When old Revolutionary War soldiers applied for their military pensions in the first and second quarter of the nineteenth century, they generally reported the basic information of their service. Occasionally, a soldier provided detail of his service that highlighted their adventures and sufferings. One such soldier was Private James Noble, originally of Maryland. James Noble applied for his pension on September, 24, 1833 in Howard County, Missouri, at the age of over “seventy-two” years and a few months. When he appeared before the County Clerk, John B. Clark, he had not only his story, but his witness, James H. Birch, and the standard clergyman, Hampton L. Boone. When we compare Noble’s pension application to his muster rolls, other pension applications, and a variety of primary sources, we can more fully appreciate his tale.
As he understood it, James Noble was born in 1760 in Kent County, Maryland. For the first seventeen years of his life, he lived there, up until the outbreak of the American Revolution. In 1777, he joined the army. Curiously, he didn’t join a Maryland unit, but the 10th Virginia Regiment, “commanded by Stephens [Edward Stevens] as Colonel and the regiment formed a part of a Brigade Commanded by General [George] Weedon.” He was in the company of “David Lards [Laird] . . . when he first entered the army.” According to his muster roll, Noble did indeed enlist in David Laird’s company of the 10th Virginia on May 15, 1777. As a Maryland native, it isn’t clear as to why he joined a Virginia unit. Nor is it clear if he enlisted in the south or in New Jersey, where the unit was during the month he enlisted. The 10th Virginia muster rolls indicate they were encamped in the vicinity of Middlebrook, New Jersey (present Martinsville), but within two weeks of his signing up, Noble was sick in the army hospital, possibly as early as June 12, when the roll was recorded. The following month, he was still sick in the hospital at “Mendon,” which may have meant Mendham, New Jersey, near Morristown, where the army had encamped after the Battle of Princeton. This muster is also the first to indicate that Noble had enlisted “during [the] war,” as opposed to the three year option. Whatever ailed Noble must have been serious, for he spent July and August still in the hospital, but he made no mention of this episode in any part of his pension application.
In the meantime, the Main Army under General Washington was trying to determine where a British fleet that had left New York would land, and how best to oppose them. Finally, they landed at Head of Elk in Maryland at the top of Chesapeake Bay; their goal was clear: Philadelphia. Noble rejoined his company at some point after August 31, but he would have had to have met them in Pennsylvania, where the Continental Army was determining how best to defend the fledgling country’s unofficial capitol. Noble made no mention of Brandywine (September 11) or the Battle of the Clouds (September 16), but he does mention the Battle of Germantown (October 4). As part of General Weedon’s Brigade, the 10th Virginia was with General Nathanael Greene’s division on that foggy morning. While much of public memory focuses on the actions around Cliveden, or the Benjamin Chew House, Noble and his company were on the other side of town. As Noble recalled, “he was in that battle and received a very severe wound in the thigh—He was wounded in attempting to save our Collours which had been thrown away by the Ensign who had charge of them.” Unfortunately, Noble didn’t explain which phase of the battle this occurred, but it is certainly an interesting claim. His muster roll for September 1777 (actually recorded on October 9, so after the battle) does in fact list him as “wounded,” confirming part of his claim, but did he really save the colors? His company’s ensign, William Evans, may indeed have dropped the colors (it was an ensign’s task to carry them), but not out of neglect or retreat, for he had been wounded. According to his own pension application, Evans was “wounded and carried off the field by Colonel Edward Stephens. Noble’s claim is plausible, in that due to the wounding of Evans, he may have dropped the colors and Noble may have been the one to rush forward and recover them, wounding himself in the process.
The nature of Noble’s wound is confusing. He recalled that “after he was wounded, he was carried to the Hospital where he remained until near Christmas suffering all the time with his wounds.” He went on to say that after he recovered, he rejoined his regiment but that the “Captain informed him that he might have gone home as he had been represented dead by his orderly.” This is indeed confusing as his muster rolls list him as “on duty” on November 7 and “sick in [his] tent” on 1 December; a soldier who was thought to be dead certainly would not be assigned extra duties as he was doing in November. Nonetheless, Noble’s unit wintered with the Main Army at Valley Forge, where he recalled another possibly confused episode. He claims that in April 1778, he volunteered himself to join Captain Allan McLane’s “company of Spies to guard the Roads leading from Philadelphia [where the British were wintering] into the Country.” He recollected that he had “several . . . Skirmishes and several races after and from the British,” although he provided no details about them. At one point when the British were leaving Philadelphia (June 1778), Noble said “McLean’s [McLane’s] Company pursued them so close that we took prisoners four British officers with them waiters at the wharf before they succeeded in getting on board.” According to Allan McLane historian Tom Welch, McLane’s men did in fact capture British officers near a wharf in June 1778, and Noble was listed as “on Command”—but in March. The note on his muster roll doesn’t explain where this command was or what it entailed, so it is plausible that Noble really was with McLane, but there is no indication he was with him during June. Perhaps Noble had heard about the event after the fact and incorrectly recalled himself as having been present.
After the British departed Philadelphia, the Continentals broke camp at Valley Forge and chased after, following the British Army under General Sir Henry Clinton through New Jersey. This march climaxed in the Battle of Monmouth, on June 28, 1778. Noble remembered being
ordered . . . to join the main Army under General Washington who was in pursuit of the British through the Jerseys to Monmouth. After we joined them which was near Monmouth he the said Noble was placed on the front guard where we continued until the morning of the Battle . . . at which time we became a rear guard to receive prisoners.
Noble remembered correctly, as the 10th Virginia and all of Weedon’s Brigade remained in the rear and saw no fighting. After that exceedingly hot day, “the whole army marched under General Washington to the White Plains in the State of New York.” After Monmouth, the army moved on to New Brunswick, where they celebrated the second anniversary of Independence. From there, they moved into New York, and up to Stony Point where they crossed the Hudson River at King’s Ferry. Once in Westchester County, they marched to the vicinity of White Plains, beyond which served as a sort of “no man’s land” for both armies, as the British were quite ensconced in New York City. In September, two things changed for Noble. Firstly, in one of the Virginia Line’s many reorganizations, the 10th Virginia became the 6th. Laird’s company (commanded by Lt. Lamme since March 1778, when Laird was cashiered out of the service) went with them. Secondly, Noble was listed as being in the “Light Infantry.” Generally, such an indication on a muster roll during the White Plains encampment tells us that the soldier was detached to Brigadier General Charles Scott’s Light Infantry; Noble’s pension application, however, provides a different clue.
While at White Plains, Noble “volunteered in Pheabekers [Col. Christian Febiger’s] Infantry to guard the outlets from New York into the Country . . . while we were on duty we had frequent skirmishes not deemed material to mention. This closed the campaign of 1778.” Both Scott’s detachment and Febiger saw activity in Autumn 1778; unfortunately, Noble doesn’t give any details on his skirmishes, so it’s difficult to understand where he was, as Scott was in Westchester and Febiger was in New Jersey, doing other tasks. Was Noble with Scott or with Febiger (whom he would later serve under), and merely mixed it up when he provided his pension statement?
When no major battle occurred, the Continental Army “built winter quarters in New Jersey,” near Middlebrook, where Noble’s unit had been when he first enlisted nearly two years before. At the end of May 1779, the British sailed up the Hudson and took over the two ends of King’s Ferry: Stony and Verplank’s Points. When Washington got wind of this in the first week of June 1779, he shifted the army back up to New York, “to a place called the Cloves [Smith’s Clove, near today’s Woodbury Commons] in the high lands.” In order to counter the British threat to the Hudson Highlands (and most importantly West Point, only a year old), Washington formed a Corps of Light Infantry for the campaign under Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, just like that under General Scott the previous campaign, except a little more formal. When troops from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were drafted into this Corps, Noble went with them. He “volunteered in Captain [Clough] Shelton’s Company of Volunteers in Wayne’s Infantry . . . we were stationed on North [Hudson] River eight miles above the two forts Stony Point and Planks [Verplank’s] Point.”
As the Light Infantry trained under Col. Richard Butler while they awaited their real commander, Wayne, the British at King’s Ferry continued to strengthen their defenses. Their presence so close to the American works at West Point proved too great a threat—Washington had to make a move. He and Wayne, with their own personal reconnaissance and intelligence collected by Maj. Henry Lee III and Captain Allan McLane (this time likely without Noble) formulated a plan of attack. Both points had to be taken to reopen the Hudson, but Stony Point, being the higher ground would have to fall first. The Light Infantry, being joined by the eight Connecticut light companies, a detachment of Massachusetts troops under Maj. William Hull, and a detachment of North Carolinians under Maj. Hardee Murfree formed Wayne’s Corps that would attack Stony Point. The British works there would be taken by storm while Col. Rufus Putnam and more Massachusetts troops would demonstrate against Verplank as a feint. In the Light Infantry Corps, as a temporary Virginian, James Noble, in Shelton’s Company of the 6th Virginia was attached to Col. Febiger’s 1st Light Infantry Regiment. This regiment, composed of the Virginia and half of the Maryland troops formed the south, or right column of Wayne’s attack on Stony Point with the 3rd Light Infantry Regiment (all Connecticut) and part of Hull’s detachment. Col. Richard Butler’s 2nd Light Infantry Regiment, composed of the rest of the Marylanders and the Pennsylvanians, would storm Stony Point from the north. The North Carolina detachment and the remainder of Hull’s Massachusetts men would attack from the center frontally, in a feint, firing but not advancing, like the other two columns, with bayonets fixed. The assault was fixed for midnight on July 16, 1779.
Noble recollected that “during the Summer we stormed Stony Point . . . and took possession of the Fort and its property [,] arms &c and about five hundred prisoners during the storming of this fort.” The attack was a brilliant success, although “General Wayne was wounded,” when a spent musket ball struck his temple. While Wayne was wounded, assisted by his two aides-de-camp, Noble recalled that “Major Flouis [Louis-Tessiedre de Fleury] took command.” This was incorrect, as Febiger, being the senior officer after Wayne, took command while the General recuperated. Interestingly, Noble recalled that after the action, “the Major [de Fleury] ordered the British Flag to be took down and he the said Noble had the honor and satisfaction of taking it down himself.” Many soldiers in their pension applications recall taking the flag, however we know from period accounts, that all agree upon de Fleury as having taken the flag. The next morning, the dead were buried and “we sent the prisoners off and we remained until we burnt the Fort and everything in it that was of any value.” Noble remembered that the Light Infantry “went off from the Fort about six miles where we were stationed to watch movements of the enemy &c guard the Coast at this place [,] we remained until sometime in the winter [,] the Snow being nearly knee deep.”
Noble’s muster rolls have him listed with the Light Infantry through November 1779. After Stony Point, the Light Infantry returned to their training grounds at Fort Montgomery. In the late summer and fall of 1779, the Corps maintained an eye on the British (who had returned to Stony Point) by encamping in various parts of present Rockland County. Noble then remembered that “the troops stationed here were generally dismissed [,] myself among the rest. I went home and remained there.” Indeed, Noble’s muster rolls indicate he stayed with the army until early December 1779, but there is no mention of him afterwards in any military record. According to his earliest rolls in 1777, he had enlisted for the war; how he was able to be discharged is a mystery, for he wasn’t listed as deserted, and we must assume he was truly relieved of duty.
According to his own account, Noble “remained in Maryland during the 1780 then married and moved to Red Stone in Pennsylvania.” Noble “lived there three years then moved to Kentucky where [he] lived until the year 1817.” Noble’s wife is hard to identify in records, and she may have been buried there, but he soon “moved to Missouri Howard County where [he] lived until last March when [he] moved to Marion County.” As part of a pension application, old soldiers were asked to provide discharge papers or certificates from officers that they had served as stated. Noble said that he “received from Captain Laird a paper or Certificate of enlistment and Service for three years which I have lost or mislaid.” However, muster evidence proves he did not serve for a full three years, and when he departed the service Captain Laird had long been cashiered, and could not have given him such a document, for even by his own account Noble did not serve more than “at least two years and two . . . months.” Despite no proper discharge papers, he had two witnesses who testified for him; Noble got his pension. James Noble would enjoy that pension for twelve years before dying in 1845. He was buried in Sugar Creek Cemetery in Moberly, Missouri, where his grave remains today.
James Noble Pension Application S16991, Revwarapps.org, https://www.revwarapps.org/s16991.pdf.
Ibid; James Noble May 1777 Pay Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833785; James Noble May 1777 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833787; James Noble June 1777 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833789; James Noble July 1777 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833793; James Noble August 1777 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833797.
James Noble Pension Application, op. Cit; William Evans Pension Application, Revwarapps.org, https://www.revwarapps.org/s25069.pdf; James Noble September 1777 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833801.
James Noble Pension, ibid; James Noble October 1777 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833805; James Noble December 1777 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833878; James Noble March 1777 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22833979; Personal Correspondence with Tom Welch and Mike Lynch, 3/4/21.
James Noble Pension, ibid; Mark Edward Lender and Gary Wheeler Stone, Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017), 317; James Noble September 1778 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22834017; Facebook conversation with historian Todd Braisted, 3/17/21.
James Noble Pension, ibid; James Noble June 1779 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22834053; Don Loprieno, The Enterprise in Contemplation: The Midnight Assault on Stony Point,(Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2009); Enclosure: Plan of Attack, July 15, 1779, Founders Online, https://www.founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-21-02-0416-0002.
James Noble Pension, ibid; Michael J. F. Sheehan, “The Mythology of Stony Point,” Journal of the American Revolution (November 3, 2016), https://www.allthingsliberty.com/2016/11/mythology-stony-point/; James Noble November 1779 Muster Roll, Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/22834081.
James Noble Pension, ibid; James Noble, Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/67338586/james-noble.