Happy Memorial Day!
On this day of remembrance, I've chosen to highlight my ancestor Lt. Benjamin Ennis, who fought and died in the Revolutionary War.
Benjamin Ennis was born 25 April 1743 in the Minisink Valley, "an area which reaches from Minisink Ford, New York, to Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, to the Delaware Water Gap at New Jersey and Pennsylvania." (Minisink Valley Historical Society). He was the son of William Ennes and Elizabeth Quick, a couple with Dutch, Scottish, Irish, and French roots, living in an area that had once belonged to the Dutch and still showed a strong Dutch influence.
|William Ennis' house|
Benjamin married Magdalena Van Etten in 1769. She too came from the Minisink Valley and her roots were even more diverse than her husband's: Dutch, Pomeranian (now part of Poland), German, English, Flemish, Norwegian, and perhaps Spanish. She was the niece of a commander of colonial forts.
During the Revolution, the Ennises and the Van Ettens were well-represented as patriots. Benjamin, his brothers Cornelius (a private) and Daniel (an ensign), and his father-in-law Johannes Van Etten all fought. His wife's uncle, the commander, now settled in North Carolina, provided civil service for the new government. Even Benjamin's father, William, a one-armed schoolteacher aged 65 at the start of the war, fought as a private. Patriotic feeling seems to have run high in this family.
Benjamin served as a lieutenant for Pennsylvania in the Revolutionary War and was killed in battle 20 Apr 1780 at Raymondskill Creek near Conashaugh, Pike, Pennsylvania (south of his home near the Delaware River in what is now known as the Delaware Water Gap). During the Revolution, there had been many small skirmishes in the region between the Americans and Mohawks that fought for the British under Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea). "...Brant led four of the six Iroquois nations on the British side in the American Revolution. He attacked colonial outposts on the New York frontier, skillfully commanding the Indian contingent in the Battle of Oriskany (August 6, 1777) and winning a formidable reputation after the raid on the fortified village of Cherry Valley, New York (November 11, 1778). Cooperating with British regulars and loyalists, Brant brought fear and destruction to the entire Mohawk Valley, southern New York, and northern Pennsylvania." (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
"'Battle Of The Conashaugh'
John Van Campen to Pres. Reed.
Southfield, April 24, 1780.
I hope my last by Mr. Mixer has come to hand informing you of the incursion of the Indians at the house of Manuel Gunsaleyes. I herewith inform your Honor of their late attempts. James McCarte with his family was removed to the Jersey on the 20th inst., his sons went to their home to feed the cattle, the farm was in Pa. about three miles below Milford, discovered signs of Indians, returned to the Jersey immediately and acquainted Major Westbrook and Captain Westbrook and the signs they had discovered: they sent immediately for some of their best men and crossed the River that night. About sun rise the morning following discovered the Indians nigh the barn and began the attack: the number of the enemy is supposed to be about fourteen: the Major received no damage with his party: the Indians retreated to the woods: The Major was reinforced by Cap. Van Etten with three of his sons and son-in-law: pursued the Indians by the blood and about two miles came up with them. As it is without doubt three of them was wounded: renewed the attack, drove the Indians to the edge of a thick wood. Captain Van Etten maintained his ground with his few men, the Major with his men also. Captain Westbrook's men left at the first fire from the enemy in the woods, which was the ruin of the whole, but the ground maintained for some time and the retreat secured by the Major and Van Etten. Killed and missing on the part of the Major and Van Etten,—Captain Westbrook missing,—not yet found: Benjamin Ennis* killed, son-in-law to Captain Van Etten: Richard Rosecrans killed and two more wounded. Of the enemy killed, two found,—one an officer appearing by his dress,—found in his pocket a regular Journal from the first of March till the 16th instant. As appears by his Journal there is Three Hundred and Ninety marched from Niagagari, divided into different parties. The officer was a white man. Respected Sir, now under difficulties of march, what the event will be God only knows. The people are determined to evacuate the country as there appears no prospect of relief by the Militia. I am, sir, with due respect,
Your most humble Servt.,
John Van Campen
P. S. The said Mc.Cartee, where the attack began, is about two miles below Wells Ferry [at present Milford PA] on the banks of the Delaware. Capt. Van Etten lives in Delaware Township one mile below Mc.Cartee's."
(Source: Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, Vol VII, 1907, p 48-49.)
In the family Bible, William wrote, "1780 April 20 departed this life my son Benjamin, killed by Indians, being my eldest son."
|Raymondskill Creek, just above its junction with the Delaware |
River in Pike County, Pennsylvania, near where Benjamin died
Photo by Ammodramus, Wikipedia
Magdalena would have been about two months pregnant with their youngest child Benjamin when her husband died. The baby had three older brothers and two older sisters (although I have no record of the one sister after her baptism), the eldest being only eight. How Magdalena supported her young family may be hinted at in a local history. The first school of Montague, Sussex, New Jersey had as its the fourth teacher "William Ennes, after which a Madam Benjamin became the directress of the educational interests of the neighborhood." (Snell, James P., The History of Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey, 1881.) Madam Benjamin may be Magdalena, the widow of Benjamin Ennis. Whether she taught school or not, it is known that she later moved with her children to the area of Spencer, Tioga, New York (later known as Van Etten, Chemung County), following migration patterns that would later lead her descendants westward.
|Van Etten, New York|
Benjamin and his family are not the only veterans in my family history. Of my direct ancestors, the following fought in wars between 1776 and now:
- Ebenezer Smith, Army
- Nathaniel Munro alias Maxfield, Navy, privateer aboard the Lady Washington
- Lt. Benjamin Ennis, Army, killed in action
- William Ennis, Army (Benjamin's father)
- Capt. Johannes Van Etten, Army (Benjamin's father-in-law)
- Jan Van Etten, listed by the DAR as a patriot because he provided civil service in the Revolution (also commander of Fort Hyndshaw, French & Indian War; Johannes' brother but also a direct ancestor)
- Probable ancestor (yet to be proved but likely): Whiting Parks, Army
|Ebenezer Smith's grave|
War of 1812
- Hill Richardson, Army
- James E. Bird, Army
- William A. Ennis, Army, heavy artillery
|The personal headstone of James E. Bird|
(part of a bigger monument)
James must have been proud of his service--this
stone reads, "J. Bird was a pensioner of the war 1812"
World War I
- Herman Elias Green (Great-Grandpa), Army, Rainbow Division, fought near Verdun, France
|Herman E. Green peeling potatoes|
World War II
- James Aloysius Carey (Grandpa), Army, artillery spotter in the Pacific Theater (including at Attu, Leyte, and Okinawa)
- Frank Richard Boyd (Grandpa), Army, military police in Arizona, medic-in-training in Colorado, Washington, North Carolina, and Missouri, post-war medic at a clinic in Hawaii
|Frank Boyd in Hawaii|
|James A. Carey|
In addition, several of my ancestors had brothers who served, including:
- Benjamin Ennis (brothers Daniel and Cornelius fought in the Revolution; evidently several of his brothers-in-law also fought)
- Keziah Elmer (brother Gad enlisted in the Army during the Revolution, brothers-in-law Nathan Lyon, Josiah Moody, and Levi Bacon served as well, with Nathan serving during the Lexington alarm)
- Ebenezer Smith Jr. (brother Preserved entered the Army at the age of 16 at the start of the Revolution, his uncle Nathan Chapin, who married Mary Smith, fought also and was taken prisoner at Ticonderoga, though he escaped shortly after)
- Remember Ellis (brothers John and Caleb fought in the Revolution)
- Judith Davenport (brother Jonathan served in the Revolution, as well as her brother-in-law Job Snell)
- Mary Lee Clark (brother William Henry Lee died in the War of 1812)
- Alonzo Havington Ennis (brothers Lorenzo Dow and Franklin V. died in the Civil War)
- Olive Bird (brother James A. died in the Civil War, brother Albert fought in the same war and survived)
- Caroline E. Devol (brother William Henry died in the Civil War)
- Mary Ann Harrigan (brother Patrick immigrated from Ireland and was recruited to fight with the Confederate Army during the Civil War, injured in action and died in hospital)
- Florence Mahler (her brother John fought in the Navy Reserve and brother Jacob fought in the Army, both during World War II; brother Pete was a SW2, Navy in the Korean War, brothers Andy and Michael Elmer apparently also served in the military)
- James Carey (brother Tom served in the Army during World War II)
- Beulah Green (brother Keith served in the Air Force before and during World War II)
- my mother (one of her brothers and a sister-in-law served in the Air Force)
Now I mentioned that I worked with the Coast Guard last week, so I'd better relate my time with the military:
|Here I am about to board a ship, wearing every piece of |
personal protective equipment the Coasties could find
Photo taken by C. Pryke, 2011
Not long after I finished grad school, recession hit and I struggled to find work. And then I got a phone call--I was offered a job as a contract instructional designer working at the Coast Guard's TRACEN Yorktown. It was terrifying moving across the country where my nearest relative was about six hours away and my nearest friend about three hours but not only was it a job, it seemed an intriguing job.
And so it was. In Yorktown, I was immersed in a far more military setting than I had ever experienced before. I worked on a base and got to know the wonderful Coast Guard well. I learned not to flinch at the sound of gunfire (coming from firing ranges) or even cannon fire (except the time I accidentally ended up on the business end of one at the wrong time--of course, it was a blank but it took a good long while before my heart rate returned to normal). Many of the great people I met while living in Virginia were military folk.
There were many other military bases in the area. These included Fort Eustis down a street near my apartment, which I accidentally entered several times when I took a wrong turn. Fortunately, I could show my military ID to the guard, then make a quick trip around the fort and exit with the shreds of my dignity, without having to explain what a directionally-impaired twit I was yet again. By the way, I also, on a day trip to DC, ended up taking another wrong turn--this time, I ended up at the gates of the Pentagon. You know what happens when you show up at the gates of the Pentagon? I do. A truck with flashy blue lights comes to scare you off. I had the presence of mind to get back up on the Beltway right away, so I never found out what happens after the flashy blue light truck gets to the gate. Technically, I don't know if the military ID trick would fly there. Somehow, I think not.
I did enter Fort Eustis on purpose. On one occasion, it was to avail myself of the opportunity of riding a Huey helicopter from the Vietnam War. I also had the opportunity to visit the World War II Memorial and Vietnam Memorial on Memorial Day. It was especially touching finding the names of battles that Grandpa Carey fought in and discovering Kilroy, which Grandpa Boyd taught me to draw when I was little.
And living on one corner of the Historic Triangle, the past was part of my day-to-day life. I lived a couple of blocks from where the British surrendered. My daily commute took me through the Yorktown battlefield, past a Civil War cemetery, and over Civil Way trenches. I came across more Civil War trenches while walking around the base. Not far away was Colonial Williamsburg, where I could see reenactments of great moments of the Revolution. I bicycled around the Moore House, where the terms of surrender were drawn up, towards where Washington and his troops once camped. I wandered the battlefield, feeling a sense of reverence for the sacrifices that took place there, and the historic downtown, including the house of Thomas Nelson, a Founding Father.
|The Civil War trenches that I encountered in my walks|
Photo taken by me, 2011
|Duke of Gloucester Street, Colonial Williamsburg, looking toward the armory and courthouse|
Photo taken by me, 2011
Perhaps, one of the most awe-inspiring moments was the Fourth of July when I went to the TRACEN for a barbeque with the Coasties that I come to serve. Afterwards, I sat on the pier and watched three different fireworks displays, Yorktown, Gloucester, and Poquoson's celebration of the great struggle to become an independent America. Then, I left and ended up in the traffic from Yorktown. We were rerouted down the tour roads, through the battlefield and past the American camp. On the eve of the anniversary of the bold signing of the Declaration of Independence, I was driving where Washington and so many American and French soldiers defied the odds and sieged the British. A little over a year after Benjamin gave his life to the north, there on those grassy fields and thick woods in Virginia, the war was finally won.
|The surrender at Yorktown, 1781|
Benjamin died, Magdalena raised her family alone, and William fought and mourned his eldest son for the fledgling country seemed to have valued so highly. Others of my ancestors fought in New England, New York, and on the seas for the same cause. Hill, James, and William fought to keep that new freedom. Alonzo, Olive, Caroline, and others mourned their brothers. Great-Grandpa Green and Grandpa Carey faced hard combat at Verdun, Attu, Okinawa, and the Philippines, while Grandpa Boyd waited in suspense to see if he would be sent into the final battles on the European Front. "O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife. Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!"
Next week's challenge from No Story Too Small: "Countless schools will be having their commencement ceremonies around this time. Think not only about school, but also about commencement meaning 'a beginning.'" I'm not quite sure who to feature yet but come back and find out!