Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Price Thompson - First veteran of America's first war

Price Thompson 1756-1842
I tend to make note of Revolutionary War veterans graves when I am out and about. It's amazing what hardships they faced, before, during and after the war.
I was in Carpenters Run Cemetery looking for some of my pioneer Denman ancestors when I spotted Price Thompson's gravestone with an old flag and new plaque attached to it. Not only did I later uncover some interesting history, it turns out I am likely related to Price Thompson since he married a distant Denman relative of mine named Molly Denman.
Born in New Jersey on March 20th, 1756, Price Thompson was 20 when he saw his first Revolutionary War action at the Battle of White Plains, October 1776, a British victory. Over the next six years, he fought in several important battles.
Price enlisted for the duration of the war on December 18, 1776, with the 4th New Jersey Regiment. A week later, the day after Christmas, he fought at the Battle of Trenton against the Hessians, a force of Germans hired by the British. This was the first major American victory of the war. Most people recall this battle from history class because of the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware event that preceded the battle.
Private Thompson was also at the Battle of Brandywine September 1777. This was an American loss that forced a retreat resulting in the British capture of Philadelphia that lasted until 1778.
Price then spent the harsh winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge where 2,500 of the 10,000 Americans camped there died of starvation, disease, and exposure.
In June 1777, the 4th New Jersey Regiment took part in the Battle of Monmouth, an American-British draw.
By March 1779, Price transferred to the 1st New Jersey Regiment commanded by Colonel Matthias Ogden.
Americans tend to think of warfare from this period as relatively honorable European style affairs where opposing forces square off neatly and engage in battle. That was generally true, but messy lesser known activities such as Sullivan's Expedition took place. Thompson's new regiment participated in this retaliatory campaign over the Summer of 1779. It was a scorched earth style of war against the Loyalists and British allied Iroquois that destroyed over 40 Indian villages and their food supplies. This led to a terrible winter with a death toll numbering in the thousands from exposure and starvation.
Thompson survived all of this. He eventually made it all the way to the Siege of Yorktown and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis in 1781, which would end the war. That hard life doesn't end here.

Molly ThomPson 1763-1823
Notice the typo in the last same.
He was discharged from the army in 1783 as a corporal.
Thompson then married his first wife Mary (Molly) Denman in 1783 and had thirteen children.
As a reward for his service, he received Bounty Land Warrant #8788 for 100 acres on July 31st, 1789 from the Symmes Purchase in what would become Sycamore Township OH. This was just two weeks after the newly acquired Northwest Territory was formed by Governor Arthur St. Clair. In those days this part of Ohio was a violent and dangerous place due to ongoing hostilities with the British allied American Indians who still lived there. They didn't call it the Miami Bloodbath for nothing. Cincinnati/Losantiville was a brand new settlement, Ohio was not yet a state and the Treaty of Greenville was still six years away.
I never did discover Price's occupation but I found that sometime prior to 1824 he donated this acre of land to be used for a cemetery. In 1828 at age 72 he applied for his pension. He stated he served as a Drummer and a Corporal in the 1st NJ Line under Captain Holmes. US Pension Laws provided that every indigent person who had served to the war's close, or for nine months or longer, would receive a pension. Whatever his occupation was, he was unable to work at this point since the pension was essentially disability pay. Thompson being an enlisted man received $8 per month which equates to $200 in 2014 money. I thought it was worth pointing out that per the VA website, the amount of basic benefit paid in 2014 ranges from $127 to over $3,100 per month. Thompson would have received this meager pay with no other benefits in those days, until his death on March 1, 1842, at the age of 85. He served through nearly the entire Revolutionary War, into the 19th century, watched the US double from 13 to 26 states and lived through the first 10 US Presidencies!
There are thousands of "Price Thompson's" in old cemeteries across the US whose story is buried along with them. Remember their sacrifices and their stories, especially on Veterans Day.

other sources:
Battles of the American War of Independence - interesting site from the British perspective
Price Thompson at FindAGrave
Pension and land warrant information on Price Thompson
General info on Revolutionary War Pensions