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.

Last Veteran of the War of 1812, Hiram Cronk—Died in 1905!

In the month of May we celebrate Memorial Day, a time to honor the men and women who died fighting our country’s wars—and, by extension, all veterans. During this week back in 1905 America was celebrating the remarkable story of a very special veteran—for on 13 May 1905, Hiram Silas Cronk died, the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812.

Hiram Cronk Featured in Duffy’s Whiskey Ads

On the day the old American solider turned 105, two weeks before his death, a whiskey company used Cronk’s longevity to help market its product. This newspaper advertisement was published by the Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 29 April 1905, page 2:

newspaper ad for Duffy's whiskey featuring Hiram Cronk, Evening Press newspaper 29 April 1905

Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 29 April 1905, page 2

The Death & Funeral of Hiram Cronk

The now famous Hiram Cronk died as he had lived, quietly on his farm in New York, but his death and funeral were reported in newspapers all across the United States. The city of New York lavished a state funeral on the venerable veteran, with full military honors. Tens of thousands paid their respects by filing past Hiram Cronk’s body lying in its coffin in the rotunda of New York City Hall.

Cronk’s death was seen as the passing of an era, for his lifetime embraced almost the entirety of the country’s history. He was born in 1800 during the administration of the nation’s second president John Adams; fought in the War of 1812; lived the entire length of the 19th century as the U.S. became a world power and one of the richest nations on earth; and died just nine years before the outbreak of World War I—with all its modern weaponry including tanks, airplanes and poison gas.

The Life & Family of Hiram Cronk

Until almost the very end of his life, Cronk received little publicity or fame for his U.S. military service in the War of 1812. After the war he earned his living as a shoemaker, then later bought some land in New York and became a farmer. In 1825 he married Mary Thornton; the couple had seven children and were married 60 years, Mary dying in 1885. He had 14 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren at the time of his death. One of his descendants, Jane, lived to over 100 years of age as well, making the two “serial centenarians.”

Cronk Finally Becomes Famous for His Good Genes

It was not until 1900, when the start of a new century coincided with his 100th year, that newspapers began to pay Hiram Cronk much attention. Typical of the notices that ran that year is this pension notice, published by the Springfield Daily Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 4 May 1900, page 11:

notice about Hiram Cronk being 100 years old, Springfield Daily Republican newspaper, 4 May 1900

Springfield Daily Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 4 May 1900, page 11

When Cronk was 101 the following article was published, emphasizing that he was the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812, and giving some interesting personal information—such as the fact that longevity ran in his family, and that he had used tobacco and strong liquor all his life!

This newspaper article was published by the Inter Ocean and reprinted by the Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 June 1901, page 4:

article about Hiram Cronk being the last survivor of the War of 1812, Daily Picayune newspaper, 3 June 1901

Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 June 1901, page 4

The news article goes on to report further on Cronk and his family’s genealogy:

“At the age of 101 years Mr. Cronk is still hale and hearty and, all things considered, remarkably active. He lives within a short distance of his birthplace. Except for his absence during the war, he has seldom left the vicinity.

“Cronk’s family is locally famous for longevity. Four brothers and a sister lived to be over 90 years old, and one to the age of 98. A family reunion was held on Hiram Cronk’s 100th birthday. It was attended by over 100 descendants and relatives.

“The veteran is a lifelong Democrat. He cast his first vote for Andrew Jackson and his last for Grover Cleveland. When asked why he has not since voted the old gentleman remarks good-naturedly: ‘When I got down to Grover I calculated it was time to quit and call it a half day.’

“From a very early age Cronk has been a habitual user of tobacco. He both chews and smokes. Recently he has threatened to break the habit. He is afraid, he says, that the use of the weed may become a habit with him. He has drunk strong liquor throughout his life, but always in moderation.

“The veteran has every attention and bids fair to live for some time yet. He makes his home with his youngest daughter, a mere chit of a girl of 80.”

Three days after Cronk turned 104 this newspaper article was published by the Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 2 May 1904, page 6:

article about Hiram Cronk turning 104, Boston Journal newspaper, 2 May 1904

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 2 May 1904, page 6

Note that last line, a theme that reverberated when Cronk passed away the next year: “With his death will be broken a link that binds us to a glorious past.”

Publicity for Hiram Cronk—and the resulting fame—really increased in the winter of 1904-05, when the old man became seriously ill and death seemed imminent, as reported in this news article published by the Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), on the front page of its 24 December 1904 issue:

article about Hiram Cronk dying, Evening Press newspaper, 24 December 1904

Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 24 December 1904, page 1

The article about the old soldier goes on to say:

“He had run the whole gamut of personal and business vicissitude, has found some consolation in the lean years and a greater joy in the last years, and was a cheery old optimist through all. Since last April the sluggishness has made itself felt and a natural sleep has, from day to day, taken up a greater number of the hours. Now he is sleeping his life away to the last sleep of all.”

Conk’s Funeral Is Arranged while He Is Still Living!

Alarmed at Cronk’s deteriorating condition, New York City’s Board of Aldermen took the unusual step of arranging a grand funeral for the aged veteran—even though he was still alive! This newspaper article was published by the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota) on the front page of its 21 December 1904 issue:

article about arranging funeral for Hiram Cronk, Duluth News Tribune newspaper, 21 December 1904

Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 21 December 1904, page 1

The news article goes on to say:

“…in the state of New York and in view of his honorable part in many battles of the War of 1812, it would be fitting that the chief city of the Empire State lead in honoring him by a soldier’s burial and that his remains lie in state in the City Hall.

“Alderman McCall said that while he approved of the spirit of the resolution he thought it would be better to wait for the hero to die before providing for his funeral. The resolution finally was adopted by the following amendment:

“ ‘That in the event of the death of Mr. Cronk, the president of the Board of Alderman take cognizance of the fact and appoint a committee to provide for a public funeral and other honors of the dead hero.’”

As you might expect, this business of arranging a funeral for a man still living was much remarked upon in the nation’s press, as the following humorous notices show.

This notice was published by the Springfield Daily Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 6 January 1905, page 13:

“The New York Board of Aldermen are planning to give a public funeral to Hiram Cronk when he dies. He is the only survivor of the War of 1812 in New York. The news of such an honor may prove so exciting to the old man that it will kill him.”

This notice was published by the Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 23 April 1905, page 6:

“Hiram Cronk, the last survivor of the War of 1812, was 105 last Wednesday [correction: his birthday was April 29], but he refuses to die, although the New York aldermen have voted him a public funeral when he will accept. With such an inducement one would expect a rush for the tomb.”

This notice was published by the Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 25 April 1905, page 6:

“Some months ago the New York Board of Aldermen voted to give Hiram Cronk, the last survivor of the War of 1812, a public funeral. In spite of this inducement to die, Mr. Cronk decided to remain among us a while longer, and celebrated his 105th birthday on Wednesday last [correction: his birthday was April 29]. He won’t lose the State funeral by declining to accept it at this time; he can have it whenever it will be convenient to him.”

There was a big celebration on April 29, 1905, when Cronk turned 105, as explained in this newspaper article published by the Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 30 April 1905, page 8:

article about celebrating Hiram Cronk's 105th birthday, Sunday world Herald newspaper, 30 April 1905

Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 30 April 1905, page 8

The news article goes on to say:

“Hiram Cronk, the only survivor of the War of 1812, was one hundred and five years old on April 29 and a patriotic celebration took place at his home at Ava, Oneida County, New York.

“Every society in the United States of the Sons and Daughters of the War of 1812 sent a delegation to Ava, and all patriots’ military bodies and American citizens sent him greetings, gifts or tokens to show that his services for the country were and are appreciated.

“Mr. Cronk was so weak during the winter that he was not expected to survive and elaborate funeral arrangements had been made, but he recovered thanks to Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey. By a special act of the New York City administration his remains, when he dies, will be interred in Mount Victory, a soldiers’ plot in Cypress Hills Cemetery.”

Hiram Cronk Dies at Age 105

Exactly two weeks after his 105th birthday, Hiram Cronk died. This newspaper article was published by the Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 13 May 1905, page 9:

article about the death of Hiram Cronk, Evening Press newspaper, 13 May 1905

Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 13 May 1905, page 9

The news article goes on to say:

“The body of Mr. Cronk will lie in state in the City Hall of New York and will be buried in Mt. Victory, Cypress Hills Cemetery, in Brooklyn, where more than half a hundred of his fellow soldiers in the War of 1812 have been laid at rest.”

The nation mourned the death of Hiram Cronk, recognizing it truly was the passing of an era, as expressed in this newspaper article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), May 15, 1905, page 8:

article about Hiram Cronk's death being the end of an era, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, 15 May 1905

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), May 15, 1905, page 8

The news article goes on to say:

“It calls to mind the brevity of our national existence. The [nineteenth] century-born Cronk was born during the Presidency of the elder Adams, when the total population was about that of Pennsylvania today, and when the cost of government was far less than the total appropriations just signed by Governor Pennypacker. He fought in the ranks against the troops of the same George III who ruled when the Revolution took place, a fact which so many intelligent people seem to have forgotten. He completed his career as a soldier before Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and at a time when this nation was still an experiment.

“Who could have imagined that this country would develop in wealth in the lifetime of a single man until it should become the richest on earth? That the population should grow to be the greatest of all non-Oriental nations, for we must place Russia essentially among the Eastern peoples? Who could have supposed that the life of one man would span that development in human activities which covered a period almost from the birth of steam as an active agent in human affairs?

“In view of these things what may not be the possibilities of the future?”

This comment was published by the Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 15 May 1905, page 6:

“The world of sentiment and patriotic affection seems poorer through the death of Hiram Cronk, the last pensioner of the War of 1812, and undoubtedly the final survivor. The one human link that bound us of today with that struggle for the defense of our rights on the sea has gone. Now let us carefully cherish the naval relics that are left to us.”

A grand parade escorted Hiram Cronk’s body to New York City Hall on May 17 so that it could lie in state for mourners to pay their respects, as reported in this newspaper article published by the Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 17 May 1905, page 10:

article about Hiram Cronk's body lying in state, Evening Press newspaper, 17 May 1905

Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 17 May 1905, page 10

The news article goes on to say:

“New York, May 17.—The body of Hiram Cronk, who lived to be the last survivor of the War of 1812, was brought here today from Boonville, N.Y., and will be laid away in Cypress Hills Cemetery with full military honors. The funeral will be held tomorrow and in the meantime the body will lie in state in the City Hall. Accompanying the body were Mr. Cronk’s three surviving sons and one daughter. They were Philander Cronk, 81 years old; William, 72 years old; John, 66 years old; and the daughter, Mrs. Sarah Rowley, 71 years old.

“As the funeral cortege moved from the Grand Central Station to the City Hall it afforded an imposing and unusual spectacle. Led by a police escort of mounted officers, a detachment from the United States regular Army, the Society of 1812 and the Old Guard in uniform, came the hearse bearing the old warrior’s body. Around it, in hollow square formation, marched the members of the U.S. Grant Post, G.A.R. Then followed the Washington Continental Guard from Washington, D.C., the Army and Navy Union, and carriages with members of the Cronk family. Carriages with Mayor McClellan and members of the city government brought up the rear.”

Details of Hiram Cronk’s body lying in state, as well as his funeral the following day on May 18, were reported in this newspaper article published by the Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island) on the front page of its 18 May 1905 issue:

article about Hiram Cronk's funeral, Pawtucket Times newspaper, 18 May 1905

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 18 May 1905, page 1

The news article goes on to say:

“New York, May 18.—The body of Hiram Cronk, the last veteran of the War of 1812 to pass away, was buried today in Cypress Hills Cemetery with impressive military honors. Nearly threescore other soldiers who fought in the war of almost a century ago had lain for many years in the cemetery where their oldest comrade was placed today.

“Since yesterday, when it was brought from Boonville, the body has been in the City Hall. All day yesterday, last evening and this forenoon there was a constant stream of men, women and children moving past the flower and bunting-covered casket in the city building—the first which had rested there since the body of Gen. Grant lay in state. One hundred and fifty policemen were required to keep the crowd moving and to keep clear the plaza in front of the building.

“From the City Hall to the cemetery the body was escorted by a detail of mounted police, the Fourteenth Regiment, and a troop from the Second Brigade, National Guard of New York; delegations from U.S. Grant Post, G.A.R., and carriages containing relatives of the dead soldier and a committee from the Board of Aldermen representing the city. All along the route over which the funeral cortege passed the streets were lined with people. At the cemetery Marcus B. Taylor, chaplain of the Veteran Corps, conducted the burial service according to the Grand Army ritual.”

With a volley of military gunfire and the playing of taps, Hiram Cronk was finally laid to rest, as reported in this newspaper article published by the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 19 May 1905, page 2:

article about Hiram Cronk's funeral, Belleville News Democrat newspaper, 19 May 1905

Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 19 May 1905, page 2

The news article goes on to say:

“More than 50,000 New Yorkers, with bared heads, filed past the flower-covered bier in which the dead soldier lay in the City Hall. The expenses of the unusual, but befitting honors to him, are borne by the city.

“The catafalque rested in the rotunda of the City Hall, draped with flags and flowers, while the building was draped in black. It was the first time since the death of Gen. Grant that a body has laid in state in the City Hall.

“After the body had been lowered into the grave, at Cypress Hills Cemetery, a squad of soldiers fired a volley over the grave and a bugler sounded taps. Hiram Cronk was with the army of the dead.”