United States History: The Last Men of the Revolution by Rev. E.B. Hillard

An excerpt from the book The Last Men of the Revolution by Rev. E.B. Hillard about the last survivors of the Revolutionary War in the United States.

THE LAST MEN OF THE REVOLUTION. By Rev. E. B. Hillard. Barre, Mass.: Barre Pub., 1968.

About the book: Ever wondered about those grand old survivors, the final handful of Revolutionary War soldiers who lingered on into the 19th century? This book tells it all, zeroing in on 7 men still alive in 1864, the year the Reverend Hillard arranged a personal interview with each one. Hillard gives an account of these talks, plus detailed biographical sketches, "views" of all the homes he visited, and adds a "photo gallery" of the ancient 7. The Reverend Hillard was, incidentally, Archibald MacLeish's grandfather, and a "controversial figure in his own day."

From the book: The 1st in order visited was SAMUEL DOWNING, and the sketch of his life shall introduce the series.

Mr. Downing lives in the town of Edinburgh, Saratoga County, N.Y. Edinburgh, N.Y., had a population of 1,479 in 1860. By contrast, Saratoga Springs, the largest town in the county, had 7,496 at the same time.

To reach his home, you proceed to Saratoga, and thence by stage some 20 mi. to the village of Luzerne, on the upper Hudson.

On entering the yard I at once recognized him from his photograph, and addressing myself to him, said, "Well, Mr. Downing, you and the bees seem very good friends." (There was barely room for him between the 2 hives, and the swarms were working busily on both sides of him.) "Yes," he replied, "they don't hurt me and I don't hurt them." On telling him that I had come a long way to see an old soldier of the Revolution, he invited me to walk into the house, himself leading the way. . . . Seated, in the house, and my errand made known to him, he entered upon the story of his life, which I will give as nearly as possible in the old man's own words.

"Well, the war broke out. Mr. Aiken was a militia captain; and they used to be in his shop talking about it. I had ears, and I had eyes in them days. They was enlisting 3 years men and for-the-war men. I heard say that Hopkinton was the enlisting place. One day aunt said she was going a-visiting. So I said to myself, 'That's right, Aunty; you go, and I'll go too.' So they went out, and I waited till dinner time, when I thought nobody would see me, and then I started.

"The 1st duty I ever did was to guard wagons from Exeter to Springfield. We played the British a trick; I can remember what I said as well as can be. We all started off on a run, and as I couldn't see anything, I said, 'I don't see what the devil we're running after or running away from, for I can't see anything.' One of the officers behind me said, 'Run, you little dog, or I'll spontoon you.' SPONTOON: "A species of half-pike or halberd carried by infantry officers in the 18th century (from about 1740)" (Oxford English Dictionary). 'Well, I answered, 'I guess I can run as fast as you can and as far.'"

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