Was William Tuffs a Revolutionary soldier or just a storyteller? Was he from the Medford, Massachusetts TUFTS family or from another family? Was he even of Irish descent?
I will present this story in two parts, the first about William’s service record and the second about his family.
Recently I received an inquiry about William Tuffs who passed away in Indiana in 1847. The local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter, which is named for William, is planning a 90th anniversary and was looking any information about him. I knew the story of William and thought this would be an easy project on which to put some information together. How wrong I was. I am still trying to track down his story and would welcome any help anyone can give me.
William Tuffs (1750-1847) claims to have taken part in the Boston Tea Party, served in the Revolution, and the War of 1812. His grave in the Bonneyville cemetery in Bristol Indiana is marked by a large stone and has two plaques provided by the Improved Order of Red Men and the Sons of The American Revolution.
He apparently loved to tell stories about his grand service. The marker reads:
“[He was] present at the battles of White Plains, Germantown, Lundy’s Lane, Monmouth and Bunker Hill and [was also] … present at the time of throwing overboard the tea at Boston.” (December 17, 1773) and served in the war of 1812 (at age 72).
In 1845 he related a story to a reporter of the Goshen Indiana Democrat of being captured from a privateer in the Revolution and carried to England as a prisoner. He also recounted being captured at the Battle of Ticonderoga and bearing a scar on his face from that battle. His tea party story was in the Democrat on December 17, 1840 as related to the editor Dr. E.W.H. Ellis. Perhaps his greatest tale was that he spent the winter at Valley Forge “joking with General Washington”. I have not seen the source of that story.
I have no problem believing any of his stories and trust that any skepticism would have been expressed at the time of telling. He surely could have exaggerated but without any proof that the stories are not true, I recognize his service and am proud of him. Soldiers like William are what have made our country great. A little exaggeration should be allowed an old patriot in his later years, as well as a few mistakes on details.
I am not the first person to research or believe this old soldier. There are several references I have used in my search for the truth, including the standard Tufts Kinsmen 2010 by Herbert Adams and the Tufts Kinsmen Association, William Tuffs Portrait of a Patriot by Carl Mauck, (a pamphlet written in recent years and held in the Elkhart library in Indiana), and The History of the Tuffs Family As Told in 1985 by Patricia Tuffs Snyder. I also searched the usual online sources such as ancestry.com and some military records websites. I did not find any solid records confirming his military service, but feel they may be found.
The records that are available are his pension applications. They were made when he was in his 80s and are somewhat inversed in the timeline. The first application relates his later service and the second covers his early enlistments.
The first application is in September 1832 from Ohio but lists his service place as New York. The pension was rejected. At that time he was living in the township of Parkman, County Geauga, Ohio. This application is interesting because it details his testimony of service in much more detail than any of the newspaper articles or other stories. The rejection states his account is in variation with well known facts
“Say to the man that the whole narrative is to (too?) at variance with with well known facts ….? of this Dept. that his claim cannot be allowed-place the papers on file”
This testimony states:
Enlistment in the spring of 1776 from Albany NY in the company of Captain Cornelius Sanford in Col. Gansevoort’s Regiment and upon arrival at Fort George was sent to Skeenesborough to assist in building ships. He was assigned to the row galley Trumbull and fought (or dodged) the British fleet in battle on Lake Champlain. The ship escaped to Fort Ticonderoga and joined Benedict Arnold despite their Captain being killed in the action. This conflict is verifiable by simple historical research. On Wikipedia, I found the Trumbull listed as one of the row galleys in the action on Lake Champlain.
Tuffs’s narrative goes on to relate the action after evacuation of Ticonderoga and of and of his capture after the Trumbull was blown up. He escaped after one month and returned to his home in Mystic (Medford) near Boston. This was a common story in the guarded retreat from the Champlain Valley conflict. I recently read Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts which describes incidents such as this in fictional but accurate detail.
His next statement of service is enlistment at Boston in Col. Jackson’s regiment where he marched to Rhode Island then crossed the Hudson at Kings Ferry and went to White Marsh New Jersey. This portion continues to tell about the winter of 1777-78 when he was employed as a teamster around Valley Forge until rejoining his unit at Philadelphia. After that his unit was in the Battle of Monmouth June 28, 1778. It was not uncommon for soldiers to return home after major battles. Some ended up listed as deserted, some returned to harvest crops, and for other reasons, but often, they returned to service in another company. In this period, I found variation of facts. Tuffs states they went to Long Island next when history records the regiment was at Staten Island and later at Rhode Island before taking winter quarters in 1778 near Morristown NJ. Col. Jackson’s regiment was called the 16th or Jackson's Additional Continental Regiment and the history is well recorded. Francis Tufts was the Adjutant for this company. I would love to find out that he recorded William’s service but he was adjutant in 1780. Francis was promoted in the field after heroic action in battle (story to come).
After obtaining a furlough in May 1779 Tuffs returned home and signed on a privateer named Royal Empire and after early success was later captured and spent 7 months in Mill prison in England. He details that escapade more in his 1845 Democrat article I have been unable to find the records of the ships William recalls in his testimony about being a privateer and spending time at Mill prison in England. There are some names similar to his recollection but more research is required.
Tuffs continues that he was released from that company in December or January in Albany, NY. He then describes how, in early summer 1777, he went out from Mystic in Captain Samuel Tucker’s company under Lt. Peter Smith, and was in the Battle of Rhode Island. If Tuffs had the dates and some of the names of his officers incorrect, this would explain why his testimony could not be matched to that of the officers he named. And if, when he was discharged from Col. Gill’s regiment, he joined up with the NY regiment of Col. Gansevoort, his record could be confirmed. It appears he made the mistake of confusing years 1776 and 1777.
If the dates were recalled incorrectly then his next assignment would have been with Col. Jackson’s regiment enlisting from Boston in 1778 and proceeding to NJ and Valley Forge, which matches historical records of the movements of Col. Jackson’s additional Continental Regiment (16th) as stated above.
In conclusion William Tuffs made some errors in his testimony about his service but, as I stated before, he was over eighty years old when he made these reports. If he was incorrect in his dates and some of his officer’s names, he could have still served and his records might be found. His name was not listed in the Mason’s Lodge in Boston so Herb Adams insists in Tufts Kinsmen that William was probably not at the tea party. This does not mean he wasn’t and I hope to research this question further at the new Tea Party museum in Boston. A youth of his age (23 years old in 1773) in Boston certainly could have been involved in that protest and certainly would have turned out in April 1775 for the battles of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and the siege of Boston. Young men at this time mostly joined their own towns’ militias, so I wonder why William wasn’t among the nine Tufts minutemen of Medford. It is unknown why he took up with Captain Wentworth and to what regiment Captain Wentworth’s company was assigned in the action at Castle William in Boston Harbor.
If William’s next service was from Mystic in 1775, not 1776 in Captain Sanford’s company at Lake George, NY, I should be able to find the records of the correct regiment. Transporting provisions across Lake George would have been in support of the ill-fated attempt to capture Canada. Next William states that he was discharged at Albany, NY. If the correction of the years is assumed, it would make William’s first application statement correct in saying that he joined the NY regiment in 1777 and was also present in the Champlain Valley conflict.
From there on it is certainly a muddled record but if the regiments can be traced, William Tuffs would have followed the action in Col. Jackson’s regiment and maybe Captain Tucker and Lt. Smith can be found. The ships’ records may be even harder to find. A quick search came up empty for the names Royal Empire and Black Prince but there were some ships of the same name in different circumstances and the spelling as copied from the pension application is hard to decipher. The details stated in the newspaper article about his escape from the prison ship in New York are gripping and specific.
William’s claim of service in the war of 1812 are even harder to find. There are at least 2 William Tufts that served and one from Maine died in service. There are several resources for finding soldiers in this conflict. One is U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 in the National Archives. Another is Index to the Compiled Military Service Records for the Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration-M602, 234 rolls. It is difficult to assign to the correct persons but an attempt is made here.
This record of Enlistment shows the record of 3 William Tuffs/Tuffts/Tufts.
The first record; (William Tuffs) states on Roll at Fort Independence July 24 1814 and prisoner of war captured at Forty Mile Creek and arrived from Halifax under command of Capt. Geo. ? …discharged Aug 1814 term expired. Fort Independence was in Boston harbor, Forty Mile Creek was a battle around Stoney Creek Ontario. This subject is listed as 19 years old and certainly could not be William Tuffs as he claimed he was at the battle of Lundy’s Lane (near Niagara NY) at this same time.
The second record; (William Tufft), appears to state he was 39 years old from Medford enlisted at Utica NY but rejected and discharged. This could be William but he would have had to disguise his age (72).
The third record; (William Tufts) states Captain Brookes Company Aug 1813,Return of dead and diseased men Sac.Har. NY (Sackets Harbor New York) Feb 17/1814 died in the service Sept 30/1813…unreadable. This may be the record of William from Belfast Maine, below as it matches his death date. No regiment is listed. (William Tufts of Belfast, Maine was born 14 May 1772 and died while in service in the War of 1812 on September 30, 1813. He was the son of John Tufts and Mary Campbell from Windham NH and Belfast, the subject of my shipwreck mystery story.)(http://tuftsgenealogy.blogspot.com/2012/10/here-is-my-first-attempt-at-article-on.html )
In conclusion, these records do not seem to confirm any service of William Tuffs, the subject of this story, but definitely leave clues for research.
There is certainly a lot of information contained in William’s tales to give me clues to find his actual record. I would love any suggestions about where to keep looking. The DAR chapter in Indiana would certainly like to correct the record as well. In part two of this story I will try and cover William’s ancestry. Kinsmen assigns him to the family of James Tuffs/Tufts of Medford and Piscataqua (Portsmouth NH) which is a family full of patriots and soldiers. Carl Mauck states that William’s father was John. Other TUFFS I have encountered in my research often include the possibility of Irish ancestors. Perhaps even the John Tuffs/Tufts of the shipwreck story or the Brookfield Massachusetts family who claim Irish ancestors. There were many descendants of William and others who have researched them, so I hope to have a full story in part two.