Friday, June 13, 2014

Steward Kee - A soldier at Bunker Hill

1  Steward Kee, 2 Sarah Kee, 3 Sarah Jane Wakefield, 4 Sarah Ann Nelson, 5 Melvin Edward Foss,
6 Estella Elizabeth Foss, 7 Harold Victor Hayward, 8 Judith Ann Hayward
(Note: this family lineage has been questioned and is being researched further, but it's still a great story)
1753 – 1833


Steward Kee was not the first warrior in his family!  We know this because his (and our) family's documented history goes back to Scotland over 100 years before Steward was born when his great-grandfather, Daniel McKay, fought with the "Scottish Nation" against the Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell.  According to a recently discovered treasure entitled “Scotch Prisoners Captured 3 September 1650 at the Battle of Dunbar”, things did not end well for these Scots. After a fierce battle, thousands were captured and forced to march to London in chains.  After being imprisoned in the infamous Newcastle Prison for two years, Oliver Cromwell signed the order to have these Scottish undesirables shipped to the New World to be sold into slavery as indentured servants.  During the years between Daniel McKay and Steward Kee, this family's surname changed from McKay to McKee, and then – in 1731 - to Kee.

The Kee family was living in Connecticut when Stewart packed his bags and traveled to Ware,
Massachusetts, where he met and married Sarah Paddock in 1775. According to"Descendants of Steward Kee" by Kee Rodgers, she was a brainy woman with a strong personality, a woman ahead of her time who  loved to read and had a remarkable memory.  As luck would have it, their marriage was only a month old when the Lexington Alarm was sounded. So Private Steward Kee grabbed some supplies and his musket and joined 28 of his neighbors for a 3 month enlistment in Colonel David Brewer's Regiment (Arthur Chase, "History of Ware, Massachusetts", Cambridge, The University Press).

After this experience, most of  these young men re-enlisted shortly after they returned to their families and even signed a petition begging to be allowed to re-join Col. Brewer's regiment.  Their wish was granted but within a few months, Col. Brewer retired and was replaced by Lt. Col. Rufus Putnam, who only served for a short time before  the regiment was disbanded in 1776 and most of its companies were consolidated into the 13th Continental Regiment.  Although we don't know specifically what part the 13th Continental played during the war, there is no doubt that Col. Brewer's regiment was involved in the tremendous upheaval that began at Breed's Hill.  The following paraphrased Smithsonian article best describes the issues and emotions boiling up at that time:  

"Until the battle of Bunker Hill, the colonists had neither wanted nor expected war.   In fact, most sought a return to the Crown’s “salutary neglect” of colonists before 1760, after which Britain became more aggressive and began to impose more taxes, while responding to American resistance with coercion and troops.  The colonists'  attitude only began to change when their blood was shed, which is why the Bunker Hill battle was pivotal.

The chaotic skirmishing at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 left the British holed up in Boston while hostile colonists surrounded the city. But it remained unclear whether the ill-equipped rebels were willing or able to engage the British Army in pitched battle, and leaders on both sides still thought the conflict might yet be settled without full-scale war.  This stalemate broke on the night of June 16 in a confused manner that marks much of the Revolution’s start when over 1,000 colonials marched from Cambridge with orders to fortify Bunker Hill, a 110-foot rise on the Charles-town Peninsula jutting into Boston Harbor.  But the Americans mistakenly bypassed Bunker Hill in the dark and instead began to fortify Breed’s Hill, a smaller rise much closer to Boston and almost in the face of the British.

Short on cannons, and the know-how to fire them with accuracy, the rebels couldn’t do much damage from Breed’s Hill. But their threatening position on high ground just across the water from Boston forced the British to try to dislodge the Americans before they could be reinforced or fully entrenched.   On the morning of June 17, as the rebels frantically threw up breastworks of earth, fence posts and stone walls, the British bombarded the hill. The Americans, now exhausted, were a motley collection of militia from different colonies, with little coordination and no clear chain of command.  By contrast, the British were among the best-trained troops in Europe. And they were led by seasoned commanders, one of whom (General William Howe) marched confidently at the head of his men accompanied by a servant carrying a bottle of wine!

However, the seemingly open pasture proved to be an obstacle course for the British. The high, uncut hay obscured the rocks, holes and other hazards, including those newly erected  fences and stone walls, thus slowing down the enemy's progress. In the meantime, the Americans were ordered to hold their fire until the attackers closed to 50 yards or less. When the rebels finally did open fire, the close-packed British fell in clumps. The Americans added to the chaos by aiming their fire at the officers who were distin­guished by their fine uniforms until finally the British attackers - repulsed at every point -  were forced to withdraw.

Before long, however, the disciplined British quickly re-formed their ranks and advanced again, with much the same result. But with the Americans' powder running low, their firing sputtered, making the men resort to throwing rocks and swinging their muskets at the bayonet-wielding British pouring over the rampart. Eventually the surviving defenders had to flee, bringing the battle to an end.
Breed's Hill Battle
After just two hours of fighting, 1,054 British soldiers— almost half of all those engaged— had been killed or wounded, including many officers.  American losses totaled over 400.  The first true battle of the Revolutionary War was to prove the bloodiest of the entire conflict. Although the British had achieved their aim in capturing the hill, it was a very costly victory. 'The success is too dearly bought', wrote Gen. William Howe, who lost every member of his staff (as well as the bottle of wine his servant carried into battle)." (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-True-Story-of-the-Battle-of-Bunker-Hill)
After the war ended, Steward moved his wife and seven children north to the Province of Lower Canada (now Quebec), where they were joined by other family members and friends. But the War of 1812 brought changes to the living conditions of the Americans, with tensions eventually reaching a fevered pitch. Finally the Kees decided to move, and in 1818 migrated to Ohio where Steward was a blacksmith and farmer by trade. 

In 1832, he applied for a pension for his service during the Revolution, but did not receive it prior to his death in 1834. Records show that Sarah then applied for the widows' pension, but it was not granted at first because she could not prove that she had been married to Steward. After explaining that the papers had been lost long before in a house fire, it was finally approved and she received $27 a month from 1836 until her death in 1844 at age 90.