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, November 11, 2016

The Brief Army Career of John Anthony Aborn

Quoting from Donald A. D’Amato’s Warwick: A City at the Crossroads, this website about the history of Warwick, Rhode Island, describes the experiences of the Aborn family:
The fort at Pawtuxet was manned by the Pawtuxet Rangers who are officially ranked in the state militia as the Second Independent Company of the County of Kent. At that time they numbered 50. The commander of the militia unit was Samuel Aborn, one of the leading citizens of the village and the “host at the Golden Ball Inn, on Post Road, at the western end of the village.” Aborn two years earlier, in his small sloop, Sally, had taken the anchors, guns, stores, and other effects from the Gaspee to Pawtuxet. Aborn remained the Rangers’ commander throughout the struggle for independence. His officers were First Lieut. Benjamin Arnold, Second Lieut. Rhodes Arnold and Ensign Stephen Greene.

Captain Aborn’s experiences during the war serve to remind us of the bitterness and the tragedy of the time. Very early in the struggle, his sloop, Sally, was captured by the British, causing him serious financial hardship. Later, his young son, a boy of 14, joined the Continental Army. Boys at that young age were anxious to take part in the war and often served as drummer-boys. Young Aborn, at the special request of Gen. Nathanael Greene, was granted permission to return home because of ill health. [Horace] Belcher tells us it was too late as “the boy came home only to die”.
Horace Belcher was a Pawtuxet newspaper reporter and chronicler.

On 5 Sept 1775, Gen. Nathanael Greene indeed wrote from Prospect Hill to his commanding officer, Gen. Charles Lee, encamped on Winter Hill, with a special request (and a variant spelling):
The bearer Colonel Ebbons from Rhode Island is a Gentleman of good Character and a family of distinction—from his public Spirit he has permitted his Son to enter into the Service a lad of about fourteen years of age. He is now Sick in hospital—the Doctor recommends a ride into the Country—The Colonel has brought down a Shaize to carry him and one Thornton home with him, they are both unfit for duty and will be for some time. As soon as they get fit for duty the Colonel promises to return them to Camp—You may depend upon his honor in what he engages—I wish you may find freedom to gratify the Colonel in his request.
Lee did as Greene asked, granting “John Anthony Aborn & Christr Thornton in Colo [James] Varnum’s Regiment” a “leave of absence for five weeks for the recovery of their Health.”

John Anthony Aborn had been born on 4 Nov 1761 in Providence, according to this genealogy page. That means he was well short of his fourteenth birthday when he served in the siege of Boston.

Other documents show that Rhode Island rented Samuel Aborn’s ship Sally in 1776, and it was then captured by the British. So the sequence of events in that passage is off: Aborn lost his ship after his young son’s service.

Further research also reveals good news. The name “John A. Aborn” appears among the privates in a company on duty at Pawtuxet in July 1778. On 16 July 1789, the United States Chronicle, a newspaper issued in Providence, reported the marriage of Sally Rhodes and “Capt. John A. Aborn, at Pawtuxet.” The following year, President George Washington nominated young Aborn to be “Surveyor of the Port of Patuxet,” though he declined. The census that year recorded him living with two free white females in Warwick.

Rather than dying young, Revolutionary veteran John Anthony Aborn died in Pawtuxet on 1 Apr 1821, age fifty-nine.

[The picture above is the banner of the recreated Pawtuxet Rangers.]

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