Benjamin Hamrick - Patriot

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INTRODUCTION - This report was compiled by Arthur R. Friend in September of 2001. My wife is Merida Holcomb Friend formerly of Widen, W.Va. Her parents were Herbert S. and Gertrude Hamric Holcomb. A report detailing my wife's Hamric Family line can be seen by clicking here on Hamric/Hamrick Family.

One of the more colorful individuals in my wife's Hamrick Line was her gggg grandfather Benjamin Hamrick. Benjamin served extensively during three different periods throughout the Revolutionary War and this paper will attempt to pull together most of what is known about Benjamin Hamrick concerning his military service and his post military life as well. Please note that this is not intended to be a research effort but rather is a compilation of information obtained from several different sources.

PHASE 1 - THE MINUTEMAN - Benjamin Hamrick was born in Prince William County, Va., now Fauquier County in 1755. Fauquier County is located some 45 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. and is about 150 miles from Williamsburg, Va., as the crow flies. Benjamin's Revolutionary War record begins in 1775 when he enlisted in the military service of the colonial government of Virginia as a "Minute Man" and served for a period of six months.

To understand what caused Benjamin to enlist in the military one has to understand the political climate in Virginia in 1775. The possibility of war and rebellion had become a real possibility and hostilities had actually broken out at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Relations between the Virginia House of Burgesses and the King's appointed Governor Dunmore had reached a breaking point. Governor Dunmore, fearing for his safety eventually fled to the port of Norfolk where he established his office on one of the British ships anchored in the harbor.

Perhaps Virginius Dabney in his book "Virginia - The New Dominion" best describes the political climate in Virginia in 1775. A paraphrase from his book reads as follows. "With Dunmore in flight, the Virginia convention which met in July of 1775 decided to put Virginia on a war footing. Two regiments of troops were to be raised and the militia were to be revitalized. A Committee of Safety was created, with Edmund Pendleton as chairman. The Committee of Safety, under Pendleton, decided to move against Dunmore with the Second Regiment, under command of Colonel William Woodford.

Colonel Woodford was not only a veteran soldier, but he commanded a regiment of hardened fighters, many of whom wore hunting shirts with the legend "Liberty or Death" and carried tomahawks and scalping knives. Dunmore, flushed with an easy earlier victory at Kempsville, and unaware of the caliber of the opponents he now faced, decided to attack Woodford at Great Bridge, on the southern branch of the Elizabeth River near Norfolk. He assembled perhaps six hundred troops, including all his regulars, sixty Tories, a couple of hundred Negroes, now known as the Ethiopian Corps, and a few sailors.

The Americans were entrenched behind breastworks, and they waited until the attackers came within fifty yards. At that point their sharpshooters opened up and mowed down the assaulting force. The latter fell back in disorder. On arriving in Norfolk, they rowed out to their ships. Tory families in the town made haste to follow them, beyond reach of the enraged patriots".

When Benjamin Hamrick enlisted in the military in November of 1775 it was to be part of Colonel William Woodford's Second Regiment. Benjamin enlisted as a "minuteman" to serve for a period of 6 months. And perhaps here it would be well to define the term minuteman. In the years just before the Revolutionary War, volunteers were organized into military companies and trained to bear arms. These men were called minutemen because they were prepared to fight "at a minute's notice". In 1775, several colonies trained minutemen companies at the suggestion of the Continental Congress, Virginia being one such colony.

The most famous minutemen came from Massachusetts. Minutemen fought side by side with the militia at Lexington and Concord. The minutemen groups disappeared when regular armies were formed.

As stated earlier, in a straight line, Fauquier County was some 150 miles from Williamsburg. How Benjamin Hamrick got to Williamsburg or even came to be in Williamsburg is not known. But it was there that he joined the military as a minuteman for a period of 6 months.

PHASE 2 - CONTINENTAL ARMY - Benjamin Hamrick had enlisted in the military service of the colonial government of Virginia as a minuteman. His period of enlistment was for 6 months.

In October, 1776, Benjamin enlisted in the Third Virginia Regiment under Captain John Chilton and marched from Williamsburg to Alexandria, Virginia, and from there to New York, where he joined the regular Continental Army on December 9, 1777.

Benjamin had enlisted in the military service of the Virginia colonial government for 6 months in November of 1775. The period of time between the expiration of his enlistment and his joining the Third Virginia Regiment in October, 1776, is unaccounted for except perhaps he had reenlisted for a 2nd six months period. In any event, it is a daunting undertaking by Benjamin and the others to march some 150 miles from Williamsburg to Alexandria, Virginia, and then another 200 miles or so on to New York.

One account of Benjamin Hamrick's service in the Continental Army gives the following synopsis:

"Benjamin Hamrick participated in several of the most decisive battles of the Revolutionary War. Records of the Revolutionary War (War Department, Washington, D.C.) disclose that he was at the capture of Trenton on December 26, 1776, when George Washington one sleety night crossed the ice-clogged Delaware River and captured one thousand prisoners and seized a large amount of equipment. Benjamin fought at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. He engaged in the Battle of Brandywine Creek on September 11, 1777, at which battle General Lafayette was wounded. On October 4, 1777, he engaged in the Battle of Germantown near Philadelphia.

Benjamin Hamrick was attached to the 3rd and 4th Virginia Regiments at Valley Forge under Captain John Blackwell commanded by Lt.Colonel William Heth. At the time Benjamin entered service he was a private earning six and two-thirds dollars a month. In April, 1778, he was commissioned corporal and received seven and one-third dollars per month Virginia Currency.

Benjamin's record shows that he was frequently assigned to scout duty and that he was in the service in Virginia at the time of the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19, 1781".

A significant phase of Benjamin Hamrick's Continental Army service was the fact that he was at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777 and 1778. The World Book Encyclopedia gives the following account of Valley Forge:

"Valley Forge, Pa., (population 450) is a village on the Schuylkill River, about 45 miles west of Philadelphia. General George Washington camped there in the terrible winter of 1777 and 1778, during the Revolutionary War. These months were discouraging for the American cause. Washington's Continental Army had to endure several months of bitter suffering.

Washington led his troops to Valley Forge after his defeats at Philadelphia and Germantown, Pa. His soldiers had little food, and too little clothing to protect themselves from the cold. The Continental Congress could not provide additional supplies to fill the men's needs. The army of about 11,000 lived in crude log huts that they built themselves. On December 23, 1777, Washington wrote "We have this day no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and otherwise naked".

More than 3,000 soldiers died during this period. Many others were too weak or too sick to fight, because of a smallpox epidemic. At the same time, the people around Valley Forge were enjoying all the comforts of a rich countryside, because little fighting took place at this time. The British lived a gay life in Philadelphia at this time. The American soldiers found the region about the camp unfriendly to them.

The winter at Valley Forge tested the loyalty of the American troops. Only dedicated patriots stayed with the Continental Army. .....".

Benjamin Hamrick was one of these dedicated patriots who survived the endurance test at Valley Forge. And his presence there is well documented. The Valley Forge Society of the Descendants has been formed to commerate the service of the men who served at Valley Forge during the terrible winter of 1777 and 1778. Benjamin Hamrick is listed on the roster of men who served as displayed on their Web Site.

But there is a dark or down side to Benjamin's service with the Continental Army. It was noted above that in April of 1778, Benjamin was promoted from private to corporal. The reason is not known but one could surmise that it was for outstanding soldiering of some kind. But a textual version of a muster roll record shows that Benjamin was reduced back to private. This muster roll record reads as follows:

3 & 7 Reg. VA

Benjamin Hamrick

Private

Capt. John Blackwell's Co. of the 3rd and 7th Virginia

Reg't commanded by Lt/Col. William Heth

Revolutionary War

Appears on Company Muster Roll of the org. named above for the month of Aug., 1778

Roll dated Camp White Plains, September 1, 1778

Enlisted 9 Dec., 1777

Term of Enlistment - 3 years

Remarks: Reduced from Corp. 14 Aug.

But even more significant, however, is the fact that Benjamin probably deserted from the Continental Army. Another muster role records reads as follows:

3rd & 4th

Ben Hamrick, Pvt.

Captain John Blackwell's Co. in the 3rd Virginia Reg't of Foot commanded by Col. John Nevill

Revolutionary War

Appears on Company Muster Roll of the org. named for the month of June, 1779

Roll dated Smiths Clove (Grove) July 1, 1779

Enlisted D 9, 1777 (December)

Term of enlistment - 3 years

Remarks: Deserted June 24

If one reads Joseph McMillion's (Benjamin Hamrick's brother-in-law) deposition (printed below) given in hopes of getting Benjamin Hamrick's Federal pension reinstated in 1835, one can see that in early 1779 Benjamin and his fellow soldiers came home on a forty day furlough. And according to McMillion, Benjamin and his buddies returned to service with the Continental Army when their furlough was over. But later in the year Benjamin came back to the area saying he was clear of army service by putting a man in his place. It was at that time that Benjamin married Nancy McMillion, Joseph's sister. But word came to the county that Benjamin had deserted. And when he set out to leave the area he was taken up (arrested?) and put in jail until, according to Benjamin, with the help of friends he raised a thousand dollars and hired a man to take his place. Although McMillion states that he saw Benjamin's discharge papers many times, Benjamin was not able to produce such when applying for his pension. Benjamin's application was first approved and then terminated because "you left the army without leave and before your term had expired". Updated DAR records show that Benjamin's service status as: Corporal MM VA pensioner. DAR application for this line closed at this time - no proof of a discharge and he never signed the muster out book and collected his final pay. The last pay voucher listed he was not present with no record after that time - he may have deserted.

Some maintain that because of Benjamin's desertion the DAR no longer recognizes him as a patriot. However, please note that in August of 2001 the writer with the help of his sister, Linda Friend Adams, who is currently the registrar for the Williamsburg, Va., Chapter of the DAR obtained a copy of the file from DAR Heaquarters on Benjamin Hamrick. It appears that the line may NOT closed and may be open and available for use by applicants for membership in the DAR.

And so it seems that Benjamin Hamrick was something of a free spirit to say the least. He weathered the awful winter at Valley Forge and remained one of the dedicated patriots that George Washington spoke of. And yet, and this is sheer speculation on my part, he possibly deserted because of his love for Nancy McMillion. She lived about 3 miles from him in Faquier County and perhaps he spent a great deal of time with her while on furlough early in 1779. Because, after he apparently deserted later in the year he returned to Faquier County and married her in the fall of 1779. Or, then again, perhaps it was just boredom on Benjamin's part. Given his apparent nature and the fact that this part of Washington's Army did not appear to engage in any more major battles from the time of Benjamin's desertion until Yorktown, he may have just gotten bored and left. We probably will never know why. However, we know one thing for certain. If Benjamin truely did desert, it was not because of cowardice or lack ot personal courage. His war record certainly attests to that.

PHASE 3 - YORKTOWN - Joseph McMillion in his support of Benjamin Hamrick's petition for a Federal pension stated that "Benjamin built a house in the year 1780 and lived at my fathers. He was drafted in the year 1781 in Fauquier County, Va., and was on duty at the time Cornwallis was in Virginia".

My wife and I live in Williamsburg, Va., which is about 12 miles from the Yorktown Battlefield. Upon checking with the National Park Service personnel who run the visitor's center at Yorktown, we were told that records are very sketchy concerning the roster of American troops at the battle. They just don't exist. Neither at Yorktown or in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. We were told, however, that Benjamin Hamrick's name did appear as serving with the Virginia Regulars at the time. They could not tell us if he participated in the actual Battle of Yorktown. This, of course, adds to the confusion about Benjamin ever being honorably discharged from the service. Would there not have been a record of his discharge after Yorktown if he had been drafted back into the Virginia Regulars? And if he had deserted earlier, would there not have been a record of it that would have come forth when he was drafted in 1781? It appears that the question of Benjamin's desertion and subsequent resolution as he maintains may never be solved.

PENSION REQUESTS - Benjamin Hamrick appears to have applied for two different pensions after his service in the Revolutionary War.

STATE OF VIRGINIA PENSION - Confirmation on the first of these requests is from Mayme Hamrick's book "The Hamrick and Other Families + Indian Lore".On pages 29-35, Hamrick writes " In 1820, Benjamin Hamrick was living in Nicholas County. In 1826, he petitioned the General Assembly of Virginia for a pension for service rendered in the military service in the Colony of Virginia and the Continental Army. The petition specifies the home of the petitioner as Nicholas County but does not designate the exact location of his residence. That he was totally disabled, due to exposure, privations and hardships, experienced during the Revolutionary War, is clearly set forth in his petition. The bill for pension, although passed by the Lower House, was rejected by the Senate of the General Assembly in 1826 and 1827. It was in support of the above petition that Joel Hamrick executed an affidavit in which he stated that he remembered when Benjamin Hamrick went to war and that I saw him leave his grandfather's and go to join his troops". As best can be determined, this pension request was from the State of Virginia and is separate and distinct from Benjamin's effort to obtain a pension from the Federal Government since these efforts took place prior to the act passed by Congress in 1832 which allowed for the granting of Revolutionary War service pensions. This pension request appears to have eventually been approved by the State of Virginia to start on March 4, 1831, at the rate of 80 dollars per year.

FEDERAL PENSION - In 1832 the United States Congress passed a bill allowing for pensions to those men who had served in the Continental Army. A copy of Benjamin Hamrick's pension request under this law follows:

State of Virginia, County of Nicholas:

On 7 Sep 1832, personally appeared in Superior Court of Nicholas County...., "Bejamin Hamrick, a resident of the said county of Nicholas and the state of Virginia aged seventy five years who being first duly sworn according to law doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the provision made by the out (Act?) of Congress passed June 7, 1832. That he enlisted in the army of the United States in the year 1776 with Captain John Chilton (or Shelton) and served in the Third Regiment of the Virginia line under the following named officers. The company was commanded by Capt. Shelton, the Regiment by Col--Mercer and the Brigade by General Woodford. He left the service (he thinks) in the fall of 1780 and served during the whole time under the same enlistment. At the time he enlisted he resided in Fauquier County, Virginia. The company to which he belonged rendezvoused at the Court House of said county and the regiment at Williamsburg, Virginia, from when they marched to Alexandria and from whence they were ordered to New York island in the state of New York where they joined the regular army. He was present at the battle of Trenton and the taking of nine hundred Hessians as it was said. He was then at the battle of Princeton where he aided in taking (as it was said) 300 prisoners. He was at the memorable battle of Brandywine and also at the battle of Germantown. These were all the memorable battles in which he participated. Before he enlisted as above stated he was taken with the service in the state of Virginia as a minuteman under the same Captain John Shelton. He entered the service as a minute man in the month of November, 1775, he resided then in the same county and state as aforesaid. The Regiment to which he belonged was commanded by Col Edward Stephens and General Woodford and he served under this draft during the term of six months. He was at the defeat of Captain Fordices company of Germandurs at the Great Bridge on the east branch of Elizabeth River which was the only engagement he was in during this period of time..." "At the time he left service he received a written discharge from General Woodford and at the time he left the continental service he received a written discharge from General Joseph Weeden. But where they are not he does not know." Signed (in his own writing) Benjamin Hamrick

Apparently his Federal pension was approved and as a private in the Continental Army he received $80.00 starting on December 1, 1832 when he was 77 years old and he received a total of $240.00. However, his pension was declared invalid on December 7, 1835 because "you left the army without leave and before your term had expired". Joseph McMillion (Benjamin's brother-in-law) filed a deposition on behalf of Benjamin Hamrick in 1835 in an effort to get his pension reinstated. Following is the text of Joseph McMillion's deposition:

McMILLION DEPOSITION - Whereas Benjamin Hamrick now of Nicholas County, Virginia, a soldier of the Revolution cannot draw his pension under the late restrictions of the War Department for want of better proof of his services. Therefore in order to effect that (objects?) I Joseph McMillion who am seventy years of age of sound mind and memory give the following statements of what I will recall of relative to said Hamrick's services as a soldier in the war of the Revolution. I have been personally acquainted with said Benj. Hamrick when he was a soldier. His father lived about three miles from my fathers. When I was a boy about ten or twelve years of age and said Hamrick was a young man. When Capt. Jn Chilton of Fauquier County, Va., with his lieutenants Jn Blackwell and the late Thos Marshall enlisted a company called minute men in the year 1775 (the said Benj. Hamrick being one of them), about which time the battle of the great bridge in Va was fought. When that year was finished, Capt Chilton came home to the upper part of Fauquier County and his company or the greater part of them enlisted again for three year, said Hamrick being on of those who enlisted and was gone three years. I understood often from him that he was in all the principal battles in New York, Jersey, and Pennsylvania, I have heard him talk of the battles of Germantown and Brandywine, and in particular Capt. Jhn Chilton's being killed at Brandywine and many of his men wounded and killed. I also understood from said Hamrick and many of fellow soldiers when they came home that Jhn Blackwell (Capt. Chilton's first Lieut.) was their capt. in (lieu?) of Chilton who had been killed-and served under him until the end of their term of service, and enlisted again under Capt Blackwell. The greater part of them came home on furlough for forty days. Said Hamrick at that time came to my father's with four or five of the men, and stayed in the neighborhood till the furlough was expired. When Capt Jhn Blackwell with his company returned to the army, said Hamrick being one of them, I think it was the year 1779 they returned (about Feb). Said Hamrick came back to my father in the fall, said he was clear by putting a man in his place. He married my sister about that time. But word come to the county that he had deserted. He set off to go to to the (west?) but was taken up and lodged in Winchester jail. From there he was taken with some recruits to Fredricksburg. The officer let the sergeant call with him at my father's to see his wife. When by the help of his friends he hired a man for a thousand dollars (Continental money) to go in his place during the war, he went on to Fredricksburg and was discharged by Genl. Mulinburgh. I saw his discharge often, or more than once or twice. The said Hamrick built a house in the year 1780 and lived at my father's. He was drafted in the year 1781 in Fauquier County, Va., and was on duty at the time Cornwallis was in Virginia. I think said Hamrick is about seventy eight years old. He was born in Prince William County, Va., and unlisted in Fauquier County, Va. His officers were those already stated. He was attached to the Third Virginia Regiment those first three years commanded by Col. Thos Marshall, Greensboro County, Va. To Wit - Joseph McMillion.

The deposition of Joseph McMillion is handwritten and practically without punctuation. An attempt has been made to make it as readable as possible. In any event, McMillion's deposition had no effect on the status of Bemjamin Hamrick's Federal pension as it was never reinstated.

POST WAR HISTORY - It is disclosed by tax lists and census records (Virginia State Archives, Richmond Virginia, between 1783 and 1786) that Benjamin was one of the early settlers in Greenbrier County, Va. (now W.Va.). His name remains on the lists until 1796. At that time in history, Greenbrier County included the present counties of Kanawha, Nicholas, Braxton, Greenbrier and parts of Monroe in West Virginia. It is believed that he resided close to Cherry Tree Bottom where the town of Richwood, Nicholas County, W.Va., is now located.

In 1793 an alarm sounded of an intended Indian raid. Benjamin hastily fled with his family to Donnally's Fort in present Greenbrier County, near the town of Frankfort, W.Va. He then is believed to have settled on the Birch River. In 1818 Benjamin received a land grant for 100 acres in Randolph County, Va., (now W.Va.). It is not known if he ever settled on this land. In 1820, Benjamin lived in Nicholas County and in 1823 he was awarded a land grant of 100 acres in Nicholas County. In 1836 it is believed that Benjamin was living in the portion of Nicholas County that was included within the boundary of the newly created Braxton County. In 1838, he moved to Webster County and lived there until his death in 1842.

One source reports that Benjamin is believed to be buried in the Benjamin Hamrick Cemetery located on the originial Hamrick homestead near Magoo in Webster County. The cemetery is located on the north side of the Elk River, six miles above the town of Webster Springs. Although the senier Benjamin is believed to be buried in one of the more than a dozen graves in the cemetery marked by plain uninscribed slate stones, there is no absolute proof of that fact. It makes sense though that the body is there, along with his wife Nancy McMillion. He was 87 years old at his death.