The Extraordinary Life of Isaac Grant of Judea, Connecticut


December 3, 2018
by Michael J. F. Sheehan Also by this Author


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The old man stepped out into the sun, shut his door, and turned north, leaving his home in Gainesville, New York, for the county seat in Batavia; a roundtrip journey that would take him a few days and near fifty miles. Luckily, the weather was cool and clear for the middle June, and he had every reason to be optimistic about his journey; a year earlier the United States Congress passed an act for the benefit of Revolutionary War veterans on behalf of a grateful nation, and this veteran intended to collect. Upon reaching Batavia in the heart of Genesee County, he gave his deposition “before the Court of Common Pleas,” on the “twelfth day of June in the year of our Lord,” 1833. After swearing to his residence in Gainseville and giving his age as seventy-three, the veteran told the tale of his Revolutionary War services. Many of his peers gave accounts of one or two pages, but this man provided seven highly detailed pages of his service. Some of his service was boring and tedious work—not uncommon for the average enlisted soldier of the time—but some was absolutely extraordinary, perhaps a bit overstated. A clergyman and a neighbor swore that they believed his services were rendered as he had said, and with that his pension application was signed (in his own hand), sealed, and delivered to the proper authorities.

Seventy-three year old Isaac Grant returned home. When news of his application was received some time later, he found that it had been rejected: he had provided no written discharge, no proofs of his services, and he had had no witnesses on his behalf who remembered him during the war. As far as the War Department was concerned, it was an open and shut case. Grant made no attempt to appeal, nor did he try to collect again when Congress passed another such act for the relief of old soldiers in 1838. In fact, the next time we have a record of Isaac Grant it is his burial in Albion, Michigan, following his November 9, 1841 death; he was interred next to his wife of fifty-seven years, Hannah Tracy Grant, whom he had survived by just ten days.

That should have been the end of Isaac Grant’s story. However, a close analysis of his pension application combined with a modern understanding of muster rolls and other military documents reveals that there is much, much more to his tale.[1]

Spring 1775 was an exciting time in Litchfield County, Connecticut, for young Isaac Grant. Born in the town of Litchfield, on April 6, 1760, his family soon moved to nearby Judea (present Washington, Connecticut). Isaac was barely fifteen when news of Lexington and Concord reached Judea. Perhaps too young, Isaac waited a year to enlist, which he did at the age of sixteen, the traditional militia starting age. He enlisted on July 1, 1776 in a state unit commanded by Col. Philip Bradley Burr of Ridgefield. Ens. Elisha Smith, also of Judea, signed him up in Capt. Benjamin Mill’s company, where his lieutenant was one Brinsmade. Pvt. Isaac Grant, standing five feet five inches with dark hair and a dark complexion, stood ready to meet the enemy, but that wouldn’t happen right away. At some point after he joined his regiment, they were “marched to New York and remained there a short time—thence to Bergen Point and remained there till battle on Long Island” on August 27, 1776. Grant didn’t mention what exactly he was doing in the area of Bergen Neck, present day Hudson County, New Jersey, but other units in the area were constructing defenses, mounting guard, and patrolling for Loyalists, especially after news of the Declaration of Independence arrived in Manhattan. It was read to the troops on July 9, when he would have heard it read either that evening or if not, the following day.

If he wasn’t too busy witnessing British vessels continue to swarm off of Staten Island just across the Kill van Kull straight, he’d have seen or at least heard the guns open up at the battery in Manhattan on July 12 as HMS Phoenix and HMS Rose sailed up the Hudson, provoking fire from Forts Washington and Lee, to little avail. Though he didn’t mention it, Grant could not possibly have missed the unyielding electrical storm that took place over the New York area on the evening of August 21, where he ought to have considered himself fortunate, as on Manhattan, “Several Houses in the City were Struck with Lightning . . . [including] a large House in wch a number of the Connecticut militia [were]. One man was killed . . . three more much hurt.” The following morning, on a clear, beautiful day, the British army began landing at Gravesend, Long Island, where five days later one of the American Revolution’s largest land engagements commenced.[2]

As many histories relate, the Battle of Long Island (or Battle of Brooklyn Heights) went poorly for the Continental Army. After a near miraculous escape from the island onto Manhattan, the Americans were pushed back when the British landed in Kip’s Bay on September 15, and fought them the following day at Harlem Heights as they withdrew north, followed soon after by the Battle of Pell’s Point, and another battle at White Plains on October 28. The British and German armies had succeeded in clearing the greater New York area of the Continental Army except one major fortification: Fort Washington. This classic star fort with its surrounding works, located in the present-day Washington Heights section of Manhattan (hence the name) was one of the larger fortifications by area that the Americans had constructed up to this point in the war, but certainly nothing that the veteran Crown forces hadn’t seen before. After the American loss on Long Island on August 27, Grant’s regiment moved up to English Neighborhood (present Ridgefield, New Jersey); two months later a portion of the regiment crossed the Hudson to Fort Washington to bolster its garrison. Grant went with Captains Bezaleal Beebe and John Couch and Ensign Smith (presumably his recruiter). This detachment manned the lines around the fort, part of the outer defenses that stretched for hundreds of yards around the fort proper, where Col. Robert Magaw of Pennsylvania held command. On the morning of November 16—a day the defenders knew would arrive—Crown forces began surrounding the works. Magaw denied the offer of surrender and explained that he was determined to hold the works till the last. The enemy came from all sides, and with ferocity. After fierce exchanges of fire, the outer defenders, including Grant, withdrew toward the fort. General Washington watched from Fort Lee, initially satisfied that the defense was going well, until more British troops landed behind the outer defenders. There was no reason to reinforce the garrison of about 2,700 now that it was in the face of superior odds. By day’s end, over 2,500 of Magaw’s garrison were taken prisoner, and the whole of the fortifications lost. In his own words, Grant said that,

on the 16th of November the British & Hessians came up from New York and drew us into the fort where we were made prisoners of war by them, and was marched to Harlem Village and then to New York and was there confined in a church and others in . . . the Sugar House.

Isaac Grant, the sixteen-year-old soldier who had spent four and a half months in supposed military humdrum was suddenly cast into the plight of being a prisoner of war after his first engagement. After “four weeks,” he was put aboard one of the prison hulks lying in Wallabout Bay, the Grosvenor, “where he lay six weeks,” putting the time now at late January 1777, when he “had the smallpox the natural way.” His illness caused him to be brought to a hospital in New York, in reality an abandoned house, where he recuperated and witnessed “most of his companions” die, an all too common reality during the period. Not long after, his fortune suddenly changed. A kind soul “interceited with the Commissary of Prisoners and got him out of the hospital [where] he was billeted out in the city and clothed,” and he “acquiesced there until the last day of February or first of March.” Who was this guardian angel? Grant says it was “Levi Allen” of Vermont, brother of Ethan and Ira Allen.

This is the first of Grant’s extraordinary accounts during his service. Why would an Allen be in British occupied Manhattan and why would he be selecting this particular soldier among the hundreds of others in similar situations? There is no definitive answer, but we do have some clues. Levi Allen was in the New York area at the time, negotiating for the release of his brother Ethan, who had been taken in September 1775 in Montreal. Ethan Allen was given parole in late 1776 in New York but was not yet exchanged. Levi continued working on his release, so it is plausible he came across Grant. Assuming they in fact did meet face to face, why would Levi Allen go to such lengths to assist him? Pity for a young soldier in such a state? Maybe, but more likely Levi was familiar with Isaac’s family—the Allens were originally from Litchfield, just like Grant’s parents. Regardless of what actually happened, when Grant was released, he went “on his parole” and went home to Judea.[3]

No doubt, Grant’s family was happy to see him, and thrilled more so to see him alive after an absence of seven months. He no doubt enjoyed a few weeks of peace at home, excepting a brief scare in April 1777 when the British raided Connecticut and got as far as Danbury, before turning back and engaging a mixed Continental and militia force in Ridgefield on April 27, 1777. Maybe inspired by these events, Grant once again joined the Continental Army, but he wished to clear something up. He “made inquiries of [Col. Bradley] whether he had been exchanged;” an interesting question for a just-turned-seventeen-year-old who had served in a state militia, as opposed to regular regiment. According to Grant, he “enlisted again as a private for three years in the Regular service in the Continental Army—that he enlisted at Col. Bradley’s house in Ridgefield.” Bradley did live in Ridgefield and was present in the area, not with his regiment. Although now colonel of the 5th Connecticut Regiment, Bradley was occupied helping to send recruits forward to the main army, and more importantly arranging their inoculation for smallpox, a procedure that Grant did not now need. He enlisted in Capt. Eli Catlin’s company on May 25, 1777, not for three years as he recalled, but for the duration of the war. Bradley’s brigade commander, Gen. Samuel H. Parsons, wrote to Washington ten days prior to Grant’s enlistment that he had ordered “all the Troops who have had the Small pox and are able to March to peek’s kill.”[4]

Soon enough, Grant recalled that he was “marched to Peekskill, and was thence detached in a Lieutenants Guard to Haverstraw Docks.” In reality, he spent the summer and early autumn of 1777 with Parson’s Brigade in the vicinity of Peekskill. As Washington’s and Howe’s armies clashed in Pennsylvania, and Burgoyne’s and Gates’s armies fought in upstate New York, the Lower Hudson Valley remained an unexciting posting. That changed in the first week of October, when Sir Henry Clinton brought a small army into the Hudson Highlands and destroyed Forts Montgomery and Clinton, arriving at King’s Ferry on October 5. Grant recalled his reason for being in Haverstraw was to “guard a beacon that [was] placed upon a high eminence [Hi Tor Mountain] with orders to fire it on the approach of the enemy. . . . [I] was there when the British went up and took Fort Montgomery and burned Kingston when the beacon was fired.” The Haverstraw beacon did exist, but later. No evidence has yet been found of a beacon in that location prior to the advance of the British up the Hudson; if one did exist at the time, it was never lit, as not a single source alludes to it, though plenty of references to signal guns at Peekskill exist. Grant is not recorded as being in Haverstraw until late October, roughly the time of the British withdrawal. Perhaps he was involved with a beacon at that time, but almost certainly not beforehand.[5]

After returning to his regiment in December, Grant asked for “leave to go home forty days,” which was granted, and he set off to enjoy a short stay in Judea. By the time his furlough was up, the army has moved into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, while the British wintered in Philadelphia. Setting out on (probably) the New Preston Road sometime between January 22 and 26, 1778, Grant decided to stop at a local “inn for the purpose of getting refreshment,” where he came across a group of finely dressed gentlemen. Their leader, a man who spoke both French and his native German recognized Grant for a soldier. Grant was soon introduced to “Baron Steuben and his suite,” and as both parties were headed to Valley Forge, the Baron said that “if he would go with him he would bear his expenses.” Grant naturally accepted and went as far as Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, before separating.

This is Grant’s most extraordinary claim. However bizarre it may be, it is plausible. Baron von Steuben’s retinue did indeed pass through the Judea–New Preston–Litchfield area of Litchfield County en route from Hartford to Fishkill, New York, and they did so at just about the time Grant should have set out to not overstay his furlough. Shortly after this (supposed) incredible episode, Grant arrived at Valley Forge and joined his regiment. Steuben proceeded to Congress before presenting himself to Washington at camp; had any familiarity struck up between Grant and the officers, it ended after they parted in Bethlehem.[6]

Pvt. Isaac Grant had barely a week to rest and acquaint himself with the army’s new encampment at Valley Forge, quite literally tucked into a tiny valley twenty-odd miles from Philadelphia. He was detached with others under Generals Nathanael Green and Anthony Wayne on February 13 for a large foraging expedition along the Delaware; “shortly after he was sent on a command below Philadelphia, cross the Brandywine at Wilmington [Delaware], went down to [New Castle, and] there went to Salem, NJ.” Coincidentally, Capt. John Barry of the navy was in the area of New Castle on a separate but similar expedition. Wayne’s men, including Grant, crossed the Delaware on February 19 to Salem with help from “two barges commanded by Captains Barry and Matthew [Lt. Luke Matthewman] who had passed the British shipping at Philadelphia in the night,” a week earlier.

Wayne’s detachment completed their mission in New Jersey, but Grant and some others appear to have been held back and at the request of (presumably) the naval officers for troops, Grant and the others “joined them went up the Delaware and destroyed forage . . . up the river as far as prudent we turned round down river nearly all night . . . we proceeded to Port Penn [Delaware].” Wayne wrote to Washington on February 25, “I directed Capt. Barry with a Detachment in Boats to execute the Order . . . he began the business yesterday at the Mouth of Racoons Creek [off Raccoon Island] . . . falling down with the tide.” According to Barry biographer Tim McGrath, after making his way up river, Barry “started back down, burning every hay stack along the way for two days, Barry continued southward, leaving pillars of fire in his wake . . . [he] made it to Port Penn by midnight.” Barry wrote to Washington immediately on the morning of February 26 recounting the success of his diversion, “I have Destroyed the Forage . . . about four hundred Tons.”[7]

Grant’s brief naval foray was not yet finished, but was instead about to reach a climax. Within a week, some British vessels entered the Delaware River. Barry and his men, apparently exclusive of Grant and his companions (Barry had also drawn men from General Varnum’s Brigade), engaged with and took some of these transports. Meanwhile, Grant recorded at Port Penn that “a number of militia [draughts] collected there and were going to take a transport . . . [we] . . . join[ed] them . . . and soon after set sail when a thick fog arose and we was separated from each other.” Grant’s account of what happened next isn’t quite clear, at least compared to what Barry would later report, but it more or less maintains the same theme; reversing his account however, brings some clarity. Grant “had a short skirmish on shore [Port Penn].” Even more Royal Navy vessels had come into the Delaware from Rhode Island, chiefly led by Capt. Sir James Wallace aboard HMS Experiment. Grant went on; “the barge in which was this deponent was on the lee side of a frigate . . . that [we] expated a broadside . . .but they paid no attention to us. The tender in her rear [did] attend to us [and] We gave them a shot and they returned it and we exchanged a few shots . . . [off Beedy Island] and went ashore.”

Barry’s explanation to Washington is more accurate so far as the chronology of this day, March 9, 1778: “I inform You of capturing two Ships & a schooner of the Enemys.” Barry set down his pen for a time but resumed it later that evening, jotting down that he “should have Remitted the Particulars . . . But a fleet of the Enemy’s small vessels appearing in sight Obliged me to burn one of the Ships.” Sir James Wallace, having viewed the engagements from the deck of the Experiment, offered an account that, taken with Grant’s and Barry’s, gives a rounded idea of the day’s events: “March 1778 Sunday 9th . . . Hazy [foggy, like Grant said] . . . the [HMS] Brune . . . & York Sloop Stood into the East End of [Reedy] Island . . . fired some guns. Thee Rebels set fire to the Ship we fired several Guns at her . . . Shot was fired from the shore at our Shipping.”[8]

No doubt, Isaac Grant happened to be part of one of the most incredible events of the winter of 1777-1778. How he was selected to participate is unknown, but it was certainly preferable to the monotony of Valley Forge. Such fortune faded after his return to camp when “he was taken with the ague and the fever and was left behind while [the] army marched after the British into the Jerseys.” According to his muster, Grant was indeed ill during May 1778, but not up to July, when “soon after the battle of Monmouth [June 28], he joined his Regiment in Jersey,” somewhere between Freehold and King’s Ferry on the west shore of the Hudson River. Whatever illness Grant had, he recovered with enough strength to be assigned to the “Light Infantry in Col [Richard] Butler’s Regiment in [General Charles] Scott’s Brigade.” In early August, Washington made General Scott commander of a newly formed Light Brigade for the remainder of 1778, which served below the main army’s encampment at White Plains. Scott’s command was active in patrolling southern Westchester and today’s Bronx Counties, and as Grant recalled “had several small skirmishes with enemy,” namely on September 16 on the road between Phillips’ and Valentine’s Hill, and an ambush led by Colonel Butler against German troops between Dobb’s Ferry and the Saw Mill River on September 30.[9]

The close of 1778 saw both armies tucking back into winter quarters. In Grant’s case, he was sent to his regiment wintering at Reading, Connecticut, when Scott’s Light Infantry was disbanded before the new year. He failed to recall in his pension that once more, Colonel Bradley had granted him winter furlough, this time for twenty days beginning Christmas Eve. He certainly did not travel the twenty-three-odd miles to Judea in time for Christmas in a single day (it had also just snowed), but at least he would have spent the dawn of the new year with his family. When he returned on January 13 or 14, he had just about a week to settle in to the snowy camp before February. The first week of the new month brought two court martials, one for Edward Jones, a spy, and the other for John Smith of the 1st Connecticut Regiment, for desertion. The former was sentenced to hang, the latter to a firing squad; two executions Grant would have witnessed if they were carried out. Excepting a few stints on duty around camp and being sent on command in Fairfield, March and April 1779 passed quietly for Grant. [10]

On May 31, the British send a body of troops up the Hudson River and captured Stony and Verplank Points, places familiar to Grant from his stay in the area during 1777. Washington reacted to this by drawing the various Continental cantonments into the field and into a defensive posture in the Highlands in the shape of a huge arc from Smith’s Clove (roughly modern Woodbury, New York) in the west to Garrison, New York (near Robinson’s or Mandeville’s homes) in the east, with West Point in the center. To protect his army, Washington formed a corps of light infantry, inspired by the success of Scott’s light infantry of the previous campaign. Temporarily commanded by Col. Richard Butler, whom Grant had served under, the corps awaited its nominal commander, General Wayne, whom Grant had also briefly served under in February 1778. In May, Grant was transferred to the light infantry company of his regiment commanded by Capt. John St. John. The Connecticut light infantry companies, eight in total, remained on the east shore of the Hudson until being sent to the ruins of Fort Montgomery on across the river, where Wayne held his camp.

As Grant related, “[I] was drafted into the Light Infantry in Capt. St. John’s Company in Col [Return Jonathan] Meigs’ Regiment [of Light Infantry, the 3rd] and General Waines Brigade that he joined the Brigade at Sandy Beach [today’s town of Fort Montgomery along the river] below West Point on 14th July 1779.” Immediately, the Corps was assigned the terrible duty of reducing the British works at Stony Point. Since the British had arrived there six weeks earlier, they had created formidable defenses that included two rows of abatis, a series of batteries and fleches containing fifteen pieces of artillery, and a garrisoned of over 550 men. Grant had seen action during his service, but never an attack on a fortified position. He wasn’t alone in that; most of the Continental Army could say the same. After a six-mile march on July 15, Grant received final orders for the “expedition to Stony Point Fort with very strict orders, not to leave ranks for any cause and to run the first man through who disobeyed.” His memory on this point is superb. Wayne’s exact orders read “If any Soldier . . . attempts to fire, or begins the battle till ordered . . . he shall be instantly put to death by the officer next him . . . should there be any soldier lost to every feeling, every sense of honor, as to attempt to retreat one single foot . . . the officer next him is immediately to put him to death.” Having been so informed, the Corps of Light Infantry got into position due west of Stony Point;

That we approached the fort at one o’clock [actually 12:20 am July 16] . . . crossed the creek [tidal marsh] . . . the [abatis] and soon began to hear the watchword of our men ‘The Fort’s Our Own’ which was not to be given on pain of immediate death until within the works and the fort was earned at the point of the bayonet.

Again, his memory almost matched Wayne’s orders that evening: “When the works are forced and not before, the victorious troops as they enter will give the watch word,” and the troops were to have “their arms unloaded, placing their whole dependence on the bayonet.” From the first shot fired by British sentries to the capitulation of British commander Lt. Col. Henry Johnson, only twenty-five minutes passed. As a part of this stellar action Grant, as a member of the 3rd Light Infantry Regiment, would have entered the enemy’s works as part of the right column; this included wading through the tidal marsh, into the Hudson, and climbing up the 150 foot heights under fire—certainly no mean feat. After the surrender, American gunners made immediate use of the freshly captured pieces. Grant recalled that “we then turned their cannon upon their shipping which soon caused them to slip their cables and clear out.” He then totaled his company’s casualties, “but one man was lost [Pvt. Eli Mix] and our Lieut [Edward] Palmer was wounded.” Among the captured garrison, six men were identified as “deserters [and] sentenced to hang—Three only were hung, the other three were pardoned.”[11]

Afterwards, the light infantry returned to their former encampment, but “from the time he left Sandy Beach until he went into winter quarters,” Grant’s memory failed him as to any specific events that took place, but he did properly recall that Wayne’s corps made “various movements through the lower section of N. York and through the Jerseys,” present Rockland, Bergen, and Hudson counties on the west shore of the Hudson River. Once in New Jersey, Grant once more took ill, but this time not quite so severely, as he was listed as being “in quarter” for January 1780. After a total of nearly three years of service in two enlistments where Grant served in boats, was taken prisoner of war, survived smallpox, received two furloughs (both of which he returned promptly from), and assaulted a fortified position, Grant was indeed the model soldier, which makes what took place next all the more bizarre.[12]

Like Scott’s light infantry the year before, Wayne’s Corps was also broken up at the close of the campaign season in December 1779 as the men went into winter quarters and rejoined their respective parent regiments. At about this time,

[Grant] learned to his satisfaction that he had not been exchanged that his Col. who had informed him that he was exchanged, had given him incorrect information, in consequence of which he had enlisted in violation of his parol and therefore when his Regiment was called to take the Oath of Allegiance, he informed his officers of the situation, he was excused from swearing and taking the oath . . . and in December 1779 he received a pass to go into the country and left the army and went home . . . he did not receive any written discharge.

The above statement, however, is not what Grant’s musters tell us. Just after settling down for the winter in the vicinity of Morristown, Grant became ill. As late as January 26, 1780, he was accounted for in camp, with no reference to being granted any type of leave or pass. It is also unclear as to what oath Grant is referring to, as he’d have given one in 1778 when Washington authorized them for the army. His officers’ understanding and excusing him from camp, especially without some indication of his status as a prisoner of war, appears circumspect. Technically speaking, Grant never was exchanged as Gen. Sir William Howe released nearly 2,000 militia near Christmas 1776 as a good will gesture, with Grant presumably included, but again, three years after the fact it is unlikely the American officers would have acknowledged that as a legitimate reason to be sent home (not to mention the possibly dozens of other New York Campaign militia survivors in the army to whom the same would have applied). The final time Isaac Grant appears on a muster roll explains it all away: “Deserted Jany 27 1780.” The nineteen-year-old veteran made his way home to Judea.[13]

Did Grant hear a rumor about prisoner of war exchanges that he legitimately believe applied to him? Did something irritate him during his illness? Did he believe his enlistment was up and that he was being detained (he had enlisted for the duration as each muster indicates consistently)? Perhaps he made up a story in his old age to hide his having deserted. History doesn’t provide us an answer. His next few steps aren’t exactly clear. We do know that in March 1784, twenty-three year old Grant married eighteen year old Ms. Hannah Tracy of Sharon, Connecticut. Prior to his marriage, and only months after returning home, Grant moved to Tinmouth, Vermont, “to which place he removed directly [in] about seven or eight months [early Autumn 1780].” Tinmouth was chartered in 1761 by land speculators from Connecticut, and some of its earliest residents were from Connecticut; Grant may have been part of that pattern—the town was growing and may have provided an ample opportunity for a young man, perhaps to take some shelter from those who may have been suspicious of Grant’s story about exiting the army.

From there, Grant removed to Clarendon, near ten miles north of Tinmouth, for “about two years,” and then to Lenox, Massachusetts, where he met his wife, “about four years [now 1786] that he then removed to Washington County, New York, and remained there til 1790, then in Lenox til 1793.” The Grants would continue to move, and do so for the remainder of their lives, their residences being: Coleraine, Massachusetts (1793-4), Whitingham, Vermont (1795-1801), Plymouth, Smithville and other towns in Chenango County, New York, until 1830, thence to Perry, New York, briefly, and finally to Gainesville, New York (where he resided during his pension application). Though certainly not uncommon for people, especially veterans, to move into less settled territory, Grant’s movements are notable for their frequency. Very little of what Isaac and Hannah did in the period up to 1798 is known excepting the expansion of their family. In her life, Hannah would bear nine children, six of whom would survive into adulthood. They are as follows with probable locations of their birth:

Isaac Jr.: February 3, 1785 (Lenox, Massachusetts)
Elihu: November 4, 1787 (Washington County, New York)
Loring: February 25, 1789 (Queen’s County, New York)
Roswell: January 9, 1792 (Lenox, Massachusetts; died in infancy)
Charles: October 2, 1794 (Coleraine, Massachusetts)
Marcena: October 21, 1797 (Whitneyham, Vermont; died August 1801)
Maria: July 1800 (Whitneyham, Vermont; died August 1801)
Jesse Chapman: September 2, 1802 (Plymouth, New York)
Julia Ann Delay: August 22, 1807 (Smyrna, New York)[14]

At some unknown point after leaving the army, Isaac had taken up the study of medicine, as we learn from two nineteenth-century sources; they unfortunately supply no details as to precisely when or under whom Isaac undertook such an education. One source merely states that “after coming to maturity, [Isaac] studied the profession of medicine,” and another states “at the close of the war he went to Lenox, Mass. and studied medicine.” Regardless, most sources agree that Grant became a physician, which might accounts for his frequent relocations. More than he could have known, his new career would bring about changes that would effect not only himself, but his descendants for generations.

In 1798, while the Grants were living in Whitneyham, a Methodist preacher, one Rev. Asher Smith, arrived in town to preach. Reverend Smith’s health was poor, and so while in town he sought out the advice of Dr. Isaac Grant who took care of him, “by which means an acquaintance was formed and a friendship grew up.” Eventually, Reverend Smith had to move on. The Whitneyham congregation (evidently the good preacher had been successful in his mission) wished for a replacement until another minister could be sent forth. Reverend Smith proposed that “one might be appointed to act as leader or kind of teacher while they were without a preacher.” Whether he wanted to or not, Doctor Grant was chosen by the congregation. When Smith was departing, he gave Grant a “Discipline and a few other Methodist books . . . as [Grant] was always peculiar for frankness and honesty, he told the class that he had read and reread the [texts] and that there was no use to try to evade the truth.” Dr. Isaac Grant had become a full fledged Methodist; this was the very beginning of the Second Great Awakening, a massive Protestant movement in America that affected thousands. The doctor’s work wasn’t yet done for, “at the request of the Quarterly [Methodist] Conference he took license as a local preacher . . . he held also the offices of class leader and steward.” Such responsibilities would be maintained by Grant for most of the remainder of his life. In 1801, the Grants and their six children, including sixteen-year-old Isaac Jr. and twelve-year-old Loring, removed to Chenango County, New York where both Isaac Jr. and Loring would become lifelong Methodists and preachers within a few years. [15]

The Grants next appear in the historical record in the journal of a young traveling minister not yet twenty years old, the Rev. George Peck. In 1816, during his tours of Western New York, Peck stopped in Smithville in Chenango County, where at the time Doctor Grant was residing. On arrival, Peck found a kind reception at the house of Doctor Grant, “father of my friend Loring Grant [now twenty-seven]. In Dr. Grant and his wife I found two very pious, intelligent, sensible people, thoroughly attached to our Church.” Peck spent a few days preaching only to find that after a raucous party one evening, someone fired a musket. The following morning, while saddling his horse, Peck realized that whomever had drunkenly fired their gun had done so through his saddle. Peck “complained of the outrage, and Doctor Grant and my colleague were so indignant that they concluded that we could spend our time to better purpose elsewhere. There had been . . . no society, and we preached there no more.” The next we see Isaac and Hannah Grant is in 1833 in Gainseville, when Grant applied for his pension. In 1839, Rev. Loring Grant, a “superannuated [pensioned] preacher of the Genessee Conference having removed to this place [Albion, Michigan], was employed as agent by the Board of Trustees to solicit subscriptions and raise funds to erect suitable buildings,” for the new Methodist College in Albion.[16]

Isaac and Hannah Grant’s grave, Riverside Cemetery, Albion, Michigan. (Frank Passic)

Doctor Grant and Hannah, with their children moved out or married off, relocated to Albion to live with Loring, and witnessed the growth of that town. It is here that Hannah Grant died in 1841 (perhaps hastened by news of Isaac Jr.’s death on October 19, 1841) and that Doctor Grant died at age eighty-two on November 9, 1841, ten days after his wife, surrounded by his grandchildren by Loring (in total, he would have fifty-four). According to a eulogy, Grant was “living with his son, Rev. Loring Grant at Albion at the time of his death and had been for some time before. It was here that we become acquainted with him, and esteemed him highly . . . he had been a soldier in the Revolution, he was a warm hearted and excellent preacher when in his prime.”

Dr. Isaac Grant of Judea, Connecticut, served as a soldier in the Revolution, where he fought at Fort Washington, served in the Hudson Valley, fought along the Delaware, and stormed Stony Point. After the army, despite the mystery of his departure from it, Grant became a physician and community leader. He embraced the Second Great Awakening, in the process propelling the careers of two of his children, and giving himself and his wife the comfort of a religious life. As his eulogizer recalled, “His Christian character was uniform and consistent . . . he died in Christian peace . . . Few live so long and fewer still fill up their lives with so much . . . usefulness.”[17]


[1]Pension Application of Isaac Grant, June 12 1833, National Archives and Records Administration, R. 4195,, / (Grant Pension). The grammar, syntax, and spellings from the pension are used as is in the original, unless as required for readability. For weather: The Genessee Farmer, Vol. III, No. 27, July 6, 1833, 215. For burial and wife: Arthur Hastings Grant, The Grant Family: A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Matthew Grant of Windsor, Conn. 1601-1898. (Poughkeepsie, NY: A. V. Haight, 1898), 27; The author must credit Mr. Timothy Abbott for pointing out Isaac Grant’s lengthy narrative in his blog “If I Recollect Right: Rev War Pension Narratives.”

[2]Grant Pension,; Isaac Grant Muster Roll, July 1776,; Isaac Grant Physical Description,; Benjamin Trumbull, “Journal of the Campaign at New York, 1776-7,” Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, accessed December 23, 2015.

[3]George Washington to John Hancock, November 16, 1776, Founders Online.; Grant Pension,; Levi Allen to George Washington, January 27, 1776, Founders Online,;

[4]Philip Burr Bradley to Washington, March 24, 1777, Founders Online,; Isaac Grant Date of Enlistment,; Samuel Parsons to Washington, 15 May 1777, Founders Online,

[5]Grant Pension,; For use of signal guns see James Clinton to George Clinton, October 4, 1777, George Clinton to James Clinton, October 4, 1777 7p.m., George Clinton to New York State Legislature, October 4, 1777 in Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1775-1795,1801-1804(New York, NY: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck, Crawford, 1900), 2: 360-2; Isaac Grant Muster Roll, October 1777, King’s Ferry described both the ferry that ran between and the two points of Stony and Verplank Points at the top of Haverstraw Bay. As mentioned, no evidence has been found for a beacon at Haverstraw in early October 1777, but one may have come as a result of that expedition. In 1780, Benedict Arnold, ten days prior to his treason, wrote to Washington suggesting the addition of a beacon where “the one fixed formerly had been destroyed,” indicating there was one at the site at some point. Benedict Arnold to Washington, September, 11, 1780, Founders Online,

[6]Grant Pension,; Isaac Grant Muster, December 1777,; Warren, Moses, George Gillet, and Hudson Goodwin. “Connecticut, from Actual Survey.” Map, accessed September 2, 2018.; Journal of Peter Stephen Du Ponceau in Frederick Kapp. The Life of Frederick William Von Steuben: Major General in the Continental Army(Gansevoort, NY: Corner House Historical Publishing, 1999), 98-99.

[7]Grant Pension, ibid. Grant said, “we went down to Chester went to Salem” but as that location was not their crossing point, he likely meant to say New Castle. Isaac Grant Muster Roll, January 1778,; Washington to Anthony Wayne, February 9-12, 1778, Founders Online,; George Washington, Anthony Wayne, John Barry in Tim McGrath, I Passed by Philadelphia in Two Boats, “Naval History Magazine,” United States Naval Institute. Vol. 23, No. 3: June 2009,; Wayne to Washington , February 25, 1778, Founders Online,

[8]Barry in McGrath, ibid; Grant, ibid; John Barry to Washington, March 9 1778, George Washington Papers, Series 4: General Correspondence, Library of Congress. James Wallace in Naval Documents of the American Revolution, 11: 559-60. Grant’s muster for March 1778 gives the sense that he had already returned to camp; his account of such a small and specific action forty miles from Valley Forge, corroborated by Captains Barry and Wallace indicate he had to have been present for them.

[9]Grant Pension, Isaac Grant Muster, August 1778,; Richard Butler to Charles Scott in n1 of Charles Scott to George Washington, September 30, 1778, Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Philander D. Chase, ed. (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia, 2008), 17: 209.

[10]Isaac Grant Muster Roll, December 1778,; Journal of Henry Dearborn: “Dec. 24th: we had Snow last night & very severe Cold today,” in “Camp Life and Orders Relating to Redding’s Encampment,” History of Redding,, accessed October 18, 2018; General Putnum’s Orders, ibid; Isaac Grant Muster Rolls, January and February 1779,

[11]Isaac Grant Muster Roll, May 1779,; Grant Pension; Enclosure: Plan of Attack, July 15, 1779, Founders Online,, Wayne’s italics are in the original. The three men hanged at the flagstaff battery were William Fitzgerald (9th Pennsylvania), Isaac Wilson (14th Massachusetts), John Williams (4th Maryland). General Orders, July 18, 1779, Founders Online,; For casualties in St. John’s Company: Eli Mix Muster Roll, July 1779,; Edward Palmer Muster Roll, July 1779,,

[12]Grant Pension, ibid; Isaac Grant Muster Roll, January 1780,

[13]Grant Pension,; Isaac Grant Muster Roll, ibid; For Howe’s release of POWs, see Joseph E. Wroblewski, “Elias Boiudinot IV: America’s First Commissary General of Prisoners,” Journal of the American Revolution (April 23, 2018),;

[14]Grant Pension, ibid; Tinmouth Operator’s Manual: A Citizen’s Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Town,, 4; Mattie Liston-Grant, Tracy Genealogy: Ancestors and Descendants of Thomas Tracy of Lenox, Massachusetts (Doubleday Bros & Co: Kalamazoo, MI, 1900), 37-58. Loring was born in Queens, NY. The author is at a loss to explain why the Grant’s would have travelled thence from so far upstate during Hannah’s third trimester.

[15]Elijah H. Pilchard, D. D., The History of Protestantism in Michigan: Being a Special History of the Methodist Episcopal Church (R.D.S. Tyler & Co: Detroit, 1878), 402-4; Liston-Griswold, ibid, 38.

[16]A. F. Chaffee, History of the Wyoming Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, (Eaton & Mains: New York, 1904), 46-7; Loring was a preacher at least as early as 1813, where he was listed as being on the Chenango Circuit, 37, ibid; Pilchard,The History of Protestantism in Michigan, 385.

[17]Pilchard, The History of Protestantism in Michigan, 404; The Albion Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is the Hannah Tracy Grant Chapter,, accessed October 30, 2018.


  • Amazed that all of this research started with a single pension application. Fascinating and great read- I wonder if Isaac thought the rumors of desertion would blow over and be forgotten if he kept his family moving from town to town as well as if he applied later in life?

    1. Mr. Paul, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. I too had wondered the same- was Isaac skipping town so often as to avoid suspicion? We can’t say for certain. His new career in medicine and involvement in the church I think are more eligible reasons for his moving, and there is of course the possibility that he really did believe (mistakenly) that he had violated a parole, in which case he would not have seen himself as a deserter. There is still so much more to learn about him, and the many other veterans who left us similar tales!


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