Noble Gunn, Revolution
Noble Gunn b. 17 Jul 1760 Sheffield, Massachusetts; d. 24 Nov 1830 Lenox Center, Ohio
Lucy Gleason b. Aug 1771 Enfield, Connecticut; d. 19 Mar 1843 Kingsville, Ohio
Lucy Gunn b. 21 Dec 1786 Connecticut; d. Mar 1864 Albany, New York
Charlotte Gunn b. 19 Jul 1788 Connecticut; d. 19 May 1878 Watertown, New York
Abiatha Gunn b. abt 1790 Connecticut; d. 1846 Auburn, Geauga, Ohio
Esther Gunn b. abt 1792 Connecticut; d. before 1846
Olive Gunn b. abt 1794 Connecticut; d. before 1846
Burrell Gunn b. abt 1798 Connecticut; before 1846
Noble King Gunn b. abt 1802 Connecticut; d. After 1870 Chester, Michigan
Westrall Willoughby Gunn b. 25 Feb 1808 Herkimer, New York; d. 1876 LaPorte, Indiana
Martha Ann Gunn b. 1811 New York; d. 1850 Ashtabula County, Ohio
William Orrin Gunn b. 1816 New York; d. 1870 Wisconsin
It all began on April 19, 1775, when a British raiding party of 700 men set out for Concord to capture the military supplies of the Continental Congress. At dawn on April 19 about 70 armed Massachusetts militiamen stood on Lexington Green watching the British advance guard. An unordered shot was fired, and a volley of British rifle fire was followed by a charge with bayonets leaving eight Americans dead and ten wounded. The British regrouped and headed for the depot in Concord to destroy the colonists’ weapons and supplies. At the North Bridge in Concord, a British platoon was attacked by militiamen, with 14 casualties. As the British forces began their long retreat back to Boston they were harassed and shot at all along the way by farmers and rebels. By that evening three hundred British soldiers and nearly a hundred colonists lay dead or wounded. News of the events at Lexington and Concord spreads like wildfire throughout the Colonies. Massachusetts was at war with England.
The Siege of Boston (19 April 1775 – 17 March 1776)
On April 20, seventy Westfield minute men (including Daniel, Moses and Warham Gunn) marched for Boston. The next day, on April 21, the minutemen under the command of Colonel, later General, John Fellows were drilling on the green in front of the Sheffield meetinghouse before breakfast when news of the battles at Lexington and Concord arrived. By noon twenty men, led by Colonel Fellows, were on their way to join the army. Noble Gunn and his brothers might have been in this group; documents don’t give their names. This regiment marched to Roxbury, where it was reorganized and enlarged. It served in the vicinity of Boston until the British evacuation of the city. (The next spring, Fellows’ regiment would be ordered down to New York, and after the evacuation of that city the regiment of now Brigadier General Fellows would participate in the Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776.)
General George Washington took formal command of the besieging army on July 3rd (1775) and devoted the next several months to building up the American force and trying to solve its severe logistical difficulties. The Provincial Congress in Massachusetts ordered 13,600 American soldiers to be mobilized. Colonial volunteers from all over New England assembled and headed for Boston, then established camps around the British-held city.
At the same time, steps were taken to send an expedition against British-held Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, a strategic post well-supplied with artillery and military stores much needed by the American forces surrounding Boston. Early on May 10th, a New England force of some 80 men led by Colonels Ethan Allen (who had been a resident of Sheffield, but later moved to Vermont) and Benedict Arnold of Connecticut surprised the British garrison of about 40 men, which surrendered without a fight. Following this success, Allen seized Crown Point on the 12th and Arnold temporarily occupied St. John’s, a fort across the Canadian border, on the 16th. Subsequently, a large part of the 100 cannon and substantial military stores captured at Ticonderoga were laboriously hauled overland to Boston under the direction of Maj. Gen. Henry Knox, of Washington’s artillery, to supply the army.
Hezekiah Gunn enlisted in May of 1775 and though he must not have been among the first group of Sheffield minutemen, he might have been at the siege of Boston or with Ethan Allen at the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. It is not known if Noble Gunn or any other of the Gunns from Westfield or the Berkshires were in the siege of Boston and with Fellows’ militia regiment at the Battle of White Plains. But at least eleven of these brothers and cousins, all descendants of Thomas, fought in the Revolution (see the box above).
By June an alliance had been made with the Virginia colony, a Continental Army organized, and a Virginia colonist, George Washington, had been named its commanding general. On the night of June 16th, about 1,200 men of the Colonial force besieging Boston moved on to the Charlestown isthmus overlooking the city and threw up entrenchments on Breed’s Hill. The British garrison reacted promptly to this threat. On the 17th, 2,200 troops under Maj. Gen. William Howe were ferried across to the isthmus and stormed the American positions. Twice the 2000 British attackers were pushed back by the outnumbered defenders, but on the third attack the colonials ran out of gunpowder, due to poor oversight and logistics by the commanding officer, General Israel Putnam, and were forced to retreat with a loss of about 400 men. But they left behind over one thousand British casualties. More British died that day than in the remainder of the war. Some 3,030 patriots took part in the fighting at one time or another, including Westfield and Berkshire men. This proved to be the only major engagement of the year-long siege of Boston.
In March, 1776, American forces captured Dorchester Heights which overlooks Boston harbor. The captured British artillery which had been dragged at great labor from Fort Ticonderoga was placed on the heights to enforce the siege. In the end, under the threat of those guns, the British evacuated Boston and set sail for Halifax. The siege of Boston was over.
Washington then rushed the American forces to New York to set up defenses, anticipating the British plan to invade New York City. Westfield men and General Fellows with his troops from the Lower Housatonic would have been among them. A massive British war fleet arrived in New York Harbor consisting of 30 battleships with 1200 cannon, 30,000 soldiers, 10,000 sailors, and 300 supply ships. In August the British General Howe led 15,000 soldiers against Washington’s army in the Battle of Long Island. Outnumbered two to one, the colonists were outflanked and scattered, suffering a severe defeat. They retreated to Brooklyn Heights and managed to cross the East River by night, evacuating New York City, and retreating north. They repulsed a British attack at the Battle of Harlem Heights in upper Manhattan and suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of White Plains. Washington’s army then retreated westward. Fort Washington on Manhattan and Fort Lee in New Jersey were lost, with 3000 American casualties. Washington continued to move further west and crossed the Delaware River. The situation looked bad, and there were problems with desertions.
Among Washington’s troops was Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, who now writes these words:
These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
In December, 1776, Washington came back across the Delaware and conducted a surprise raid on 1500 Hessians (German mercenaries) at Trenton, New Jersey. The Hessians surrendered after an hour and nearly 1000 were taken prisoner by Washington’s troops, who suffered only six wounded. The colonials reoccupied Trenton, and Washington’s troops defeated the British at Princeton and drove them back toward New Brunswick. Washington then established winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey. During that harsh winter, his army shrank to about a thousand men as enlistments expired and deserters fled the hardships. But by spring, with the arrival of new recruits, Washington had 9000 men.
Until 1777 Noble Gunn had been a soldier in Captain Enoch Noble’s Company (this was his mother’s cousin) of Colonel John Ashley’s 1st Berkshire County Militia Regiment. But on January 5, 1777, with other members of his Militia Regiment, Noble enlisted in the Continental Army, joining Captain Jenkin’s Company of Colonel Samuel Brewer’s 12th Massachusetts Regiment. So Noble may well have been among these new recruits joining Washington’s men in New Jersey. In any case, he would soon be marching up the Hudson River Valley to Saratoga.
His former Regiment, under Colonel Ashley, was doing the same. Colonel Ashley’s Regiment was called up in July 1777 and sent for a month’s duty at Fort Edward, New York. On July 29-30, in the face of an overwhelming force of British infantry and Native allies, Brig. General Philip Schuyler abandoned Fort Edward and marched down the Hudson River to Saratoga. But his delaying tactics slowed the British force to a crawl. The natural landscape was difficult and hazardous, and Schuyler’s men compounded the difficulties for the British by cutting down trees, rolling boulders down the hillsides, and digging ditches to create more swampland. Consequently, it took the British army 24 days to travel 23 miles. As the enemy approached Fort Edward, the retreating American force put the torch to crops and grasslands, withdrawing settlers and their cattle as they proceeded, in order to deny the British forage, horses, and meat. Upon reaching Saratoga, Ashley’s Regiment was assigned to General Patterson’s 3rd Massachusetts Brigade (the same Brigade in which Noble Gunn was also serving). Noble’s cousins Alexander and Ashley, the sons of his uncle Alexander Gunn, and cousin John, the son of uncle Stephen Gunn, had been assigned to Ashley’s Regiment and were probably also present at this Battle.
The Saratoga Campaign 18 June – 17 October 1777
In June of 1777, a British force of 7700 men under General Burgoyne invaded from Canada, sailing down Lake Champlain toward Albany and planning to link up with General Howe who was to come north from New York City, thus cutting off New England from the rest of the colonies. This might have ended the rebellion, but the British were never able to accomplish the strategy.
At first the campaign was successful. Burgoyne captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain and Fort Edward; his troops reached the Hudson River in August. But things did not then go as Burgoyne had planned. On August 16, in the Battle of Bennington, militiamen from Vermont and Massachusetts wipe out a detachment of 800 German Hessians sent by Burgoyne to seize horses and supplies.
The ensuing Battle of Saratoga was actually a month-long series of maneuvers punctuated by two battles. Burgoyne had paused in Saratoga, New York to rest after the difficult passage through the wilderness and to await word of Howe’s and St. Leger’s forces who were supposed to join up with his. Finally, facing supply problems and realizing that no help was coming, he had to take the offensive against the American forces that were waiting for him and blocking his advance. He crossed to the west bank of the Hudson by a pontoon bridge about eight miles south of Saratoga, and two miles north of the heights being fortified by the Americans.
General Gates, newly in charge of the American Northern Department, arrived at the developing fortifications at Bemis Heights and took command on August 19. It is well known that Generals Gates and Arnold did not get along and disagreed on tactics. Arnold wanted to use the fortification as a redoubt, sallying out to attack from the cover of woods, a tactic that favored the Americans, and falling back to the fort as needed. This tactic would have made sense because though the Americans had some cannons, Burgoyne’s firepower greatly outclassed the Americans, and the British and Hessian forces were adept at siege craft. The cautious General Gates disagreed with Arnold’s plan.
Except for cannon, the forces were relatively balanced. Burgoyne was down to about 7,000 men, while Gates had the Continental Army reinforcements sent by Washington and arriving militia to total about 8,000 men. Gates put Arnold in command of his left division, farthest from the river. The right wing under General Benjamin Lincoln was held by militia and artillery that overlooked the river road. Gates himself commanded the center with the strongest Continental regiments.
Colonel Samuel Brewer’s 12th Massachusetts Regiment with 976 men, the Regiment in which Noble Gunn served, was assigned on August 13, 1777 to Brig. General John Patterson’s 3rd Brigade, as was Colonel Ashley’s Massachusetts militia regiment. As Patterson’s Brigade was located to the right wing of the American line, it was under the command of General Lincoln.
When Burgoyne finally moved on the American positions on September 19, Arnold precipitated the Battle of Freeman’s Farm which stopped that advance. But when Arnold attempted to lead Enoch Poor’s brigade in support of the attack, Gates ordered him back to headquarters, and the battle was not decisive. Burgoyne fell back and started his own fortifications behind a ravine about 3 miles north of Bemis Heights.
General Fellows, commander of the Sheffield-based Berkshire regiment which was at the siege of Boston and participated in the Battles of Long Island and of White Plains was also at Saratoga. After the Battle of Bennington, most of the 690 prisoners were sent to Boston in charge of General Fellows. (Gideon Gunn, son of Reuben, was among the soldiers charged with guarding and transporting these prisoners.) Then, at the Battle of Bemis Heights Fellows took a force of 1400 men and occupied the high ground east of the Hudson River opposite Saratoga Ford. From this vantage point, he bombarded the British camp and prevented Burgoyne from crossing the river.
Militia units continued to arrive and the American force swelled to over 10,000 men. With his supply lines threatened and his position becoming desperate, Burgoyne launched his next attack on October 7. Despite Gates’ attempts to stop him, General Arnold made a spectacular charge during the Battle of Bemis Heights, and drove the British back to their starting positions. The Battle of Saratoga was now over, with 600 British casualties and only 150 American losses. It was the first major American victory of the War.
Burgoyne and Gates took a week to negotiate the terms of surrender. Burgoyne’s Indian allies faded into the woods, and several loyalist units made it back to Canada. Gates was generous in the terms, which were called the “Saratoga Convention.” Burgoyne was allowed to keep his colors, and his men marched out of their camp on October 17, 1777 to surrender their arms. The convention called for the return of his army to England. But after the surrendered army marched through the Housatonic Valley and Westfield toward Boston, the Congress decided not to honor the terms. The army was kept for some time in sparse camps throughout New England. Although individual officers were exchanged, most of the “Convention Army” was marched south to Virginia, and remained prisoners for years. As Canadian and surviving British forces withdrew, the Americans regained Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point without incident.
The Winter at Valley Forge and the Battle of Monmouth
On October 27 Noble’s brigade was reassigned to the Main Continental Army, located at that time in New Jersey fighting in defense of Philadelphia. The difficult long winter at the camp at Valley Forge was about to begin.
Washington’s troops and the main American army had been driven back toward Philadelphia by General Howe’s British troops at the Battle of Brandywine Creek. But a month later, news of the victory at Saratoga gave the Americans an important boost to their morale.
That winter of 1777-78 the Continental Army set up quarters at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. We know Noble Gunn is among these troops because there is a record of his “return sworn to at Camp near Valey Foard” [sic] on January 28, 1778. In February, Baron von Steuben of Prussia arrived and began the much needed training and drilling of Washington’s troops, now again suffering from poor morale resulting from cold, hunger, disease, low supplies, and desertions over the long, harsh winter.
In Europe the victory at Saratoga gave the French confidence that the Americans were a force to be reckoned with and the Franco-American Alliance (6 February 1778) was concluded. British forces in America then had to consider the new threat created by the powerful French fleet. General Clinton, who relieved Howe as British commander in America on 8 May 1778, decided to shift the main body of his troops from Philadelphia to a point nearer the coast where it would be easier to maintain close communications with the British Fleet. Consequently, he ordered evacuation of the 10,000-man garrison in Philadelphia on 18 June. As these troops set out through New Jersey toward New York, Washington broke camp at his winter headquarters in Valley Forge and with about 13,500 men began a pursuit of Clinton.
They caught and attacked Clinton’s army on June 28. But the Battle of Monmouth was inconclusive and the British slipped away during the night. The British reported losses of 65 killed, 155 wounded, and 64 missing; the Americans listed 69 killed, 161 wounded, and 130 missing. All during 1778 and 1779 there were skirmishes on the frontier and throughout New Jersey, southeastern New York, and western Connecticut; but much of the action had now moved south. The war won’t be officially over until February of 1783, but Noble—sick and with an injury to his knee that left him disabled for the rest of his life—will muster out of the military on December 31, 1779, a full 3 years after his enlistment.
The End of the Revolution
In the summer, a campaign of terror against American frontier settlements, instigated by the British, begins as 300 Iroquois Indians burn Cobleskill, New York. In July British Loyalists and Indians massacre American settlers in the Wyoming Valley of northern Pennsylvania. In November at Cherry Valley, New York, Loyalists and Indians massacre over 40 American settlers. In July, 1779, Loyalists raid coastal towns in Connecticut, burning Fairfield, Norwalk and ships in New Haven harbor. But on August 29, 1779, American forces defeat the combined Indian and Loyalist forces at Elmira, New York. Following the victory, American troops head northwest and destroy nearly 40 Cayuga and Seneca Indian villages in retaliation for the campaign of terror against American settlers.
In October, 1779, Washington sets up winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, where his troops will suffer another harsh winter without desperately needed supplies, resulting in low morale, desertions and attempts at mutiny. Then on May 12, 1780, the worst American defeat occurs as the British capture Charleston and its 5400-man garrison (the entire southern American army) along with four ships and a military arsenal. British losses are only 225.
On June 11, 1780, a new Massachusetts constitution is endorsed asserting “all men are born free and equal,” which includes black slaves. On June 23, 1780, American forces defeat the British in the Battle of Springfield, New Jersey
On August 2, 1780, Benedict Arnold is appointed commander of West Point. Unknown to the Americans, he has been secretly collaborating with British General Clinton since May of 1779 by supplying information on General Washington’s tactics. A month and a half later, a British major in civilian clothing (Major Andre) is captured near Tarrytown, New York. He is found to be carrying plans indicating Benedict Arnold intends to turn traitor and surrender West Point. Two days later, Arnold hears of the spy’s capture and flees West Point to the British ship Vulture on the Hudson. He is later named a brigadier general in the British Army and will fight against the Americans
On the 19th of October, 1780, James Ashley, Jared Noble, and a man named Rogers, all from Westfield, are killed in the defeat of Colonel John Brown at Stone Arabia, New York. 1
The American struggle for independence turns into a major conflict for England. After British vessels fire on French ships, the two nations declare war. Spain then enters in 1779 as an ally of France. The following year, Britain also declares war on the Dutch, who have been engaging in profitable trade with both the French and the Americans. In addition to the war in America, the British will have to fight in the Mediterranean, Africa, India, the West Indies, and on the high seas, while facing possible invasion of England itself by the French. In October of 1781, the British army at Yorktown surrenders after being cut off and surrounded. This is a major blow to the English. The war is nearing its conclusion.
On November 30, 1782, a preliminary peace treaty is signed in Paris, and on February 4, 1783 England officially declares an end to hostilities in America. In April 7000 Loyalists set sail from New York for Canada, bringing a total of 100,000 Loyalists who fled America
After the Revolution: Shays’ Rebellion
But all was not joy among the ranks of the former soldiers in the Continental Army. On June 24 the American Congress had to relocate to Princeton, New Jersey, in order to avoid protests from angry and unpaid war veterans. The American currency was devalued and the economy was in a shambles. Returning soldiers were paid in almost worthless Continental money. They came home to unpaid debts and new and heavy taxes. Many lost their homes and their property. For farmers who were already having trouble because of the slump in farm prices, the prospect of additional direct taxation was alarming. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction with Massachusetts state fiscal policy which better met the needs of eastern merchants and tradesmen than of the farmers in the west. Tension mounted until 1786 when a rebellion broke out in Hampshire County. 2
Daniel Shays of Worcester, a veteran of Bunker Hill, led a group of desperate and disenchanted Revolutionary veterans who organized armed resistance to the courts of Massachusetts and attacked the arsenal at Springfield. This was called Shays’ Rebellion, and it received a lot of sympathy from many in Hampshire and Berkshire counties, but not much support. However, it was taken seriously enough that Massachusetts organized 4400 militiamen to deal with it. The rebellion soon collapsed and Shays’ men scattered, some were taken prisoner, some just gave up and returned home. The effects of the rebellion were felt as far west as Sheffield; two rebels were killed and thirty wounded in a fight near Sheffield on February 27.
The wounds of this brief civil war were slow in healing, and in the aftermath the rebellion was divisive. The victors on the state government’s side settled scores with former rebels by excluding them from office and by administering the laws of property and indebtedness harshly. In many instances young Shayites moved on, immigrating to New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. 3 It’s not known what the position of the Gunn family was in this affair, but after the Revolution, along with many others, they moved north to Vermont and then west to New York and beyond.
Continue to “Descendants of Thomas Gunn in the Revolutionary War“.
- On October 19, 1780, Johnson and Brant’s army of Indians and Loyalists proceeded to destroy homes and farm buildings in Stone Arabia (a village about one mile north of Fort Keyser, in Montgomery County, New York). Colonel John Brpown, commanding a force of Massachusetts levies and New York militia and rangers, advanced from his post at Fort Paris with the aim of defeating one of Johnson’s detachments, which British deserters had told him was isolated and smaller than his 360-man garrison. Instead, Johnson met Brown with his main force and, gradually outflanking and enveloping the rebels, defeated them in a running battle, during which Brown was killed. See Stone Arabia. ↩
- Brown, 100-101. ↩
- Brown, 106. ↩