“Come, my brave fellows, stick to your posts and the day will soon be ours” 

  - Private Edward Elley

Revolutionary War veteran Edward Elley was 95 years old when he recounted the story of his service in a sworn affidavit for his pension file.  Spread out over several years, his service culminated at the Battle of Yorktown. At Yorktown he rallied his fellow soldiers with these encouraging words within earshot of General James Clinton.  General Clinton was so moved by these words that he rewarded Edward Elley with a good breakfast, the first food he had in twenty-four hours.

This story is just one part of one Revolutionary War pension file found in the National Archives and the National Parks Service Revolutionary War Pension File Transcription Project.  The project includes over 83,000 pension files from Revolutionary War veterans with the goal of transcribing them for our nation’s 250th birthday in 2026.

What are the Pension Files?

Originally, the Continental Congress provided a pension for soldiers wounded in the war and unable to earn a living.  In 1818 Congress passed a law allowing all veterans who served for at least nine months to receive a pension.  That was expanded in 1832 to veterans who had served for six months, and in 1836 widows were allowed to apply. 

The files average 30 pages each, but many are much longer. They contain accounts of the veterans’ time in service, including the campaigns they took part in.  Familiar names and places are peppered throughout the files: Saratoga and Yorktown, Washington and Lafayette.  Genealogists will be delighted to learn that some pension files include genealogical information taken directly from family bibles to provide proof of familial relationships. We’re looking for volunteer Citizen Archivists who can read cursive, are interested in reading some very interesting stories, and are up for a challenge.

Transcribers of Edward Elley's pension file found a sworn affidavit in which he recounts his military service in Virginia.  Drafted into service a number of times for several months at a time, his third time being drafted, he hired a substitute. The fourth time he was called in a requisition of men, Elley found himself marching to Williamsburg and on to Yorktown. He describes engagement with the British, the cannonballs hitting the battery near him, and sightings of General George Washington.  After two months, a substitute arrived, hired by his wife.  Elley quickly made for his home.  Along his way home in Fredericksburg he learned the British surrendered and the war had ended.

Plan of the Attacks of York in Virginia by the Allied Armies of America and France Commanded by his Excellency General Washington his Excellency the Count Rochambeau Commanding the French Army, National Archives Identifier 102278569

By transcribing these handwritten records, you can help make them searchable and accessible by the public.  We’d also love to hear what stories you discover.  Please submit what you find in a very brief survey linked on the Revolutionary War Pension Files Transcription Mission page. So far, we’ve heard stories about men in Washington’s Life Guard, a soldier who traveled with Lafayette, and an account of crossing the Delaware:

"We crossed the Delaware to Trenton and remained in the opposite side until the 26th Decr. [December] 1776 & in the night we recrossed the river & took a body of Hessians lodged in Trenton on the next day I was appointed officer of the day to bury the dead..."

Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application File W. 27,514, Peter Humrickhouse, Penn, page 3, National Archives Identifier 54961325

Interested in reading more?

  • Isaac Howel was wounded and captured, returned in a prisoner exchange, was then attached to General Washington's Life Guards, captured again, then "He then enlisted in a British Corps in order to regain his liberty and deserted as soon as he had an opportunity."
  • Jacob Reeser was a drummer in Capt. John Cribby’s company of Infantry of the 3rd Battalion who was wounded and disabled.
  • Richard Hubbell’s father was captured at Ft. Washington and died while a prisoner in 1777. In 1782, Richard  joined up at age 16, along with a twin brother.
Sometimes the pension file contains so many details, events, and famous historical figures it feels like you could fill out a bingo card. So we thought a bingo card was in order! Check out this bingo card we made with our National Park Service partners to get an idea of some of the things you might find in the pension files. Print out a card and fill it in as you transcribe these fascinating pension records. If you manage to get a bingo, please share a picture of it on History Hub

Are you ready to join us in honoring America’s first veterans by transcribing their pension files?  

Don’t forget, as you transcribe these records, let us know in our simple survey if you find an interesting story so we can be alerted to your find.

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