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  • An Introduction to Revolutionary War Resources in New England

    John F. Lescher

    Published Date : November 12, 2004

    Many of us with New England roots have ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War. In order to help you locate your Revolutionary War ancestor, this article provides a brief introduction to resources located in New England including examples and web addresses. Some key records are also identified. When you visit or contact the locations discussed, don’t forget that the helpful and knowledgeable people you meet are the best resource of all.

    The key records for Revolutionary War research are service records, pension records, and bounty-land (both federal and state) warrants. Other sources to examine include local and family histories, cemetery transcriptions, and newspapers.

    Federal Records

    Begin your search at the US National Archives & Records Administration (NARA), the primary repository for service records, pension records, and federal bounty-land warrants. The two NARA facilities in New England are located in Pittsfield and Waltham, Massachusetts. (Find directions and contact information at their website.) Extensive records are available at each site and the staff is very helpful. If you live at a distance, you will find detailed information on NARA’s holdings as well as online order forms at their website.

    I recommend starting with the General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers (National Archives M860, 58 rolls). This alphabetical index includes soldiers, sailors, members of Army staff departments and civilian employees of the Army and Navy (such as teamsters, carpenters and cooks). For each soldier or civilian, the index gives name, rank, unit, and profession or office.

    Once you have located an ancestor in the index, you can then move on to the records themselves. Comprised of 1,096 rolls of film, the Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War (National Archives M881) are arranged first by state, then by regiment, and finally, by surname. In addition to the information given in the index, the record usually provides dates of entry into the service and indicates if a soldier was discharged or separated by desertion or death. It may also show the soldier's age, place of birth, and residence at the time of enlistment.

    After you have copied the information contained in your ancestor’s service record, the next step is to determine whether he or his heirs have a pension file. Pension files for federal and state military pensioners have been published for the years 1792 to 1795, 1813, 1817, 1818, 1820, 1823, 1828, 1831, 1835, and 1840. Application files often contain supporting documents such as discharge papers, affidavits, depositions of witnesses, narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, and other supporting papers.

    The Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1906 (National Archives M804), consists of over two thousand rolls of microfilm, arranged alphabetically by name of veteran. The index is also in book form as Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives, which can be found at many libraries and Family History Centers. You may also wish to check Virgil D. White’s Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (4 vols. 1990-92, NEHGS call number, R.Rm. REF E255/W55/1990) and Revolutionary War Period: Bible, Family & Marriage Records Gleaned from Pension Applications (Helen Lu, John Sobieski, Joel Chan. Edmondson, Diedre Dagner, 20 vols, 1980-2002, NEHGS call number CS68/L8 also LOAN).

    Most Federal bounty land applications and warrants for the Revolutionary War – and their indexes - are found in the same microfilm as the pension files (M804). These records contain documents similar to those found in pension files.

    Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

    Family History Centers provide remote access and guidance to the extensive genealogical collections of the Family History Library. These centers are located throughout the United States. To locate one near you or to find more information about the holdings of the FHL, visit their website.

    You can order applicable records on microfilm for your use at the Family History Centers. Examples include:

    • General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers (FHL films 882841-98)
    • Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War, 1775 to 1783: the state of Vermont (FHL US/CAN Film 896965 Item 1)
    • Maine Old Cemetery Association Revolutionary War Soldiers (FHL US/CAN Fiche 6333596)
    • Revolutionary War: Burial Place and Service of R.I. Patriots (FHL US/CAN Film 1839091 Item 9)

    NEHGS

    When performing any genealogical research in New England, an outstanding resource is the New England Historical and Genealogical Society.

    Their collection includes many books, manuscripts, and records covering the Revolutionary War in New England and beyond. Several titles focus on soldiers from specific locations, from An alphabetical index of Revolutionary pensioners living in Maine to Revolutionary soldiers of Hillsdale Co., Michigan: their lives and lineages, to “City of Boston: military record and burial location of Revolutionary War veterans.”

    Other titles found in the NEHGS online catalog include:

    • Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (Boston, Wright & Potter, 1896-1908, 17 vols.) Lists soldier's name, commander's name, county of enlistment, service dates, unit, age, and stature.
    • Pat Hatcher, Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots (Dallas, TX, Pioneer Heritage Press, 1987).
    • National Genealogical Society, Index of Revolutionary War pension applications in the National Archives (Washington D.C., 1976)
    • Joseph J. Smith and James N. Arnold, Civil and military list of Rhode Island, 1800-1850 (1901)
    • Daughters of the American Revolution, Maine Revolutionary soldiers' graves (DAR, 1940)

    These and many other resources are also available through the Circulating Library. Search the online catalog at the NewEnglandAncestors.org website for additional resources.

    The following CDs are available for use at the NEHGS Library or for sale through the NEHGS Online Store:

    • Loyalists in the American Revolution
    • Military Records: Massachusetts Revolutionary War Soldiers & Sailors, 1775-1782
    • Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments
    The following searchable databases on the NewEnglandAncestors.org website are available to members:
    • A List of Pensioners in the State of Massachusetts
    • Divided Hearts: Massachusetts Loyalists, 1765-1790
    • Massachusetts Militia Companies and Officers in the Lexington Alarm
    • Massachusetts Revolutionary War Pensioners' Receipts, 1799 – 1807
    • Massachusetts Revolutionary War Pensioners' Receipts, 1829-37
    • U.S. Revolutionary War Naval Pensioners’ Receipts
    • The Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Profiles

    Historical And Genealogical Societies

    Local historical and genealogical societies are good places to look for newspapers, cemetery records and local/family histories. Many have libraries with online catalogs so you may locate records before you visit. Do not overlook the manuscript collections of these societies, as they often contain valuable items such as diaries, correspondence, orderly books, and other papers, which offer insights and details of the war from the participants themselves.

    Remember that all of the state societies may have records for surrounding states. For example, the New Hampshire Historical Society has "An alphabetical index of Revolutionary pensioners living in Maine."

    I have listed only statewide societies here. An excellent source for locating local societies is the Society Hill United States Historical Societies Directory.

    The Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford has a strong collection of genealogy and history titles in their library (more than 100,000 volumes and nearly three million manuscripts) including military lists. Their extensive Connecticut American Revolution Collection includes journals, diaries, and letters of participants. The Connecticut Society of Genealogists publishes a newsletter and The Connecticut Nutmegger.

    The Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston has millions of documents on Massachusetts and American history. Examples of available documents are "American artillery regiments in the revolutionary war" and "Barefooted, bare leg'd, bare breech’d: the Revolutionary War service of the Massachusetts Continental Line."

    The Maine Historical Society in Portland has a very good library including many military records. The Maine Genealogical Society publishes both the Maine Genealogist and the Maine Genealogical Society Newsletter.

    The New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord has over 550 applicable records such as "The New Hampshire continental regiments in the Revolutionary Army." The New Hampshire Society of Genealogists publishes the New Hampshire Genealogical Record and the New Hampshire Society of Genealogists Newsletter.

    The Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence has an extensive collection titled Revolutionary War Military Records, which includes original muster rolls, clothing reports, and more. The Society’s website includes inventories of this collection and other important holdings of the RIHS manuscript department. The Rhode Island Genealogical Society publishes Rhode Island Roots.

    The Vermont Historical Society Library in Barre has family histories, cemetery inscriptions, town histories, and published military records. One such record is "a graves register of soldiers buried in Vermont." The Genealogical Society of Vermont publishes books on Vermont genealogy and publishes a quarterly journal, Vermont Genealogy.

    State Archives and Libraries

    Records of value for this topic located in state archives and libraries vary from state to state. If you are interested in a particular state, you should contact that state's archives or library.

    The Connecticut State Library, located in Hartford, is an excellent resource for our Revolutionary War research. Their records relating to the Revolutionary War are described in the “Research Guide to Revolutionary War Sources at the Connecticut State Library.” The Connecticut State Archives are also located at the state library.

    The Massachusetts State Library and Massachusetts State Archives are both in Boston. They both have many colonial and revolutionary era documents.

    The Maine State Library and Archives are in Augusta. Among the materials available are pension lists, military rosters, and regimental histories. The library also has state, county, and town histories and cemetery transcriptions.

    The State of New Hampshire Division of Archives and Records Management in Concord has muster and pension rolls. The New Hampshire State Library, also in Concord, has town and county histories, newspapers on microfilm, and military indexes.

    The Rhode Island State Archives and Public Records Administration and the State Library are in the city of Providence. Among the interesting items in the State Library’s Rhode Island Collection are the “Diary of Colonel Israel Angell commanding the Second Rhode Island continental regiment during the American revolution, 1778-1781;” “Letter book of Esek Hopkins, commander-in-chief of the United States navy, 1775-1777;” and “Revolutionary defences in Rhode Island: an historical account of the fortifications and beacons erected during the American revolution, with muster rolls of the companies stationed along the shores of Narragansett bay.”

    The Vermont State Archives and state Department of Libraries are in Montpelier. These institutions have some useful records, such as Revolutionary War pay rolls and tables, pay orders and receipts, and adjutant and Inspector General's Office records, which include surviving early militia and Vermont National Guard records. Most of the latter items were destroyed by fire many years ago

    What Else Is There?

    This brief article is a summary of the most valuable resources for researching a New England Revolutionary War veteran. As you can see, there are many New England resources for the person looking for their Revolutionary War ancestor. I recommend starting with facilities close to home and with NEHGS.

    However, this is certainly not a complete resource list. Other potentially valuable resources include battlefield museums (fifty-nine battles were fought in New England), graveyards, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and public libraries.

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