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John's signature from one of his father's probate papers in 1799


John's signatures from Revolutionary War pension application depositions.

"John Briggs his mark." Written in his old age and taken from his Revolutionary War Pension File,
the paper in which has degraded along the creases

     At the age of 22 John joined the Revolutionary army from his home town of Berkley. In his words, as they were recorded by someone writing for him:

"I was in service as a soldier in the War of the Revolution at Roxbury in the latter part of 1775 or early part of 1776 one & a half months under Capt. James Briggs whose Lieut. was Philip Hathaway. Benjamin Evans was Clerk of sd. Company. I served two months in 1776 at Dorchester under Capt. Joshua Wilbur whose first Lieut. was Jacob French, Jr. My Father John Briggs enlisted in this Company [at about 66 years old] for four months & he served two months of the time, and I served two months as a substitute for my said Father John Briggs in said Company. We were employed in taking down barracks at Winter Hill & moving them to Dorchester Heights. I further say that at the time the British landed at Newport in Oct. 1776, I was ordered to March to Providence, R.I. That I went as far as Sabinís in Rehoboth & was then ordered to Warren, R.I., where we went and remained three weeks. Simeon Burt was then Captain of the Company. We were then ordered to Howland Ferry, so called, where we remained until a Regiment was raised viz. to the last of December 1776. I cannot say that I served under Capt. Burt all the time & do not recollect under whom I did serve. It was however in Col. John Hathawayís Regiment. I further say that I served under Capt. James Briggs in Spencerís Expedition, so called, at Tiverton in [September] 1777 one month. Talbot was Lieutenant of said Company... This was the so-called "secret expedition" to Rhode Island, the circumstances of which can be found in Lossing's Field Book of the Revolution I further served one & half a month or more under Lieut. Ebenezer Paul, who had the command of the Company, in Sullivanís Expedition to Rhode Isand in 1778, in this service I was drafted." This expedition is also discussed by Lossing.

     This was Johnís deposition in his application for a pension in the Summer of 1838.(1) The act under which he was applying was passed six years earlier. The person taking the deposition states that:

"The reason why he did not make application sooner for a Pension is because the terms of his service were very short & he could not make proof of six months service in the whole & finding he could not produce direct evidence as th his services, to the amount of six months, he now makes this declaration with some evidence as to his services & with reference to the Rolls of his Officers for the balance."

     John must have given his deposition at home. Marcus Morton, the presiding judge in the matter, states that John could not attend the court due to "bodily infirmity." John named Rev. Thomas Andros as a character witness and his neighbors John Clark and Philip Caswell appear to have gone to court on his behalf. Sent with his deposition was a note from the town clerk of Berkley confirming his birth date and a statement from Johnís brother Hathaway who confirmed several of Johnís claims of service. He made a mark for his signature, probably due to his advanced age and declining health. Apparently the pension was denied and John died four years later. He deposed for fellow soldier John French six years earlier, and his testimony was significantly different. He was also able to sign his name, although shakily. In the earlier documents, confirmed by French and another soldier named John Goff, he served in Capt. Samuel Tubbs company of Col. Jacob French's regiment in February and March of 1776. They were stationed at Winter Hill and Dorchester near Boston. John French testified that they marched from Berkley to Roxbury, then to Winter Hill, where they stayed until the beginning of March. "Whilst he was at Winter Hill he was upon guard and sometimes, although it was very cold weather, he was upon fatigue duty." They then marched to Dorchester, where they remained for the rest of their agreed term of service. "Whilst at Dorchester, he was sometimes upon guard, but generally upon fatigue duty upon Dorchester neck. That when the troops were throwing up fortifications upon Dorchester neck, the British shipping lay near to them, and were almost constantly throwing large shot and shells at the American works. In this period of his service he well recollects of the evacuation of Boston by the British troops in March 1776. He recollects that many of the Americans were killed at Dorchester by the shot and shells that were thrown by the enemy. He recollects of having seen Generals Washington and Thomas in this period." Samuel Paull said further in his pension deposition that the troops in fatigue duty were involved in building fortifications on Dorchester Neck when the weather permitted, and confirmed the British bombardment.
     John Briggs also deposed for John French about Spencer's Expedition. "I served as a private soldier in a company commanded by Capt. James Briggs...said company marched from...Berkley to Fall River...where said company was stationed one or two weeks and from thence was marched to Gogland Ferry, so called, in Little Compton or in Tiverton, Rhode Island. The company marched to that place for the purpose of landing upon the Idland under Gen. Spencer. There were several attempts made to land, but they were given up as the British ships of war lay near to and just below Fogland Ferry. The company, after getting to said Ferry, was there stationed and in the vicinity therof, untill the term...of one month had expired, when the company was there verbally discharged..." Ebenezer Hathaway, a Justice of the Peace, served as a character witness, saying John Briggs "is personally known to me and that his character for truth is good and that the above statement by him made is entitled to full faith & credit."
     Lorania, Johnís widow, reapplied for the pension on 9 September 1851. She went in person before Judge Oliver Prescott stating that she was of Berkley and aged 85 years. She was no more successful in getting money from the government. (1)
     Luther Jenney Briggs, Jr.ís notes on his family say that John was a farmer and mason. The latter is confirmed by The History of the Town of Berkley(2), which says "John Briggs was a mason, and performed the mason work on the second meeting house and in payment took a pew which he usually occupied on the Sabbath." The church was dedicated 22 November 1798.(3)
     Nothing of his later life has yet been found, but his probate papers give a curious look at his state of affairs at the time of his death. He didn't write a will, but an inventory of his estate was ordered. Not a single personal item is listed, but by 7 March 1843, the personal estate had been "duly administered." The real estate, however, is mentioned, although briefly: "The Homestead farm of the seized Briggs domain & buildings thereon standing apraised [?] the value of Six Thousand and Fifty Dollars." Apparently there was a mortgage on the property (see below), leaving a cash value of $800. The real estate was divided to determine Lorania's dower third. Three pieces were chosen. The first was 1/4 of an acre, with half the dwelling and shed. The dividing line came from "the highway in front of said dwelling house at a heap of stones on the wall thence...through the front entry and the centre of the rods to the south side of a rock west of the said house." Another piece contained 4 3/4 acres adjacent to the homestead lot and the land of Philip Caswell. From this we see that Caswell, who testified on John's behalf for his pension application, was probably a neighbor, perhaps next door. The third piece was a valuable wood lot nearby containing about 5 acres. It was on the road from "Christopher Paulls to Nathaniel Townsends and near to the school house." Lorania was also given the right to take water from the well and passing to and from the well to her part of the house "in the way commonly used." She must have had the half of the house containing the stairs, since "the owners or occupants of the other part of the said house [have] the priveledge of passing and repassing to and from the cellar and the stairs as now used."
     The estate was declared insolvent by 7 August 1843, which was surely already apparent to Lorania. She had petitioned the court, as adminstrator of the estate, to sell John's real estate the previous March to cover debts that amounted to $761.00. The court ordered that a notice be published that all of John, Sr.'s, creditors make their claims known. Most of it seems to have been due to her son Simeon, who clearly had helped his parents financially. He claimed "sundries from Dec. 9th 1837 to Feb. 28th 1843," with interest, amounting to $655.76. The beginning of his aid came just before John applied for his pension. He may have fallen on particularly hard times at that point. His son and Lorania's stepson John also apparently made several loans. The first was in June 1842 and the second apparently was made to Lorania given that it was dated January 1843, a month after his father died. The total was $83.92. When Lorania presented her first financial account of her administration, she "charges herself" $39.29, but there isn't a clear explanation for this. It was for "real estate sold for more than mortgage including the reversion of the widow's dower sold to John Briggs of Rochester in the State of New York he being the highest bidder." This would seem to be a surplus rather than a debit. She then claims the costs of the coffin from Theopilus Shore, a notice to the heirs of his funeral and other typical administration expenses such as the time and effort of various men for handling the sale of the real estate and paying taxes.
     By the time Lorania reapplied for John's pension she was living with her daughter Phebe Sanford and her family.(1) Her death record has yet to be found. The 1780 birth record of John's daughter Diadama is in the Fairhaven vital records, which say that the family was from Dartmouth. Perhaps the family lived in Dartmouth or Fairhaven for a time but this may have been a clerical mistake.
A John Briggs was elected a "hog reave, field driver & fence viewer" at the town meeting held on 10 March 1800 (town record book #3, p. 13). On 7 April 1800 it was voted that "hogs may go at large in the common and roads provided they are reigned & yolked." (ibid, p. 14)

children of John and Hannah (Redding) Briggs (Berkley vital records):

i. Margaret 5 February 1775?, m. Isaac Skiff
ii. Samuel b. 22 October 1776, not married
iii. Charity b. 2 July 1778, not married
iv. Diadama b. 1 May 1780, m. William Howard
v. Jotham b. 10 July 1782
vi. Nathan b. 10 July 1782
vii. Lydia b. 16 December 1784, m. Seth Stevens
viii. Sylvia b. 16 December 1784
ix. John b. 10 April 1788
x. Hannah b. 8 February 1793, d. 1795
xi. Hannah b. 12 June 1796, m. Phineas Thurston Eldredge

children of John and Lorania (Staples) Briggs (Berkley vital records):

xi. Phebe b. 14 April 1799, m. Darius Sanford
xii. Ruth b. 30 October 1801
xiii. Simeon b. 31 August 1813, not married

The 1810 and 1820 US censuses suggest there were several others, but they may have been servants, farm hands or relatives. Was Ebenezer Briggs, son of John and "Loraney," b. 25 August 1805? That birth date is also given to Ebenezer Dean Briggs, son of Amos. Both were supposedly born in Berkley, according to the Mormon IGI database.

sources for vital records: John's birth date comes from the published Berkley vital records. His marriage record to Hannah is from the published Dighton vital records, intentions also recorded (John of Berkley and Hannah of Dighton). His marriage to Lorania is found in the published Taunton vital records (both of Berkley). His death record is in the MA State Health Dept. register of deaths, which says he died in Berkley at 89 years, 2 months and 3 days of old age and debility, occupation bricklayer and mason.

1. Revolutionary War pension file #R1208 (1838)
2. Rev. Enoch Sanford, History of the Town of Berkley, Massachusetts, etc. (New York:1872), p. 43. 3. Ibid, p. 32.

all text and photographs © 1998-2013 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted