Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Who's Who of Jackson's Military History

Sometimes, the only way to find those elusive answers to questions about mystery ancestors is to let your fingers do the walking.

That's right: let your mind wander. Surf the Internet. Follow the trails that eventually lead you to stuff. But only after you absorb enough background information to brief you on the topic.

So that's what I ended up doing, stuck on John Jay Jackson, the New-York-born volunteer who enlisted in Pennsylvania for service in the War of 1812—and ended up being discharged from a fort in the Territory of Missouri to marry a gal from Maryland who was living in Ohio.

Got that?

You'd think we were talking about the jet set here. But no: this is a time frame dating almost exactly two hundred years ago.

My question is: how did all these folks get around? How did they meet? How did they get to know each other enough to decide to marry? I want to know the back story.

Of course, available resources are conspiring against me. John J. Jackson's pension papers are mum on the topic. It didn't help that his first wife—the wife I'm wondering about because she constitutes my husband's direct line and connection to yet another Revolutionary War Patriot—died within about ten years of their wedding day. It also didn't help that John's second wife also predeceased him. That those facts leave me with two reasons why the Jackson pension papers would have remained silent about family doesn't do much to brighten my research mood.

Since normal modes of research aren't turning up key revelations I'm seeking, I'm trying another tack: look for historical notes on the captains mentioned in the Jackson pension papers. After all, there is no shortage of name-dropping opportunities there. There are four captains mentioned in the official paperwork recounting his tour of duty: Duffy, Birdsell, Magee and McGonigle. Also mentioned was brevet brigadier general Thomas Adams Smith. In addition, the pension paperwork shows me that John J. Jackson enlisted in Pennsylvania under Captain John Morris. And that his discharge papers from Fort Bellefontaine were signed by "Charles Pentland, Adj. Rifle Regt."

Googling all those names, admittedly, didn't produce quite the wealth of results I had hoped for. Partly, that was because of incorrect spellings. "Birdsell" turned out to be Birdsall, for instance—and I won't even begin to explain (today, at least) what "Duffy" turned out to be. Lack of first names, either by outright omission or camouflaged by those irritatingly uninformative double initials, served to further frustrate the search.

What I did stumble upon, though, were some interesting facts about some of those gentlemen officers. Charles Pentland, for instance, was mentioned in several footnotes in books of the later 1800s, in which it was revealed that he religiously kept a journal—a record from which were drawn reports in a number of other volumes, all documenting the types of transportation difficulties faced by John Jackson's own company as they served along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the types of living conditions then expected in that region.

I also may have partly uncovered the reason why John Jackson went through so many captains: they either were discharged just prior to John Jackson, or were transferred to other posts. In one case, a captain was murdered.

We'll take a brief look at the service of each of these men and how it might have intersected with the tour of duty of our John Jackson—providing one way to get a sense his whereabouts during and after the War of 1812. In addition, we'll glean a few reports from the contemporaries of these men, illustrating the customs and expectations of the times in these remote areas around the Missouri Territory where Jackson served. As it turned out, there was a lot to learn, just from familiarizing myself with the biographies of the captains under which John Jackson served.

Because I couldn't help myself and kept searching until I found some interesting resources, I have too much to cover in one day's post, so we'll take each man's story, one day at a time, beginning with John Jackson's beginning: Captain John Morris.

While none of these officers were related to our Sergeant Jackson, of course, it may seem a waste of time to take such a detour—but you know me: a glutton for The Bright Shiny. These rabbit trails lend themselves well to my genealogical exploratory style. If nothing else, they help me get up to speed on the times and customs of an era of our history and region of our country with which I'm not as well informed.

Above: "River Bluffs, 1320 miles above Saint Louis," oil on canvas by American traveler, author and artist George Catlin, circa 1846; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I am learning a lot too - I never knew any of these forts existed - or that 1812 soldiers manned them. This history seems largely forgotten.

    1. It does seem to have gotten swallowed up in the larger panoply of America's many stories, doesn't it? Perhaps the free access to the War of 1812 pension papers will spark a revival of interest in this era of our history.

  2. I am with Iggy, how much do we really remember from the day or two spent on the war of 1812 in middle school? Should be interesting! :)

    1. Well, even if we spent a month on it in school, I know I'd likely never remember!


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