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home : community : history May 29, 2023

3/18/2023 4:42:00 PM
Judith Lines & Polly Cooper
Polly Cooper’s black shawlphoto courtesy of the Oneida Indian Nation
Polly Cooper’s black shawl
photo courtesy of the Oneida Indian Nation
Jennifer Baker
Vesuvius Furnace Chapter, DAR

Judith Lines’ Ordinary Life

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

When the Revolution began in April 1775, Connecticut resident Judith Philips Jeffords was 19 years old, had been married for two years, and had at least one child. She was, in the descriptive jargon of the time, a mulatto, meaning of mixed African and  European lineage. We would know little to nothing of Mrs. Jeffords if her second husband, John Lines (Lynes), had not enlisted in the Continental Army and applied for a veteran’s pension in the early nineteenth century.

Judith Philips was born on January 24, 1756, likely in Windham, Connecticut, where she grew up. Her childhood friend Zeruiah Hebard recalled, “…from my birth until June 1784 I resided in Windham Con[necticut]. (at which time I was married) . . . a near neighbor of my Father was a Mr. [Samuel] Philips who had a daughter by the name of Judith & was two years older than myself . . . when girls, we attended the same school, and was quite intimate / after . . . Judith was 17 or 18 years old she did not reside so constantly at Windham.” Zeruiah continued, “Judith married one Jefford, a colored man, when she was quite young and . . . he soon died . . . to the best of my recollection within three or four years.”

The pension papers even have a letter to Judith from her fiancé: Norwich April ye 16 day AD 1773.  My Dearly beloved Intended Intended [sic] Wife I am poorly but Dont let that consern your Mind but seek furst the Kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added / So no more for I am Sick / I Love you[r?] Person and long for your Soul Redemsion.  James Jeffrey

Judith herself noted, “when I was seventeen years of age I married a man by the name of James Jeffords in the month of April and I lived with . . . Jeffords three years and 11 months when he died in March by whom I had three children one son after the decease of . . . Jeffords.” Examining various testimonies in John Lines’s pension file, it seems certain Judith married James Jeffords in 1773 and that he died in March 1777, at which time they had had two children, plus one born after Mr. Jefford’s passing. Judith Jeffords, with her three children, returned to her father’s home in Windham. At some point, she caught the eye of another Windham resident. Judith recalled, “I lived a widow four years as much over as from March to July & was then married to John Lines in Colchester Con[necticut]. by one Esqr. Watrous.” Evidently, she had found a man who would accept a ready-made family and all the responsibility that entailed.

Again, from Zeruiah Hebard; she, “does distinctly recollect that . . . Judith married a man by the name of Lines who belonged to the Army . . . [she] well remembers hearing the Phillips family tell that she was married & also remembers that they said she had gone to the Army with or to her husband.” Regarding his military service, John Lines noted that, at Windham Connecticut about the middle of October AD 1780 [he] enlisted for three years . . . as a private soldier and was honorably discharged . . . on the 15th day of November AD 1783 . . . as near as he can recollect when he first joined the Army . . . he served in the company of Capt. [Nehemiah] Rice in the 5th Regt. Col. [Isaac] Sherman Connecticut Line; that he next served in Col. Butler's [4th] Regt. same Line, in Capt Harts [Jonathan Heart’s] Company, being 4th. if he rightly remembers; . . . he then next served in Col. [Ebenezer] Huntingtons [1st] Regt. same Line as waiter to the Coll. & just before his discharge he was waiter to Col. Wyllys [likely Major John Plasgrave Wyllys] same Line; . . . prior to his sd. enlistment he had served his country as a private soldier in sd. War by various enlistments, about two years.

Mr. Lines was fairly accurate in this recounting, even in the shuffling and reduction of regiments in the war’s final years. He did misremember his enlistment date, which his service record shows to have occurred on March 30, 1781. As for his previous service, most likely he referred to stints in the militia; There was a John Lines, also from Windham and perhaps our man, who served with Latimer’s Connecticut Militia Regiment from August 24 to October 22, 1777, taking part in the Saratoga campaign. In his pension testimony Lines may have misremembered the chronology of his military career; he placed his service in the 4th Connecticut after enlisting in the 5th Regiment, but service records reveal a John Lines who served as a six-months levy in the 4th Connecticut Regiment, beginning July 12, 1780 and being discharged that October, after only three months and fourteen days service. Finally, there was a John Lyon who enlisted in Col. Roger Enos’s Connecticut State Regiment for three months in 1778. That man served from July to September, and was given extra pay for two months, eight days duty at West Point, where he was sent with a “with a team” of horses. We can’t know for certain whether Lines and Lyon were the same man, but, given variations in the spelling of names (later in life he gave his name as Lynes), it is a distinct possibility.

At any rate, perhaps due to lack of work, John Lines decided to enlist in March 1781. Judith seems certain they were married that July, but John’s military service record notes he was at West Point in June, July, and August of 1781. Either Mrs. Lines’ memory was remiss, or John was able to travel the 130 miles from West Point to Colchester, Connecticut, to get married. Perhaps, if he was the John Lyon mentioned, he was again put in charge of a team and wagon and sent to Colchester to pick up cargo. Windham is fourteen miles from Colchester, and John and Judith could have taken that opportunity to marry. This is, of course, informed supposition.

We do know that Judith eventually joined her husband’s regiment. In 1837 she recalled, “the next summer after I got married . . . [my husband] sent for me to him I think the place was called the Highlands / at that time my . . . husband was a waiter for Col. Sherman & while at the camp I had the smallpox—I think I staid about 3 or 4 months.” Based on Judith’s timeline, she joined her husband in summer 1782. We do not know if she took her three children, the youngest about four years old, with her, or left them in Connecticut with family or friends. That spring and early summer the 5th Connecticut Regiment, 1st Connecticut Brigade, was at or near West Point, New York. In late August the regiment, along with most of Gen. George Washington’s army, traveled by bateaux downriver to Verplanck’s Point, New York, site of the main army’s last field encampment. If Judith stayed for four months, she may have ended her stay at Verplanck’s Point, but more likely she had already gone home, or was recovering from smallpox.

In reading Judith Lines’ 1837 testimony, we can easily pass over her remark, “while at the camp I had the smallpox.” So much lies hidden behind those words; here is historian Elizabeth Fenn’s description of what she experienced or was lucky to avoid: “early symptoms would have resembled a very nasty case of the flu. Headache, backache, fever, vomiting, and general malaise all are among the initial signs of infection. The headache can be splitting; the backache excruciating. . .. Anxiety is another symptom. [In one particularly virulent form] Fretful, overwrought patients often die within days, never even developing the distinctive rash identified with the disease. . .. The fever usually abates after the first day or two, and many patients rally briefly. . .. But the respite is deceptive. . .. By the fourth day of symptoms, the fever creeps upward again, and the first smallpox sores appear in the mouth, throat, and nasal passages. At this point, the patient is contagious. . .. The rash now moves quickly. Over a twenty-four hour period, it extends itself from the mucous membranes to the surface of the skin. On some, it turns inward, hemorrhaging subcutaneously. These victims die early. . .. In most cases, however, the rash turns outward, covering the victim in pustules that concentrate in precisely the places where they will cause the most physical pain and psychological anguish: The soles of the feet, the palms of the hands, the face, the forearms, neck, and back are focal points of the eruption. Elsewhere the distribution is lighter. . .. Scabs start to form after two weeks of suffering, but this does little to end the patient’s ordeal. . .. Death, when it occurs, usually comes after ten to sixteen days of suffering. Thereafter, the risk drops significantly as fever subsides and unsightly scars replace scabs and pustules. . .. those who live through the illness can count themselves fortunate. Immune for life, they need never fear smallpox again.”

It is not known how many smallpox scars Judith retained after her recovery, but army deserter descriptions for the period 1775 to 1783 show that pox marks were common. Of seven men in Parson’s Connecticut Regiment, June to August 1775, two were described as “mark’d with the Smallpox.” Another soldier of the 22nd Continental Regiment in April 1776 was said to be “much pox broken.”

Lines’ pension file also contains a singular artifact. Judith noted in her testimony, “my . . . husband used to write to me when he was in the Army & I have one of his letters now & which I give to the magistrate who takes this my Deposition it is dated November 11, 1781 & is in the handwriting of . . . my husband.”

November the 11 1781 i take this Opper tuna ty to send to you my deer and loving wife to let you now that i am well and hopeing these lines may find you and the Children Well / I am Pleased [several illegible words] I shold be very glad to hear from you my deer and loveing wife / I Cant but think it hard that I havnt had one letter [several illegible words] from home and this is the six letter of [mine?] and I haven’t receved one / I have seen my father and my mother [is] dead and one of my brothers mother died 3 [weeks?] a go brother died 2 days ago / i have two brothers liveing and all my sisters / father is very much pleased of you and he intends to Come and se[e] you this faal or the first of the winter / it is about six Weeks since i seen father he gives his cind Com Ply ments to you and so does all my brothers and sisters / they are at the north river a bout sixteen miles from fishkill / o my deer and loveing wife [several illegible words] the love the Cind love that I have for you / I have gon a [illegible words] for your sake and I Could not help it god bless your deep love / [illegible name] and his wife is well / Game [possibly short for Gamaliel; last name Phillingly?] was in Camp last week and he says they was all well / [I] belong to Carnol [Isaac] Shermans [5th Connecticut] Rg ment Capting [illegible] Compy ny / we lay at fishkill now / i should be ver[y] glad if you would take [two illegible words] and Send me a letter how you have lived this sum mer and [whether?] the house is dun and [whether?] you kill that cow or [whether?] you have got a nother / i want to [k]now all these things very much / i in tend to Come home this winter if I Can but dont [k]now if i can / god bless your deer soul if I Could se you my self then I Could talk with you my deer wife as I like i have seen hard times [several illegible words] I have lived a-11-day With Bread [only] / i have the [illegible word] a good deal bad so I re mane your loveing husband un tel death John lines.

This letter, the only known surviving example written by an African American Continental soldier to his family, provides a few more insights into Mr. and Mrs. Lines’ lives and wartime experiences. First, John Lines could read and write and, as may be inferred by the fact his wife went to school when young, Judith could read as well. The approximate literacy rate in New England at the time of the Revolution was 80 percent for men, and 50 percent for women. One source notes that the middle states had similar literacy levels, the southern states less so, and people living in cities enjoyed higher levels of reading and writing than rural populations. Where free Black citizens fit into these generalizations is not well known, but in most states, and, again, particularly in the south, they fared worse than white citizens.

John Lines also revealed that his wife was taking care of their family, home, and livestock, largely on her own, though she likely had some assistance from family or neighbors. Still, a large responsibility for one person, especially given the hard labor involved in supporting an eighteenth-century household.

Private Lines’ note about eating only bread for eleven days rings true with what we know of Continental Army food supply. While food was at times varied and relatively plentiful, shortages were all too familiar, even for officers. Pennsylvania lieutenant colonel Josiah Harmar wrote on August 22, 1780, “Provisions extreme scarce; only half a Lb. Meat in three days,” and three days later, “This movement of our . . . [troops] is occasioned through dire necessity, the Army being on the point of starving.” While building huts in December 1779 Massachusetts surgeon James Thacher related, “notwithstanding large fires, we can scarcely keep from freezing. In addition to other sufferings, the whole army has been for seven or eight days entirely destitute of the staff of life; our only food is miserable fresh beef, without bread, salt, or vegetables.” Even when life became settled, living conditions were spartan during winter months. From “Camp [at the] Jersey Hutts,” Maj. John Noble Cummings noted in February 1781, “We live excellently in Camp upon a Variety of Dishes Viz: Salt Beef and Ash Cake for Breakfast D[itt]o for Dinner and the same for Supper provided there is any left.”

Regarding women with Connecticut Continental regiments, we have little information until the war’s last year. A “Return of the number of Women and Children in the several regiments and Corps stationed at, and in the vicinity of West Point and New Windsor” is dated January 24, 1783; and includes the three remaining units from the state. At that time, while Judith was already home, John Lines had been transferred to the 1st Connecticut Regiment, which contained ten women and eight children. The 2nd and 3rd Regiments had, respectively, twelve women and eight children, and eleven women and six children.

John Lines remained in the army until November 15, 1783, his discharge signed by Maj. Gen. Henry Knox, commander of the Continental Army’s artillery and destined to be the United States’ first Secretary of War. Lines was soon after reunited with Judith and the children back home in Windham. At the time of their marriage, Judith and John had three children, all from Judith’s first marriage, as she noted in her March 1837 deposition, ”The first Child I had by my last husband was not born until we had been married about four years”; that would make the baby’s birthyear about 1785. In searching the United States census records, I only found one entry that matched their family. In 1790 a Lynes family, with John listed as head of household, resided in Windham, and consisted of six “all other free persons,” the euphemism for people of color. If that is the correct family, which is more than likely, by that date the Lines still had only four children. In July 1820 John mentioned his twenty-eight-year-old son Samuel (named after Judith’s father), who would have been born in around 1792.

That same year sixty-six-year-old Lines, then living in Vermont, submitted a schedule of his finances and belongings, a pension requirement implemented after the initial 1818 legislation.  [Dated July 3, 1820] Real Estate $630.00; 2 Oxen; 2 Cows; 8 Sheep; 2 Calves; 1 Horse; 2 Hogs; 3 Pigs; Household Furniture $18; in all $784.50. I justly owe sundry persons $560.05. My occupation has been that of a Farmer am unable to do much Labour My wife Judith Lines is 64 Years of Age is sick with a disord[er] upon the liver as the doctor says My son Samuel Lines aged 28 Years has Convulsion fitts not able to do much Labour and dependent on me for his support.  John Lines

In his 1836 supporting testimony for John Lines’ pension application Peres Tracy, son of another 5th Connecticut veteran, recounted, I was acquainted with John Lines a black man formerly of Windham Con. afterwards of Brookfield Vt. nearly fifty years ago & until his death in 1828 . . . my Father Peres Tracy was in the Army of the Revolution . . . while living in Windham Con. [as] a neighbor to . . . Lines I have heard my Father say he used to be acquainted with Lines in the Army & that he was waiter to Col. . . . Sherman & that for a considerable time during one Campaign Lines wife was with him in Camp & used to work for . . . Sherman & others

Peres went on, “I moved from Windham Co. to this town [Randolph, Vermont] forty three years since & that . . . Lines and his family moved from the same place the same year to Brookfield town adjoining.” That move would have been in 1793, the year following Samuel Lines’ birth. The Lines family change of residence came just two years after Vermont gained statehood. When Vermont was established as a republic in July 1777 its Constitution banned slavery; another codicil decreed that currently enslaved males would gain their freedom at age twenty-one, females at eighteen, thus making it the promised land for some African Americans at the time.

We don’t know much of the Lines family after they emigrated to Vermont. John Lines continued farming on their new property but did other work as well. Mr. Tracy noted, “I often labored with him & heard him relate his exploits while in the war.” Reuben Peck, another resident of Brookfield, stated, “I was for many years acquainted with one John Lines a black man . . . Lines used to work for my father being a wall layer & . . . [I] deponent often heard him relate about his services & exploits in the War of the Revolution & of his wife being in the Army with him.”

It is notable the people who contributed testimony supporting John’s and Judith’s pension applications were, despite my first assumptions, all white, a fact corroborated by searching the 1790 through 1830 censuses. Sometimes the deponent’s race is clear, such as when Zeruiah Hebard commented she, “was acquainted with Lines & his wife after the war both in Connecticut & Vermont and knows they were considered very reputable people & for colored people had a great many friends.”

On November 14, 1836, attempting to claim a widow’s pension, Judith Lines was interviewed at home in Brookfield. Her testimony reads in part, Judith Lynde or Lines a resident of . . . Brookfield (who being by reason of bodily infirmity unable to attend Court) aged Eighty years the 14th. day of January last . . . She is the widow of John Lynde or Lines a black man who [was] a soldier in the War of the Revolution . . . her . . . husband died at Brookfield . . . in July 1828.

After John’s death his wife was entitled to a pension, but Judith had no proof of their marriage. On the 29th of the same month Assistant Judge and Clerk of the Probate Court J.K. Parish wrote J. L. Edwards, Federal Commissioner of Pensions, describing the problem.

Sir, Herewith I forward to the Department the declaration of Judith Lines . . . I have been unable to ascertain by positive proof from records or from witnesses who were present at the marriage the absolute time of the marriage

The testimony of Mr. & Mrs. [Diah and Zeruiah] Hebard, [Peres] Tracy and Parish [sic, possibly meant to be Reuben Peck] all go to show that she must have been married before the close of the war—There is no family record and by a letter herewith forwarded I am convinced there is no record in the Town Clerks office in Colchester Con[necticut]. & That there can be no record found made by the Justice who married her. Should the Department require positive or record proof in this case I fear the claimant will fail, although I think there can be no doubt of the fact of her marriage some time previous to the close of the war, such as being in the Army &c. Her own story in short is this:  

  • She married Jeffords when 17 yrs. Old & lived with him 3 years 11 months when he died, that she was a widow a month or two more than four years when she was married to Lines, that there was no wedding that she & Lines went to the Justice who married them, Lines then belonged to the Army but she thinks his time was about out & he afterwards enlisted for she thinks during the war.
  • I apprehend from enquiry of aged person they were not in those days very particular in the records of marriages of persons of colour Lines was black & his wife a mulatto
  • I have no doubt but the decision of the Department in this case as in others will be as favourable as the rules will admit for the applicant.

In the end, all these efforts succeeded, and Judith received a pension of 80 dollars per year, backdated to March 4, 1831. Her pension certificate was issued on May 15, 1837, but at age eighty-one she may not have long benefitted from her just due.

It is only fair we give Judith Lines the last word, a recap of her life, perhaps a self-made eulogy. This is from her deposition dated March 14, 1837:

I Judith Lines of Brookfield in Orange County & state of Vermont . . . say that I was born in Con. in the town of Windham, and that when I was seventeen years of age, I married a man by the name of James Jeffords in the month of April [1773] . . . he died in March [1777] by whom I had three children one son after the decease of . . . Jeffords . . . I lived a widow four years [and four months] . . . & was then married to John Lines in Colchester Con. By one Esqr. Watrous—The first Child I had by my last husband was not born until we had been married about four years—I further . . . say that the next summer after I got married . . . [my husband] sent for me to him I think the place was called the Highlands / at that time my . . . husband was a waiter for Col. Sherman & while at the camp I had the small Pox—I think I staid about 3 or 4 months—I further . . . say that my husband had a certificate of his marriage from Esqr. Watrous but it is probably lost I have not seen it for several years . . . I further testify that my youngest son died of a wound recd. in the last war, his name was Benjamin, the wound was recd. at the Battle of Chippewa. And so, the rising generations mirrored their elders, and continued to serve, sacrifice, and contribute to the welfare of their country.

Polly Cooper

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

Polly Cooper was a member of the Oneida Nation best known for providing selfless support to the soldiers of the Continental Army during the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777-1778. The Oneida Nation was a member of the Iroquois Confederacy and an early friend to the fledgling nation. The winter George Washington and his soldiers were camped at Valley Forge, they faced deadly cold and a lack of supplies that left many men starving.

When the Revolution began, the Oneidas decided to fight side by side with the Americans, thus becoming the young country’s first ally. In the summer of 1777, a party of Oneidas fought at the Battle of Oriskany, a significant engagement in the Saratoga campaign. The Oneidas help General Nicholas Herkimer and his 800 Tryon County militiamen stop the British forces, preventing them from entering the Mohawk Valley and marching east along the valley to Albany.

Though several locations were proposed, General George Washington selected Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to quarter his troops for the winter. It was 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia and close enough to the British to keep their raiding and foraging parties out of the interior of Pennsylvania, yet far enough away to halt the threat of British surprise attacks. The high ground of Mount Joy and the adjoining elevated ground of Mount Misery, combined with the Schuylkill River to the north, made the area easily defensible.

On December 19, 1777 Washington’s poorly fed, ill-equipped army, weary from long marches, staggered into Valley Forge. Winds blew fiercely as the 12,000 Continentals prepared for winter’s fury. Only about one-third of them had shoes, evidenced by bloody footprints along the march. Undernourished and poorly clothed, living in crowded, damp quarters, the army was ravaged by sickness and disease. Typhoid, jaundice, dysentery and pneumonia killed 2,500 men that winter. Although Washington repeatedly petitioned for relief, the Continental Congress was unable to provide it, and the soldiers continued to suffer.

The Oneida Nation received word of Washington and his starving soldiers at Valley Forge. The Oneidas had experienced a very bountiful harvest and had an excess of corn and other foods they could share. Oneida Chief Skenandoah saw the Continental Army suffering and sent 40 warriors and Polly Cooper to the Patriot encampment with 600 barrels of corn. To deliver these desperately needed supplies, the members of the expedition traveled over 400 miles on foot in the middle of winter, from central New York to Pennsylvania.

When Polly and her companions arrived at Valley Forge, the soldiers were so eager to have food available that Polly had to stop the men from eating the white corn uncooked, which would have been lethal.

Polly realized how desperately in need of help the Continental Army was and decided to remain at Valley Forge rather than returning home with the rest of her party. In her time with the Continental Army, Polly acted as a nurse and a cook. She taught the other women and men in the camp to prepare a traditional soup from the hulled white corn, which allowed the most amount of nutrients possible to be absorbed from the corn and passed on her knowledge of natural medicine.

Polly refused to accept any form of payment for the work she had done to aid the Continental Army, stating that it was her duty to help her friends in their time of need. For all these services she refused any pay. According to legend, the army wives went to town to shop one day and took Polly with them. She admired the clothing but bought nothing. The wives noticed her particular interest in a beautiful black shawl. With the help of their husbands, the women bought the shawl and presented it to a surprised and grateful Polly.

The shawl has been treasured as a symbol of the friendship between the United States and the Oneida Nation by generations of Polly’s descendants. It has been preserved to the present day. Today, that shawl is considered a relic by the Oneidas – a treasure to be cherished as a symbol of the friendship between the Oneidas and the Americans that has endured for more than 200 years. Occasionally, it is displayed by the Oneida Indian Nation to remind everyone who views it about the courage of a group of Oneidas and a woman named Polly Cooper.

In 2005, the Oneida County Historical Society formally recognized Polly Cooper’s contribution to the American cause during the Revolutionary War by inducting her into its Hall of Fame. She joined Oneida Chief Skenandoah, who was inducted in 2002. The recognition of Skenandoah and Polly Cooper stands as a tribute to the Oneida Nation and its people, and as a reminder of the contributions the Oneidas provided during our country’s fight against tyranny and injustice in their quest for freedom.

We hope readers are enjoying learning a bit more about our early history.

Since 2012, the Lincoln Herald has been providing local news, information about community events, sports scores, the obituaries, and more--for Lincoln, Catawba, Gaston & Cleveland counties.  

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