October Genealogy Blog Party: A Trip Through the Stones

Elizabeth O’Neal’s theme for the October Blog Party is Through the Stones, traveling back 200 years.  As I’ve never watched Outlander, I am glad she included the description that it’s historical fiction with “time travel, romance and a bit of genealogy.”

For this month’s challenge: Imagine that you fell through the stone of an ancient henge and found yourself 200 years in the past. Tell us your story.

A bit more than 200 years ago would land me smack in the middle of the American Revolution. I actually have more Loyalist ancestors than Patriots, but I have always felt an affinity with Joses Bucknam, a patriot from Massachusetts, because his birthday was 6 March and mine is just one day later.

As I fell through the stone, I landed in Malden, Middlesex County, Massachusetts during the summer of 1782 and found myself face-to-face with 21 year old Joses Bucknam, my 5X great grandfather.

I was a bit anxious for a moment, wondering how I would explain my sudden appearance. Curiously, though, while Joses was most interested in sharing his war experiences, he didn’t question who I was or how I came to be there.

The Bucknam family was quite large and they were patriots, through and through. A fifteen year old Joses was caught up in the excitement of the prospect of war with Great Britain, as was his older brother William (all of seventeen years old) and both enlisted as privates in February 1776, in the town of Medford, where the Bucknams lived at the time. This was the first of multiple enlistments for young Joses.

It didn’t take long for the teenage private to gain some military experience. The following month, he served at Fort Ticonderoga in New York under Captain Hale. I imagine he got there the same way as other men in his company – by walking, even though it was about 200 miles from his home. However, Joses was long gone from New York by the time of the 1777 battle for the fort so did not participate in it.

Sometime after his New York adventure, Joses served at Fort Hill, in the Roxbury section of Boston, which was much closer to home. Fort Hill was actually an earthwork fortification, rather than a traditional style fort, built by the patriots during the siege of Boston.

Joses recounted that he re-enlisted in March 1777 under Captain Chiles. His military service was an unbroken chain of months, as he was unmarried. He was captured twice – the first time in February 1780 when he and a band of 36 scouts were returning from an expedition. The British came upon them and half the band were killed or wounded. The others were taken prisoner and carried to New York, where Joses said he “suffered everything but death.” He was exchanged in December of the same year, stranded somewhere in New York. He walked seventy miles to West Point to report.

He discovered that his company had been disbanded soon after he was captured and was unable to receive his back pay as he had no shoes or stockings! Joses learned that he had been reported as a deserter, bu Colonel Hull, the commander at the time, noted that he had been released in a prisoner exchange.

In spite of all that he had suffered, Joses was true to the patriots’ cause and again re-enlisted in April 1781. This time, he served on a 20 gun ship. However,  in June 1781, they were defeated by a 36 gun British frigate, taken first to Ireland and then to  England.

War is a scary time for all anyway, but Joses was not only captured, he was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, which was a dangerous trip in and of itself.

The trip to England might well have been the less scary event compared to life in Old Mill Prison.

First, colonial prisoners could be charged with treason, which meant facing possible execution. Joses was put in irons for forty days because he refused allegiance to the king.

Captured officers fared better than enlisted men. As Joses was a private, he didn’t enjoy any of the niceties given to those of higher rank. Joses’s daily rations consisted of something like one pound of bread, a quart of beer, 3/4 pound of beef and one cup of peas five times a week. Not only was nutrition there very poor, but the bread was said to have been baked with many straw ends in it.

His bed would have been straw on the ground. If he arrived at the prison with any decent clothes still existing, they would have been taken from him and replaced with worn out rags.

Medical care was almost non-existent. Scourges of smallpox killed some of the prisoners, other maladies and injuries brought on the deaths of others.

The only hope for these men was escape or exchange. Even if they escaped, they faced the huge obstacle of where next to go. With no money and no local family or friends to help them, they had little chance of remaining free and even less of a chance to return to the colonies.

It wasn’t until 1781 that the British recognized men classified as “prisoners of war.” Before then, they were just plain rebels or considered outright criminals. No written record exists today detailing any escape attempts made by Joses, but a year after he was captured, in June 1782,  he was part of a prisoner exchange of British and rebel troops. Benjamin Franklin was an integral part of the efforts to successfully implement these exchanges.

After he was freed, Joses hired onto a merchant vessel to earn his passage home. He was in the West Indies when peace was declared in 1783. Joses then boarded a vessel bound for the new United States of America, but docked in New York, still a couple hundred miles from family and home.

Once again, Joses walked – from New York all the way to Boston and then on to Medford.

Joses was a brave young man. He survived two captures and imprisonments and lived to return to Medford. I can only imagine how happy Joses and his family were to be reunited. Having been gone so long, his parents and siblings likely thought he had died.

As Joses finished his tale, I turned back to the stone and returned to the 21st century.

Joses went on to marry Abigail (Nabby) Hay and have a family. They left Massachusetts and settled in Mason, Hillsboro, New Hampshire, where Joses died on 18 April 1835 at the age of 74 years and one month.

Joses is buried in the Mason town cemetery, next to family and friends. I have been lucky enough to have been able to visit and pay my respects in this quiet little village.


5 thoughts on “October Genealogy Blog Party: A Trip Through the Stones”

  1. What an incredible life journey this young man lived through! I was fascinated. At that time, very few ordinary people would have crossed the Atlantic (whether as prisoner or private citizen). The tales he had to tell! Thank you for inviting readers along “through the stones” with your ancestor!

  2. Loved your story, it is full of facts that make one’s head spin, the research must have been a whole lot of fun. I also love your blog picture with the empty branches – so clever!

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