Do you have a Revolutionary War veteran in your family tree? If so, a great way to discover his story is by finding his obituary in a collection of old newspapers. I recently found this obituary of Revolutionary War veteran Nathaniel Hayford, who died in 1851 at the age of 96.
From this one obituary we learn a great deal about Nathaniel Hayford. For example, he fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill (when he was just 19 years old).
His obituary reports that Hayford “volunteered, on hearing of the battle of Lexington. On the day of the battle of Bunker Hill he was stationed upon Winter Hill, under Capt. Scott.”
We further learn that Hayford “served five years in the war of the Revolution, and was in most of the principal battles fought to secure the independence of this great republic.”
We also get this personal touch: “The writer of this [obituary] has shed tears to hear him, while paying him his pension from time to time, recount the sufferings and privations he endured while fighting for liberty.”
Imagine, in 1850, sitting down to hear first-hand accounts of the Battle of Bunker Hill from a veteran who was there, 75 years after that historic battle!
Painting: “Battle of Bunker Hill,” by Howard Pyle, c. 1897. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
From Hayford’s obituary we also learn about his life as a veteran: how he moved to Albany after the Revolutionary War, then lived in Tamworth, New Hampshire, for more than 60 years—where he died on 25 April 1851, leaving “a wife, the partner of his youth, to mourn his loss.”
We also learn two anecdotes about Hayford’s life as an old man.
There’s this: “Mr. Hayford has enjoyed uninterrupted good health through his long life, and has been able, the past winter, to cut and carry in most of the wood he has burned, which he did from choice.”
And this: “The principle of liberty which was implanted in his bosom in 1776 nerved the old hero to go to the polls at our last annual town meeting and vote to extend that blessing to every inhabitant of this mighty nation.”
Hayford’s gravestone is still there in Tamworth. Though broken, it was repaired.
Nathaniel Hayford’s story is preserved in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.
Did your ancestor fight in the Revolutionary War? Look for his obituary in a collection of old newspapers.
Your ancestor’s story will come alive as you read his obituary—you can almost hear him telling his story as if he were right there with you. Find and preserve his story, and pass it down in the family.
Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom is an internationally known librarian and archivist. He is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history. Tom previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library and Information Associations (Washington, D.C.) and as Library Director of both the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He began his career in 1963 as the Assistant to the Librarian in the Genealogy and Local History Room at the Ferguson Library (Stamford, Connecticut).
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