On one Sunday morning in late April 1775, news arrived in Spencertown, New York, of the occurrences at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. This alarm caught the attention of the local militia company, commanded by Capt. Adam Howley. Fifteen of that company volunteered to go to Boston. One of them, Joel Pratt, was elected captain of the group and they marched to Great Barrington, Massachusetts. There, six of their number enlisted in the army for six months. The rest were put under the command of a “General Fellows.” Marching to Boston, they remained about a week, but were not wanted & returned home.
The presumption here is that they were not wanted because their nine-man unit was far too small. On April 24, Captain Pratt was issued a warrant from Massachusetts Bay for enlisting fifty-six soldiers for a company. So he was likely given this warrant and told to return when his quota was filled.
About a month later, while in the process of doing just that, Pratt was approached by the Committee of Safety, Correspondence, and Protection of Albany, New York, about changing his plans for his company:
Captain Joel Pratt of Spencer Town attended here this Day in Consequence of our Letter to him of the 27th Instant and informed us that he had inlisted a Company of forty nine Men, whom he expected in a Day or two to be augmented to fifty nine, that his Company was formed with an Intention to proceed towards Boston in Consequence of offers from that Government to be paid from the 23rd of April last but said that he would proceed to Ticonderoga in the service of this Province in Case we would pay them in the same manner—
An agreement was apparently made, but Pratt was unable to meet his lofty expectations as early as he had hoped. On June 5, he still had only forty-eight officers and men, plus himself, available to sign an oath of service “for the Defence of the Constitution and the preservation of our Just Rights and Liberties when the same are in the most eminent Danger of being invaded.”
The term of service for Pratt’s and the other four Provincial companies raised by Albany County was short. By late June, the province of New York was finally getting itself organized for the coming fight. On June 23, the Albany Committee of Safety made arrangements to pay the men for their service. Ens. Daniel Lee, of Pratt’s company, and two other ensigns were paid off for their service from May until to June 23 for “there being no farther allowance for such Officers by Congress.” Yet, somehow Ensign Lee remained in the company for a bit longer, and, on August 2, submitted a petition to the Albany Committee that he, “has acted in the Station of Ensign in Captn. Joel Pratts Company until the eighteenth Day of July last. That he has received his pay as such till the 23rd June last. That he is now out of the Service and remains unsatisfied for that time.” The Committee agreed to his request, but only “Resolved that it be recommended to the Paymaster to pay the said Daniel Lee for the Time that he has been in the Service since the 23rd June last.” Based on the events that would unfold in the coming months, one has to wonder if he was ever paid for that extension.
Meanwhile, on June 28, Pratt and his company of Provincials had been absorbed into the newly organized New York Continental Line, as the 10th company of the 2nd regiment. The commissions for Pratt and his fellow company officers were dated July 11. That very day, Pratt was sent the following letter from the Albany Committee, via Capt. John Visscher:
The Committee do hereby request you and the other Captains of this Province to make out Monthly Muster Rolls of the Number of Men in each Company specifying the pay due them, in Columns properly ruled for that purpose, and it is also required that you take proper Receipts from each Men for the pay you advance them, and particular Care must be had that Columns are ruled in said Muster Rolls for Capt Lieuts Sergts Corporals Drums and Privates these Muster Rolls to be signed by the respective Capts of each Company
There is no known record of any of these aforementioned monthly muster rolls, but there is one of a similar type, withoutpay records, for Pratt’s company after it was absorbed into the newly-formed 2nd New York Regiment. It is dated October 10, and was taken at Fort George, located at the southeast end of New York’s Lake George. The roll was probably filled out by the company orderly sergeant and then signed by Captain Pratt.
A detailed look at this muster roll provides some very interesting, if not questionable, information. Daniel Lee, who had told the Albany Committee that he was no longer in the service, is listed on the roll as a private soldier even though he was clearly performing the duties of an ensign. Jonathan N. Mallory is listed on the roll as a sergeant, with the annotation of being a clerk. In addition, both Lee and Mallory are noted as being discharged on October 12 and Captain Pratt was noted as being “under arrest.”
As a result of this arrest, a general court-martial of Captain Pratt convened at Fort Ticonderoga in late October. The president of the court martial board was Lt. Col. Philip Van Cortlandt of the 4th New York Regiment. The board consisted of thirteen officers from the 3rd and 4th New York regiments.
The two principals were Pratt himself and his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Peter Yates, of the 2nd New York. Witnesses from the 2nd New York included Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Pitcher, from Pratt’s company, 1st Lt. Jarvis Mudge of Captain White’s company, and 1st Lt. Nathaniel Rowley of Captain Baldwin’s company.
Previously, on June 30, the Continental Congress had established sixty-nine “Articles of War” that were to govern the conduct of the army, define what behaviors were unacceptable, and establish what kinds of punishments were to be meted out. These articles were rather extensive, covering many pages, so it is quite likely that most of them were forgotten about or even ignored by many in the Continental Army’s officer corps. That is, until charges were brought.
In this case, a behavioral charge was brought forward in the trial that Pratt had frequently disobeyed orders respecting Lee and Mallory and had privately and publicly exempted them from duty during much of the Canadian Campaign. Then, on or about October 9, in contempt to the present orders given him, Pratt sent the two soldiers “towards Ticonderoga.” Pratt, in an insulting manner, then informed Colonel Yates of this fact and that Yates might complain of his conduct and seek his remedy or words to that purpose. Though not specified in the trial, this charge violated Article of War seven, where:
Any officer or soldier, who shall strike his superior officer, or draw, or offer to draw, or shall lift up any weapon, or offer any violence against him, being in the execution of his office, on any pretence whatsoever, or shall disobey any lawful commands of his superior officer, shall suffer such punishment as shall, according to the nature of his offence, be ordered by the sentence of a general court-martial.
In addition, there was another unspecified procedural violation by Pratt. By simply signing the abovementioned muster roll where Lee and Mallory were incorrectly listed, Pratt had indirectly signed his own punishment decree. Luckily for him, any punishment would only entail being discharged from the army and forfeiture of any back pay. In addition, since the trial focused on the potentially more serious behavioral charge of disobeying orders, this charge may have fallen through the cracks. Specifically, article fifty-nine of the Articles of War states that:
Every officer, who shall knowingly make a false muster of man or horse, and every officer or Commissary who shall willingly sign, direct, or allow the signing of the muster rolls, wherein such false muster is contained, shall, upon proof made thereof, by two witnesses, before a general court-martial, be cashiered, and moreover forfeit all such pay as may be due to him at the time of conviction for such offence.
After the charges were read, Lt. Colonel Yates was sworn in and testified that he had, for some time, been the commanding officer at Fort George. Mallory had been helping in the nearby hospital, but was discharged by the newly arrived Doctor Stringer. Yates explained that he had been informed that Mallory was a private in Pratt’s company and he wanted Pratt to order him to duty. However, Pratt had frequently neglected to do it. Yates thereupon had ordered Pratt to put Mallory to work, but Pratt said he would not and would soon replace him with a new recruit.
Yates’s testimony then moved on to discuss Lee, whom he said was enlisted as an ensign in Pratt’s company. However, since ensigns were not an officer’s position allowed in the current continental army establishment, Pratt had returned him on the roll as a soldier “fit for duty.” Yates stated that he had ordered that Lee be put into the ranks. Pratt had told Yates he was using Lee as a steward, but Yates told him that no stewards were allowed.
What Yates did not mention here, or did not know, is that at the time, Lee was technically not part of the New York forces. Lee was to have been fully paid off earlier by the Albany Committee. Perhaps this never happened and Lee never left the company as agreed? Either that or he left and then was somehow reenlisted by Pratt.
Yates’s testimony, which mirrored the official charges almost exactly, continued. He explained that Pratt’s next action was to send Lee and Mallory, without his permission, over to Fort Ticonderoga. In a very insulting manner, which is unexplained, Pratt then informed Yates what he had done and that Yates, “might complain to the Genl as soon as he pleased of his Conduct & Seek his Remedy or Words to that Effect.”
The hand-written court martial minutes get somewhat muddled at this point in the story. It is not clear when Yates’s testimony ends and when the other witness’s begins.
What can be determined is that Pratt did not testify in his own defense. Evidence was presented in support of Pratt, which included a copy of his orders for Mallory (not included in the trial minutes) and the April 23 military arrangement for the Massachusetts regiment for which Pratt was initially raising his company. The arrangement, which was no longer applicable once his company ended up in the 2nd New York, specified an ensign for each company. Neither item of evidence was addressed any further in the trial.
The next witness, in the confusing minutes, seems to have been 1st Lieutenant Mudge, who:
. . . was informed that Lee was inlisted as an Ensign in Pratt’s Co: that when Inlisting Orders came out & no Ensign was allowed he did the Duty of a Soldier in Frequently & was also employed as a Steward —
That Mallery was inlisted as a Clerk in Capt: Pratt’s Co: that no Clerk being allowed by the Establishment — he was employed as an Assistant to the Surgeon in the Hospital that he was frequently employed as such.
The obvious question arises as to whether Mudge was informed of this by the court or if he was explaining what he was previously informed of. Since the information, such as Lee “frequently” serving as a soldier and Mallory being employed as an “assistant to the surgeon,” is slightly different than what was earlier presented, it is apt to be information that Mudge had learned. This little nuance of a difference was very important testimony for Pratt’s case, because, according to Article of War sixty-one: “Any officer who shall presume to muster any persona as a soldier . . . who does not actually do his duty as a soldier, shall be deemed guilty of having made a false muster, and shall suffer accordingly.” That suffering is described in Article of War fifty-nine, discussed earlier in this article. With this in mind, what was surprisingly not mentioned during the trial was that Mallory, though noted as a “clerk,” was incorrectly returned on the muster roll in the box labeled for sergeants. Since Pratt signed the roll, this was another case of having made a false muster.
There is no mention of any further testimony by Mudge, or any at all by 1st Lieutenant Rowley, except one small but very important snippet. Both men testified that they each heard Yates say that, since Pratt was under arms, if Pratt would go out in the field, he would “take it out with him & the best man should keep the Ground.”
Without question, their testimony revealed that Yates himself had violated article eleven of the Articles of War, where “No officer or soldier shall use any reproachful or provoking speeches or gestures to another, nor shall presume to send a challenge to any person to fight a duel . . . and all such offenders, in any of these or such like cases, shall be punished at the discretion of a general court-martial.”
This seemed to change the direction of the trial, which continued when Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Pitcher was called as a witness. Pitcher, who was also a member of Captain Pratt’s company, testified that Pratt always turned out his compliment of men for duty, and that he had heard the men declare they were willing to perform the duties of Lee and Mallory.
This was really an empty gesture on Pitcher’s part, but a smart one. The two men were really not performing soldierly duties anyway, so there was nothing for the other men to do. In addition, since the two had already been discharged from the service on October 12 (a fact not brought up during the trial), the remaining men really had no choice in the matter. However, the gesture was enough to satisfy the court-martial board, who appear to have been looking for a way to quietly close the entire matter.
In the end, the court ignored all the clear violations of the articles of war, on both sides, and was of the simple “Opinion that Capt. Pratt’s Not Guilty & that he be discharged from his Arrest.”
With that, the matter was closed and things went back to normal for Pratt and his company, until it was time for them to leave the Lake George area. After their time there, the company moved north to St. Jean, Canada. They remained there sometime until, “part of the Company under one of the Lieutenants marched down to Chamble [Fort Chambly] & then to Montreal, a good many of the Company enlisted again to go out to Quebec but some returned to St. Johns.”
By now, the enlistments of those who had not “reengaged” had expired and Pratt clearly had had enough. An additional handful of the men were discharged and joined other commands at St. Jean, but the rest (probably including Pitcher) returned home with Pratt. This move did not make area commander, Brig. Gen. David Wooster, who was based in Montreal, very happy:
. . . Many of the troops insist upon going home, their times of inlistment being out; some, indeed, have run away without a pass or dismission, expressly against orders. I have just been informed that a Captain Pratt, of the Second Battalion of Yorkers, has led off his company from St. John’s. I have given orders to suffer no man to go out of the country, whether they will inlist or not; the necessity of the case, I believe, will justify my conduct.
Lt. Col. Peter Yates was not long for the 2nd New York either. On January 8, 1776, the three field officers of the 2nd Regiment were assigned to a new unnumbered New York battalion raised as one of nine intended for the defense of Canada. This left command of the remnants of the 2nd New York that had extended their enlistments until spring to their most senior captain, John Visscher. Visscher would soon name a new sergeant major to replace Pitcher.
On March 8, 1776, Yates appears to have been laterally transferred to another new (unnumbered) New York battalion, commanded by Col. John Nicolson. However, his service abruptly ended on June 26 and consequently left Yates with the ignominious legacy of having been the second-in-command of three different Continental regiments within a six month period. He would never serve in the Continental Army again, but would ultimately return to the Albany County militia for a time, commanding one of the regiments. Yates carried the title of “Colonel” the rest of his life, which ended in September 1807.
For his part, Pratt would also never serve in the Continental Army again, though, as a former officer, he was on Claverack, New York’s, list of Associated Exempts in case he was ever needed. He was rated thirty-eighth on a list of captains who were out of the army. Like Yates, Pratt carried his former rank as a title thought his life. He seems to have been a religious man, and would go on to be the founding citizen of a new town which bears his name, Prattsburgh, Steuben County, New York, located in the western portion of the Finger Lakes region. Pratt passed away September 30, 1821, at the age of seventy-five.
The personal animus between the stubborn and prickly company commander and his by-the-book commander was bound to come to a head sooner or later. Arrangements could have been made to accommodate everyone, but it was not to be. Short of letting it come to blows or blades, the powers-that-be were able to find a way, in the end, to sweep the matter under the rug.
The irony of this futile exercise was that about three weeks prior to Pratt’s court martial, another officer was given a warrant as an ensign in Capt. Benjamin Ledyard’s company of the 1st New York, stationed in New York City. There is no known explanation of whether the “no ensigns” policy had changed, was no longer enforced, or—as this company had reengaged for another year—they were looking ahead to the 1776 Continental establishment, where ensigns would be allowed.
Deposition of Christopher Dennisson, August 7, 1832, S.22207,Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900,Records Group 15 (Washington: National Archives Microfilm Publications, M804), Roll 797,(Pensions). This source is courtesy of Ryan McGuire. “General Fellows” may have been then-Colonel John Fellows, who commanded a (unnumbered) Massachusetts regiment early in 1775, but this has not been confirmed.
Minutes of Courtmartial at Fort Ticonderoga October 26-28, 1775, Philip Van Cortlandt – President, Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Thompson-Pell Research Center, M2064, 8, (Courtmartial Minutes). During this period, a warrant was given by the governing body to potential officers. It allowed them to meet certain requirements, usually involving recruiting, before getting commissioned.
Meeting Minutes, May 29, 1775, Minutes of the Albany Committee of Correspondence 1775-1778(Albany, NY: The University of the State of New York, 1923), 1:53 (Minutes of the Albany Committee). These troops were known as “Provincials.” Traditionally soldiers from America who fought for the British during the French and Indian War and/or the American Revolution were known by this term. On the other hand, Americans who served in regiments who fought against the British, prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, were still British subjects, so were also called Provincials.
Oath of service signed by the current members of Capt. Joel Pratt’s company, June 5, 1775, Revolutionary War Rolls 1775-1783, Records Group 93 (Washington: National Archives Microfilm Publications, M246), Roll 67, Jacket 19 (Muster Rolls).
Account of the Charges accrued by the Committee of the City and County of Albany in carrying on the public operations of the united Colonies, May-June 23, 1775, Minutes of the Albany Committee, 1:975. An ensign was the lowest rated, and usually youngest, officer in an infantry company. A company was commanded by a captain, who would have a lieutenant and an ensign subordinate to him. Sometimes it would be a 1st and 2nd lieutenant. In other cases, like the Albany County Provincials, the captains would be assisted by as many as two lieutenants and an ensign. However, once part of the New York Continentals, a company could only have two lieutenants. Lee, Gideon King, and Guy Young are the ensigns specifically listed in this accounting. However, there are no known records of King ever being an ensign, so they may have meant John G. Lansing.
The New York Line on the Continental Establishment of 1775, Berthold Fernow, ed., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Co., 1853–1887), 15:528, (Documents).
Letter from Albany Committee, enclosing a memorandum of Officers elected, October 21, 1775, Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety and Council of Safety of the State of New-York: 1775-1776-1777(Albany, NY: Thurlow Weed, 1842),2:97,(Journals of the Provincial Congress).
A Muster Roole of CaptnJoel Pratts Company in the second Battalion of New York Forces . . . in Camp at Fort George, October 10, 1775,Muster Rolls, Roll 67, Jacket 19. Later in the war, the Continental Army companies filled out rosters more frequently, but in the early years Continental regiments had their companies make up muster rolls that served as chart where various dates and other information was annotated on it. Orderly sergeants handled the administrative duties for the company and its commander. They would later be called first sergeants, a rank that still exists today. An infantry regiment could be broken down into one or more battalions. In most cases, a regiment only had one battalion, so the terms tended to be used interchangeably.
Ibid. Pension application depositions of Moses Myer, S.14002, Pensions (Roll 1798) and Jedediah Graves, W.23147, Pensions (Roll 1111). Moses Myer mentions an “Ensign Lee”and Jedediah Graves names “Ensign Daniel Lee”among the company officers.
Courtmartial Minutes, 5. The New York Line on the Continental Establishment of 1775, Fernow, Documents, 15:527-529. Members of the board included from the 3rd New York captains Daniel Griffin and John Hulbert, 1st lieutenants Elijah Hunter and Benjamin Marvin, 2nd lieutenants Nathaniel Norton and William Havens, and from the 4th New York, captains Rufus Herrick, Daniel Mills, Jonathan Platt, and Nathaniel Woodward, 1st lieutenants David Dan and Abraham Riker, and 2nd Lieut. John Lawrence. Article of War thirty-three states that, “No general court-martial shall consist of a less number than thirteen, none of which shall be under the degree of a commissioned officer; and the president shall be a field officer . . . ,” in Articles of War, June 30, 1775, Worthington C. Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789(Washington: Government Printing Office, 1905), 2:117, (Journals of the Continental Congress).
Courtmartial Minutes,6. Entry for Samuel Stringer, Frances B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783, Reprint of the New, Revised, and Enlarged Edition of 1914, With Addenda by Robert H. Kelby, 1932(Baltimore MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1982), 525, (Historical Register of Officers).Springer was Director of Hospital and Chief Physician of the Northern Department September 14, 1775 to January 9, 1777.
Courtmartial Minutes, 6. A Muster Roole of CaptnJoel Pratts Company . . ., Muster Rolls, Roll 67, Jacket 19. Waiters and stewards were selected from a company as a duty assignment to senior officers or staff. For example, Ephram Barret of Pratt’s company was actually the “Colonel’s waiter.” That colonel was undoubtedly Lt. Col. Peter Yates, who was commanding officer at Fort George at the time.
Deposition of Silas Pardee, September, 29 1832, W.16367, Pensions(Roll 1868) and Deposition of Moses Myer, August 22, 1832, S.14002, Pensions (Roll 1798). Pardee enlisted with his former first lieutenant, who was now a captain in Brig. Gen. David Wooster’s Provisional Connecticut Regiment, and Myer returned home with Captain Pratt.
 Resolution of January 8, 1776, Journals of the Continental Congress, 4:39. John Hancock, President, Continental Congress to the New York Convention or Committee of Safety, January 12, 1776, Journals of the Provincial Congress, 2:140. A field officer is a commissioned officer in an infantry regiment holding the rank of colonel, lieutenant colonel, or major. They are sometimes referred to as a “field-grade” officer.
Entry for January 10, 1776, Colonel James Clinton’s Orderly Book, 3rd New York Regiment, 27 August 1775 – 11 March 1776, Early American Orderly Books, 1748-1817, New-York Historical Society, Reel Number 2, Document #22, SHS-WI number P81-3580, Transcription courtesy of Stephen Gilbert. Capt. John Visscher of the 2nd New York is ordered to appoint a sergeant major to receive daily orders from headquarters. Muster Roll of Capt. Barent J. Ten Eyck’s Company of the Second Regt of New York Troops. . ., February 8, 1776, New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, Albany, NY, (N)502. John Blakely is listed on this later roll with a rank of sergeant major.
Entries for Peter Gansevoort, Frederick Weissenfels and Peter Yates,Historical Register of Officers, 342, 579 & 609. Muster roll, Field, staff, and other officers in Colonel Goose Van Schaick’s Battalion of Forces raised in the State of New York, 1776 December 17, Muster Rolls,Roll 77, Jacket 163.Arrangement of Officers of Colonel Nicholson’s Regiment, April 15, 1776, Force, American Archives, 4th Series, 5:949. Parole: Quebec; Countersign: Ticonderoga, Second New Jersey Regimental Orderly Book, 1776, Doyen Salsig, ed., (Teaneck, NJ, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980), 54-55, 84-85. Colonel John Nicholson’s Regiment was formed in Canada from remnants of the original New York regiments (ca. 1775) when their extended enlistments ran out. There are no known records of the enlisted men. The few lists of officer’s are spread in various sources and the officers vary thru ought its existence. It appears Yates transferred to Nicholson’s to replace Lt. Col. Frederick Weissenfels, who was assigned to the newly organized 3rd New York Regiment assigned to the Main Army. Major Peter Gansevoort was promoted to lieutenant colonel and replaced Yates. There is no known explanation why Yates left as soon as he did.
Subscriber List of the Company of Association of Exempts at Claverack, August 12, 1778, Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777-1795, 1801-1804, Published by the State of New York (Albany, NY: James B. Lyon, 1900), 3:624-625. Associated Exempts were a unique class and were authorized by an act of April 3, 1778. They comprised: “All persons under the age of sixty who have held civil or military commissions and are not or shall not be re-appointed to their respective proper ranks of office, and all persons between the ages of fifty and sixty.” They could only be called out “in time of invasion or incursion of the enemy.” New York in the Revolution as Colony and State, James A. Roberts, Comptroller, (Albany, N.Y: J. B. Lyon Company, Printers, 1904), 1:vii.
List of officers erased from list on account of promotion, resignation, or death, Calendar of Historical Manuscripts Relating to the War of the Revolution, in the Office of the Secretary of State (Albany, N.Y.: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1898), 2:43. Though undated, the list was in the book’s 1777 section about the arrangement of the New York Continentals.
Series of notes and correspondence provided to the author by Mr. Ryan McGuire, including a citation from his gravestone. Pratt had arrived around 1799 to purchase land and settlers arrived in 1801. The entry for Joel Pratt, Heitman, Historical Register of Officers, 451, incorrectly lists himas passing away in 1844.
Muster Roll of CaptainBenjamin Ledyard’s Company in the First Regiment of the New York Forces, in the Service of the United Colonies,October 26, 1775,Muster Rolls,Roll 65, Jacket 1-2. Peter Vergereau is listed as that ensign, with a warrant dated October 3, 1775.
Report of a Council of War, October 8, 1775, American Archives, 4th Series, 3:1039-44. It should be noted that the consensus reached by General Washington, his generals, and senior staff was that each infantry company of the new second establishment of the Continental Army, beginning in 1776, was to be commanded by a captain, two lieutenants, and an ensign.