On an October day in 1820, a fourteen-year-old African American boy trudged along a rural lane near the town of Barkhamsted, Connecticut. Two hundred miles from home, in a strange place he had never visited before, the boy tugged at a string trailing behind him. Tagging along at the other end was his father, Bristol Budd, a singular and spirited man, about fifty seven years of age, completely blind, but by no means bowed by infirmity. The pair carried an affidavit from William Taylor, Barkhamsted’s Justice of the Peace, which swore that Budd and Taylor had once been brothers in arms, serving together in the 2nd Connecticut Continental Regiment during the Revolutionary War. Now the aging veteran and his son traipsed over rugged, wooded hills toward the town of Canton, ten miles away, following Taylor’s suggestion that they visit his kinsmen David, also a veteran of the 2nd Connecticut, to obtain another statement that would help the blind man secure a pension, a godsend that could provide him with steady income now that he could no longer work for a living.
Bristol Budd was born sometime between 1756 and 1763, most likely in the southeastern corner of Connecticut.1 He is described as a black man, and by some as a full blooded African.2 His name was sometimes given as Bristol Sampson, and this appears to be how he was known in his early days. Later in life he was frequently referred to as Bristol Budd, alias Bristol Sampson, and in his old age his name appears as Bristol Budd Sampson.
He was somewhere between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one when, in March of 1777, he enlisted as a private in the company of Capt. Stephen Betts, of Stamford, Connecticut, part of the 2nd Connecticut Continental Regiment commanded by Col. Charles Webb, also of Stamford. The regiment had been newly formed at Danbury as a result of the reorganization of the Continental Army at the end of 1776. Many of its officers and men had served under Webb in the 7th Connecticut Regiment of 1775 and the 19th Continental Regiment of 1776, which had seen action at White Plains, Trenton and Princeton, and these formed the nucleus of the new organization.3 It is likely that Budd was a slave when he signed on, though this is not certain. At the time, men were being enlisted either for three years’ service or for the duration of the war. Slaves enlisting in the Continental service were frequently promised their freedom if they agreed to serve until the end of the war, and that was how Budd enlisted.
Budd’s earlier life had either been spent as a household slave or servant. Because of his skill in cookery and domestic duties, he spent much of his war time working in the entourage of generals and other officers – what Captain Betts referred to as being “attached to the Family” of a high ranking officer. These officers sometimes impressed capable and desirable individuals into their personal service, without regard to the niceties of official orders. As a young private, Budd probably had little say over who might “detain” him on such duties, and this could lead to difficulties when those officers were outside of his normal chain of command. Among others, Lt. James Taylor appears to have appropriated Budd’s services as a waiter. It is most likely this practice that caused him to be listed as a deserter on his regiment’s rolls in November, 1779.4
After the war, Budd told his comrades that he had attended General Washington himself, and he certainly may have waited on the commander in chief during dinners given by the officers under whom he served.5 These duties did not mean that he was able to spend his time safely behind the lines during an engagement, however. Soldiers who served in various capacities, such as waiters, tailors, or farriers, joined the ranks with the rest of the men when their units were involved in combat. Henry Dearborn, for instance, mentions encountering one of Col. Benedict Arnold’s waiters in the thick of the fighting at the assault on Quebec.6 In his pension application, Budd declared that “was in the battles of Saratoga, White Marsh, Monmouth & Capture of Stony-Point.”7
During his first years of service, Budd’s regiment was actively involved in a number battles and skirmishes. On the night of June 30, 1777, while the 2nd Connecticut was posted near Peekskill, New York, a number of men from the unit were killed, wounded and captured in an encounter with Brig. Gen. Oliver DeLancey’s Loyalist Brigade near Kingsbridge. When Washington, facing off against the British who then occupied Philadelphia, called for reinforcements in November, 1777, the 2nd Connecticut was reassigned from the Highlands Department along the Hudson River in New York to the main army. Budd’s regiment marched rapidly to Whitemarsh, a few miles north of Philadelphia. There, on December 7, 1777, they participated in an ugly skirmish along the Edge Hill ridge. Facing the vanguard of a substantial British column commanded by Maj. Gen. Charles “No Flint” Grey, the 2nd Connecticut was outflanked, enveloped and caught in a crossfire by an elite force of Hessian jägers, British light infantry, and the Queen’s Rangers. Here the regiment suffered its heaviest casualties of the war, losing twenty-eight men killed or captured in a matter of minutes, including seven from Budd’s own company.8 Following this, the army shifted its ground to Valley Forge, where the 2nd Connecticut, short on food and clothing, faced a bitter winter.
That Budd was an active and trusted soldier is evident from his reassignment to the light infantry in 1778, when he was detailed, along with some of the likeliest men in the 2nd Connecticut, into a newly formed light infantry company commanded by Capt. Henry Ten Eyck.9 In the small hours of July 16, 1779, this unit participated in the storming of Stony Point, as part of the main body, which assaulted the fort from the south. Shortly afterward, however, Budd’s absence was noted on the light infantry’s muster rolls, and he was listed as a deserter. His former captain, Stephen Betts, ascribed Budd’s absence to being forced to wait on an officer from another organization, but Budd did not reappear on the rolls of the light infantry or the 2nd Connecticut, and this became an obstacle to his receiving a pension. According to Budd’s and Betts’ accounts, he continued to serve until discharged at the end of the war in 1783.
Budd’s whereabouts between 1783 and 1810 are not recorded, but in 1806, he fathered a son, William, and may also have had two daughters shortly thereafter.10 By 1810, now a free man as a result of his military service, he settled with his son William along the Dry Creek in what is now Brooklyn Township, Susquehanna County, a part of northeastern Pennsylvania then being populated mainly by people from Connecticut. He took up residence near a spring, in a log cabin belonging to the Howard family, earning his living as a day laborer. Sometime in 1814, when Budd was about fifty-one, catastrophe struck: he went suddenly and completely blind. He used to say that his neighbor, Charles Howard, for whom he may have worked, “was the last person or object he ever saw.”11 Following this personal disaster, Budd was no longer able to earn a living. In 1820 he stated, “I have been blind for six years – during that time I have lived entirely on the charity of the people.” That he had been reduced to poverty is made clear in the inventory of his possessions that was required as part of the pension application process; Budd’s sole possession of any value was “one hen turkey,” valued at one dollar. “I live with my father in law a black man, who is as poor as myself … The department can judge of our poverty.”12
In 1818, Congress passed the first Revolutionary War Pension Act, entitling disabled veterans like Budd to a stipend to be paid twice a year.13 With the aid of several of his neighbors, Budd set about the complex process of applying for a federal pension. For many of the veterans who applied, this proved to be a long and fruitless process. Those who were persistent and could demonstrate the terms of their service were eventually rewarded. Difficulties immediately arose for Budd. He had no record of his service, no discharge papers, and the men he had served with – those still living – were two hundred miles away. In 1818, Rufus Kingsley, Joseph Chapman and Thomas Williams, three Susquehanna County veterans of the Connecticut Line, attested to Budd’s service in the 2nd Connecticut, but since none of them had actually served with Budd, the Pension Office wanted more proof.14
Determined to prove his claim, Budd set out, afoot, on a circuit of Connecticut to seek out his old comrades. A few veterans swore affidavits supporting Budd, saying that they believed his account, based on their own experiences, but they did not personally recall him. Their testimony alone was not likely to carry much weight. Fortunately, he tracked down his former captain from the 2nd Connecticut, Stephen Betts, now living in New Canaan, a well-respected officer who, like Budd, had served through the war. Betts’ affidavit, now lost, was a decisive factor in convincing officials of Budd’s service. But the Pension Office, checking on Budd’s record, came across a muster roll stating that Budd had deserted. Undeterred, in the Spring of 1821, Budd made another trip to Connecticut, again led by his young son, obtaining a second statement from Captain Betts that he had, in fact, served honorably and completed his service.15
Once Betts’ new statement was submitted to the War Department, the Pension Office finally granted the blind veteran a pension, along with arrears dating back to his first date of eligibility in April 1818. Budd was now to receive $96 a year, payable in semi-annual installments at the county courthouse in Montrose. In addition, the back pay added up to a significant sum. With this money, he purchased property in 1821 and, in 1826, married Phoebe Perkins, a daughter of Prince Perkins, the man described as his father-in-law in 1818.16
In June, 1832, pensions were finally granted to all Revolutionary War soldiers who had served six months or more. That September, nearly fifty years after the close of hostilities, seventy aged veterans gathered on the courthouse green in Montrose, Pennsylvania and, with fife and drum, drilled before the public with fine precision, to the great admiration of the onlookers. The pensioners subsequently gathered there twice a year, when their pensions were distributed, creating an informal, enlisted man’s version of the Society of Cincinnati.17
Budd continued to live on his fifty acres, raising a family of several children. He attended the semi-annual pensioners’ gatherings, swapping stories and reminiscing with his fellow veterans about the difficult days when they had forged a nation. In the Summer of 1848, at at least eighty-five years of age, Bristol Budd passed away and was buried in the Perkins family graveyard. His widow, Phoebe, eventually moved to Ohio in the 1850’s, and claimed bounty land there due her for her husband’s service to his country. She continued to draw his pension till the end of her life.18
Men who saw long service during the revolution were inured to hardship and full of determination – not the sort easily dissuaded from a cause. Bristol Budd was a remarkable example of that dogged American character, an ex-private who had been through harrowing moments in the fight for independence. Throughout his life, he demonstrated the sort of enterprise, courage and persistence that won the war.
1 Much of the personal information about Budd is from his pension application file in the Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, M804, Roll 398, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC (NARA). He is referred to in a variety of ways: Brister Budd, Briston Budd and Bristol Bird. One document, dated December 4, 1820, describes him as “Bristol Budd alias Bristol Sampson (a black man) aged about fifty seven years residing in the Township of Waterford in the County of Susquehanna,” suggesting a birth year of 1763. Under the heading “Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services,” the 1840 Census for Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, lists Bristol B. Sampson, age eighty-four, which would put his birth about 1756. 1840 United States Census, Brooklyn Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, 322.
2 B.H. Mills to Emily Blackman, December 14, 1869, Catalog # 148, Susquehanna County Historical Society. Mills knew Budd through his father, Josiah Mills, a Revolutionary War veteran who met with his fellow veterans twice a year at the Susquehanna County Court House in Montrose, Pennsylvania, when they drew their pensions. B.H. Mills refers to Budd as “one ‘Sampson’ a full blooded African, who ‘had served through the war’”.
3 Fred Anderson Berg, Encyclopedia of Continental Army Units: Battalions, Regiments and Independent Corps (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1972), 19-35. Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1986), 233-239. The 2nd Connecticut Continental Regiment of 1777 was organized in early 1777. It was normally assigned to the Highland Department, but periodically served with the main army. The regiment served as the 2nd Connecticut until January 1, 1781, when most of its remaining personnel went into the 3rd Connecticut Continental Regiment of 1781.
4 Bristol Budd, Compiled Service Records, November, 1779, M881, Roll 191, NARA. Budd’s former captain, Stephen Betts, in one of his two affidavits in support of Budd’s pension, explained, “… Budd on account of his remarkable faithfulness and activity, and of his skill in cookery & other duties of a domestic servant, was generally, if not always, while in the revolutionary army, attached to the family of a General, Field, or other officer – that I have no recollection of his having been, at any time during the war of the revolution, returned as a deserter, but if it was so, I think it must have been in consequence of his having been detained by an officer of our army an unusual length of time, without any fault of his; or by some such mistake. I have an impression on my memory, that said Budd was once absent, for a considerable length of time, with a Lieutenant Taylor & of hearing afterwards in the army that he was detained by the said Lieutenant without any fault of the said Budd …” Budd, in his pension application, stated that “he was detached … for a time to Lieutenant James Taylor in the quarter master department.” Document dated December 4, 1820, Pension Application of Bristol Budd. The officer in question may actually have been Lieutenant Augustine Taylor, who served as the Regimental Quartermaster of the 7th Connecticut in 1778. Francis Bernard Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775 to December, 1773 (Washington, DC: 1914, reprinted Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1982), 533.
5 E.A. Weston, History of Brooklyn, Susquehanna Co., Penn’a, its homes and its people (Brooklyn, PA: Squier, 1889), 164.
6 Henry Dearborn, “Journal of the Quebec Expedition,” in March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold’s Expedition, compiled & annotated by Kenneth Roberts (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1938), 149-150.
7 Document dated December 4, 1820, Pension Application of Bristol Budd.
8 2nd Connecticut Continental Regiment Muster and Pay Rolls, December, 1777, M246, Rolls 5-6, NARA.
9 Pension Application of Bristol Budd.
10 Additional information on Budd’s life after the Revolution can be found in these sources: Weston, History of Brooklyn, 164-165; Debra Adleman, Waiting for the Lord: Nineteenth Century Black Communities in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania (Rockland, ME: Picton Press, 1997), 10-15.
11 Weston, History of Brooklyn, 22.
12 Document dated December 4, 1820, Pension Application of Bristol Budd. Prince Perkins, himself a Revolutionary War veteran, moved to Susquehanna County sometime between 1793 and 1795. Weston, History of Brooklyn, 186. Family tradition suggests that the two knew each other during the war, and that Perkins may have induced Budd to move there. Private communication, Denise Dennis, June 24, 2017. There is a record for a man named Prince Negro in Captain Jonathan Parker’s company of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment. Many African Americans, who are listed in the muster rolls with descriptive names like “Negro,” later acquired standard surnames. Budd and Prince enlisted a day apart, March 19th and 20th, 1777. 2nd Connecticut Continental Regiment Muster and Pay Rolls, August and December, 1777.
13 John Resch, Suffering Soldiers: Revolutionary War Veterans, Moral Sentiment, and Political Culture in the Early Republic (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press,1999), 93-118.
14 Budd’s neighbor, B.H. Mills said that, in the case of his own father, Josiah, “it was with great difficulty the necessary proofs of identity were secured.” B.H. Mills to Emily Blackman, December 14, 1869. Rufus Kingsley had been a drummer serving in Connecticut line from 1775-1778. Joseph Chapman was a lieutenant in the 4th Connecticut. Through conversation, the men were convinced that Budd had also served in the Connecticut line. Weston, History of Brooklyn, 165; Pension Application of Rufus Kingsley, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, M804, Roll 1492, NARA.
15 Document dated May 1, 1821, Pension Application of Bristol Budd. Another document, dated June 29, 1821, from the same file, referred to Budd as “A poor old blind Negro, who was led by his son, aged 14, four hundred miles, to obtain the Certificate of his Captain (a respectable Man, of New Canaan, Connecticut) that he did not desert, but served to the end of the War.”
16 Weston, History of Brooklyn, 164-165. Budd evidently married, or remarried, Phoebe Perkins in 1826 to ensure there was a formal record that would entitle her to receive his pension in the event of his death. Private communication, Denise Dennis, June 24, 2017.
17 Writing of his father, Josiah, B.H. Mills said, “Among my earliest recollections was going with him to Montrose [county seat of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania] on the fourth days of March & September ‘to draw the pension.’ Here were gathered a score or more of these war worn heroes. How animated they became as ‘they fought their battles over again.’ How my young heart was stirred as they talked of Washington, Greene & Gates, of Saratoga & Yorktown … On the 4th of Sept. 1832, there was a grand gathering at Montrose of all revolutionary soldiers in the County. About seventy, if memory serves me, were present. They formed on ‘the green’ under command of Capt. Potter of Gibson. One of their number played the fife, another the drum, & with their canes for arms went through various military evolutions, putting to shame by their perfection the famous 136th Regiment on parade at the same time.” B.H. Mills to Emily Blackman, December 14, 1869.
18 Document dated June 13, 1855, Pension Application of Bristol Budd.
Photograph: The final resting place of Bristol Budd Sampson at the Perkins-Dennis Cemetery on the Dennis Farm, Susquehanna Country, PA. The gravesite of this African-American veteran of the Revolutionary War is lovingly maintained by the family of which he was apart. Photo courtesy of the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust.