Selected Depositions of Maine Revolutionary War Veterans
This is the Introduction to the publication named above and edited by Sylvia J. Sherman of the Maine State Archives. It provides a context for the depositions selected here. More are available in the publication itself, and still more in the holdings of the Maine State Archives.
It was published in 1975 in anticipation of the 1976 bicentennial year of the independence of the United States of America. The depositions reproduced here are those of James Boaz, Benen Foster, Caleb Gordon, and Jonathan Knox.
REPORT OF THE JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER THE
EXPEDIENCY OF GRANTING TWO HUNDRED ACRES OF LAND
TO EACH NONCOMMISSIONED OFFICER AND SOLDIER OF THE
State of Maine
House of Representatives, March 1834
The Joint Select Committee, who by an order passed January 17th were instructed to consider the expediency of making a grant of land to certain officers & soldiers of the Revolution, and the widows of deceased officers and soldiers, have attended to that duty, and ask leave to report.
Your Committee have found no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion, that the proposed grant will be both expedient and just. It is well known that at an early period in our Revolutionary struggle, the most serious inconveniences were felt, and the most alarming consequences apprehended, from the shortness of the term for which the troops were enlisted. The necessity of a permanent army, enrolled for long periods, soon became apparent. Hence originated the system of enlistment for the term of three years and for during the war. Massachusetts, in order to induce her citizens to brave the dangers and submit to the privations of the war for such long periods of service, and in sufficient numbers to enable her to take a formidable stand in the contest, saw the necessity of holding out to the people strong pecuniary inducements. Accordingly that State passed resolves, offering to the soldiers who should thus enlist, a bounty in land, in addition to their monthly wages. Your committee do not find that this bounty was ever paid to the soldiers as proposed; and it is a well known historical fact that even their regular wages were paid in a depreciated paper currency. It is believed that in a vast number of instances the depreciation of this paper money amounted to an almost total loss to the soldier of his hard earned pittance.
Impressed with the justice of making the soldiers some remuneration for their losses, a Resolve was passed by Massachusetts, March 5, 1801, granting 200 acres of land in the then District of Maine to each non-commissioned Officer & Soldier who enlisted to serve during the war and received an honorable discharge after having served at least three years. This Resolve, as also another passed June 19th of the same year for the purpose of carrying its provisions into effect expired by express limitation in three years. Another Resolve was passed March 9th 1804, reviving & continuing in force the provisions of the former resolves for one year, and by a series of successive resolves, those provisions with some slight modifications were continued in force till March 1833. During all this time the benefits of the grant were shared indiscriminately by the soldiers residing in Maine & Massachusetts proper, as well after, as before the separation. These resolves were in the alternative, giving to the soldier the option of receiving 200 acres of land, or $20 in lieu thereof. Most of the soldiers who enlisted for during the war, availed themselves of the provisions of these resolves, but some few neglected to do so, at first because the value of the grant was at that period thought insufficient to justify the expense of proving their claims, and, more recently, when wild lands in Maine had assumed a higher value, because it was not reasonably known that those provisions had been revived & continued in force.
A Resolve was passed by Massachusetts, March 27th 1833, extending the grants to those noncommissioned officers & soldiers who enlisted for & served a term of not less than three years—but this grant is expressly limited to those who are now citizens of Massachusetts; thus excluding those officers & soldiers who now reside in this State, and who, but for the separation, would have been entitled to avail themselves of the provisions of this Resolve.
Your Committee are clearly of the opinion that this State ought to make the same provision for the few survivors of this meritorious class of her Citizens, which the parent State has made for those within her limits. By so doing, we shall have an opportunity of promoting the settlement of our vacant territory at some very important points, at the same time that we are performing an act of justice which has already been too long delayed.
With these views your Committee ask leave to report the accompanying Resolves.
S. W. Robinson
Editor Sylvia Sherman’s Notes
In 1893 the State of Maine published, by order of the Governor and Executive Council, a listing of the names of soldiers of the American Revolution who had applied for State bounty lands under a succession of Legislative Resolves passed between 1835 and 1838. The names were compiled from records of the Maine Land Office which was responsible for the selection of the bounty lots, qualification of claims and general administration of all land grants.
The editor [of the 1893 list] drew attention to the fact that the documents from which he had made his list contained “… a rich store not only of personal, but of war history… They tell us in the words of the very actors in that war, of Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill; of the siege of Boston, of Ticonderoga and Crown Point… of the retreat across New Jersey, of Trenton and of Valley Forge; of the surrender of Burgoyne and Cornwallis; of raids into the Indian country… of the campaign of Arnold through the wilderness of Maine; of camp fare and of prison life.” In this Bicentennial year, it seems appropriate that a selection of some of the most interesting of these documentary accounts, carefully preserved by the State and now in the custody of the Maine State Archives, be at last made widely available to the public.
The accounts herein presented are legal depositions and other evidence submitted by Maine veterans of the Revolution or their widows as proof of actual service to qualify for State grants of land. Such grants were commonly utilized by States in the post-Revolutionary era as a means of compensating veterans; and prior to 1834, Maine veterans had been entitled to bounty lands awarded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the District of Maine having been a part of Massachusetts at the time of the Revolution. In 1833, however, Massachusetts restricted her grants to residents of that State only; and the Maine Legislature, concerned that veterans living in Maine were thereby penalized because of the 1820 separation of the two States, accordingly passed Resolves to provide similar compensation. The Report of the Legislative Joint Select Committee to Consider the Expediency of Granting Two hundred Acres of Land to Each Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Revolution, which follows this introduction, provides a lucid account of the background of the bounty land Resolves.
Ultimately, a series of four related Resolves were enacted. The first, approved March 17, 1835, granted 200 acres of land to non-commissioned officers and soldiers who had served not less than three years; the second, approved February 8, 1836, extended the benefits of the 1835 Resolve to the widows and immediate heirs of non-commissioned officers and soldiers. A third Resolve of March 24, 1836 made it possible for those who could not meet the full qualifications of the earlier legislation to receive a cash amount of $50 if they could prove some degree of actual service. The fourth Resolve, approved March 10, 1838 , granted 600 acres of land to commissioned officers or their widows.
Many of the veterans and their widows were severely hampered in making their applications by the lack of discharge papers and other official proof of service. Some had lost these documents in the course of the years, others had unwittingly sent original papers to the Pension Office in Washington or to Massachusetts in earlier applications for pensions or land grants; still others had never possessed any documentary evidence of service at all. To assist these individuals, the Legislature authorized the Land Agent to employ clerks to go to Washington and Boston to obtain certified copies of papers relating to Maine veterans, and some of the accounts published in this volume are in fact copies obtained by the Land Agent from Federal pension applications made as early as 1818.
But a good many applicants had no recourse other than to go before a judge and swear out a formal deposition describing their service. If witnesses were available, sworn statements were also taken from them. Occasionally, abstracts of diaries kept during the war, family letters and other non-official materials were submitted as supporting evidence. These sworn depositions and some of the supporting documentation (such as the letter of Jonathan Burrows and the sailing orders of the brig Morris on which the seaman James Brown served) have provided much of the material included -in this publication.
To preserve the integrity of each document, all original spelling and punctuation have been retained, except in the case of Simeon Moulton’s diary, where spaces have been inserted to represent natural breaks in the structure of his composition. The student of the Revolution will note that the veterans have made errors in chronology and in details about the events they describe; but the editor has chosen to indulge these aged warriors in their recollections of the past, and has not presumed to correct them.
It might also have been helpful to the reader to have an editorial translation of the inimitable Maine dialect of some of the selections: To know, for example, that Simeon Moulton’s captor “Col. Denalsee” was probably one of the DeLanceys, Loyalist officers in the British Army; and that when Denalsee/DeLaneey said “I yould prould you”, he was really indicating that he would have paroled Moulton and his fellow prisoners if circumstances had been different. Nevertheless, if these old gentlemen had been among us today, we would be delighted and evocative authenticity of their own words.