Patriot Jesse Britton


Jesse Britton served in the Revolutionary War out of Bucks, County PA. I had thought that Jesse was born in Reading (Berks County) PA in 1759, Anna Gibson was born in VA/PA in ~1761, Jesse and Anna married in VA ~1782, and that all their five children were born in VA in about 1783-1795. However, it is certain that Jesse was in PA in 1782 (witness to will), Jesse and Anna in Winchester VA in 1783-1785 (Abigail’s and Joseph’s births), both in PA in 1787-1790 (daughter Letitia born there in 1787, Jesse witness to a will in 1787, 1790 census), and then back in VA by 1790 (Elizabeth’s birth, John Dyer's diary entry). It is not clear how often they visited or moved back and forth across the 200 miles.

The 1775-1781 Revolutionary War records from Bucks County list six+ different Britton/Brittian soldiers: Elijah, Jesse, Joseph, Joseph (I think there are two different ones), Nathaniel and Samuel. It is believed that one Joseph is Jesse’s brother, and the other Joseph plus Elijah, Nathaniel and Samuel are cousins. Family stories passed down by other descendants also confirm that this is our Jesse Britton listed in Bucks County PA military and census records.

When I first learned that Jesse volunteered in Bucks, I thought the Virginia record was then unrelated. However, since Jesse did move back and forth from PA to VA, it is possible that both Joseph and Jesse moved to VA by 1779 (Joseph signed up in the Fall of 1779 for two years—at age 16; he probably did not move to VA alone at this age leaving his family in PA). This would explain why they both were listed with muster roll fines in 1780 and 1781 in PA.

allegorical painting of George Washington Crossing the Delaware on Christmas, 1776 by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1851
From a historical viewpoint, it is of interest that Robert Gibson's second wife was the widow Elizabeth Keith, and it was her home that General Washington used as his headquarters December 14-24, 1776, before the Battle of Trenton! This was the battle after the famous "crossing of the Delaware" on Dec 25th! It is unknown if Jesse was one of the 2400 troops who crossed the Delaware (at McConkey's Ferry in Bucks County) with Washington, but at any rate, having the commander-in-chief of all the troops in a family home, and being involved in the fight for the same cause, would have made this an historic event in his 17-year-old eyes. This strategic surprise crossing and military win was critical to the Patriot cause. It is well accepted historically that the morale of Washington's troops was extremely low at this time, following several defeats and a retreat across New Jersey, a reduction in troop size from 30,000 to 3,000, and most of the remaining men were expected to leave the army when their enlistments expired Dec 31st. It is of interest that Thomas Paine's historic words were published on December 19 -- his pamphlet "Common Sense" had served to increase support for the Revolution in its early days; Paine's new pamphlet titled "The American Crisis" began with these well-known words: “These are times that try men's souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." These words were no doubt important to the Patriots in this historic conflict, and the win at the Battle of Trenton encouraged new enlistments as well as reenlistments, and literally turned the tide in the Revolution in the Patriots' favor. More on the Crossing of the Delaware.

Robert Gibson died in 1788, and named sons Thomas, James, Moses, John and Robert, and daughters Elizabeth Armstrong, Mary Britton and Jean Gibson. Joseph Britton and William McCalla were executors. Nathaniel Britton and John Rees were witnesses. It is not clear is executor Joseph Britton was Sr or Jr, so there is no firm evidence which Britton Mary married; however, her husband was not Jesse's father as has been published in a book by Thomas Bailey, and reasserted by others. It is thought that Robert Gibson is a relative to Jesse's wife, Anna Gibson Britton, but the exact relationship is yet uncertain. It is an interesting fact that Robert Gibson killed outlaw Moses Doan from Bucks, and the Doan outlaws, who were Tories as well as criminals, tried unsuccessfully to get word to the British about the surprise crossing (more on the Doan outlaws). On the 1790 census there were five Britton/Brittin/Brittain families in Bucks, PA: Jesse (116), Joseph (215) next door, Joseph (224), Nathaniel (206) and Thomas (301) (# men, boys, females). Elijah has just left; all Brittons leave by 1800. Based on John Dyer's diary, N. and J. Britton leave in the fall of 1790, just after the census (thought to be Nathaniel and Joseph, and their sons -- all these 1790 Brittons); Joseph Britton (Sr) dies in Frederick,VA in 1795 (see Britton source information).

Finally, it is noteworthy that Joseph says on his pension application that he lived in Ross County OH (Chillicothe) for five years. While Jesse was in Pickaway, Nathan, Elijah and two of Jesse’s daughters were in Ross in ~1807.

No Virginia service records have been found for Jesse, and unfortunately he apparently did not file for a pension (or the records are lost) in Ohio. He was alive at the time these pension applications were made, so it is unknown why no such record is available.

painting of Battle of Cowpens - Cowpens, SC - Jan 17, 1781
Joseph Britton’s Pension Application (Jesse’s brother?) received $160 per year

State of Virginia *
County of Harrison *

On the 21st day of August in the year 1832 personally appeared in open court before the justice of said county of Harrison in court now sitting Joseph Britton, as resident of Harison [sic] County aged 70 years who being first duly sworn according to law doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the act of Congress passed June 7th 1832.

That he enlisted in the fall of 1779 for the term of two years in a company commanded by Captain John Chapman of the County of Frederick and State of Virginia. That he remained in Winchester where he enlisted until the spring following when he marched with said company to Albemarl [sic] County where he joined the regiment commanded by Colonel Joseph Crockett, where he remained during the summer, in the fall or winter following he marched to Frederick Town barracks State of Maryland where he continued to guard the prisoners until the spring following. From thence he marched to Sheperd station, from thence to Pittsburg [sic], where he joined Colonel Gibson and was under the command of General Clark. From thence he decended [sic] the Ohio River to Wheeling. From thence to the Falls of Ohio, where he remained until December 1781. He never engaged directly in a Battle during said service but was frequently detailed in scouting parties and upon one occasion he assisted to Bury some twenty or thirty persons who had been killed by the Indians near to Boons Station. Upon another occasion and when out upon a scouting party, Captain John Chapman and Captain Abram Tipton were fired upon by a party of Indians and killed **. That he Britton was not immediately present at the time but herd [sic] the report of the guns and assisted in the burial of said officers. He recollects the following named officers whom he knew in the service to wit Major Wales, Adjutant Moore, Captain Carney, Captain Mellon and Captain William Cheney paymaster and Ensign Henry Daring.

He has no documentary evident his discharge having been destroyed in the pocket of his pantaloons by washing.

That he removed from Winchester to Monongalia County from thence to Harrison where he has resided until the present time with the exception of five years which he spent in the town of Chillicothe State of Ohio. He is acquainted with the Honorable Mr. Creighton of Ohio, William A. Harrison, John J. Allen, George J. Williams, and various others in the neighborhood where he resides, to whom reference may be had.

He does not know any living witness by whom he can prove the above services except William Warmsly whos [sic] affidavit is herewith subjoined.

He duly relinquishes every claim whatever to a pension or annuity except the present, and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of the agency of any State. Sworn to and subscribed the day and year aforesaid.

And the said court do hereby declare their
Opinion that the above named applicant was
A revolutionary soldier and served as he states.

Second document: November, 1834: …that in the year 1779, when in his sixteenth year of age, he enlisted at Winchester Virginia under Captain John Chapman for two years, was sworn in ... Captain Chapman was recruiting in Winchester and the surrounding country … his service ended shortly after Cornwallis was defeated...

Third document: January 22, 1839: his certificate of October 24 1838 was destroyed by fire

---------------
* Now West Virginia
** Actually tomahawked and scalped

Note that Joseph Britton marched over 1000 miles in 1780-81. The Revolution on the frontier was far different from that in the East, both in the North and in the South. Instead of English soldiers, the primary foes were native Americans, stirred to action by the British and their sympathizers. These raids meant scalpings, kidnap and torture. The settlers often replied with equal savagery.

In 1778, General George Rogers Clark traveled down the Ohio River to the Falls of Ohio [386-million-year-old fossil beds, among the largest naturally exposed Devonian fossil beds in the world] with soldiers and many families who joined the military convoy for security and protection from American Indian attacks. For his camp, Clark chose an island at the Falls of the Ohio River. He named the place Corn Island, founding a settlement that would later become Louisville. In a daring concept, considered one of the boldest in American military history, Clark took fewer than 200 men on foot across 175 miles of flooded, frozen plains to recapture the British fort at Vincennes (a three-week mission).

In 1780 until the Spring of 1781, Joseph Britton was involved with guarding British and German prisoners at Albemarle Barracks (the British under General Burgoyne) and then marching the prisoners to Frederickstown in Maryland (about 120 miles). During the Revolution, Frederick County served as the breadbasket for the Revolution, supplying the army with countless stores. The Tory Jail (or Tory Gaol) was built in Frederickstown, opening in June 1776. It was a two-story log building with each story divided into three rooms, often holding over 100 prisoners. These became known as the Hessian Barracks, named after the Hessian mercenary prisoners, who were quite welcomed in the predominantly German town.

Joseph Britton marched over 350 miles in 1781 to Pittsburgh and the Falls of Ohio. It was then, in Louisville, that Captain Tipton and Captain Chapman of the Regulars were killed by the Indians. These officers, when attacked, were riding to Floyds and Sullivans stations in the neighborhood. They were tomahawked and scalped. For many of the regiments, by the time they actually reached Louisville, the loss of manpower was significant, due to sickness and desertion. In total, Joseph Britton marched over 1000 miles.

Full of hatred, Pennsylvania militiamen in 1782 massacred ninety defenseless Christian Indians, including over 30 children, encamped at Gnadenhutten. During the following summer when Colonel William Crawford (not our ancestor, a long-time fighter against the Indians in both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War and a good friend of George Washington) led a militia column into the same area, the Indians, seeking revenge, encircled the white formation, and a majority of Crawford’s men were captured and tortured to death; Crawford himself was scalped and broiled alive at the stake on a slow fire.

In general, the citizen soldiers, including even Daniel Boone, were not successful in their warfare with the Indians due to little cohesion among the irregular troops, resulting in a heavy cost in terms of white casualties. The Indians were seen as a threat until after Yorktown, in 1794, when they were vanquished by troops under General Anthony Wayne.

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