Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rev War junkie

Lately I have become a Rev War junkie - kinda hooked on the experience of finding original Rev War documents.  It is a real rush to find an actual, real-life, no-foolin' Revolutionary War document.  I found my first such document (a tiny pay voucher) when I worked processing the DAR's original membership application files for the PG Project back in 2004.  It was a thrilling event and it just keeps getting better.  Unlike drugs, the experience does actually get better and better each time - no matter what the dose!

I'll let this beautiful document speak for itself.  This is the original muster-roll of Major Jeremiah Bruen's Company in Colonel Jeduthan Baldwin's Regiment of Artificers (in the Continental establishment).  These Patriots were the rough equivalent of today's Engineers.

from nara rg233, hr15a-g10.1, tray03
( larger version available here )

This document may be the only record of Bruen's Company at this time (March 1780), showing the full compliment of men.  In fact Major Bruen's Compiled Military Service Record (in NARA RG93) does not reference this record.  The CMSR of Sgt. John Thomas doesn't even make reference to this month at all.  Thomas' and Bruen's CMSRs clearly show that the clerks in the R&P office (or more likely the MS Office of AGO) did not have access to this document when carding the Rev War military service records in the summer of 1906.  What they had access to at the time is filmed on NARA micropub M246 (Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783) and available on footnote.com. 

Do the 'official records' show that this unit was at Morristown in March 1780?  No, the records do not.  Jeduthan Baldwin's published diary doesn't cover 1780 and published letters to and from Major Bruen only cover the period up to February 1780.  The men named in the document are now concretely documented in historical time-space. 

Is this, in fact, new evidence of Patriotic military service? Hell yes!

Why is this important?  Evidence of Revolutionary service is rare, exceedingly rare.  To see any new, previously undocumented source is a reason to celebrate.  I don't really need to expound in the importance of Rev War scholarship, do I?  This document is an official muster-roll from the Continental Line.  The Compiled Military Service Records of the men named on this document need to be amended, or appended, or in some other way their service needs to be memorialized.

So, who cares?  Well, I do.  Other scholars of the Revolution should revel in the experience of being able to see new full-color scans of these documents, when 99% of 18th century documents are only available in black & white, on poorly imaged microfilm that hasn't been updated in half a century.  The descendants of these men may also care to take the opportunity to claim a bit of 'patriotic service' for an ancestor for whom the record was not complete enough to justify entrance to a lineage society like the NS-DAR, SAR or the few others.  Major Jeremiah Bruen was, until 1807, a member of the Society of the Cincinnati; perhaps descendants of the Major, or Lieutenants Little and Spencer would find this document useful.

Over the next few months, I will be making copies of these records available.  My eventual plan is to make all of them available with a rough finding-aide to the location of the original Rev War documents at the National Archives.  Oh yeah, that will get done when I finish the twenty-thousand other projects I am simultaneously working on.  No, really.  Please keep the spirit of the Revolution alive.  Be a junkie for your country.

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