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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

One of My Revolting Ancestors

Today I pay homage to my 4th-great-grandfather Moses Dunham—buried in Hartford, Maine, beneath a slate marker inscribed "A Revolutioner."

Moses was born Jan. 23, 1757, in Plymouth, Mass., and grew up there and in nearby Plympton. In September of 1777, he was mustered into Capt. Edward Sparrow's company, which would shore up the defenses in Rhode Island.

Moses was a shoemaker, and according to family legend was company cobbler at Valley Forge under General Washington. This would have been a neat trick, since he was recorded in Providence three days after Washington's troops arrived in Valley Forge, and was mustered out of Sparrow's company ten days later. I'm rather thankful that he wasn't a cobbler at Valley Forge, given the notoriously bad condition of footwear there. Sort of like being caterer for the Donner Party.

Moses re-enlisted at Plymouth in April of 1778 and was stationed at Dorchester Heights near Boston. In March of 1781, he enlisted in the Continental Army, took a trip to Virginia in the fall to watch Cornwallis surrender, and then spent a year and a half at West Point with the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment. It was more than a year after his formal discharge late in 1783 that he got around to marrying and manufacturing descendants.

His grandson described Moses in glowing terms:

When in the prime of life he must have stood six feet in height and weighed 200 pounds; complexion light, eyes blue and expressive. But he was not "cast in nature's finest mould," like Washington, being long favored, with a nose to match; his whole face pitted from the effects of small pox while in the army.
This handsome fellow somehow convinced his wife Margaret Morton to produce a passel of children, whom they piled into an ox-cart in 1805 and transported to Oxford County, Maine. There they were living in 1820, when it came time for Moses to apply for his pension. His estate schedule exhibits a talent for stretching the truth still evident in his male descendants—a talent we've come to call "BSing."
Farmer, not able—I have not been well since the taking of Cornwallis at which I was present. Margaret, wife, 62, a very weakly women, not able to do housework; Esther, 27, a cripple, had fever sores settle in her limbs; Eunice, 25, able to do housework; Betsey, 23, able to work, has been sick; Abigail, 20, a healthy girl; Priscilla, 16, never been able to do anything. [NEHGR 142:391]
He neglected to mention his two sons—both in their early thirties and still living at home. I'm still waiting for the federal government to ask for that pension money back.

Moses lived to the age of 88 years, dying Sept. 15, 1845. I like to think that I carry after him in every respect—except the military service, wife and children, shoemaking ability, and smallpox scars.

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