Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Patriots Remembered in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about interesting Revolutionary War-era discoveries she’s found in old newspapers.

Genealogists, by the very nature of what we do, have a keen interest in history. One of my more unusual interests is reading about and transcribing reports from the American Revolutionary War.

Perhaps it is because I have identified numerous ancestors in my family tree who were patriots during that war. This interest has been heightened by finding so many Revolutionary War newspaper articles in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives.

In this article I’d like to share a few of the unusual Revolutionary War-era stories I’ve found during my ancestor searches, most of them extracted from newspaper obituaries. Keep in mind that to various lineage societies (DAR, SAR, etc.) the definition of “patriot” is not limited to military service. I happen to agree with that assessment: it’s possible to serve your country in many non-military ways during wartime, such as:

  • Belonging to a member of a committee of safety or correspondence
  • Manufacturing goods and providing necessary services
  • Attending to or assisting veterans

Some of these services during the Revolutionary War are described in copious detail in old newspapers from that time. These old newspaper articles are a great resource to discover the stories of lesser-known Revolutionary War heroes. Other types of wartime participation are not as well reported, such as the role played by Uriah Hanks, of Mansfield, Connecticut. He provided a key service during the American Revolution: he manufactured gunlocks for the Colonial troops. Hanks passed away on 4 July 1809 at the age of 74. Although I have found several death notices for him, none that I located mentioned the exact date of his death—or his occupation.

Uriah Hanks death notice, Windham Herald newspaper 20 July 1809

Windham Herald (Windham, Connecticut), 20 July 1809, page 3

It’s necessary in genealogy research to consult a range of resources, and I have found additional information about Hanks in DAR records, vital records, books, and from his tombstone at Old Storrs Cemetery in Storrs, Connecticut.

Notable & Famous People in the Revolutionary War

One of the interesting facts about our country is that two Founding Fathers and presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died within hours of each other on 4 July 1826. Both of these patriots’ careers were well covered by the newspapers of the time, and you can find numerous articles about them.

However, there is another Founding Father who is seemingly overlooked, who also passed away on our country’s birthday—like Hanks, Adams and Jefferson. His name was Fisher Ames (9 April 1758-4 July 1808), a member of the Continental Congress.

Ever heard of him?

I imagine he is not a household name, but he should be, as he was the penman of the 1st Amendment to our Bill of Rights.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The congressional election of 1788 pitted Ames against Samuel Adams, which he won handily, although Samuel Adams did gain a seat in the second Congress.

election returns, Massachusetts Centinel newspaper article 27 December 1788

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 27 December 1788, page 121

When he died, Ames’s obituary described him as “a most eloquent orator, enlightened statesman, ardent and anxious patriot, virtuous and amiable man”:

Fisher Ames obituary, Hampshire Federalist newspaper 7 July 1808

Hampshire Federalist (Springfield, Massachusetts), 7 July 1808, page 3

I recommend taking the time to read the Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts) of 6 July 1808, which mentions his widely-attended funeral, including most of the important dignitaries of the time including Supreme Court Justices, Members of Congress, the Attorney General, Members of the Senate, etc.

Minority Patriots in the Revolutionary War

Surprisingly, we can locate a respectable number of articles about minority patriots in Revolutionary War-era newspapers. The first African American who fell during the struggle was Crispus Attucks, at the Boston Massacre. He is barely mentioned in the Boston New-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts) report on 15 March 1770, but received more coverage in later reports.

“Last Thursday, agreeable to a general request of the Inhabitants, and the consent of Parents & others, were followed to their Grave in succession…two of the unfortunate Sufferers, viz. James Caldwell & Crispus Attucks, who were strangers, borne from Faneuil Hall, attended by a numerous train of Persons of all ranks…”

There are newspaper articles about Native Americans and minority pensioners in the Revolutionary War, as in the following death notice examples:

collage of Revolutionary War-related death notices

Collage of Revolutionary War-related death notices

A fire in the War Department on 8 November 1800 destroyed many military records, and additional records were lost during the War of 1812, but, fortunately, we can locate most pension records after that time frame.

For example, the record of Cummy Simon (or Simons) Revolutionary War Pension S.36315, available from the National Archives or at Fold3.com, reports that he enlisted in June of 1777 in Capt. Granger’s Company (Col. Charles B. Webb’s Regiment), and wasn’t discharged until June of 1783. There is also a letter which names two children, Cummy Simon and Minerva Cable, a welcome addition to any family history research.

Women of the Revolutionary War

I’d like to conclude this article with reports of female Revolutionary War patriots. There are a number of noted women who served during the Revolutionary War, including the “Molly Pitchers” (women who fought in the war; the most famous was Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley), Emily Geiger, Dicey Langston and Deborah Samson (who disguised herself as a man named Robert Shirtliffe in order to fight). Some of their obituaries can be found at the time of their demise, and longer reports can be read from later periods of recognition when towns or lineage societies took the time to commemorate them.

Here is the obituary of one of the women patriots during the Revolutionary War, Mary Wyckoff, that notes: “Many a soldier has to mourn her death, and reflect with gratitude on the generosity and aid afforded them at Fishkill [New York], during the late revolution, when she fed the hungry, cloathed the naked, and protected the unfortunate from the fury of the British troops.”

Mary Wyckoff obituary, Minerva newspaper 29 May 1797

Minerva (New York, New York), 29 May 1797, page 3

The courageous Margaret Keysor seems to have fallen through the cracks of history. Shortly after the Battle of Oriskany, her husband and two sons were captured by Indians and Tories. Margaret escaped with her five children and fled to a nearby fort, which ended up being guarded by two invalid soldiers who were protecting 200 women and children! When the fort was attacked the women and children picked up weapons and fought for their lives until reinforcements arrived.

When Margaret died 46 years later in 1823, her obituary recalled the brave fight she participated in:

“Here she sought shelter in the fort, and remained while Major Brown, with a battalion under his command, marched out to join the forces under General Van Rensselaer. Major Brown and his whole corps, with the exception of thirteen men, fell in the action which ensued: thus was the place left with but two invalid soldiers to protect two hundred women and children. The fort was immediately besieged by the combined forces of British and Indians, but the hand of Heaven can, in times of necessity, convert even women and children into soldiers. By this apparently feeble and inefficient band, was the place defended until reinforced, and the enemy abandoned the enterprise.”

Margaret Keysor obituary, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper 23 April 1823

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 23 April 1823, page 3

This is the kind of exciting story Revolutionary War-era newspapers can tell us about little-known patriots during that legendary struggle!

If you enjoy reading reports from the American Revolution, I invite you to join me on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/500RevWarObits

The Daughters of the American Revolution published a reference in 2008 that is available for download on Forgotten Patriots, with a supplement in 2012.

Newspaper Genealogy Research: Finding the Hames Family Stories

So few family stories are passed down and preserved by folks today. People are busy earning a living and dealing with the demands of 21st century lives. In addition, many families now find themselves spread across the country. It can be difficult for the rising generation to hear the old family stories from their grandparents.

Fortunately newspapers published many of these interesting family stories from yesteryear, and they can be found online today.

Here’s a great story preserved in an old newspaper: the trip the Hames brothers made in 1910 to visit for the first time the grave of their 2nd great-grandfather John Hames.

brothers find grave of ancestor John Hames, Marietta Journal newspaper article 29 July 1910

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 29 July 1910, page 2

After a train ride, the two brothers took “a buggy across the country to Sardis” where they saw the grave where their ancestor was buried in 1860.

Today, a gravestone marks the spot where John Hames was buried. The 1910 newspaper article stated that “his grave will be properly marked” by the visiting brothers to honor their ancestor. What’s there now is a standard military gravestone supplied by the government. Did the two brothers arrange for it to be placed in the cemetery?

photo of the gravestone of John Hames, buried in 1860

Photo: gravestone of John Hames. Credit: Waymarking.com.

Reading further into the old newspaper article about the brother’s gravesite visit, we find that when John Hames died he was known as the oldest man in the country: 108 years old.

Look at all the family history we learn from this one newspaper article:

  • W.J.M. Hames and D.C. Hames were brothers living in Marietta, Georgia
  • Their 2nd great-grandfather, John Hames, served in the Revolutionary War and was buried in Sardis, Georgia
  • John married Charity Jasper, the sister of Sergeant (William) Jasper—another hero of the Revolutionary War. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Jasper
  • The brothers took the Western & Atlantic train to Tilton, Georgia, then went by buggy to the cemetery at Sardis, Georgia
  • There they saw their ancestor’s grave and met John Beemer (who helped to bury the old soldier) and John Shannon (who made his coffin)
  • In 1860 when he died, John Hames, at 108, was considered to be the oldest man in America
  • The brother’s father was Hamlet C. Hames
  • Their grandfather was William Hames
  • Their great-grandfather was Charles Hames, the son of their Revolutionary War ancestor
  • They enjoyed their trip and spent time fishing in the Connasauga River
  • They visited Fort DeSoto
  • They visited the jail where John Howard Payne was imprisoned. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Howard_Payne
  • They also visited the home of Chief James Vann, the Cherokee Indian leader
photo of Cherokee Chief James Vann’s house

Photo: Cherokee Chief James Vann’s house. Credit: Georgia State Parks: http://www.gastateparks.org/ChiefVannHouse.

As this one historical newspaper article shows, newspapers provide information about your ancestors you can’t find anywhere else. More than just the names and dates you can get from other genealogy records, newspapers tell stories about the experiences your ancestors had, the people they met, and the times they lived in—these family stories help you get to know them as real people.

Revolutionary War Recollections in Newspapers: Remembering General Putnam

Don’t fire until you see “the color of their eyes”—Colonial General Israel Putnam.

Isaac Basset fought with General Putnam at the Battle of Bunker Hill near Boston on 17 June 1775, an early battle in the American Revolutionary War. Although technically a British victory, they suffered more than twice as many casualties as the Colonial forces—who proved by their fierce fighting throughout the battle that they were willing and able to stand up to the experienced British troops.

Isaac Basset remembered the fighting well, and the stirring command of General Putnam that the Colonial troops not “fire on the enemy till they could see the color of their eyes, and then for every man to make sure of his mark.”

Years later, Basset and other soldiers who fought to gain America’s independence gave their recollections of their experiences in the Revolutionary War.

Revolutionary War recollections about General Putnam, Boston Centinel newspaper article 5 August 1818

Boston Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 August 1818, page 1

General Putnam was one of the true heroes of the Revolutionary War, and was even briefly in command of all the American forces before George Washington took over. He is honored to this day: parks, towns and taverns are named for him.

illustration of Revolutionary War hero General Putnam escaping the British at Greenwich, Connecticut

Image: General Putnam Escaping the British at Greenwich, Connecticut. Credit: Wiki Commons, Israel Putnam, Project Gutenberg eText 17049.

Get more recollections about General Putnam and other famous Revolutionary War heroes in historical newspaper articles at GenealogyBank.

Genealogy Help: Two Captain Elisha Smiths—Which Is My Ancestor?

I was recently doing some family history research, looking for information about my ancestor Captain Elisha Smith—when I ran into a dilemma that genealogists occasionally face: two men with the same name from roughly the same time period.

Here’s how it happened, and here’s what I did to solve this riddle.

I was looking for my ancestor Captain Elisha Smith (1755-1834) who served in the American Revolutionary War.

Hmm…

Family records show that he was born in 1755, died in 1834, and lived in New Hampshire.

A quick search in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives—Bingo—there he is.

obituary for Captain Elisha Smith, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper article 7 July 1834

New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 7 July 1834, page 3

OK. This old death record seems to fit.

He did live in New Hampton, New Hampshire.

The age is about right: “in the eightieth year of his age.”

Captain, and “soldier of the Revolution.”

Yes, that all fits my ancestor’s profile.

He’s called “a republican of the Jeffersonian school” and “a firm supporter of the present administration.”

OK, I have no idea what his politics were, but it is interesting to know that he was such a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

“He was among the first settlers of the town in which he lived.”

OK, that fits. The family lived in New Hampton, New Hampshire, for generations.

He’s called “an enterprising and industrious farmer.”

OK; good testimonial to his character and work ethic.

So—this seems to be the old obituary of my ancestor.

“Hey, wait a minute…”

As the doctor said when my twin brother and I were born: “Hey, wait a minute, there’s another one.”

I found another historical obituary for a person named “Capt. Elisha Smith.”

Is this my “Captain Elisha Smith” ancestor that I was looking for?

Did I have the dates and places for him wrong?

obituary for Captain Elisha Smith, American Advocate newspaper article 16 April 1825

American Advocate (Hallowell, Maine), 16 April 1825, page 3

The name in the death record is the same, so is his title.

So that fits.

This Capt. Elisha Smith died in 1825 “aged 74.”

He was 74 years old in 1825, so his dates are approximately 1751-1825.

This could be a record for my ancestor—maybe the dates/places I had were wrong and this is the correct Elisha Smith.

He has the title “Captain.” Given his age he probably served in the American Revolutionary War; a local militia or other military role.

This Elisha Smith died in Lyman, Maine.

Lyman, Maine?

Hmm… that doesn’t fit as well.

As you can see from this map, Lyman, Maine, is about 70 miles from New Hampton, New Hampshire.

map showing distance between New Hampton, New Hampshire, and Lyman, Maine

Map showing distance between New Hampton, New Hampshire, and Lyman, Maine, from Google Maps

Was he traveling in Lyman, Maine, when he died?

I decided to see what else I could find about “Captain Elisha Smith,” so I Googled his name.

Bang. Up came a book written in 1915 by Mary Elizabeth Neal Hanaford: Family Branches of the Hanaford, Thompson, Huckins, Prescott, Smith…and Allied Families. (Rockford, Illinois: Author, 1915).

collage of pages from Mary Hanaford's 1915 book "Family Branches of the Hanaford, Thompson, Huckins, Prescott, Smith…and Allied Families"

Collage of pages from Mary Hanaford’s 1915 book “Family Branches of the Hanaford, Thompson, Huckins, Prescott, Smith…and Allied Families”

Genealogy Research Tip: Google has digitized hundreds of thousands of local histories and genealogies just like this one. Use Google Books as a quick source to see what conclusions other genealogists and local historians have made. It’s free, and can really help you with your own family history research.

Hanaford’s book is terrific. She published her research almost 100 years ago, in 1915, and she included a section on Captain Elisha Smith.

Hmm. She makes no mention of Lyman, Maine, for her Elisha Smith.

On page 145 she states: “Elisha Smith went to New Hampton [New Hampshire] from Brentwood Corner [New Hampshire] and settled at the foot of Beech Hill, in 1834.” Since he died 28 June 1834, he moved to New Hampton within weeks of his death. Perhaps it was his advancing age and possible ill health that prompted the move to New Hampton, to be closer to other family members.

Hanaford’s book has pages of references and citations that give more details on his life and that of the other members of the family.

I still need to check out those references, but with the additional corroboration in Hanaford’s book I can reasonably conclude that the first obituary I found in GenealogyBank for “Captain Elisha Smith,” the one published in the New Hampshire Patriot, is for my target ancestor Captain Elisha Smith that I was researching.

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.

Researching Records for Solomon Titus: A Revolutionary War Veteran

With its large collections of newspapers, historical books and documents, and government records, GenealogyBank provides a wealth of genealogical resources to help you research your family history.

One handy genealogy resource in GenealogyBank is the register of Revolutionary War Burials. The Daughters of the American Revolution issued a report every year of the burial sites of military veterans that served in America’s war for independence.

For example here is the military register entry for Solomon Titus, taken from the Forty-eighth report of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, April 1, 1944, to April 1, 1945, page 228.

burial report for Revolutionary War veteran Solomon Titus from Daughters of the American Revolution 1944-45 report

Graves of the soldiers of the Revolution, from 1944-45 Daughters of the American Revolution burial report

This DAR report tells us that Solomon Titus was:

  • A private in the Revolutionary War
  • In the Battle of White Plains (October 28, 1776)
  • In the Battle of Monmouth (June 28, 1778)
  • Buried in the Pennington, New Jersey, Presbyterian Churchyard
  • There is a file on him at the Veteran’s Administration (now at the National Archives)
  • W-2491

    casualty list from the Revolutionary War Battle of White Plains, published by the Freeman's Journal newspaper on December 3, 1776

    Casualty list from the Revolutionary War Battle of White Plains, published by the Freeman's Journal (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 3 December 1776, page 2

We can then dig into GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives and find articles about each one of the military battles Titus fought in as the Revolutionary War unfolded. Historical newspaper articles such as this one, providing a summary of the soldiers killed at the Battle of White Plains, published in the Freeman’s Journal (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 3 December 1776, page 2.

Or the many old newspaper articles about the pivotal Battle of Monmouth, such as this one providing George Washington’s own account of the famous military battle, published in the Continental Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 23 July 1778, page 1.

collage of the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Monmouth, featuring a newspaper article from the Continental Journal newspaper and a painting of George Washington by Emanuel Leutze

Collage of the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Monmouth, featuring a newspaper article from the Continental Journal newspaper and a painting of George Washington by Emanuel Leutze

(Painting, Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth, by Emanuel Leutze. Wikimedia Commons.)

GenealogyBank is the only genealogy website complete enough to let us read about our ancestor’s experiences—like those of Solomon Titus in the Revolutionary War—day by day.

The Daughters of the American Revolution report said that the U.S. government had a file on Solomon Titus, and in the last column it gives the reference number W-2491.

W-2491. What does that mean?

It means that the widow of Solomon Titus applied for a military pension based on his service in the Revolutionary War. We learned in this report that he died on 19 December 1833. Looking in GenealogyBank we find that his wife applied for a widow’s pension and that it was approved in 1839.

page from the December 2, 1839, Journal of the House of Representatives showing recipients of Revolutionary War pensions

Page from the December 2, 1839, Journal of the House of Representatives showing recipients of Revolutionary War pensions

(Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States: being the first session of the Twenty-sixth Congress, begun and held at the City of Washington, December 2, 1839, in the sixty-fourth year of the independence of the said states on page 175.)

So, now we know that his wife’s name was Susannah Titus. A quick search of the early New Jersey marriages shows that her name was Susannah Read and that she and Solomon married in April 1779 in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

We can see a copy of Solomon’s military personnel file, available from the National Archives. Use “Standard Form 180” to make your request.

National Archives military records request form 1080

National Archives military records request form 1080

National Archives pension application request form 85

National Archives pension application request form 85

We can also request a copy of Susannah’s pension application by using Form 85. Be sure to include the pension number: W-2491.

We can gather so much information about our ancestors in the Revolutionary War era!

The Daughters of the American Revolution report also told us that Solomon Titus was buried in the Presbyterian Churchyard in Pennington, New Jersey.

 

A quick search on Google locates a wide-angle photo of that cemetery on flickr.

grave of Revolutionary War veteran Solomon Titus, buried in the Presbyterian churchyard in Pennington, New Jersey

Grave of Revolutionary War veteran Solomon Titus

Searching Google more, we find a photo of his grave on the website Find-A-Grave.

(Photo by Therese Fenner Boucher on Find-A-Grave.)