During the eight years of struggle, the American Revolution created many heroes, but only a select few are household names.
There were thousands who served in the fight – on a multitude of levels - while we were engaged in battle with the Kingdom of Great Britain.
The numbers are quite staggering: a potential 50,000 casualties on behalf of the United States. A potential 50,000 stories to tell of acts of bravery, brotherhood, and suffering – all on behalf of a new nation.
We still feel the impact today, and we are still uncovering their contribution to our shared history. Many of us – genealogists, historians, educators – use military records and military pensions to assist us in telling those stories.
Within the pages of the Revolutionary War Pension collection on Findmypast, we were able to find just a few of these heroes.
Pension records offer unique depth
Pension records, especially those from early American history, provide details and elements to your ancestors' story in a way that no other record can; often filled with personal testimonies, original records and certificates, and memoirs.
In order to obtain a pension, the soldier or widow was required to prove service, and that often generated a great deal of documentation. This collection is a true treasure of American history, with stories written by the heroes that marched with General Washington.
Not all heroes marched with the Army or sailed on naval vessels. John Baldwin enlisted at age 16, but due to his size and stature, was stationed as a Sgt.'s Guard for the duration of his term, protecting military stores and guarding prisoners of war in his hometown of Litchfield, Connecticut.
A town made famous in its own right during the war by their community effort; making bullets out of pieces of a statue of King George III, removed by the Sons of Liberty from its perch in New York City. Prisoners were held in Litchfield in the town jail and in private homes, and residents joined in the work of holding them.
Deborah Sampson Gannett
Not all heroes were men. Countless women followed the Continental Army as they marched, and a select few donned uniforms themselves. Deborah Sampson Gannett served in the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, passing as her deceased brother, Robert. She was wounded, shot in the thigh twice, and fearful of being discovered, removed one of the musket balls from her own leg. The other was left to fester, being too deep, and she never fully healed. She married after the war, and her husband applied for a widower's pension after her death.
Initially, the pension board ruled that he did not qualify, however,
“…the committee… believe they are warranted in saying that in the whole history of the American Revolution records there is no case like this, and furnishes no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity, and courage."
The marching women would often learn the drills and techniques of war as well, alongside their spouse or father. Seeing her husband had fallen, Margaret Corbin took his place at the cannon and continued fighting Hessian soldiers in an attempt to defend Fort Washington in northern Manhattan. In the process she was seriously wounded and was the first woman to receive a full military pension on behalf of the United States of America.
For today's story tellers, however, her pension file can be harder to find. Indeed, it is information that has been requested often over the course of the last 100 years through the pension office, however, the papers for Mrs. Corbin were stored within the walls of the Library of Congress, and so she had no documentation held at the pension office. There were enough requests for her papers that the staff at the pension office created an informative file for her, and tracked the correspondence from historians and genealogists over time and this is the story told in her “pension file."
Today in the United States, we remember all those that fought for our freedoms, for the outlandish ideas that created a new form of government, a land where all men would be considered free. Today, we remember each and every one of those 50,000 heroes that overcame the fear, the struggles, and the angst of being engaged in an eight year battle. Today, we simply remember.