We call the men and women who participated in the Revolutionary War “Patriots” and for a good reason: that is what they called themselves. Through their actions, we have gained some idea of what a Patriot is and what it means to be patriotic. Being a Patriot often involved not only facing the enemy in the line of fire, but also taking a political stance in opposition to authority or giving up power and position to start over in a new society. Trying to find this kind of information by consulting a Revolutionary War soldier’s official Compiled Military Service Record is very difficult. Most of the “official records” available at the National Archives and from some states’ record collections are pathetically devoid of detail.
The story of Captain David Perry offers a great example of the lengths the colonists went to serve their new nation and shows the difficulty in discovering this type of information. Perry claimed to have been a soldier in the Provincial Colonial military establishment, still loyal to England and serving the Colony of Massachusetts. Historians owe a debt to Perry because he was one of the few Patriots who actually authored a book describing his exploits before, during, and after the Revolution. To his credit, the book is an invaluable source—but how can anything he wrote be verified by historians if there is no documentary evidence to support his claims?
The carded abstracts in his Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR; available on Fold3 and at NARA, in RG93 Rev War Records, entry 17 – CMSR, Connecticut Troops, et al ) give very little data on his extensive and long military career. It is mute on his service prior or subsequent to the dates listed in the “official” record (which covers 11 March 1777 until 2 December 1777; the incongruous dates listed exactly in that manner with a remark stating, “…so on roll.”) So, in effect, there is virtually no way to ascertain the extent, length, or quality of Lieutenant Perry’s service by reference to the CMSR, the only document considered part of his official record as maintained by the National Archives, the custodian of all such records.
Luckily for modern researchers, David Perry attempted to apply for a pension (or relief, as it was known at the time) directly from Congress.
To back up his claims of service in the war, he provided documents. When he submitted his petition for relief to the House of Representatives (15th Congress), he included as his supporting documentation two of his original Officer’s Commissions, signed by Jonathan Trumbull, and a lengthy deposition detailing his long service in the French & Indian War and the Revolution. Trumbull had been the Governor of Connecticut before the Revolution and after; he was an ardent Patriot. Perry’s documents show he was likeminded and served the Colony of Connecticut as an officer in His Majesty’s service in 1775 and a year later in the State of Connecticut’s forces as an officer in the Connecticut Line of the Continental Army.
Perry states he had been in service more or less repeatedly since he was 17 years old, beginning in 1758 and ending around 1762. These very rare examples show the dichotomous circumstances under which men’s loyalties were tested and choices made. Perry, by his own admission, “…spent a great portion of the best part of his life in the service of his country [and] that for his services in the Revolutionary War he never received any compensation whatever…” He was not alone; the records of the House of Representatives and the Senate are full of similar petitions and documents.
Perry was a Patriot, and the documents in the records of the Senate prove it far beyond the best records previously available. These newly re-discovered documents from the National Archives provide evidence of his service and show that even in the modern day, the final word on the Revolution and the service of the Patriots has not been written.