Friday, July 4, 2014

52 Ancestors #27: Revolutionary War Soldier

Ancestor Name: Benjamin Jennings

As those of us in the United States begin our long holiday weekend, celebrating our Nation's independence, I thought it appropriate to highlight another Revolutionary War ancestor: Benjamin Jennings. He was my 4 times great grandfather and was born about 1740 in what is now Chesterfield County, Virginia, and died on July 1815 in what was then Powhatan County. After attending a National Genealogical Society's 2014 Family History Conference session about researching Revolutionary War soldiers, several months ago, I wondered if he had ever been listed as an ancestor on a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) application.

I searched for Benjamin on the DAR Genealogical Research System (GRS) and found him. His Revolutionary War service has been recognized by DAR. I ordered his ancestor case file and received an electronic copy via email.  The file was four-pages long and included a lineage from Benjamin to the applicant, most of which I didn't know about and also gave details about his war service, which I found the most interesting of all.

Benjamin Jennings ancestor file, detailing his Revolutionary War service
in the Virginia Militia and Continental Army courtesy of the
Daughters of the American Revolutions

Benjamin is also listed in several rosters that have been published of Virginia Revolutionary War soldiers, including John H. Gwathmey's Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution and H. J. Eckenrode's Revolutionary Soldiers of Virginia. A visit to the center for Military History website and several other sources have provided the context of Benjamin's service.

In September of 1776 he joined the Captain Thomas Gaddis' company of Virginia Militia and was stationed at what is now Beech Bottom, West Virginia, about 20 miles north of Wheeling on the Ohio River. Their primary responsibility for the four months in which the company was there was keeping lines of communication to Fort Henry, in Wheeling, open and scouting for hostile Indians.

Google map showing location of what is now Beech Bottom, West Virginia
where Benjamin Jennings was stationed when he served with the
Virginia Militia

There is a break in the payroll records for Benjamin from December 1776 to July 1777. At that time he was a private in Captain James Knox's company, which was part of the newly formed Provisional Rifle Corps.  Colonel Daniel Morgan led the corps, comprised of about 500 specially selected riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, chosen for their sharpshooting ability. This unit came to be known as Morgan's Riflemen.

Soon after the formation of Morgan's Riflemen, Washington detached several units and sent them to fight General Burgoyne. From the payroll records, it appears Benjamin Jennings was part of this detachment.

The regiment served under General Horatio Gates, who wrote to General George Washington:

"In this situation, Your Excellency would not wish me to part with the corps the army of General Burgoyne are most afraid of."

Morgan's Rifemen were part of the Battles of Saratoga, which occurred between 19 September and 7 October, 1777, and gave the revolutionary soldiers a decisive victory over the British Army.

Benjamin Jennings is the first Jennings I can find in the United States, who can be definitely confirmed as my ancestor. His parents are unknown at this time. The death of a wealthy commoner in Britain a decade after the Revolutionary War has made for some very "interesting" genealogy theories and has reduced tracing Benjamin's ancestors to near impossibility. What we do know about Benjamin is that he was born about 1740 in Chesterfield County, Colony of Virginia. By the mid 1760s he was married to woman named Sally and living in Powhatan County. Together they had at least six children before Benjamin served in the Virginia Militia and later the Continental Army. During the latter part of the war, the couple had another child. Sally died sometime before 1796 and Benjamin married Elizabeth McGruder on 10 February 1796. They had one daughter. Benjamin died in 1815 and his will was probated 19 July 1815. In it he named all his children, including the surnames of his married daughters.

George Washington Spoke to Him

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