Saturday, August 16, 2014

William Wakefield - a Revolutionary soldier and free spirit

1 William Wakefield, 2 John Utley Wakefield, 3Sarah Jane Wakefield, 4Sarah Ann Nelson,
5Melvin Edward Foss, 6Estella Elizabeth Foss, 7Harold Victor Hayward, 8Judith Ann Hayward

1733 – 1815
For several generations the Wakefield family was made up of mariners who bought and sailed ships along the coast of America starting in the mid-1600's. 

Evidently 13 year old William was not interested in making the family business his life's work.  So in 1746, he left the sea to fight in “King George's War” (aka “The War of Austrian Succession”) under the command of Captain Thomas Cheney (if you had never heard of this war, you are not alone – it took up very few pages in history books). 

Fortress Louisbourg
The troops were mainly composed of undisciplined New England militia which - despite their lack of discipline - wrested away possession of Fortress Louisbourg, located on the tip of Nova Scotia, from veteran French troops. They had little time to enjoy their success, however, before Captain Cheney was ordered to march his 60 troopers to Northfield, Vermont, where Indians had been lurking and settlers had been murdered a short time before.

It is obvious that William was never worried about being too young to fight battles - or even to marry.  As mentioned above, he became a soldier when 13 and married Mary Holmes at age 14. They were only married a short time before Mary died and there were no children born during the marriage.  However, by age 18, he was married again – this time to Dorcas Hayward, with whom he had his first nine children. After Dorcas' death in 1776, William married a woman whose name is unknown but with whom he had 3 more children, one of whom (John) was my ancestor (actually I would have preferred that John's mother was Dorcas Hayward because of the possibility of interesting family connections between my father's birth and adoptive families). 

One of William's close friends was Steward Kee, whose legend was described in an earlier post. Their families had close ties beginning before the Revolution and lasting until well after the war ended when some of their children intermarried.

Like Steward, William (now 42 years old) responded to the Lexington call to arms. However, since he was living in New Hampshire at the time war broke out, the battle he fought was quite different than the one fought by his friend at Breeds Hill. 

William enlisted in the Third New Hampshire Regiment and served under Captain Josiah Crosby.  On June 17, 1775, while the battle was intensifying on Breed's Hill, Captain Crosby's company took station on the Charlestown Peninsula. Their job was to snipe at the British marines advancing on the redoubt where the bulk of the American forces were deployed and trapped. Historians state that the New Hampshire men “maintained their ground with firmness and intrepidity, and successfully resisted every attempt to turn their flank”, thereby saving their fellow Americans who were retreating from the redoubt after being cut off.”  (Compiled and edited by Isaac W. Hammond, A.M., "The State of New Hampshire Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War 1775 to May 1777."

Their actions resulted in the decisive defeat of the right wing of the British Army under Major General William Howe. Sadly, the Americans ran out of ammunition quickly and could only pull back to Bunker Hill to watch the final phase of the battle play out.  Their actions upset the British so much that their ships in the Charles River loaded their cannon with hot grapeshot and burned Charlestown while the Americans could only look on in dismay.

William remained with the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment under the command of Captain Crosby even  after it was rolled into the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment and put under the command of Major General John Sullivan's Brigade.  This brigade was sent to Canada via New York City and Albany. The objective was to gain military control of the British Province of Quebec and convince the French-speaking Canadians to join the Revolution on the side of the 13 Colonies.  

However, shortly after arriving in Canada, the regiment suffered a smallpox epidemic.  Evidently the British had greater immunity to this dread disease than the Americans because of more exposure to the disease at home and the availability of inoculations which had just been developed.  According to General Benedict Arnold, some 1,200 of the approximately 3,200 Continentals stationed in the Montreal area were unfit for duty since most of them were infected with smallpox. By November, what remained of the Regiment was not much more than a corps of invalids. The brigade could only make it as far as Montreal before having to return to Fort Ticonderoga, where those who still had their health and desire joined General George Washington and continued the fight.
Ft Ticonderoga - 1775
We next find William and his large family living in New Lebanon, NH in 1780, where he signed a petition protesting "the illegal proceedings of the town of Lebanon which voted to pay no regard to the authority of the State of New Hampshire, and refused to give the State the authority to raise men for the defense of the United States. . . and in a high handed manner frequently stopped travelers on the main highway, robbing them of their property . . . and blocked the public highway by felling trees across
the path so as to render it impassable."  (The Granite Monthly: A New Hampshire Magazine, Volume 11, "The Vermont Controversy")

Obviously the stand William took against the leadership of New Lebanon did not make him the most popular man in town.  So it's no surprise to find the Wakefield family living in Brookfield, Vermont five years later, where he was elected selectman at the first town meeting he attended.

After reading his history, you probably could anticipate at least one more move was in the works.  In 1789 the Wakefields re-settled in  Brompton, Quebec, Canada where William bought land and attained consider­able prominence - so much so that the locale where the family lived was officially named "Wakefield Hill".  

Family historians believe that the Kees family had joined them in Canada.  However, as hostilities increased toward the Americans with the start of the War of 1812, both families felt it prudent to leave Canada and move back to the United States. 

William died in 1815 at age 77 in Vermont.  His service to his country was documented by both the Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution.