Stephen Greenleaf's Revolutionary War


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Maj. Greenleaf's Pension Papers.


A column and more of interesting local matter is printed on our first page today. We refer, of course, to the pension application of Maj. Stephen Greenleaf, who in his time, and for many years, was one of the most prominent and useful citizens of Brattleboro. Maj. Greenleaf's father, whose name was also Stephen Greenleaf, was one of the early settlers of Brattleboro, and the son states in the sketch of Brattleboro contributed by him to Thompson's "Vermont," that his father, then a merchant in Boston, moved here in 1771, "having bought what was called the Governor's Farm, situated where the East village now is, and opened a store here which was supposed to be the first store within the limits of Vermont." Maj. Greenleaf, whose military title was obtained in the state militia when that organization was at its best, and made up of prominent citizens of mature years, was a carpenter by trade, and was the town clerk of Brattleboro for 45 years, from 1799 to 1844. He was a man of unswerving integrity, of faithful, painstaking, devoted life, and Mr. Burnham quotes in his history of Brattleboro the estimate of an intimate acquaintance that, "One such man in Sodom would have been sufficient to save that wicked city." His death took place in 1850 at the age of 92, and his portrait appropriately hangs in the town hall.


The hand-writing of the pension documents which we have quoted, though done in his 80th year, is clear and firm and shows the old-time round and shaded way of forming the letters. The detail of facts given is interesting, and it is as singular as it is interesting to note that Maj. Greenleaf's account of Gen. Fraser's death at the battle of Stillwater corresponds exactly with the accepted account of the manner of his death as given in Appleton's Cyclopædia, the statement there being that Gen. Fraser "was shot and mortally wounded by 'Tim Murphy,' one of Morgan's riflemen, in obedience to special instructions from that officer."


Mrs. James Fisk, who was the step-daughter of Maj. Greenleaf, informs us that she used often to hear him speak of the pension to which he was doubtless entitled, but he never obtained it as he could not fix the date of his term of service in a way to establish proof that he did six months' service.


An Old-Time Pension Case.


Maj. Stephen Greenleaf's Application on Account of Service

Done in the Revolutionary War.


A Brattleboro friend of antiquarian tastes recently came across the application made by the late Stephen Greenleaf, when in his 80th year, for a pension on account of services rendered by him in the revolutionary war at the time of Baum's march into Vermont, the battle of Bennington, and Burgoyne's defeat. Besides the original application was a supplementary statement, explaining more in detail the nature of the services rendered by Mr Greenleaf, then a boy of 18, and the grounds on which the pension was asked. These documents are of both local and historical interest and they are given herewith.


Maj. Greenleaf's Application.


I, Stephen Greenleaf, of Brattleboro, in the County of Windham and State of Vermont, now in the eightyeth Year of my age, was Born in the State of Massachusetts, January 1759; lived in said State about 12 years, 7 of which in Boston, and removed from thence to said Brattleboro in the year 1771, where I have resided since. In the course of the Year 1777, my Father, with myself, were 4 times alternately draughted to serve as soldiers in the conflict with Burgoyne,--my Father being very infirm I performed the service for us both. The Officers I served under were John Sargeant Captain and Timothy Church and Israel Smith Lieutenants; our first march was a short one, our second terminated at Rutland, Vt. The object was to intercept a Division of Burgoyne's Army, said to be advancing, destined for Boston by crossing the Greenmountains in the direction from Rutland to Charleston, N.H. Here we were joined by Troops from New Hampshire commanded by Col. Herrick, but not being in sufficient force to withstand a formidable Enemy supposed to be advancing upon us, and hearing of the defeat of our Troops stationed at Hubbardton, by the coming in of some of the wounded from the Battle-ground and the reports of our own scouting parties returned, confirming the approach of the Enemy, upon which our Officers held a Council and ordered a countermarch. After a very short respite from our fatigues we were again called out to join Gen. Stark at Bennington, marched and arrived there the day after the Battle, from whence we, with a detachment from a Brigade from Massachusetts, were ordered to occupy as an outpost, Van Ness Buildings, near Ranselaer's Mills and Little White Creek; after guarding this Post a few weeks the Militia were dismissed, but hardly reached home before an express came, a new levy ordered and again I was on the march for Saratoga, where we arrived and were annexed to Col. Schuyler's Regiment of Militia, of which Ranselaer was one of the Regimental officers.


Here I was with several other Green Mountain Boys detached to make up a scout for observation and discovery. the Party was a large one and was commanded by Col. Morgan of the Riflemen attached to Gates Army. The line of March was upon the Right of the Enemy's Encampment and our rout continued to the extreme of the Rear of their Position, whence by Countermarch we returned to Headquarters and reported progress. In our course of March two of the Enemy's scouting Parties were driven in, which excited much alarm in their camp, by the apparent bustle they exhibited on the occasion. Two days afterwards commenced the decisive Battle near Stillwater, which terminated in the Capture of Burgoyne and his Army. Our Company was selected and ordered to attempt the raising and floating several Batteaus scuttled and sunk by the Enemy in the River, during their retreat, which we successfully accomplished; our way to the River led us by a Redoubt, newly erected by the British, and where it was reported the remains of Gen. Fraser of the British army were interred. Connected with this statement, where is a report in circulation, that early in the day of the Battle of Stillwater, Col. Morgan, before mentioned, with a select party of his own Regiment, were out reconnoitering on the right wing of the Enemy's encampment, when he came suddenly to a halt. He had discovered by a glance through a Glade between the Trees opening upon said Redoubt, an Officer on Horse back, whom by his perspective he discovered to be Gen. Fraser of Burgoyne's Army; the question occurred to him, "Can he be reached with effect by a Rifle ball?" and at once he put the question to a soldier standing by, who answered in doubt as to his own ability, but recommended another soldier, famed as the best shot, with the best Rifle in the Regiment, who was immediately ordered to the stand and the same question put to him, "Can you with your Rifle bring that man to the ground whom you see yonder on Horse back?" The answer was, "I believe I can." Morgan remarked that he revolted at the thought but it was undoubtedly necessary it should be done if possible. "Try, soldier," said he, "do your best!" It was done, and Fraser fell. We were now ordered to pass the river and take position on Bemis heights, which post we occupied till after the Capitulation of Burgoyne and witnessed his surrender.


In my report of service, as above stated, it will be seen that there are no dates of time when I began or ended service in the Campaign. The truth is, I cannot assertain them from memory, or other documents in my own possession, but in the absence of my own recollection, rely on the better memory of Salathiel Harris, my present Voucher, who was my quandum fellow soldier in the army, and who has heretofore testified for himself, and that testimony confirmed or corroborated by my deposition, by all of which he obtained a pension. At the same time and in the same manner Joseph Bemis, another Co soldier, obtained a Pension, but is now dead.


Now, knowing that I served at the same time, and the whole time that they served in the same Campaign of 1777, and fully believing that term of service to have been six months, I feel justified in sending this application.


I would further state, that of about twenty persons belonging to Brattleboro, who served as soldiers in the Campaign of 1777, only 2 applied for pensions, which they obtained, viz., said Salathiel Harris and Joseph Bemis, and that but two of said 20 persons are now living, to wit, said Harris (now a pensioner) and your Petitioner, who will feel doubly grateful, if, since Nature has placed him on Her list of Invalids, his Country would Ballance the Account, and place him on Her list of Pensioners.


May 1838,

Statement for Pension S. G.


His Supplementary Statement.


I, Stephen Greenleaf of Brattleboro in the County of Windham and State of Vermont, having in the year 1838, applied to the Commissioner of Pensions at Washington, to be enrolled on the Pension List with other Militia Soldiers of the American Revolution for services performed by me, as a Militia Soldier of Vermont, during the Campaigns at Bennington, at the Defeat of Baum, and at Saratoga, at the Capture of Burgoyne, and then believing myself eligibly and lawfully entitled to a Pension, did accordingly prefer my Petition for the same, which I then though, and still think was inconsiderately rejected and excluded. A few short questions was then put to me to which I now reply. In my former statement of facts relative to my services as a soldier, it seems I was not explicit enough to be clearly understood, to wit--"My Father and myself being draughted alternately four times in succession" may be understood thus, My Father, myself and others were planting Corn in Arms's Meadow, so called, in the latter part of April 1777, then said to be, by many, the earliest planting season known for many years; an alarm or flying report had been in circulation a day or two previous, "That the Enemy were on the March from Canada, and that other towns were mustering Troops to March on the occasion." At this juncture an Officer, Joseph Burt, Orderly Sargent, appeared with Draughting Orders, proceeded to his duty and draughted my Father as a soldier; but he being too infirm to do service as a soldier, I offered myself as his substitute, was accepted, passed Muster and marched; after a scout of several days fatigueing march to the North, and to no purpose, we returned home, and was the same day visited again by the same Officer with Orders and I was draughted, and marched to Rutland on Otter Creek, Vt., where we were informed of the defeat of our Troops at Hubbardston, and returned home--the same Officer again appeared with Orders and my Father was again draughted, and I again became his substitute, and marched to Bennington, and again returned. yet again was another call for Troops, when I was again draughted and by the same sarjeant and Marched to Stillwater and Saratoga; This may explain "Alternate draughting!"


I think it is sufficiently shown, the manner how and time when I became a soldier, but for the time of service it is impossible to ascertain, when I marched out or returned home. Yet I am confident that not more than Three days elapsed, at either time between my returning home and marching out.


Another query of the Hon. Commissioner was, "Why did you not apply for a pension when Harris and Bemis applied for pensions?" Answer, The reason is Obvious. Few, very few of the Militia soldiers could obtain Pensions under the then Pension Law, as few of them could prove when they were draughted, or turned out as Volunteers, the time they served, or when discharged; It was by a later Law, that more especially favoured the Militia soldiers in obtaining Pensions, of which Law I availed myself in my then application for a pension, is my answer. And would further remark, that the before named Harris and Bemis were enlisted soldiers, Bemis served six months near Boston, Harris served six months at or near White plains, and both of them afterwards served six months as draughted Militia soldiers with myself, at Bennington and Saratoga, and each of them obtained a Pension as enlisted soldiers for six months, and also for three additional months as Militia men, making a pension for each of them for Nine months. Harris yet lives to enjoy his Pension. Bemis is defunct.


An attempt has been made to ascertain how many of the Officers and soldiers of the Brattleboro and Dummerston Militia who then formed one company, and served together at Bennington and Stillwater, are now living, and but two solitary instances have been found of the existence of said Company, namely, Salathiel Harris and myself.


And in conclusion, having endeavoured to answer all questions put to me, and to explain everything, whereon could hang a doubt, however, it may yet be enquired "Why have you thus long delayed renewing your application, and presenting a second Petition for a Pension?" I reply, that as a negative Decision was given to my Petition and testimony, and an equally doubtful credence given to the veracity of several Gentlemen (as respectable as any in the state) who testified relative to my Character, excited my Chagrin, which has long prevailed. But now, after a lapse of time sufficiently protracted, have grown more wise and dismissed my Chagrin, and in confidence that my claim is just, and considering my age, and consequent infirmities are daily growing upon me, I feel it a duty I owe to myself and Family, tho long neglected, I am now respectfully induced to ask of the Hon. Agent of Pensions at Washington a Pension suited to the claims of your Petitioner, to wit, for six months service as a Militia Soldier.


The formal application, it will be seen, is signed only by initials, and the supplementary statement has no signature. From this fact and because of certain interlineations and erasures, it is evident that these papers were the original drafts from which copies were made and forwarded to the pensions commissioner.


The application was unsuccessful and the pension was never granted, because the necessary dates could not be obtained.


Vermont Phoenix, November 1, 1889.


[Col. Daniel Morgan's riflemen, under Gen. Horatio Gates, opened the Battle of Saratoga (First Battle of Freeman's Farm) against Gen. John Burgoyne. Sharpshooter Timothy Murphy shot Gen. Simon Fraser, who died at eight in the morning.]


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