J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Veterans Moving West

At the Northwest History blog he shares with Bill Youngs, Prof. Larry Cebula has written an interesting essay about Revolutionary War veterans who ended up moving west—as far west as Oregon, in the case of William Cannon (1755-1854). Larry writes:

The life and the grave of William Cannon illustrate the speed of the conquest of the American West. A man who grew up in the Virginia of Washington and Jefferson and served his country in the Revolution also settled on the Pacific coast and helped bring one of the last major parts of the west under American control.
Among the individual men I’ve researched, the one buried furthest west from Massachusetts is Thompson Maxwell (1742-c. 1833). He was born in Bedford of a couple who had emigrated from Ireland, and started his military career by 1760, during the French & Indian War. Maxwell married and moved to New Hampshire in the 1760s. He later claimed to have been involved in the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill; there’s some evidence to put him at each of those events, though it’s not definite and the combination seems like an awful lot to believe. But Maxwell definitely served in the Continental Army for much of the war. Settling in Buckland, Massachusetts, he served as his town’s delegate to the state’s constitutional convention and General Court.

Then Maxwell moved west to Ohio—perhaps because his farm failed, perhaps because he wanted more. At age seventy he served in yet another war. Unfortunately, he was part of the garrison at Fort Detroit that Gen. William Hull surrendered to the British in August 1812. Maxwell was paroled because of his age, but did not receive a warm welcome back home. He later stated:
a mob, irritated by Hull’s pusillanimity, misjudging my patriotic efforts, and denouncing all parties concerned in the late disasters at Detroit, rally and gather about my habitation, burn my house, destroy my property, and, barely clothed, I escape for my life through a corn-field by night. . . .

[The following February] I am advised to leave the army. I was unjustly accused by Capt. Robinson, as a dangerous enemy and a tory, etc., in Hull’s surrender.
Later Maxwell returned to the army and became “barracks master” at Fort Detroit in the late 1810s. He died near Detroit, over ninety years old.

Maxwell and even Cannon might not be the farthest-flung Revolutionary War veterans, however. What about men who had sailed on privateers during the war, then joined the China Trade that American merchants developed after they were cut off from the markets of the British Empire? Are they buried along the Oregon coast, in east Asia, or deep in the Pacific?

For that matter, what about the British soldiers who fought in the Revolution and might then have been posted to imperial posts in India, South America, Africa, or practically any other part of the growing Empire?

(Thumbnail photo above of a New Hampshire historic marker from Marc Nozell via Flickr under a Creative Commons attribution license.)

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