably me.
Happy Independence Day!