Normally the people most eager to preserve and retell the stories of a man’s heroism in the Revolutionary War are his descendants. The case of Hezekiah Wyman is unusual in that a heroic story about him was widely published and republished starting in 1835, but there was no family lore about him in print until sixty years later.
Isaac Chauncey (or Chauncy) Wyman (1827-1910, shown here) was an attorney in Salem. He never married, and left over two million dollars to his alma mater, Princeton. (This bequest turned out to affect Woodrow Wilson’s political career in a backhanded way, but that’s a different story.) Edward Wall’s Reminiscences of Princeton College, 1845-1848 contains an unflattering and rather sad profile of this Wyman. A member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, he appears to be the source of statements about his family history published around the turn of the last century.
An 1895 volume of The Bench and Bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, collecting profiles about lawyers for sale to those same lawyers, says this about Isaac Chauncey Wyman:
His father [Isaac] was born in Cambridge, January 1, 1762, and died in Salem in 1836, having been present at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill and at the siege of Boston, acting as a substitute for an uncle who was a lieutenant colonel under General [John] Stark, and afterwards serving until the end of the war.Lt. Col. Isaac Wyman (1724-1792) of Keene, New Hampshire, did indeed serve under Stark from 23 Apr 1775 to the end of that year. He then returned to New Hampshire and became a colonel in the state militia. His son Isaac (1756-1835) received a pension for Revolutionary military service.
Isaac, the father, was the son of Hezekiah Wyman, a soldier in the army of General [James] Wolfe, who was born in Woburn and was the fifth son of Capt. [Seth] Wyman, memorable for the conduct of “Lovewell’s Fight” and who died of wounds received in that affair.
I have no idea why this lieutenant colonel would need a “substitute,” and doubt anyone would have seen a thirteen-year-old boy as a fair replacement. Possibly the author meant “subordinate” or “subaltern”—but I’m not finding records to match that.
Capt. Seth Wyman (1686-1725) was indeed celebrated for “Lovewell’s Fight,” a guerilla battle with Pequawket fighters in the Maine woods in 1725 which sounds like a dreadful affair all around. He didn’t die of his wounds, but of dysentery on a subsequent mission.
I’ll address the other statements about Hezekiah and Isaac Wyman as they appear in more detail in volume 4 of Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts (1908). This series, edited by William Richard Cutter [him again!], combined family lore and genealogical research. Like the book on lawyers, the series was probably financed by the families it discussed.
The entry on the Wyman family describes Hezekiah this way:
He was a soldier in the French and Indian war, and was in General Wolfe’s army at the battle of Quebec. Tradition has it that he pointed out the secret path that led to the Heights of Abraham, by which the British and Americans were led to the plateau, met the French on equal footing and conquered the city.I can’t find Hezekiah Wyman listed as a veteran of Wolfe’s campaign against Quebec, or elsewhere in the French and Indian War. In 1890 the Winchester Historical Society published a list of the town’s veterans of that war, and it doesn’t include him.
In recognition of his services in this campaign he was granted a manor in New York, but never claimed his grant, and it was finally taken up by squatters.
When the revolution came he marched with his company on the Lexington alarm and took part in the fighting at Concord, April 19. 1775. When he died he bequeathed outside his family the gun he carried on that eventful dav, but it is now in the possession of his grandson, Isaac Chauncy Wyman, of Salem.
He was fifty-five years old at the time of the battle, and lived but a few years afterward. A picture of him, seated upon a white horse, is preserved in the public library at Woburn. His home was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in later years.
A “manor in New York” should be well documented. But the only land grant connected to Hezekiah Wyman that I can find was in Massachusetts. In its 1772-73 session, the legislature granted “Hezekiah Wyman of Woburn” and his brother Ross some land in reward for their father Seth’s services in 1725. The province had granted Seth land which turned out to be over the New Hampshire border. In compensation, Ross and Hezekiah were allowed to develop 500 acres in western Massachusetts instead.
As for Hezekiah Wyman pointing out the secret path up the cliffs to Quebec, that’s an incredible feat for someone who’d never been in the area, isn’t it?
Most interestingly, this family lore says Hezekiah Wyman “marched with his company on the Lexington alarm.” It doesn’t mention him riding a white horse alone, though obviously that story had made it to the Woburn public library. Isaac Chauncey Wyman had supposedly brought his grandfather Hezekiah’s gun back into the family, presumably by buying it—yet his lore makes no mention of extraordinary marksmanship.
The same entry states that Hezekiah’s son Isaac was born in 1756, not 1762, which makes service in the siege of Boston much more likely—unless the genealogists simply confused him with his New Hampshire cousin. Further statements about Isaac:
He was an active and influential patriot in revolutionary days, and a distinguished military figure. He was with his father in the battle of Concord, and rose step by step to the rank of colonel of a cavalry regiment, or horse troops, as they were called. . . .I can’t find any mention of an officer on the Constitution named Henry Ingalls.
Colonel Wyman acquired military habits of arbitrary thought and action during the war, and was rather austere and stern. In business he commanded, and his word was law… Like most of the Continental army officers, he was a Free Mason.
He married, July 2, 1820, Elizabeth Ingalls. born in Lynn, January 19, 1789, daughter of Henry Ingalls, an officer at one time of the famous frigate “Constitution.”
The only Revolutionary War officer named Isaac Wyman, “horse troops” or not, was the older man from New Hampshire. It’s possible that Isaac Chauncey Wyman’s father achieved the rank of colonel in the militia during peacetime, as stated in a 1910 N.E.H.G.S. obituary. It’s also possible that’s just one more unverifiable thing he said.
One final curiosity about these entries is that, although they give a detailed portrait of Isaac Wyman’s personality, they don’t offer a specific date of death. The latter doesn’t even state a definite year: “about 1836.” That suggests there was some rupture in the family. Several issues of the Salem Gazette in November 1836 carried an advertisement dated the first of that month saying Isaac’s widow Elizabeth had been appointed to administer his estate, meaning he’d died intestate. Isaac Chauncey Wyman was then only eight or nine.
So what can we conclude from Isaac Chauncey Wyman’s family lore?
- He really, really wanted to have ancestors with distinguished military records.
- A lot of the information he passed on can’t be confirmed from reliable sources.
- Despite his hunger for ancestral glory and his low standards of evidence, Isaac Chauncey Wyman didn’t think of his grandfather as the legendary “White Horseman.”
COMING UP: After a pause for Bunker Hill, some concluding thoughts on Hezekiah Wyman.