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, March 16, 2018

“Enlisted for six months & served that time”

Capt. Moses Harvey’s November 1775 advertisement (which I quoted Wednesday) pointedly described five men who had deserted from his Continental Army company in the preceding summer.

What happened, I asked myself, to those men? And quickly I had to give up on Simeon Smith of Greenfield and Matthias Smith of (I think) Springfield because their names are just too common.

Nor could I find anything about John Daby of Sunderland, even under the spelling Darby or Derby. (There was a different John Daby from Harvard.)

Likewise, there are multiple men named John Guilson or Gilson in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors and U.S. pension records, but their details don’t mesh with the guy in Harvey’s company. White and Maltsby’s Genealogical Gleanings of Siggins, and Other Pennsylvania Families (1918) states that our John Gilson was born in 1750 in Groton, but was in Sunderland in 1769 to marry Patience Graves. According to descendants, they married on 20 June; their first daughter, Lydia, arrived on 30 December, explaining why they married.

The Gilsons were still in Sunderland in 1783, but by 1791 they had moved to Salisbury, Connecticut, where they had a daughter named Betsey. (There may well have been other children.) After some time in New York the family moved out to western Pennsylvania in 1803—different sources say they traveled “by ox-cart” or “in canoes and flat-boats.” John Gilson died in Warren, Pennsylvania, in 1811, and was later considered one of that town’s pioneers.

The best documented of Capt. Harvey’s five deserters is Gideon Graves, though once again I had to sort him out from a man of the same name. Gideon Graves of Palmer (1758-1834), when applying for a Revolutionary War pension, said he had served “two months at Roxbury & four months at Ticonderoga” before joining Col. John Crane’s artillery in March 1777. Somehow he produced two pension files.

The Gideon Graves from Sunderland was a younger brother of Patience (Graves) Gilson. He was a son of Reuben and Hannah Graves, born in 1753. John Montague Smith’s History of the Town of Sunderland (1899) quotes an unidentified local diary from “sometime in the ’70’s” saying: “Gideon Graves caught a buck alive.” Which is rather impressive, though hard to pin down.

Graves applied for a federal pension while living in Stillwater, Saratoga County, New York, in 1818. He stated
That in the year 1775 he enlisted for six months & served that time and was in the battles of Bunker Hill near Boston & in 1776 he served nine months in Capt. [Phineas] Smiths Company Colonel [Elisha] Porters Regiment of the Massachusetts line [a militia regiment assigned to the northern campaign]. That for the last term of his Service he was a Sergeant.
Furthermore, this Graves enlisted for a third time in Bennington in 1777, joining Col. Rufus Putnam’s regiment and serving until 1782. He also testified to having been wounded at Saratoga.

Thus, in his pension application Graves stretched his service in 1775 and said nothing about how he had gone home without permission. But he did reenlist and spent years as a soldier. For him, not wanting to serve under Ens. Eliphalet Hastings wasn’t just an excuse to justify leaving the army for good. The U.S government awarded Graves a pension. He died intestate in Saratoga County, New York, in 1824.

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