You Say You Want a Revolution…


I love that song.

Since today is the Fourth of July (and this week’s 52 Ancestors theme is “Independence”), I’ve decided to write about my Revolutionary War ancestor, Nathaniel Merrill. Nathaniel was born in 1759 in Killingly, Connecticut to Nathaniel and Hannah (Belden) Merrill. He was a descendant of the Nathaniel Merrill of A Merrill Memorial, an early settler of Newbury, Massachusetts, and he worked as a farmer and laborer in Arlington, Vermont and Canaan, Connecticut.

In January 1766, at the age of 17, Nathaniel enlisted in the Revolutionary War for the duration of one year in the company commanded by Captain Robert Oliver. He reenlisted in the revolutionary army for the duration of eight months in May 1777 under Captain Daniel Livermore, and he enlisted for a third and final time in February 1778 for the duration of three years in the company commanded by Captain William Ellis. During his four years as a soldier in the Continental Army, Nathaniel fought in the Saratoga campaign–as well as the Battles of Trenton and Monmouth–and was among the soldiers residing in Morristown, New Jersey with General Washington.

Arnold’s Tavern, General Washington’s Headquarters, 1777

The Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1818 provided lifetime pensions to veterans who had served at least nine months in the Continental Army, who were “in reduced circumstances” and who were “in need of assistance from [their] country for support.” Nathaniel attempted to apply for a pension in 1832 at the age of 73; in his application, he stated that his occupation was “that of a laborer” but that he was “not of sufficient ability to pursue it by reason of indisposition.”

Soon after receiving his application, the pension agent informed him that he was entered on the regiment’s ledger as a deserter in 1782. It was Nathaniel’s task to procure enough depositions and testimonies from his superiors, fellow soldiers and state departments to prove without a doubt that he had not enlisted for a fourth time and later deserted the Continental Army. This is his story in his own words:

I, Nathaniel Merrill of Norfolk in the County of Litchfield and State of Connecticut, testify and say that…in the month of January 1776 when I was between seventeen and eighteen years of age I enlisted into the service of the United States as a private soldier for one year…I was mustered with the company at Winter Hill near Boston. It consisted of about one hundred men and when we arrived at New York from Canada the company consisted of only twelve men fit for duty of which I was one. (The others being all dead or so sick as to be unfit for duty.)

I then marched with the company to which I belonged and with several others to Albany and from there to Morristown in New Jersey where we joined the American army under General Washington and was present with the army at the Battle of Trenton. A few days afterwards on this first of January 1777 I was discharged. 

Battle of Trenton, 1776

I enlisted again in the revolutionary army for eight months in May 1777 and, having served out my time, I again enlisted to serve for three years in the same Regiment…The 20th day of May 1780 I was discharged at West Point on account of my ill health. During these terms of service I was at the taking of General Burgoyne and at the Battle of Monmouth and served with General Sullivan in his expedition against the Indians.

After I was discharged at West Point in May 1780 I retired to my father’s house in Chesterfield in New Hampshire and resided with him until the spring of the year 1781. After my discharge I have never enlisted or served in or deserted from the service of the United States. Any entry or memorandum or return made on any of the Books or Rolls in the war department of my having deserted is untrue and must have been made by mistake. 

General Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas, one day before the Battle of Trenton
Pension 9 (2)

After the Law of 1818 was passed, giving pensions to the soldiers of the Revolution, I made application for a pension…and soon after was informed that I was entered on the ledger of the Regiment as a deserter in 1782. For the purpose of proving that I did not desert, and having no means or money to enable me to travel in any other way, I went on foot to Chesterfield in New Hampshire to provide the Deposition of my former Captain, William Ellis. With these papers I returned home, having traveled on foot in going and returning three hundred and twenty miles. From my poverty, I was obliged to depend upon the charity of the people for my support, having had only two dollars in money when I commenced my journey. 

Nathaniel Merrill’s personal testimony and collection of depositions were sent to the Hon. John K. Eaton, Secretary of War, for review; in the cover letter, the Associate Judge of Litchfield County, William Burnell, emphasized that Nathaniel “did not desert…Mr. Merrill is very poor and literally dependent upon the charity of individuals for his support. I therefore hope that his application will satisfy all suspicion. By referring to the application of Merrill you will find the deposition of an officer who served in the same regiment with him–that he was an obedient, faithful and brave soldier and that he served his time.”

Nathaniel’s pension was approved in April of 1834, and he received a total of $186.40 from the United States government; he passed away in August later that year. At the age of 73, Nathaniel traveled 332 miles by foot to collect accounts from his fellow soldiers and superiors to prove his commitment to his country. Two years later, he successfully cleared his name and was finally recognized for his dedication and service.

6 thoughts on “You Say You Want a Revolution…

  1. I love reading about your Revolutionary War ancestor, Nathaniel Merrill. Thank you for sharing this.

    Several years ago, I honored my (and my spouse’s) Revolutionary War ancestors in a blog post: It was quite an undertaking just listing their names and service records.

    Now, after reading your story, I believe I will take my post one step further and try to tell as many of their tales as possible. Thanks for the inspiration, Jamie!

    Liked by 1 person

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