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Abner's deposition signature in Peter Davidson's Revolutionary War pension file

Thanks to a file containing papers about his Revolutionary War pension, much of Abner's life can be outlined.1 On his application he said he was born on 1 October 1762. Dartmouth, MA, vital records include his birth on 1 October as the son of Henry and Phebe, but in the year 1765.





Henry and Phebe's intentions to marry were published in March of that year. Abner also gave his approximate age on other documents in the file that corroborate his thinking or claiming that he was born in 1762. This discrepancy is significant. He reports in his application that his first tour of duty was in the Spring of 1778, when he was drafted with 24 other men under Capt. William Gordon to guard prisoners brought to New Bedford on privateers. He accompanied them to Boston, where they were held at Castle Island. He would have been young enough (15) if born later in 1762, but he was actually only 12. It isn't imaginable that he was drafted that young. A letter requesting information about Abner's service, a copy of which is in the pension file, refers to Abner as a drummer boy in his father's regiment. He did serve under his father, according to Abner himself, but nowhere in the pension file does Abner say he was a drummer boy. If he was, his youth is more understandable. The fact that none of his service is mentioned in the extensive work Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War may be significant, but it also leaves us wondering how the committee investigating Abner's claims confirmed his service before the pension was granted (and there is no questioning of the use of the name Jennings rather than Jenne, even though Jenne was used during the Revolution). He served for a month under his father and was discharged. He then says he was drafted in August 1778 for nine months service in the company of his father, Capt. Henry "Jennings," and the regiment of Col. George "Claggons" (Cleghorn). This was the so-called "Alarm at Rhode Island," discussed in Lossing's Field Book of the Revolution The ensuing campaign was one of several called "Sullivan's Expedition," culminating in the Battle of Rhode Island, or Quaker Hill, in Portsmouth, just north of Newport. Abner was wounded when a musket ball passed through his little finger and the "thick" of his right hand. He returned to New Bedford and remained in service there until March of 1779.
      There are several problems with this deposition. George Claghorn was a captain at the time, and it isn't known when Henry Jenne first became a captain. Claghorn did command a company at the Battle of Rhode Island, and Henry may have been a lieutenant under him. There supposedly were six Massachusetts regiments there, but of the state militia, not Continental soldiers. No account of all these regiments has been found. The engraving below shows an encampment at Portsmouth. The Americans were between Butts Hill, fortified by them, and Quaker and Turkey Hills, over which the British advanced. The battle took place in the valley below amid a cannonade back and forth from the hilltops. Which hills are which in this image isn't clear. The key to the letters hasn't been found, but it may be that "a" and "b" is Butts Hill and "d" is British troops on the hills to the south.



published in London's "Gentleman's Magazine"

Abner reported that later in 1779 he was drafted again to serve at West Point, this time in the company of Capt. Luther Wilson under Col. Claggons. They were diverted to Bemis Heights (Stillwater), NY, upon the alarm there. Like many regiments sent to Stillwater, they arrived after the Americans had defeated the British there (popularly known as the Saratoga Battlefield) but were present at the ceremony in which Burgoyne officually surrendered to Washington. His service was for three months. By the end of his service in the war he had recently turned 14. At some point Abner must have chosen to lie about his age. Where drummer boys allowed pensions? He may have added 3 years to his age and said that he was drafted to disguise his role, but pensions weren't granted without proof, so where that came from is a mystery.
     Although Abner said that he was born in New Bedford, that town was created just before the Revolution from the town of Dartmouth, where the town vital records include his birth. Abner married when he was 20 at the Church of Christ in Acushnet, which served the Dartmouth area. Acushnet is a village north of both New Bedford and Fairhaven, and the cemetery there is where Abner's grand and greatgrandparents and several of his infant siblings are buried. Abner buried some of his young children in the newer Naskatucket Cemetery in what is now Fairhaven across the river from New Bedford. Fairhaven was created in 1812 but was previously within the bounds of New Bedford and was named Fairhaven as a settlement before its incorporation. The 1790 US census places Abner in New Bedford,2 but it was in the part later to become Fairhaven. The 1798 Massachusetts tax list says he rented a house in New Bedford and owned land in Fairhaven.3 This is cryptic and doesn't fit with other evidence. Abner bought his father's farm probably in 1791 and one of his woodlots in 1806.4 Evidence suggests that Abner's parents moved to New York State around 1796, but why were his parents selling their home in 1791? At an unknown date he bought a lot from John Alden, Jr. adjacent to his homelot. It seems most likely Abner always lived in Fairhaven on what was father's land. Deeds between Henry and Abner exist but haven't yet been seen.
     The population of Fairhaven had grown enough by 1794 that they decided they had had enough of travelling over rough terrain to attend services in Acushnet. One report had them walking through streams and climbing over stone walls to get there. Why no road or substantial path had been created may have been a matter of no one wanting to give up rights to private property to do so. Abner's father was active in creating a church in Fairhaven. It's very likely Abner also worshipped there, but his three older children weren't baptized until his wife became a member in 1801. Jethro, their only other surviving child, was baptized in 1803.



Their sons Ephraim and Henry are known from gravestones in Fairhaven, and they died as children. Further evidence of this family group are in court papers. When Luther went to sea about 1802, Abner agreed to invest his earnings in real estate. The subsequent purchase of land5 was disputed several years later. Just before Jethro's first known trip on a ship in 1818, he would have had shipping papers drawn up to carry with him, similar to today's passports. Apparently his mother either didn't have legal guardianship of Jethro or she wasn't eligible to represent him in this instance. In probate court Luther was granted guardianship, and Abner was named as his deceased father. They probably didn't think he was dead, but being absent for so long, he was declared or considered dead for legal purposes.6
     The names of Abner and Elizabeth's children are interesting in a genealogical sense. Phebe was likely named for her paternal grandmother. Luther was likely named for his presumed great uncle Luther Burgess, who supposedly died a year before the younger Luther's birth. Henry was named for his paternal grandfather. Ephraim was likely named for his presumed maternal grandfather. Elizabeth was likely named for her presumed maternal grandmother. Jethro was likely named for his great uncle Jethro Jenne, who died the year before the younger Jethro was born. Although there are no primary documents that connect Abner and Hannah to daughters Elizabeth and Phebe after they were baptized, they were surely the wives of John Briggs and Abisha Jenne/Jenney respectively. Continuing with helpful names, John and Elizabeth named their first child Luther Jenney Briggs. Phebe and Abisha named two of their children John B. Jenney and Elizabeth B. Jenney. Elizabeth (Jenney) Briggs is buried next to two of her sons at Naskatucket, and the sons are next to the grave of Hannah (Landers) Jenne. This and the lack of any other possible or available Phebe and Elizabeth Jenneys makes this scenario certain. It's also notable that Abisha Jenne was a neighbor of the Abner Jenne family in Fairhaven. John Briggs was living in Fairhaven as early as 1807. He and Elizabeth were married there. He may have been living with his sister Diadama (Briggs) Howard or Lydia (Briggs) Stevens, both of whom were neighbors of the Jennes.
     When Abner's parents left the area for New York State in the 1790s, his father used the name "Jennings," although later deed transactions involving Henry recorded in Massachusetts still used "Jenne." Abner shadowed his father by moving to New York, Batavia specifically, and becoming a "Jennings." The circumstances of their moves were quite different. Although Abner says in his pension application that he moved in 1804, it actually was in July of 1809. Phebe and Luther were adults, but Elizabeth and Jethro weren't. There were no children living in Abner's New York State household in the Federal census of 1810,7 and none are mentioned in Abner's Revolutionary War pension file. He did, however, have a woman of his generation living with him in Batavia, but it wasn't Hannah. A notice in Boston's Columbian Centinel explains why. Hannah filed for divorce based on grounds of adultery with various women since they were married, one she was able to put a name to: Bathsheba Cornish. She petitioned for divorce on 23 July 1809 and said she knew of a specific instance of sexual relations between the two. By the time she filed, Abner had left Massachusetts, and Bathsheba may have been with him. A genealogy of the descendants of Richard Cornish says that Bathsheba married Abner and moved to Batavia, but no details are given.
     Court proceedings make it clear that Abner also had financial problems, and this is most likely why he moved. Several merchants and a doctor had signed notes for him, perhaps for credit. He mortgaged his farm, formerly his father's, in 1808.8 He defaulted on all of these transactions and they piled up in court between 1806 and 1809. His real estate holdings were divided among them to pay the debts.9 In November 1808 Abner is referred to as "of New Bedford" (Fairhaven). In early December another case required him to appoint a member of an appraisal committee to represent his interests, which he did.10 By the end of the month, another committee was required, but the "wife and family of Abner were notified & refused." On 8 January 1809 the mortgagee of the Jenne farm sold his interest,11 and the new owner had the property put up for auction. The first actual mention of Abner no longer living in Fairhaven in court records is on 26 September 1809, which says he was "absent from the Commonwealth."12 Children Luther and Phebe were by then married, but Elizabeth and Jethro were still minors.
     Refering back again to the court case involving Abner and Luther: Luther brought a neighbor to court in 1810 for trespassing on his property, probably to take timber.13 The defendant claimed the property wasn't Luther's, but his employers'. What then enfolded sheds some interesting light on the family. Luther had gone to sea when he was about 14 (about 1802). He and his father agreed that Luther's income would be sent back to Fairhaven and overseen by his Abner. Abner bought property for Luther in his name, and with his money. In one of the above mentioned court actions involving Abner's debts, one of the judgements was satisfied by levying part of the property Abner bought on behalf of Luther. It was that land that Luther's neighbor, John Alden, Jr., considered rightfully his employers', who were the debt plaintiffs against Abner. The court ruled against this claim since the land was in Luther's name, and bought with his money, or the equivalent. The case mentions that although Abner "absconded" from Massachusetts by the time that particular debt case was concluded, there was no evidence of financial trouble when he bought Luther's property. What the court didn't know was that Abner had already signed notes that he was about to default on. This puts Abner's motivation in question, since he proceeded to cut timber on Luther's land right after he bought it, presumably for profit. Was it his or Luther's profit? There's no record of it, so the charge of fraud, which entered into the trespass case, couldn't be proved. So a case of trespass evolved into one of land ownership.
     Abner applied for his pension in Batavia on 16 October 1832 and another pension document places him there in mid 1836.14 Abner and perhaps Bathsheba probably attended St. James' Protestant Episcopal Church in Batavia, since the minister there, Lucius Smith, was a character witness for Abner's pension request. The other witness was Congressman Phineas L. Tracy, who also was a vestryman at St. James. Censuses indicate that Abner and his last wife Betsy lived on what is now Rt. 98, or Oak Orchard Road, between the village and Daw's Corners. Abner probably met Betsy (Blodgett) Fordham in Genessee Co. Her widow's pension application says she married Abner in September of 1833 in Erie County, New York by a Mr. Virgil, Justice of the Peace.15 The only likely person was Elon Virgil of Wales, New York. He was a supervisor of the town in the 1830s and 1840s. No obvious reason arises for their marriage there, unless they were on their way to Pennsylvania at the time. The 1840 US census says Abner was a pensioner, although his age (more so than his stated age) is incorrect.16 By 17 December 1844, Abner was blind and referred in his pension file as being indigent. An 1845 document says he was "stone blind." The strange form of Abner's signature on one of the last pension affidavits confirms this. The 1850 Federal census also says that he was blind.17



Abner's signature carries over onto the next page of his pension file.


Abner and Betsy moved to Pennsylvania with Betsy's children and settled on a farm near Denny's Corners, Hayfield Township in Clearfield County. The site was probably just north of Denny's Cemetery, according to early maps. He was taxed for having 50 acres and several cows in the early 1850s, but in the space of 4 years his property dropped to one cow, and then nothing.18 He and Betsy probably sold the farm and moved in with one of her children in the last years of his life. There are no deeds to show they bought or sold any property in Clearfield County. Betsy lived into the 1860s, but she isn't in the 1860 census and nothing more on her last years has been found.





children of Abner Jenne/Jenney/Jennings and Hannah Landers:

i. Phebe, b. abt. 1786
ii. Luther, b. abt 1788
iii. Elizabeth b. abt 1792
iv. Ephraim, b. June 1796, d. 3 October 1798 (gravestone)
v. Henry, b. June 1800, d. 11 March 1801 (gravestone)
vi. Jethro b. abt July 1803





vital records sources: Abner's birth and intentions to marry (published on 4 November 1785) come from the Dartmouth, MA, vital records (original records on microfilm, not paginated) and the published vital records (Vital Records of Dartmouth, Massachusetts to the Year 1850, Vol. 1 - Births, 137, and Vol, 2 - Marriages (Boston:1929). "Abner Jene son of Henry Jene and Phebe his wife was born the 1st day of October AD 1765." This is recorded with two of his siblings who survived childhood, probably in the early 1770s. It was common practice in many New England towns to periodically request birth records from local families. While Abner's birth year might be a clerical error, the marriage of his parents in 1765 makes this a moot point. Abner and Hannah's marriage date is in the published vital records and was taken from Church of Christ, Acushnet, records (originals not located). Hannah states this date in her divorce petition. His death date was reported by his last wife in her pension application and confirmed by sworn witnesses.

1. File #W26159. (?Abner also applied for a Bounty Land Warrant for his service (#26532), but it was suspended and apparently never granted - wasn't this Andrew Fordham's, the first husband of Betsy Blodgett?).
6. Bristol County Probate (Southern District), 5 May 1818, Joseph L. Jenney and Benjamin Hill of New Bedford sureties.
He was given $36.66 a year.
18. Information taken from an email from Anne W. Stewart, Historian at the Crawford County Historical Society, to James Jennings, 1 Sep 2004.

all text and photographs © 1998-2021 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted