Archive for the ‘Military Service’ Category

“it is truly distressing . . . to beg”

Wives who lose their soldier-husbands during a war are not usually considered casualties. But in a real sense they are and ought to be, especially during the American Revolution. American battle casualties in that war range from 4,435 to 6,824, some 90% from the Continental Army.* The ratio of American deaths to the free white male population (aged sixteen to 45) who served in the war is approximately 1 in 20 (this would be the equivalent of about 3 million people today).** Furthermore battle casualties did not include the wounded, those who died from disease (many more than those killed in action), or those who died in British prisons. Many war widows with children to support and without families to rely on existed in virtual poverty. Mary Cox was one of these, and in 1779, she filed a petition for relief directed to the governor of the state of Maryland Thomas Johnson. While the outcome of her suit is not known, she had a better chance of success than most widows because her husband was an officer.

I am the unhappy widow of Major James Cox who fell in his country’s cause at German Town on 4 October 1777. By industry we lived comfortably. His spare cash he laid out in lands from which now I can reap no benefit. His own cash he left with me did not exceed £50 and the public money which he had to pay off his company was lost at his death which I have since refunded. I have five small children to maintain. I expected the benefit of the law in that case provided. Consequently six months after my husband’s death I applied to the Orphan’s Court. They put me off to the next session [?]. I applied again [and] they granted me half pay for eight months in which time I sold all my spare furniture and part of my stock raised a little cash and went to shop-keeping. I found I could not keep my stock good which I began with; I again applied to the Court their reply was you are making money fast and we don’t think you are entitled to the benefit of that law. Sir, it is truly distressing to a mind not entirely depraved to beg and to dig I am not ashamed though my natural strength will not admit of it.

Now sir, as you are the guardian of this state and more especially of the widow and fatherless I will expect a few lines from you informing me whether I may expect the benefit of the law or not—I have three sons and two daughters, all promising children, would be glad they might be properly educated and instructed to get a living in a genteel way which cannot be the case without assistance. Now Sir when you consider the irreparable loss I have sustained by the death of the best of husbands, the weak infirm state of my body and numerous helpless family to provide for and the [amazing?] prices of the necessaries of life, I say when you consider these things I doubt not but you will do everything in your power to alievate such distresses and as in duty bound I will for your welfare ever pray.
Mary Cox * Howard H. Peckham, ed., The Toll of Independence: Engagements and Battle Casualties of the American Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), page 76.
** Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), page 160.

Of note is the fact that the money Major Cox had in his possession to pay his troops was lost at his death. His wife made good on that amount. It is also interesting that Cox was enterprising enough to set up shop to support herself although she failed, not making enough money to replenish her stock. She found herself in dire straits and was not ashamed to beg for assistance.

The petition is included in New World, New Roles: A Documentary History of Women in Pre-industrial America by Sylvia R. Frey and Marian J. Morton (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Imprint, 1986), pages 150-51, taken from Maryland state Papers, The Red Books, XXV, page 80. The information footnoted in the introductory section came from this SOURCE.

posted November 20th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Military Service,Poverty,Widows

“Row on boys”

Sarah Matthews Osborn, wife of Aaron, a blacksmith, whom she had married “during the hard winter of 1780” in Albany, New York, accompanied her husband when he re-enlisted as a commissary guard on condition that she would be permitted to ride in a wagon or on horseback. That first winter, they resided at West Point. Sarah Osborn’s deposition applying for her husband’s pension (in 1837) gives a vivid picture of life with the Continental Army.

While at West Point, deponent [Sarah] lived at Lieutenant Foot’s, who kept a boarding house. Deponent was employed in washing and sewing for the soldiers. Her said husband was employed about the camp. She well recollects the uproar occasioned when word came that a British officer had been taken as a spy. She understood at the time that Major André was brought up on the opposite side of the river and kept there till he was executed. On the return of the bargemen who assisted [Benedict] Arnold to escape, deponent recollects seeing two of them, one by the name of Montecu, the other by the name of Clark. That they said Arnold told them to hang up their dinners, for he had to be at Stony Point in so many minutes, and when he got there he hoisted his pocket handkerchief and his sword and said, “Row on boys,” and that they soon arrived in Haverstraw Bay and found the British ship. That Arnold jumped on board, and they were all invited, and they went aboard and had their choice to go or stay. And some chose to stay and some to go and did accordingly.
When the army were about to leave West Point and go south, they crossed over the [Hudson] river to Robinson’s Farms [the property of Beverly Robinson] and remained their for a length of time to induce the belief . . . that they were going to take up quarters there, whereas they recrossed the river in the nighttime into the Jerseys and traveled all night in a direct course for Philadelphia. . . . In their march for Philadelphia, they were under command of Generals Washington and [James] Clinton.

Sarah Osborn continues her story in the next post.

Part of the deposition quoted above is from In the Words of Women, page 153. The illustration of Benedict Arnold is at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photos Division.

posted March 17th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Camp followers,Military Service

More about Deborah Sampson Gannett

To support her family, with a man named Herman Mann as her “agent”, Deborah Gannett undertook lecture tours—a first for a woman. Mann, a hack writer, put together a memoir, an assemblage of fact and fiction, and published it in 1797 as The Female Review or Memoirs of an American Lady. He even commissioned a painting by Joseph Stone, an engraving of which appeared in the frontispiece (see previous post). A small print run sold relatively well. Mann booked and orchestrated Deborah’s “performances”: first she delivered an address to her audience (written by Mann) then, in soldier’s attire and armed with a rifle, she presented the exercise from the soldiers’ manual of arms, the conclusion being the singing of “God Save the Sixteen States.”

With the help of the poet and editor Philip Freneau—he wrote a poem in her honor—Deborah petitioned Congress in 1797 for a pension. Her claim was denied. In 1803 she submitted another petition and was granted $4 per month as an “invalid pensioner” because of her war wounds. In spite of the award she and her family still struggled. Several times during her married life Deborah was compelled to apply to friends for loans to keep the family going. Here is one of two surviving letters, this written in 1806 to Paul Revere, who was acquainted with the Gannetts.

Honoured Sir—After my unfeigned regards to you and your family, I would inform you that I and my son have been very sick—though in some measure better—I hope Sir that you and your family are all in the injoyment of helth which is one of the greatest of blessings.—My own indisposition and that of my sons causes me again to solicit your goodness in our favour though I with Gratitude confess it rouses every tender feeling and I blush at the thought that after receiving ninety and nine good turns as it were—my circumstances require that I should ask the Hundredth—the favour that I ask is the loan of ten Dollars for a Short time—as soon as I am able to ride to Boston I will make my remittance to you with my humble thanks for the distinguished favour—from your Humble Servent—Deborah Gannett.

Deborah subsequently submitted other petitions to Congress seeking pensions and assistance. It was a struggle. Historian Alfred F. Young noted that: “. . . from the time of her discharge late in 1783, it had taken eight years to win back pay (1792), twenty-two to get a pension as an invalid veteran (1805), and thirty-eight to get a general service pension (1821).” He further observed that “it was only after repeated, angry appeals that she had gotten anywhere. . . . She received a pension because she fought for it; no one handed it to her, and at that it was paltry.” Deborah Gannett died in 1827. Her passing was not much noticed at the time. However, the advent of feminism and the accompanying interest in women’s history led Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, in 1983, to proclaim Deborah Sampson Gannett the official heroine of the state.

Back to Alex Myers and his book The Revolutionary. A couple of twists should be mentioned here. Interestingly, Myers is a distant descendant of Deborah Gannett. Further, this book about a woman who disguised herself as a man is by a woman-to-man transgender author, Alice to Alex. And that’s quite revolutionary, don’t you think?

Check out the author’s website and buy his book HERE. For those whose interest in Deborah Sampson Gannett has been piqued, read the excellent biography Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier, by Alfred F. Young (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004) available HERE. Deborah’s letter appears on page 230, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Alex Myers conferred extensively with Mr. Young on historical background and other details in writing his novel.

posted January 27th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Military Service,New England,Patriots

The “gender-bending” Deborah Sampson

In The New York Times of January 13, 2014, there was a review of a novel by Alex Myers called Revolutionary. I was interested because Myers based his work of historical fiction on the true story of a 22-year-old Massachusetts woman named Deborah Sampson who cut her hair, bound her breasts, donned men’s apparel, and, as Robert Shirtliff, enlisted in the Continental Army in 1782. She lied about her age, claiming to be in her teens, which would account for the lack of facial hair, and collected the bounty paid to those who volunteered.

Deborah Samson (her name was later misspelled as Sampson) was one of seven children of Jonathan Samson, Jr. and Deborah Bradford, both of whom had ties to the earliest settlers in Massachusetts. The family was poor and when the father left when Deborah was five, her mother had to place some of the children with friends, relatives or employers. As soon as possible Deborah was “bound out,” that is indentured, and worked until she was freed at age 22. Tall for a woman, and strong and muscular from doing farm chores, she was, to put it mildly, plain, with a prominent nose and bulky jaw. Sent to West Point with other recruits, she was outfitted (there were no physicals), trained, and participated in skirmishes in Westchester County where there, and elsewhere, guerilla warfare still went on after the defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1781. She was wounded near Tarrytown, New York, but managed to maintain her disguise. Eventually, however, she was revealed to be a woman and was honorably discharged in 1783.

Returning to Massachusetts she discarded men’s clothes and married Benjamin Gannett. The couple lived on a small farm in Sharon and had three children. But Benjamin was not a good provider and in 1792 Deborah petitioned the state of Massachusetts for compensation for her service in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army. A resolution granted her back pay of £34 and stated “that the said Deborah exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism, by discharging the duties of a faithful gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished.”

More in the next post.

posted January 23rd, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Military Service,New England,Patriots

“Training day”

Jemima Condict was born in northwestern New Jersey, in 1754. She began keeping a diary or journal the year she turned eighteen and continued making entries until her untimely death after childbirth at the age of twenty-five. For the title and several lines of verse she devised a code that assigned numbers for the vowels and also for several consonants; thus the title appears as “J2M3M1 C59D3CT H2R B44K 19D P29,” which translates as Jemima Cundict Her Book and Pen. (There are several different spellings of her name.) In her diary Jemima recorded and commented on details of her life: chores, pleasures, deaths, diseases, and events during the Revolutionary War. Her piety accounts for the number of references to sermons she heard, the Bible and Psalms, and her own inner religious life. The following excerpt from her diary was written in 1775. Have a go at reading the manuscript original. You can read another post about Jemima Condict here.

The original of Jemima Condict’s diary is in the archives of the New Jersey Historical Society. You may want to see the transcription provided on their website.

posted October 3rd, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Military Service,Patriots,Primary sources,Reading old documents

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