Just in time for the Fourth of July, I have discovered a new ancestor who was a soldier during the American Revolution. He is a fifth great-grandfather on my father’s side, and his name is Richard Denny III (28 July 1745 – 28 July 1825). According to military records, he served in the Dutchess County (New York) Militia Regiment between 1777 to 1779 and may have been present at the Battles of Saratoga.
Richard Denny (sometimes spelled Denney) was the father of Dr. John Denny. Both were born in New York state. John left New York following the War of 1812 and settled in Pennsylvania. John was the father of Tamar Denny, and grandfather of Cordelia Pickering. Cordelia married Francis Gaume of Ohio after the Civil War and was the mother of my great-grandmother, Della Gaume. Cordelia died in June 1868 a month after giving birth to Della.
Here is a payment record from 1785 that indicates Richard Denny was paid for service in 1777 at Peekskill, New York, and in 1779 at Fishkill, New York.
The payment record reads “We the subscribers do hereby acknowledge to have received our full pay of Col. Roswell Hopkins being the sum annexed to our respective names for retained rations were under his command in the year 1777 at Peekskill and for our wages and rations under his command of Fishkill 1779 the service of the United States of America, witness our hands.”
The record indicates that Denny was in company D of the Hopkins Regiment, New York militia. In 1777, Col. Hopkins was second in command of the Dutchess County Regiment which was headed by Col. Morris Grisham.
There is also a payment record indicating that Richard Denny served as a guard at a jail (gaol) in Amenia precinct in the neighborhood of Dutchess County. The prisoners being guarded were probably Hessian soldiers who were captured at the Battle of Saratoga.
The image reads: “A payroll of a guard station at the gaol in Amenia precinct under the command of Lieut. Robert Wood. Commencing the first day of December 1778 and ending the fourth day of January 1779 both days included.”
At Google Books, I found Richard Denny’s name listed in a book published in the 1890s that reprinted muster rolls from the American Revolution – New York in the Revolution as Colony and State By New York (State). Comptroller’s Office, James Arthur Roberts · 1897
The book was published by the state of New York following the discovery of revolutionary war-era documents in the 1890s.
In discussing the need for the New York militia this book from 1897 describes the Indians specifically the Huron and the Iroquois as being hostile but adds that they are led by even more “savage whites”.
It explains that military forces were divided into three classes
- Line – these were units that were under the service of General Washington.
- Levees – these are drafts from different militia regiments to form units that could be called upon service outside of the state of New York.
- Militia – units that could only be called out of the state for three months at a time. The militia regiments were designated first by the colonel’s names and next by their counties for example Grisham’s Regiment of Dutchess County. Occasionally a number was given to the Regiment and Grisham’s Regiment is sometimes shown as the Sixth Regiment of Dutchess County.
Nepotism was common, and some regiments contained as many as five and seven officers of the same family.
Counties were divided into districts, and the Col. of the Regiment in each district was given almost unlimited jurisdiction in military matters. He was required to see that every male between the ages of 16 and 50 were enrolled. Later the age limit was extended to 60. If an able-bodied man, he must serve when “warned” under penalty of fine and imprisonment, but if incapacitated he must contribute towards furnishing and equipping another man. Any person furnishing a substitute is exempt for the time that the substitute serves. Quakers and other nonconformists were enrolled but exempted from service upon payment of money which varied in amount as the war progressed in 1780 they were obliged to pay hundred and £60 per year. There were exemptions for mill operators, powder makers, journeymen who worked in printing offices, and ferry men who worked on the public ferries.
Rum, sugar, and tea were regular rations and the amount was gauged by rank. A private received 1 pound of sugar, 2 ounces of tea, and 1 pound of tobacco, but no rum as his monthly ration. Privates were paid $6 2/3 per month but this was not always in money it was sometimes in state notes or sometimes in authority to impress articles for animals under the supervision of some designated officer who should give a receipt in the name of the state to the impressee. In other words, the soldier would be given a chit that allowed them to go and take a citizen’s cow, and then an officer would compensate the citizen.
According to this book as late as 1784 a large majority of soldiers were still unpaid for their services in the years during the revolution from 1775 to 1783. In 1784 the state legislature passed an act for the settlement of the payment of the levee and militia for their services in the late war” this may explain why the payment record for Richard Denny is dated 1785. There were bounties for land rights; however, Richard Denny does not show up in any bounty rights records. It appears he did not meet the requirements for receiving a bounty. This could be because he did not see actual combat in battle.
The Second Saratoga Order of Battle (or Battle of Bemis Heights) does show Graham’s Regiment of Dutchess & Ulster County New York Militia in the American order and from there the chain of command goes up to Major General Benjamin Lincoln (no relation to Abraham Lincoln).
Gen. Lincoln’s biography on Wikipedia states that his militia played no role in the American victory at the October 7, 1777, battle of Bemis Heights (2nd Saratoga), since the action took place on the western side of the river, but Lincoln was in command of the American right in the battle. These forces saw little action, which was concentrated on the American left. That evening Gen. Gates ordered Gen. Lincoln to perform reconnaissance; the British left fell back as Lincoln and his 1,500-man force probed them, and Lincoln was able to occupy the former British lines. In Council that evening, Lincoln recommended that the ford at Fort Edward be fortified against the possibility that Gen. Burgoyne would attempt to reach it and cross the river in an attempt to return to Ticonderoga. Gates agreed with the plan and ordered Lincoln’s militia to do so. During these movements, Lincoln encountered a British company; in the ensuing skirmish, Lincoln’s right ankle was shattered by a musket ball. The general was transported to Albany where he was treated. While there he learned that the British General, Burgoyne, had surrendered.
The introduction to the 1898 book on the Revolutionary War New York militia, has a section describing the history of the militia in New York.
It starts out by defining the meaning of militia as “the military force of a nation.” The militia of this continent had its origin in a law promulgated in 1664 by James, Duke of York & Albany; the owner by a grant from Charles II of a large territory, which included the territory which is now Eastern and Southern New York. The “Duke’s Laws” as they are still called, covered numerous subjects and were most paternal and credible. As to militia, they provide that: “all males above the age of 16 should be enrolled and be subjected to military duty each person must provide himself with a good, serviceable gun to be kept in constant fitness, with a sword, bandolier & horn, a scourer, a priming wire, a shot bag, a charger, 1 pound of good powder, 4 pounds of pistol bullets, 24 bullets fitted for the gun, four fathoms of a serviceable match for match lock gun, and four good flints for the fire lock gun.”
The militia met four times per year and once in two years for a general training day that required all soldiers within the government. The militia was to be taught “in the comely handling and ready use of the arms, and in all postures of war and in all words of command.”
Maybe this is the question the framers of the second amendment had in mind – the question of whether the state of New York could maintain its militia system established in 1664 and not about whether teenagers can buy assault rifles or whether the state can or cannot regulate who can carry concealed weapons.