Research into the service of Revolutionary war soldiers can sometimes be frustrating and limited due to the lack of available records. Undoubtedly, much has been lost over the centuries, and the fragility and age of what is available makes accessibility a factor too. Most of the records have been studied many times and gleaning anything new seems almost fruitless. However, occasionally something new comes to light which changes how we look at some of the individual participants in our country’s early struggles.
A new insight was made into the military career of a Massachusetts Patriot named Gustavus Aldrich by triangulating early Federal records recently found at the National Archives in Washington, DC, with known records currently available in Fold3’s Revolutionary War Collection. The new document extends the scope of his personal military history beyond the so-called “official record.” It can now be stated with some certainty that his service extended from the early days of the Revolutionary struggle in 1777 to sometime around 1790. He seems to have served close to thirteen years in the service of the United States.
A new record was discovered, by chance, while looking in National Archives’ Record Group 94 (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office), entry 19a (Post Rev War Papers), box 21a, for early War of 1812–era documentation. A letter was found from Gustavus Aldrich to President James Monroe, written on 28 September 1818 asking for relief and a raise in his pension annuity. His letter was written in the simple but elegant, high-toned style typical of the Patriots, in words that only had real meaning when delivered by those that suffered for liberty in the days of the Revolution.
Gustavus claimed that not only had he served seven years and eight months during the Revolution but that he had also served more than six years after the war fighting Indians. He had been receiving a pension since 1806, back-dated to 1805 when he initially applied, for the cause which he mentions in his letter: “Since the peace with Great Britain I enlisted into the U.S.A. Army & served six years against the Indians, in which time I received an almost fatal wound for which I received a small pension of $2.50 per month…”
His own statement is all that is available to back up his claims of arduous service and receiving a wound. We can learn very little by reference to his Compiled Military Service Record found on Fold3. We can verify that he served as Sergeant in Captain Henry Burbeck’s Company of the infant U.S. Artillery. The record is spartan on details, consisting of only three carded abstracts of pay records covering a part of his term of service. It shows he served from at least March 1787 until approximately 1790. It lends some credibility to Aldrich’s statements.
His previous service had been quite long and tough, as he described in his own words: “I served in all principal engagements during the War the taking of Burgoin, Storming Stony Point on the Banks of the Hudson, at the Battle of Paramus Town, at the Siege of York Town.” This again remains uncorroborated by reference to his official Compiled Military Service Record for service in Colonel Nixon’s Continental Line unit the 6th Regiment Massachusetts Foot.
It confirms his service but gives little else to work with, so the descriptions of service in his letter take on great meaning, especially since it probably represents his only surviving narrative. The span of time can probably be blamed for the absence of more corroborative evidence to support his claims of long service.
Gustavus died on 22 August 1822 in Mendon, Worcester County, Massachusetts, only a few years after penning his plea to the president (see his Final Pension Payment Voucher indexcard entry).
He never received the full upgrade of his pension annuity to $16 per month as he requested. His widow, Susan Aldrich (nee DeWitt), was denied the benefits of a pension until after 1853, when an act of Congress modified the law and relaxed the stringent marriage requirements. She had married him in 1812, and previous pension laws only allowed widows who had married prior to 1792 to be eligible for pension benefits. She enjoyed the benefits for only a few years, dying on 27 February 1857 (see her Final Pension Payment Voucher indexcard entry).
Find out more about Gustavus Aldrich and his struggle for relief by reading his widow’s complete pension case-file. You can also read the entire letter to President Monroe exclusively in soldiersource’s gallery on Fold3.
Gustavus Aldrich’s letter can be found in NARA RG94 (AGO), entry 21a (Post Rev War Papers), box 21a.