Revolutionary War Military Records–What if…?

Military records are among the most valuable sources we have. They are among the most numerous. They are least likely to be destroyed by fire or flood. They are filled with genealogical details and relationships. Don’t stop with the newly indexed pension files. Get into other original records now available. They are just waiting to give you the data you need and have searched for in other records much less productive but easier to access.

For example: Clifford Neal Smith, “German Mercenaries of the American Revolution,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 65 (1977). What is revealed by this Publication? Here are some examples of facts which now have become available. “The personal histories have been selected entirely at random to illustrate insights which can be gained on individual soldiers and the problems which flow from these data:”

“Conrad Ewalt. According to a Hanau muster roll, he deserted 10 Dec 1778 while on march from Sussex [New Jersey] to Herkerstown [Hagerstown MD]. It may be inferred that he was a prisoner of war, probably captured at Saratoga, and a member of the Convention Army, then being marched from Winter Barracks, Cambridge Massachusetts, to their new place of detention near Charlottesville, Virginia. At the time, he was 30 years of age and a corporal in the Leibcompanie (Guard Company). His birthplace was Ferna, Hessen. Ewalt’s name appears on a British Muster roll at Nymegen, Holland 22 Mar 1776, disclosing that he had been among the first of the Hessen-Hanua contingent to be sent to America. His name could not be found in any of the 1790 federal censuses. Some persons of the surname changed the spelling to Awalt in America.” p. 77.

Actually–Conrad Ewalt deserted in Sussex County, New Jersey where he married Mary Todd who was a resident there. And began his family. He later migrated with the Todd family to the Finger Lakes area of New York, where he died. Numerous rumors and traditions ran through the descendants’ memories: that he went to New Orleans over the Natchez Trace and died there of a fever, never to see his family again. That he went west to St. Louis for a time and then returned to New York to find his wife and children missing. That his death and burial place are unknown. That he went west with the Mountain Men, never to be heard from again.

The answer is much more simple: He took advantage of the deal General Washington gave deserting Hessians–he took up land, where it was unclaimed and became a farmer to support his family. Several families from Sussex County migrated into Western New York together–including the Ewalts and the Todds. They did not alter their name. Conrad does not appear under his own name in the 1790 census–the census missed many settlers in Western New York. Neither do the Todds appear in the 1790 census.

What if… What if the ancestor you are looking for and cannot find is one of these mercenaries who fought on a side or in a unit you never thought to check? What if the surname under which he served was different or an unanticipated variant of the surname your ancestor carried?

Can you imagine my surprise when I discovered that Harmon Eakle, who was recruited by George Rogers Clark for his Illinois Expedition, had also served as Herman Ekel with the “Hessian” troops and been paroled in Frederick County VA to return to his home in Augusta County Virginia. He was thus entitled to bounty lands for both tours of duty.

You see, General Washington was a very shrewd tactician. He offered bounty land, during the War, to the enemy troops if they would lay down their arms, pledge their faith not to support or serve the British Army, nor provide aid to the enemy in any way. They could claim up to 700 acres of land immediately in any part of settled America not already claimed. Later, the lands were awarded in Greene County GA and the Susquehanna Valley of PA. Watch for a 700-acre piece your ancestor did not buy, did not receive as a regular grant, or did not inherit.

Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Even though libraries and archives are still closed due to Covid-19 concerns, and most original military records have not yet been scanned online, you can make considerable progress with what is now available. Some due diligence is required. Stick with it until you hit pay dirt.

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