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  • Testing Family Traditions: Abner Doubleday, 1757-1812

    Stephen D. Rockstroh

    Published Date : June-August 1989
     “Family tradition” is a source often cited in published genealogies.  This article takes an extended look at such traditions attached to one figure -- Abner Doubleday (1757-1812), a revolutionary soldier of Connecticut and New York -- and at documentary and printed research, some of which contradicts or adds to old family stories.

    Abner Doubleday was born February 3 or 4, 1757, in Lebanon, New London County, Connecticut, the 11th child of Elisha Doubleday, and the fourth by Elisha’s second wife, Hannah Bayley1

    The family tales are set out in this excerpt, written roughly 90 years after Abner’s death by a prominent Doubleday descendant, Anne Brevoort Eddy (Mrs. Reginald Walden).

    In 1676, Elisha Doubleday, a native of Yorkshire, England, landed in Boston with his two sons, Elijah and Elisha.  The son, Elisha, married three times and had 26 children.  His fourth son by his wife Hannah Baily was born in New Lebanon (then in the state of Connecticut, now in New York) on February 4, 1757, and named Abner.  At the age of 17, he took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Later, he was an officer under Mad Anthony Wayne’s command and was one of the axmen who cut away the Palisades at the storming of Stony Point.  Shortly after, he was taken prisoner by the British and confined on the prison ship Jersey.

    His feet were frozen , and as he was incapacitated for marching, he determined to continue his career on the sea.  He became an officer on a privateer, which was captured by a British frigate, and he was compelled to serve as one of the crew. While the frigate was lying in the harbor of Port Royal (Kingston), Jamaica, he escaped and sailed to Ireland.  He landed at Dublin, finally reached London and lived there until peace was restored.

    He studied navigation and signed as a mate on the ship Ulysses, and made voyages to Spain, Portugal and the West Indies. Ultimately, he became Captain. Later he returned to the United States, was Captain of a coasting vessel.  He married Lois Huntley and became a farmer.  She died and he went to live at New Lebanon, New York.  In 1791, at the age of thirty-four, he married Mercy Freeman.  She was the daughter of a Baptist clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Freeman, who had been a sea-captain and was living at Nine Partners, New York.2

    We shall see how these accounts match (or do not match) the documentary evidence.

    Abner grew up on his father’s farm in Lebanon, New London County, Connecticut.  Lebanon was a more important town then than it is today.  The residence of Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull,3 it was also quite active in the American Revolution.

    Abner Doubleday's family had a military tradition.  His father Elisha served in the colonial militia in 1735-39,4 and two half-brothers (Joshua and Elisha), participated in the French and Indian War.5 Abner may have been prompted to enlist by family example, or by hatred of British oppression and legislative enactments.  Possibly he joined his many militia companies for the camaraderie of military life; possibly to make some money; or possibly to get away from his father’s farm.6 Whatever his reason for enlisting, Abner had a long, involved record of service with the colonial and revolutionary militia.7

    After many months of political suspense, startling news reached Lebanon on April 20, 1775,8 when Israel Bissell, a postrider from Massachusetts, brought a bulletin from Colonel Joseph Palmer at Watertown: “To all friends of American Liberty...a Brigade...Marched to Lexington [April 19]...they fired without any Provocation, and killed 6 men and wounded 4 Others....”9  Abner responded to the “Seven Day Alert” and marched to Boston in a company led by either Captain Daniel Tilden or Captain James Clark, under the overall command of Brigadier General Israel Putnam.10  Both Captains paid Abner an equal amount for service during this time: 9 shillings, 11 pence.11

    Other payments for military service were made to Abner during the early years of the revolution: one, undated, for six shillings, and another, dated May 25, 1775, for 4 pounds, 12 shillings.12 We can probably assume, from the testimony of his biographers and from his many contemporary enlistment records, that Abner Doubleday participated in the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill.13

    Doubleday also served for a time under Captain Job Case in the 3rd Militia Company of the 18th Regiment14; in 1775 he enlisted for three years in “an independent company in Lebanon in the 12th Regiment,”15 under Captain Joseph Vaughan.  With a year’s service with the 12th Regiment still pending, Abner enlisted as a Corporal in Captain Paul Brigham’s Company of Colonel John Chandler’s 8th Connecticut Line Regiment for a period of three years beginning April 15, 1777.15

    Elisha Doubleday, Abner’s father, had seven sons and two grandsons in the American army.  Abner was the first of Elisha’s three sons and two grandsons in Captain Brigham’s Company.16  Some event in every month of his three-year enlistment is documented.  He was “sick in quarters” in the spring of 177817 and was granted a 20-day furlough18 in December 1778, returning to duty in January 1779.19

    On July 1, 1779, Abner Doubleday was transferred out of Brigham’s into the 6th Company20 of Captain Theophilus Monson’s Light Infantry.  He was still in the 8th Connecticut forces (now a Battalion), under the command of Colonel Russel Giles after the resignation of Colonel Chandler.22  The timing of the transfer to Captain Monson’s Company of Light Infantry would support the story that Abner Doubleday was one of those hand-picked by Brigadier General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to attack Stony Point, New York, on July 15, 1779.23  After an arduous night march over dark mountains, 1300 of Wayne’s men stormed [104] Stony Point, taking the position by bayonet alone.  The victory was a great boost to American morale, and deterred General Clinton, the British commander, from further adventures up the Hudson.24  Possibly some of Abner’s brothers were with him on this march.25

    The 8th Connecticut Line Regiment went into the field at Camp Peekskill in the spring of 1777.  It was ordered into Pennsylvania in September under General McDougall, suffered losses at Germantown October 4, 1777, and was later assigned to Varnum’s Brigade on October 16.  A detachment of the regiment, along with one from Durkee’s, continued the stubborn defense of Fort Mifflin, Mud Island, Pennsylvania [guarding the approaches to Philadelphia], November 12-16, 1777, and “lost some gallant Officers and men."

    The Regiment wintered at Valley Forge in 1777-1778, took part in the Battle of Monmouth June 28, 1778, encamped that summer at White Plains with Huntington’s Brigade, and wintered in 1778-1779 at Reading, Pennsylvania.  In the summer of 1779, the regiment was on the east side of the Hudson, and it wintered in 1779-1780 at Morristown, New Jersey.26

    The winter of 1779-1780 at Morristown, New Jersey, was “the worst winter of the war. Washington’s men endured it without shoes or stockings, and working half leg deep in snow.”  Shelter and supplies were inadequate, the soldiers were paid in worthless paper money, and there was much sickness.27  From this last encampment, Abner was discharged from service on April 10, 1780,28 and returned to Connecticut.

    Throughout the war the maritime services of the Continental Congress and of individual states were grossly inadequate. It was next to impossible to secure men for military service in the port areas, where privateering held the allure of individual profit and riches. William Whipple, head of the Maritime Committee of the Continental Congress, lamented, “You may depend, no public ship will ever be manned while there is a privateer fitting out.”29

    After a visit in Lebanon, and possibly one in Franklin, Connecticut, Abner Doubleday signed as a “volunteer” on the privateer Hibernia, a sloop mounting 10 carriage guns.  Under the command of Captain Samuel Smedley, the Hibernia left New London, Connecticut, in early October 1780, but after only a week or so was captured by the H.M.S. Hussar on October 26. The captain, officers and “gentlemen volunteers” of the Hibcrnia were confined to Sharon Prison in Connecticut, where 10 of the 43 men reportedly died October 29, 1780.30

    In 1785 Abner Doubleday was in Canaantown (later New Lebanon), Columbia County, New York, where he ran an inn across from the Presbyterian-Congregational Church, as noted by Rev. Silas Churchill in records now at the Lebanon Valley Historical Society at New Lebanon.31

    Abner returned to marry Lois (Louise) Huntley March 25, 1786, at the Congregational Church in Franklin, New London County.32  Lois was very likely the daughter of Elijah and Anne (Walbridge) (Downer) Huntley, born at Norwich, New London County, Connecticut January 6, 1762.33  Demas Abner Doubleday, the one child of Abner and Lois, was born in 1787, probably in Canaantown.34

    Some time before 1790 Lois (Huntley) Doubleday died, leaving Abner with a small child.  Abner’s younger sisters Lois and Lydia, who later married the Hand brothers of New Lebanon, may well have come from Connecticut at this time to help care for their nephew.35  Abner remarried, probably in 1791, Mercy (Mary) Freeman, daughter of Captain Elisha Freeman of Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York.36  The marriage may have taken place at the Presbyterian-Congregational Church at Canaantown, but most of the records of this church were destroyed in a 1944 fire.

    Abner remained about 15 years in Columbia Couty, where three children were born: Ulysses Freeman, 15 December 1792; Lois Huntley, date unknown; and Amanda, 1796.37  Elisha, the last child of this marriage, was born January 29, 1801 in Pierstown, Otsego County, New York.38

    Abner Doubleday began farming when he moved to Otsego Township (now Coopers town), Otsego County, New York, some time in 1800.39  The four children by his second marriage were baptized in the Presbyterian Church there November 2, 1802.40

    Abner continued to work his farm until his death from consumption 28 December 181241.  His last will and testament dated 31 March 1812 and probated January 181342, names his five children and wife “Marey.” Marey/Mary/"Mercy" survived her husband by five years and died in Otsego Township 20 December 1817.36e

    Thus several points in Notes on the Doubleday Family by Mrs. Walden are incorrect or suspect.  Abner was not an “officer on a privateer,” although he was a noncommissioned officer; he was imprisoned by the British, but not on the infamous Jersey.  He probably took to privateering, as did others, for profit, not because his feet froze.  The winter of 1779-80 at Morristown cooled the ardor of the most fiery patriot, and the method of payment for service discouraged many. The confusion between Abner’s birthplace, Lebanon, Connecticut, and his later residence at New Lebanon, New York, has also created some difficulty.  Many of these alleged facts were subsequently copied and Mrs. Walden may also have repeated previous version.  Roger Doubleday, not Elisha Sr. immigrated from England and settled in Boston.43  His two known sons, Elisha Sr. and Elijah, were both born in America. not England.43  Elisha Jr., not Elisha Sr., married three [105] times and had 25 children.44  Abner was born either 3 or 4 February 1757. According to the Eddy genealogy, Abner Doubleday moved to New York State after his first wife’s death in Connecticut. However, some records indicate that Abner’s and Lois’s child Demas was born in New York. There is a report of Abner operating an inn in Canaantown in 1785, one year before his marriage in Connecticut in 1786.

    On the other hand, there are elements of truth in Mrs. Eddy's story.  Her narrative is the only record of Abner’s second marriage which identifies his wife as Mercy Freeman.  Fred Freeman, The Freeman Genealogy (1875), states that Elisha Freeman’s daughter Mercy married a “Doubleday of Cooperstown,” probably our Abner.  Further research is required and might begin with Elisha Freeman’s will or inventory.

    This Freeman line, if verified, may open new memberships in hereditary societies.45  Abner’s military service can be deduced from the record of the 8th Connecticut Line Regiment, Paul Brigham’s Company, from records of the 12th and the 18th regiments, and other service records, though he did not live long enough to file for a military pension.46  British naval and maritime records might tell more about Abner’s five years at sea.


    1.      Margaret E. Curfman, Doubleday Families of America (1972) p. 62, Vital Records, Lebanon, Connecticut, Vol. 1, p. 72, also cited in Curfman, op. cit.

    2.    Anne Brevoort Eddy Walden (Mrs. Reginald) was a granddaughter of Abner Doubleday (1757-1812). This copy of her Notes was sent to the author by Mrs. Norme (Doubleday) Frost of Tyron, North Carolina.

    3.    Rev. Orlo Hines, Early Lebanon (1880), p. 37.

    4.    William Packard Cutler, Genealogical and Family History of Central New York, vol 1 (1912), p.215.

    5.    Military records of Joseph and Elisha, Abner’s two half-brothers by his father’s first marriage to Margaret Adams, are cited in Connecticut Historical Society Collections hereafter Coll.), vol. IX. Joseph’s record is cited on pp. 141, 251, 341, and 344.

    6.    There seemed to be 10 surviving children at home, including a baby under a year old.  Curfman, op. cit., chp. 6-8.

    7.    Coll. Vol. VIII, p. 5 shows Abner serving under Capt. James Clark, and p. 4 shows him serving under Capt. Daniel Tilden; Vol. XII, p. 140, shows Abner enlisted in the 12th Regiment for three years, 1775.  In Connecticut Men in the Revolution (1889), hereafter cited as CR, the following record is reported: p. 15, 7 days in service (a reference to his service in the Seven Day Alarm); p. 231, rank cpl., Co. Brigham April 15, 1777-April 10, 1780, term 3 years; and p. 624. “the following persons of Simsbury, belonging to the 3rd Military Company in the 18th Regiment under command of Captain Job Case...Doubleday, Abner.”

    8.    Hines, op. cit. . 34.

    9.    Richard M. Keychum ed The American Heritage Book of the Revolution (1972), p. 104.

    10.  Copy of map entitled ‘The Seat of War in New England, by an American Volunteer, with the Marches of the Several Corps sent by the Colonies towards Boston with the Attack on Bunker Hill,” (London: 1775) shows the route of march of colonial militia.

    11.  Coll., vol. VIII, pp. 4-5; note 7,supra.

    12.  [Israel] Putnam s 3rd Connecticut Regiment, A List, Lebanon, Colony of Connecticut, 1775, National Archives, non-recorded material.

    13. John Doubleday, Our Ancestors (1936), p. 25.; Curfman op. cit., p. 62; Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. II (1888), p. 210; Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. III (1930), pp. 391-92; Notes on the Doubleday Family, by Anne Brevoort Eddy Walden; according to Hines, op. cit., p. 35, Captain James mark led his company and two others, one from Massachusetts and one from Connecticut, both without officers, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and in digging fortifications the day before.

    14. Revolutionary War Compiled Military Service Record for Abner Doubleday, 8th Connecticut Line Regiment, War Department Collection of Revolutionary War records, Record Group 93 National Archives Microfilm Publication M881, Roll 25A.  Specific items under this heading will hereafter be referred to as CMR for specific company Muster Roll and CPR for specific Company Pay Roll.

    15.  CR; p. 624; note 7 supra.

    16. Curfman, op. cit.  The seven sons were Joseph Elisha, Jesse, Asahel, Abner, Ammi and Seth.  The two grandsons were Joseph, Jr., and Jacob.  Joseph, Seth, Jacob, and Joseph, Jr., served with Abner, enlisting in 1777.

    17.  CMR, April 1778.

    18.  CMR, December 1778.

    19.  CMR, January 1779.

    20.  CMR, June 1779, Brigham’s Company.

    21.  CMR, June 1779, Capt. Theophilus Monson’s Company.

    22.  CMR, March - June 1778.

    23.  See note 13, supra.  Also in support of the contention that Abner was at the storming of Stony Point, see “Genealogy: Tilden, Doubleday and Bliss" a handwritten volume in the New York Public Library; and “The Diary of Major Doubleday,” in Records of the New Hartford Historical Society, p.5.

    24.      Ketchum, op. cit., pp. 266-67.

    25.      Curfman, op cit notes pension applications #8105850 for Seth and #R3037 for Ammi, but makes no mention of Stony Point. “Genealogy: Tilden…"  mentions Ammi’s participation with brother Abner, “two years younger."  Actually, Abner was the elder of the two.

    26.  CMR, p. 16

    27.      Ketchum op. cit., p. 163

    28.  CMR and CPR of April 1780.

    29.  Ibid., p. 288.

    30.  Lewis F. Middlebrook, Maritime Connecticut during the Revolution, Vol. 11(1925), pp. 126-31.

    31.  Letter from Anna Mary Dunton, Church Historian, Lebanon Valley Historical Society, Columbia County, New York, to author, June 1 1977 re Abner Doubleday, data taken from Rev. Silas Churchill's files.

    32. Curfman,op. cit., p. 62.

    33.  Virgil M. Huntley, John Huntley, Immigranc.of Boston and Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Lyme, Connecticut (1978), p. 91.

    34.      Curfman, op. cit., p. 63.

    35.  Letter, Mrs. Treharne of Troy, New York, to author, October 29, 1976.

    36.  The only direct mention of the marriage of Abner Doubleday and Mercy Freeman is made in Anne Brevoort Eddy Walden’s Notes on the Doubleday Family.  However, the following evidence supports this identification:

    (a) Wallis Freeman’s multi-volume “Freeman Genealogy,” a major manuscript collection at NEHGS, gives the will of Captain Elisha Freeman as Mercy Vincent daughter of Benjamin.  The manuscript also shows that Elisha and wife Mercy/Mary had daughters Mercy (Freeman) Doubleday (born at Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, 10 November 1762) and Mary (Freeman) Morse.

    (b) A book of Captain Elisha’s memoirs was printed in Ballston Spar New York (1819) with an introduction prefixed by “a Friend at a time when Ulysses Freeman Doubleday, son of Abner, was publisher and printer of the Saratoga Courier in that town (see Freeman ibid. p. 388; obituary of U.F. Doubleday, New York Times, March 24, 1866; and Elliott C. Storke History of Cayuga County (1879);

    (c) The will of Abner Doubleday, Otsego Township, Otsego County, New York, Book C, pp. 256-9, dated March 31, 1812 and proved January 4, 1813, mentions his wife Marey, snonymous with Mercy;

    (d) Gertrude A. Barber, Deaths: Otsego County, New York, quotes the Otsego Herald, Western Advertiser, and Freeman’s Journal issues January 5, 1818: “Died Dec. 20, 1817, in Cooperstown, Mrs. Mercy Doubleday.”  She appears to be the widow of Abner;

    (e) The 1790 Federal Census for Columbia County, New York (p. 69) shows the following for Kinderhook: Elisha Freeman, 1 free white male over 16, 1 free white male under 16 2 free white females  Also Elisha Freeman Jr., 2 free white males over 16, 4 free white females under 16, 2 free white females over 16.  These entries appear to be the family of Captain Elisha Freeman and his son, as related in Freeman Genealogy (1875). The first Elisha would appear to be the [106] Captain, living perhaps with his youngest son Nicholas, and two of his six daughters, one the still-unmarried Mercy;

    (f) The 1790 Federal Census for Columbia County under Canaantown (p. 58) lists Abner “Doubledee”, 1 free white male over 16 [Abner] and 1 free white male under 16 [Demas Abner, the only child of Abner’s first marriage to Lois Huntley].  As no females are listed, Abner would have been a widower at the time of the census;

    (g) Rev. Silas Churchill's records in the Lebanon Valley Historical Society at New Lebanon (formerly Canaantown) in Columbia County, New York, mention Abner’s inn across from the church.  The proximity of New Lebanon and Kinderhook suggests probable contact between the two families.

    (h) Abner’s first son by his second marriage was Ulysses Freeman Doubleday.

    36. Cemetery records, Old North Street Cemetery, Auburn, Cayuga County, New York, refer to: “Doubleday, Amanda: sister of W.H., died July 24, 1846.”  The W.H. was probably miswritten for U.F. (Ulysses Freeman).  Amanda was apparently the unmarried daughter of Abner and Mercy.

    37. Curfman, op. cit. p. 64.

    38. Presbyterian Church records, Otsego Township (later Cooperstown), Otsego County, New York  October 10 1800: “Abner Doubleday - received from other church.”

    39. Ibid. under “Baptisms,” November 2, 1802: “Children of Abner Doubleday: Ulysses Freeman, Lois Huntley, Amanda, Elisha.”

    40. Will of Abner Doubleday, March 31, 1812, Otsego, Cooperstown, New York, Book C, pp. 256-259. A typed copy sent to the author by Douglas Doubleday of St. Petersburg, Florida, notes the date of Abner’s death but cites no source for this information.  Presterian Church records, Cooperstown, Otsego Township, Otsego County, New York, list under the heading of Deaths “Abner Doubleday, of Consumption,” but the date is omitted.

    41. Will of Abner Doubleday, ibid., p. 259.

    42. Curfman, op. cit Chapter 1 ,pp. 3-6.

    43. Ibid. Chapters 6-8, pp.22-37.

    44. The line runs thus in the format used in "Notable Kin”: Mercy Freeman & Abner Doubleday; Elisha Freeman & Mercy/Mary Vincent; Robert Freeman Mary Paine; Elisha Paine & Rebecca Doane; Thomas Paine & Mary Snow; Nicholas Snow & Constance Hopkins; Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower & ___. See also NEXUS 4(1987): 160-61, #4.

    45. Numerous pension applications were filed by sons and grandsons of Elisha DoubledayAbner’s first son by Mercy Freeman, Ulysses Freeman Doubleday, achieved some note as a newspaper publisher and politician in upstate New York. He was twice elected to Congress as a Jacksonian Democrat (1831-33 and 1835-37).  As a member of the Committee for Pensions and the Committee for Invalid Pensions, Ulysses may have ruled on pensions requested by his uncles Asahel, Ammi and Seth, and by his cousins Joseph and Jacob.  Jacob’s application was denied on the grounds of partial service substituting for his brother Joseph.  Ulysses’ father-in-law, Thomas Donnelly (also a revolutionary veteran) was awarded $120 per month by the same committee, and Thomas’s widow’s pension was doubled.

    A second Abner Doubleday (1819-1893), son of congressman Ulysses Freeman Doubleday and Hester Donnelly, and grandson of the Abner herein, is generally considered a founder of American baseball.  See Dictionary of American Biography, vol. V (1930) p . 391-92; National Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. K (1895), pp 140-41

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