Hammet Achmet: Washington’s Waiter & Revolutionary War Patriot

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents the fascinating story of Hammet Achmet, who grew up a slave in George Washington’s household, served as a drummer in the Revolutionary War, then became a freedman and drum maker.

Piecing together the life of a patriot from the American Revolutionary War is challenging—but piecing together the life of an African American minority patriot is even more so. That is, unless the person distinguished himself in a special way.

Such was the case with Hammet (or Hamet) Achmet (c. 1752, Africa – 1842, Connecticut), who was captured and enslaved as a young child, and later became something of a celebrity—having served as George Washington’s personal waiter.

George Washington’s Slave & Close Companion

Achmet grew up in the Washington family’s household as a black slave. However, he was later freed, either for serving in the American Revolutionary War, or according to the terms of George Washington’s will.

In his youth, Achmet had the responsibility of holding his horse as Washington prepared to ride. Achmet was affable and the two of them shared a life-long relationship. As an adult, he attended the Washington family at meals. After George Washington’s death in 1799, Achmet was given a lock of the president’s hair, which he kept in a tiny silver box shaped like a coffin. This treasure, along with one of Washington’s waistcoats and a small rapier (dress sword) with the initials G.W., were heirlooms Achmet carefully guarded throughout his life.

As an African American slave he was never taught to read or write, but Achmet was very intelligent. He could speak four or five languages, a useful skill for anyone in early America with its melting pot of immigrants. Although of a diminutive size (4′ 6”), Achmet served his new country faithfully as a Revolutionary War drummer.

In 1900 his life was chronicled in a book by Emilie T. Stedman, whose family knew him personally. Stedman’s book makes for marvelous historical reading and features her original drawings. You can read her book for free online, Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington, here: https://archive.org/details/hammetachmetserv00sted.

photo of the cover of Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

In addition to the interesting information about him in Stedman’s book, we can expand our understanding of Achmet’s story with newspaper accounts that chronicle his fascinating life.

An African American Drummer in the Revolutionary War

Many people today assume that a drummer’s duties were easy during the Revolutionary War—but the music corps, including fifers, drummers, and other musicians, toiled for long days with complicated assignments. Several guides still exist which describe their schedule and music. (See link at the end of this article.)

Up before dawn, the war musicians signaled the wake-up, or “Reveille,” by playing “The Drummer’s Call.” If the troops were going on march, this musical selection reverted to one called “The General.” Because they never knew if the enemy was listening, these easily understood auditory signals reduced the need to call out orders to the troops.

The military musicians had to learn at least a dozen routines because each separate activity, from Roll Call to Assembly, had its own special composition. There were even unique sets for officer activities, and a special one for the Retreat, during which the men received their evening’s orders.

drawing of a drum and swords from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

Illustration: from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

Drummers accompanied or led the troops to battle, acting much like modern-day cheerleaders at a pep rally. Imagine having to focus on playing your music correctly, avoiding injury, and inspiring the trembling soldiers to face the enemy with determined energy! Being a drummer during battle was no easy task, and Achmet performed his responsibilities as well as the best of them.

Achmet Receives Revolutionary War Pension

After the Revolutionary War, Achmet applied for and received a pension (S.38107). His first request was done as a resident of Connecticut on 28 June 1818.

In his pension application, Achmet stated that he had served under Capt. Throop in Col. Return Jonathan Meig’s regiment, and signed the statement with his mark. Supporting statements were made by veterans who remembered seeing Achmet at the Valley Forge Winter Encampment; Phillipsburg, New Jersey; the Battle of Stony Point, New York (16 July 1779); and elsewhere. One wrote this about Achmet:

I saw the same little black drummer who is now before me, marching with said division of said army.

The pension was eventually granted on the basis that Achmet was an invalid (or too frail to work).

The Drum Maker

Once Achmet was a free man, he made his living manufacturing drums and toys, and selling used shoes to a gun factory.

text from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

From: Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

Some remembered that Achmet would wear his old uniform, and his persistent drumming was often heard. He liked to recount stories about the dinners and grand company held in “Massa Washington’s mansion,” and sometimes showed off the president’s waistcoat.

Hammet Achmet’s Family Life

Achmet’s first wife was named Jane (c. 1774 – 1827), by whom there was a child. Jane was much younger than her husband but died before he did.

Their marriage was sometimes a rocky one, as we can infer from this historical newspaper advertisement in which Achmet is warning the public not to trust his wife, stating that he will not pay any more of the debts she incurs!

ad placed by Hamet Achmet warning he would not pay his wife's debts, Middlesex Gazette newspaper advertisement 5 July 1821

Middlesex Gazette (Middletown, Connecticut), 5 July 1821, page 3

When Jane sensed her impending death, “she prepared her shroud and mourning for her husband and granddaughter.” This obituary noted she was a professor of religion (meaning a type of preacher, not to be confused with a professor at a school).

obituary for Jane Achmet, Middlesex Gazette newspaper article 2 May 1827

Middlesex Gazette (Middletown, Connecticut), 2 May 1827, page 3

Achmet’s second wife, whose name might have been Ann, was Caucasian with darkened skin.

text from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

From: Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

They married at the Methodist parsonage. This young bride had a temper, and after one fight she cut off Achmet’s curls while he slept—a serious affront, as this was rarely done.

Here is Stedman’s drawing depicting Achmet’s cottage.

drawing of Hammet Achmet's cottage, from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

Illustration: from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

A Colorful Personality

Stedman’s book provides many details about Achmet and recounts fun anecdotes, including how he responded when asked to join Phineas T. Barnum’s Circus.

To learn the answer, read the story here: https://archive.org/details/hammetachmetserv00sted

Achmet’s Obituary

When Hammett (or Hamet) Achmet passed away, this same obituary appeared in numerous newspapers.

obituary for Hamet Achmet, Boston Courier newspaper article 5 December 1842

Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 December 1842, page 3

Research Links

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Continuing our series on the top genealogy websites that will save you time and get you 24/7 access to the data you need and will rely on in your family history research, our next category is the best websites for cemetery and burial records: National Gravesite Locator, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves.

National Gravesite Locator Search Adeline Kemp

Credit: National Gravesite Locator, http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/

This important website, created by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, lets genealogists quickly locate military and veterans’ burials from 1997 to today. This cemetery website is updated daily and includes all persons buried in the hundreds of officially-designated U.S. federal and state military cemeteries.

National Gravesite Locator Map - Adeline Kemp

Credit: National Gravesite Locator, http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/

These military cemeteries permit the burial of the service member and their spouse. The online index gives you the core genealogical information: each person’s name; dates of birth and death; name and rank of the person that served in the military; and the name and contact information for the military cemetery. All of this is available at your fingertips 24/7 online. This cemetery website is updated daily.

Billiongraves Find a Grave

Credit: Find-A-Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/
Credit: BillionGraves, http://billiongraves.com/

These essential online cemetery websites rely on crowdsourcing to grow. As the above photo shows, individual genealogists take pictures of the graves that interest them and upload them to these two websites.

“Many hands make light work,” allowing these cemetery websites to grow quickly.

BillionGraves has over 4.2 million photographs of individual gravestones.

Find-A-Grave has roughly the same number of tombstone images, but also has included indexes to the names of persons buried in cemeteries across the country—boosting its name count to over 102 million “grave records.”

Billion Graves Sarah Whitehouse

Credit: Billion Graves, http://billiongraves.com/

Find A Grave Addie Estelle Morris Huse

Credit: Find-A-Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/

Genealogists using Find-A-Grave routinely add an image of the tombstone, and also old family photographs and a biography of the deceased. Since this content is all online photographs, documents and similar items may be added to each individual’s memorial page by all interested persons.

Find A Grave John Henry Kemp

Credit: Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com

I decided to test how easy it is to add photographs of a tombstone and of the deceased to these cemetery websites. Bang. Within just a few minutes I was registered on Find-A-Grave and uploaded a photo of my great-grandfather John Henry Kemp’s grave along with his portrait.

This was simple and easy to do.

I encourage all genealogists to hold nothing back: put all of your family’s information, documents, and photographs on cemetery sites like these, and on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.

It is essential that we preserve and protect our family history information by putting our genealogy records on multiple websites. Ensure that the information about your family tree that you have gathered over years of genealogy research is not lost, but is permanently available for you and the rising generations.

Oliver Cromwell: An African American Revolutionary War Hero

Oliver Cromwell was no ordinary soldier of the American Revolution. This military hero’s discharge was signed by General George Washington “stating that he was entitled to wear the badges of honor by reason of his honorable services.”

Cromwell’s story first appeared in a newspaper interview conducted when he was 100 years old by a reporter of the Burlington Gazette (Burlington, New Jersey) in 1905, which was reprinted by the Trenton Evening Times. As the newspaper article noted: “though feeble, his lips trembling at every word, when he spoke of [General George] Washington his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.”

The archive of old newspapers in GenealogyBank is packed with thousands of these firsthand accounts of military service in the Revolutionary War, adding a personal touch to the facts of many of these early American military battles.

In that 1905 interview, Cromwell told of his Revolutionary War service crossing the Delaware “with his beloved commander…on the memorable Christmas night [in] 1776.”

The old newspaper article adds that Cromwell: “took part in the battle of Trenton, and helped to ‘knock the British about lively at Princeton.’ He also fought at the Revolutionary War battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Monmouth and Springfield, where he was severely wounded, and saw the last man killed at York town.”

interview with African American Revolutionary War veteran Oliver Cromwell, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 11 April 1905

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 11 April 1905, page 5

A few days after Cromwell’s death, the local Burlington Gazette published an editorial calling for the erection of a monument in honor of the Revolutionary War hero.

“And thus, one by one, the men who purchased with their blood the liberty we now enjoy, are going off the stage…We suggest whether it would not be proper to erect some suitable monument over his grave…it will be pleasant to know that the people of Burlington felt sufficient interest in him, to mark the spot where his ashes are buried.”

The reprint in the Trenton Evening Times notes: “Unfortunately no such monument was ever erected and there is nothing to indicate the last resting place of Oliver Cromwell.”

Oliver Cromwell lived in a different time and place, and life was more difficult than it would have been for him now. He was African American, one of the many that served in the American Revolution. Though honored by General Washington, his pension was revoked by a local pension agent. “Tears fell from his eyes when he told of his discharge being taken from him by the pension agent.”

In 1984, this plaque was placed on the property where his home once stood.

plaque indicating spot where African American Revolutionary War veteran Oliver Cromwell's house once stood

Photo from the official Burlington County, New Jersey, website

His grave has been located in the cemetery at Broad Street Methodist Church in Burlington, New Jersey. The local historical society was named in his honor in 1983.

Oliver Cromwell (1752-1853), one of “the men who purchased with their blood the liberty we now enjoy,” was “respected by our citizens” then and remembered to this day.

See what other American Revolutionary War veterans’ stories you can find in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives. There are many more stories of Revolutionary War heroes like Oliver Cromwell waiting for you to discover.