- Historic Sites
The Revolution Remembered
Newly Discovered Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence
April/may 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 3
The sentinel answered, “I won’t,” tremblingly. This same sentinel afterward taught school in Pownal, Vermont, and claimant sent a member of his family to school to him. Leaving the island, claimant was the last of the party to get into the boat. They were in a great haste, and he waded to his breast after the boat as it started.…
In the fall of ’78, he with two others went on to the island of Rhode Island to get apples. The island was in the possession of the British. They were overtaken suddenly by a scout and taken to the British camp. A lieutenant’s commission was offered him (the claimant) by the British officers, which he spurned to accept. He told them he had a commission which suited him and which he intended to use again in a few days against them, as he expected to be exchanged. He, however, made his escape by getting his guard drunk and pretending to drink himself. He got outdoors to attend the call of nature, knocked down his guard, and made his escape fifty or sixty rods to floodwood on the shore, where he secreted himself till the first bustle was over (it was in the night) and then got onto a slab and swam across the channel toward his own camp. He almost perished with being chilled.
He was cordially received when he reached his quarters and called on General Cornell and told him he was at his mercy as he had crossed after apples against orders. General Cornell told him to go to his quarters, he should not break him, but should, if he went again, and added, “I knew you would be back again soon. I told ’em, they might as well undertake to keep the devil as to keep Potter.”
Jehu Grant of Rhode Island was one of several dozen blacks who applied for pensions—and one of thousands who served in the American army. He had run away from his Tory master to join the wagon service, but when he asked for his pension in 1832, the pension office replied that he had been a fugitive slave at the time and was therefore ineligible. His reply is given here in its entirety; despite its bitter eloquence, he never got his money.
That he was a slave to Elihu Champlen who resided at Narragansett, Rhode Island. At the time he left him his said master was called a Tory, and in a secret manner furnished the enemy, when shipping lay nearby, with sheep, cattle, cheese, et cetera, and received goods from them. And this applicant being afraid his said master would send him to the British ships, ran away sometime in August, 1777, as near as he can recollect, being the same summer that Danbury was burnt. That he went right to Danbury after he left his said master and enlisted to Captain Giles Galer for eighteen months. That, according to the best of his memory, General Huntington and General Meigs’ brigades, or a part of them, were at that place. That he, this applicant, was put to teaming with a team of horses and wagon, drawing provisions and various other loading for the army for three or four months until winter set in, then was taken as a servant to John Skidmore, wagonmaster general (as he was called), and served with him as his waiter until spring, when the said troops went to the Highlands or near that place on the Hudson River, a little above the British lines. That this applicant had charge of the team as wagoner and carried the said General Skidmore’s baggage and continued with him and the said troops as his wagoner near the said lines until sometime in June, when his said master either sent or came, and this applicant was given up to his master again, and he returned, after having served nine or ten months.
Corroborating Letter of 1836
Honorable J. L. Edwards, Commissioner of Pensions: Your servant begs leave to state that he forwarded to the War Department a declaration founded on the Pension Act of June, 1832, praying to be allowed a pension (if his memory serves him) for ten months’ service in the American army of the Revolutionary War. That he enlisted as a soldier but was put to the service of a teamster in the summer and a waiter in the winter. In April, 1834, I received a writing from Your Honor, informing me that my “services while a fugitive from my master’s service was not embraced in said Act,” and that my “papers were placed on file.” In my said declaration, I just mentioned the cause of leaving my master, as may be seen by a reference thereunto, and I now pray that I may be permitted to express my feelings more fully on that part of my said declaration.