Usually my fiction research takes me to late 19th century times and places. For my debut story coming out in July I've spent most of the last six months researching the adult education movement called Chautauqua that swept the nation beginning in Chautauqua, New York. Stay tuned, more on that in future blogs and newsletters!
But this week while waiting on returned edits, I dove back into genealogy research that took me to my husband's 6x great grandfather, Reuben Place's first hand accounts of his experiences during the Revolutionary War. I was perched on the edge of my comfy chair, heart nearly pounding as I read about forts, indians, rangers, and tories on the banks of the Delaware River. (You know, the river George Washington crossed...)
When congress passed a law in 1832 to ensure pension payments to war veterans, many from the revolution were very aged and living further west on the frontier than during the days of battle. They were required to testify in court to verify their identity and proof of their years of service. The affidavits they presented often required them to relate battle stories and have others testify to their character and veracity.
Reuben was 88 years old in 1851 when he testified, but I'm sure he very much remembered the battles of 1777 and 1778 when he wore Pennsylvania's 5th Battalion green uniform that was classic for the Rangers of the Continental Army. He was only fifteen years old!
He relates being involved in the battle of Peenpack when Butler led the Indians in a brutal attack. As close as I can decipher, Reuben is referring to the battle at Minisink Valley. In his words, he states that Butler was "one of whose parents were a negro and an Indian." In fact, the Minisink Valley Historical Society remembers the man and the battle on their memorial website: "this raid was the second Minisink raid in July of 1779 led by Joseph Brant, a Dartmouth-educated Mohawk warrior commissioned a colonel in the British Army. The actual attack on the settlements at Minisink was destructive enough, but it was the ensuing Battle of Minisink, in which nearly fifty New York and New Jersey militiamen lost their lives, that really sent shockwaves of loss and grief though the frontier population along the Delaware."
Reuben recalls the casualties were so many, and the weather so hot, that being ordered to return to the battle field later in order to bury the dead, the stench was unbearable and prevented them from completing much of the task. Though the numbers of the account vary, Reuben's account relates the the battle started with over three hundred men, and history recounts that only about forty-five to fifty men remained, battling as they retreated while only seven of Butler's men were killed. Reuben recounts "that while in performance of his duty as a Ranger at or near Bill Smith's fort they were attacked by a superior form of Indians and retreated through the fields of rye which were ripe and some already harvested, and were hotly pursued by the Indians, but accomplished the retreat safely."
Reuben Place's Account
The Minisink Valley Historical Society's website says of the heroes:
"Today the Minisink Battleground Park is hallowed ground where so many patriots fell in defense of an ideal - liberty. They were passionate men who perished here, a long distance from their farms, their families and friends. Because of their sacrifice and that of thousands of other patriots during the American War for Independence, our nation was born."
Of the old days of battling for independence, Reuben recounted in 1851: "having served to the close of the war, he never received a written order of discharge, and that he never received one cent of pay as compensation for his services." But after the final assessment, Reuben Place was in fact granted a full pension for the remainder of his life.
I'm so incredibly amazed at the raw scale of sacrifice made during those days.
The descriptions of intense risk to life and liberty actually had my heart pounding as I deciphered my way through the old story. I only wish we had such descriptions of the times from the women who lived there as well. I really cannot imagine.
But I'm certainly tempted to write a fictional story of revolutionary times!
We could all stand to imagine more realistically how it may have been.
We could all stand to glean lessons we've perhaps forgotten.
If you were going to read a fiction based on this account, what kind of a story would you imagine?
Do you read stories from the colonial era?
Have you ever visited a colonial battle site?
(I've visited Civil War sites, but now this is on my bucket list!)
Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots.Nurse Practitioner by day.Wife, mother, writer by night.Coffee drinker--any time.
Find me at: www.anneloveauthor.com