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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Friday, January 03, 2014

The D.A.R. and Deborah Champion

In 1890, one year before The Champion Genealogy was published (as described yesterday), eighteen women and four men met in Washington, D.C., to form the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. That organization reflected several trends in American society: the Colonial Revival, British-Americans’ interest in tradition in the face of rising immigration from other parts of Europe and the world, and greater political activity by women, even if that didn’t go all the way to suffrage.

Among the women who joined the Daughters of the American Revolution in the group’s first decade were descendants of Henry Champion of Connecticut. He was a Continental Army commissary from 1776 to 1778 and then commissary general for the Eastern Department until 1780. He had particular responsibilities to supply cattle for the army. Any woman who could document descent from Henry Champion was therefore entitled to become a member of the D.A.R. The first two to join—Mary Deming Shipman (member #2312) and Martha Isham Mix Cone (#2838)—were from Connecticut, but the family had spread out over the eastern U.S. of A., and soon more far-flung relatives became members.

One of those descendants was Isabella Bryce Isham Thomas, born in Ohio. In 1897 the fourth volume of the D.A.R. Lineage Book listed her as member #3116 and added:
[Henry Champion’s] daughter, Deborah, at the age of seventeen bore despatches on horseback from her father to Washington, attended only by an old negro servant and at one time she carried money for the army through the lines of the enemy.
The story in the privately-published Champion Genealogy thus reached an audience outside the family.

In the same year as that volume, the 27 October Saint Paul Globe published an article about the meeting of a Minnesota chapter of the D.A.R. headlined “Honor Mrs. Squires.” (Mary Smyth Squires, member #13507, was the chapter’s newly elected president.) The newspaper quoted the group’s historian, “Miss Greene,” who described Revolutionary exploits by several ancestors of the members present, including:
Deborah Champion was sent by her father, at the age of 17, to carry despatches from New London to General Washington, at Boston. She made the journey there and back on horseback, attended only by an old slave named Aristarchus. At another time she passed through the British lines carrying funds to pay the American army—her sex enabling her to pass without suspicion.
This statement is almost identical to what appeared in the 1891 Champion Genealogy except that it makes clear that Deborah had taken two trips. Evidently there was a Champion descendant out in St. Paul with a copy of that book.

Another branch of the Champion family had settled around Philadelphia and helped to found the Declaration of Independence Chapter of the D.A.R. in January 1902. The following year, the Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine reported on the inaugural gathering at the Germantown home of Mary Adams Brooks (#31835, born in Troy, New York—her married name sometimes reported as Brooke):
The friends sang “America,” Mrs. Squire, the mother of our hostess, read a charming tale entitled “Deborah Champion’s Night Ride,” a vivid picture of an episode in the life of an ancestress of Mrs. Squire’s.
“Mrs. Squire” was Mary Rebecca Adams Squire, D.A.R. member #43315, born in Ohio, and also living in Germantown as of 1904. (Mary Rebecca Adams Squire appears to have no relationship to Mary Smyth Squires of St. Paul, mentioned above.)

Yet a third group of Champion descendants was living around Adams, New York, and in 1902 they helped to form the Deborah Champion Chapter of the D.A.R. there. Perhaps those members read about Mary Rebecca Adams Squire’s presentation in the society’s magazine the next year, or perhaps they were already in touch with their distant cousins. However it happened, by 1912 Harry Clinton Green and Mary Walcott Green wrote in the second volume of The Pioneer Mothers of America:
One of the cherished treasures of the Deborah Champion Chapter, D. A. R., of Adams, N. Y., is a copy of a letter supposedly written by Deborah Champion herself, describing this adventure to her friend Patience Gilbert of Haddam and which was presented to the Chapter by a lineal descendant.
A publication of this same letter in the 29 Dec 1926 Jefferson County Journal indicates that that document came to the ladies in New York from Mary Rebecca Adams Squire.

TOMORROW: “A letter supposedly written by Deborah Champion herself.”

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