Twenty-twenty will be a very quiet and low-key Fourth of July — for obvious reasons. It’s caused me to reflect on the first Independence Day. And, to honor the memory of our family’s Patriot ancestors.
Originally, I had hoped our sons would come home for a couple of weeks at the start of the holiday. We’d planned to setup offices in each of their old bedrooms. Instead, I’m crossing fingers and toes they’ll be able to come home later this summer.
So, we invited my brother-in-law and his wife to come up from Virginia. But, with the dramatic increase in cases, we’ve pushed that visit back. After all, it’s not like there will be fireworks, an outdoor concert, or any community festivities. Sistah B and her family are also postponing a trip. So, we’ll reassess in a couple of weeks. Life on pause.
That’s when I starting thinking about how hard and frightening life was during the Revolutionary War. And, I’m remembering the sacrifices made for the freedoms we enjoy today. Even if it’s muted and isolated, I’m still celebrating Independence Day.
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Remembering Peacock the Patriot
But, it wasn’t those beautiful tail feathers that originally sparked my passion. Instead, it was my husband’s colonial ancestor, who’s honest-to-goodness first name is Peacock!
Peacock was born in 1748 near Philadelphia in Abington, Pennsylvania. Records indicate both his parents were also born in the colonies.
So far, I have searched in vain for his mother’s maiden name. As the couple’s eldest, Peacock’s unusual first name was the likely surname of either his mother or a grandmother. Possibly it was family in Massachusetts, where his “grandsire” participated in the conflict at Concord.
“One if by land, two if by sea,” was the signal to warn residents of Lexington and Concord. Rather than a horse, Paul Revere rides atop a wagon on this Patriotic Table & Centerpiece.
Quaker Founded Community
Peacock and his father, Alexander, owned plantations (large farms) in Gwynedd Township. William Penn and the Quakers established the area in the late 1600’s. The word Gwynedd is derived from the Welsh, “Gwyn Eth,” which means white fields.
The Evans home (still standing) is typical of the times and area in Gwynedd. Peacock served with at least one member of the Evans family during the Revolutionary War. And, the two families may be related — some believe his mother was an Evans.
Rather than being Quakers, Peacock’s extended family were members of the Abington Presbyterian Church. Founded in 1714, the original church was a log building. Later, Alexander left money for the building of a new church in his will. He and many family members are buried in the old cemetery on York Road.
Living in the Middle of a War Zone
During the days when Philadelphia was occupied by the British, the American Army marched through Abington several times. Some, were stationed on the Presbyterian Church’s farmland.
Part of the centerpiece in the Give Me Liberty Blue Tablescape are these colonial fife and drummer figures.
British soldiers also made frequent raids into the Abington area. Once, the British marched up York Road, only to be repulsed by American soldiers entrenched behind the wall of the church’s cemetery.
Flying Camp Officer
During the Revolutionary War, Peacock served as an officer in three different Pennsylvania militias. First, was as a young lieutenant in the Flying Camp of 1776.
Lenox’s Patriot Bowl is part of my Independence Day decor and featured in Celebrate Presidents Day.
Faced with defending a huge amount of territory, Washington recommended forming a “flying camp” — a mobile reserve of troops. Congress agreed on July 3, 1776. All the men recruited were militiamen from several colonies. While the Continental Army was battling British forces in New York, the flying camp was intended for the immediate defense of New Jersey.
Actually a vintage liquor bottle, this Continental Soldier statue’s tricorn hat is the cork/lid. I move him around the house throughout the year. But, for Independence Day, he graces the mantle.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I made an exciting “new” discovery about Peacock! It happened while I was doing an online search of the historical database, Newspapers.com.
In July 1776, the Pennsylvania Packet published an extract from the Continental Congress’ official minutes. It included names of the Flying Camp officers.
Ben Franklin, along with General Washington, are part of my collection of historical Byers’ Choice figures. They make wonderful Independence Day decor. I love how Ben is holding the kite and key for his electricity experiment.
Much to my delight, Peacock’s full name appears there! Just days after declaring Independence, Peacock was named — out loud — on the floor of Independence Hall! Right in the presence of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.
As someone who has always loved early American history, the thought of it gives me goosebumps. I can’t wait to visit Independence Hall again to soak it all in! It makes me feel so much closer to those actual historic times.
The Rebel Bird
Even though the Flying Camp was disbanded by December 24, 1776, some researchers believe Peacock was a participant in the surprise attack on British forces. Most likely, he acted as a courier of intelligence.
My favorite piece of Liberty Blue transferware is this platter depicting Washington crossing the Delaware. See it in Presidents Day Table.
There is good evidence of Peacock’s role as an American spy. In fact, the British posted a bounty of 500 pounds sterling on his head! They referred to Peacock as “The Rebel Bird” — a play on his first name.
You should have seen my reaction when I first “discovered” my husband’s 8-times great-grandfather!
He and I were staying in a bed and breakfast in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania to do genealogy research. The building included what had been the private library of a deceased local historian. We were going through his old card catalog, while cats lounged on the furniture around us. I opened a dusty old folder and my jaw must have literally dropped!
No one in my husband’s family — for at least the last three generations — had ever heard of Peacock. If I could sit down and have dinner with one person from history, it’d be him. Since Peacock’s not even my relative, my sons invented the term, “ancestor envy” lol!
Balancing Family & Country
In 1778, during the war, Peacock married Amey Barton. Possibly a Quaker, Amey lived with her family in New Britain, Bucks County. It’s unclear how the two would have met. As a Quaker, marrying Peacock would have put Amey “out of meeting.”
She, along with three of their oldest children, were all baptized at the Presbyterian Church in 1782. This suggests she converted her religion.
In addition to serving as an officer in two other militias during the course of the war, Peacock was a quartermaster at Valley Forge. That’s odd, as he was not a member of the Continental Army.
A hard piece to find, this plate depicts Washington at Valley Forge on the Give Me Liberty Blue Table.
During the occupation of Philadelphia, while provisioning the troops, Peacock probably was also carrying intelligence — to and from the General himself.
Washington is praised for his use of counterintelligence — planting and disseminating misinformation on troop sizes, movements and plans. The General personally managed his own spy network, with Alexander Hamilton as his right-hand man. Something dramatized in, Turn: Washington’s Spies.
Note: Based on Alexander Rose’s book, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. I highly recommend both it and the four-season TV historical dram. No mention of Peacock, but reading the book offered leads about his possible role in Washington’s intelligence network.
Betsy Ross waves the flag on the July 4th Patriots Table.
Despite the high reward on his head, Peacock successfully evaded the British. But, it makes me wonder how good of a spy Peacock was, if his activities were known to the enemy? One theory is that a British sympathizer betrayed his identity.
In the Room Where it Happened
It gives me pause to think Peacock was in “the room where it happened” — on multiple occasions. It appears he knew at least George Washington and Alexander Hamilton personally.
Note: Have you seen the Broadway musical, Hamilton? Hubby and I absolutely loved it! Frequently, I play the soundtrack from start to finish while cleaning the house. On July 3, Disney+ began airing a movie version. I can’t wait to see it tonight (and again and again)! If you don’t have Disney+, you might want to consider a one month subscription. It’d be a lot cheaper than show tickets. And, it will be at least six months before the musical will be performed live in theaters.
One of the most intriguing references on Peacock, is a note attached to his Patriot burial record. The National Archive notation simply states, “was at Cornwallis’ surrender.” Say what?!
Part of my summer update to the Kid Keepsakes Gallery.
In September 1783, Peacock should have been in Pennsylvania, not Yorktown, Virginia. Not only was he not a soldier in the Continental Army, none of his militias participated in the battle. My personal theory is that Peacock was in there as a courier of intelligence from Philadelphia to Washington.
After all, the record doesn’t say, “at the Battle of Yorktown.” I prefer to interpret, “at Cornwallis’ surrender,” literally. As in, a first-hand witness to the surrender ceremony.
Sistah B’s family lived in the Yorktown area for a number of years. I’ll never forget the Independence Day when we were at the fort and battleground park to watch fireworks. I couldn’t stop thinking of Peacock.
A number of years after the war, Peacock sold his plantation and moved to Lewistown. That’s another head-scratcher. Why move to the middle of the state in what was considered the western frontier?
Peacock was a major landowner in his own right. And, as the eldest son, he later inherited proceeds from his father’s neighboring plantation. Since he wasn’t a soldier, he wouldn’t have received bounty lands in compensation. Or, maybe he did as a quartermaster, and I just haven’t found a surviving record?
Hanging on my front door is a handmade Uncle Sam Wreath.
Perhaps he moved his family because all the fighting in and around Philadelphia had left the area in shambles? Crops were decimated, and many people lived in poverty for years after the Revolution.
A few years ago, I discovered another clue. “Lewis” was the name of the man who organized the Flying Camp, and may have led an intelligence circle. He, and other local Patriots that Peacock knew, settled in Lewistown.
Within a year of moving, Amey died — probably in childbirth. Her tombstone includes the inscription, “Suffice to say she was an honest woman, the noblest work of God.”
Amey and Peacock had eight children, with five surviving to adulthood. Benjamin, the youngest, was six at the time of her death. He was born after the war ended and is my husband’s direct ancestor. Thank goodness the British never captured the Rebel Bird!
Three years later, Peacock married a young widow named Martha. She was the daughter of another Patriot. They had four more children.
Veteran Patriot, Town Leader
Later in life, Peacock owned and operated the Wayside Inn. One of it’s rare distinctions, was the ability to ride up on horseback and be served through an opening on the side of the log building. A kind of “drive-through” lol! On it’s long side porch, Patriot veterans were known to gather to share stories and discuss politics.
Part of Peacock’s land holdings in Lewistown are now covered by a church and the fire station. Unfortunately his home, inn, and an ancient tree are no longer there. However, a historic marker on the Joseph Miller home commemorates Peacock and the site of his Wayside Inn.
Peacock was also active in politics. He was the area’s first burgess (what is now a state senator). Additionally, he served as Lewistown’s mayor for multiple terms.
Records show Peacock was grand marshal of Independence Day parades and celebrations. And, he delivered the local eulogy for Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams, who both died on July 4, 1826. I wonder if he knew them personally?
Peacock died at the ripe old age of 82. Unfortunately, the cemetery where he and other family members are buried has suffered from numerous floods and neglect. There is no tombstone.
It made me sad that a Patriot lies in an unmarked grave. But, someone had placed a flag there. One of my goals is to contact the military to have an official Patriot marker placed adjacent to Amey’s stone.
I also hope to someday self-publish a book on his life and legacy entitled, “The Rebel Bird.” On the cover cover will be a tricorn hat with a peacock feather plume.
Leaving a Legacy
Apparently Peacock was also very well read, owning a library that was donated to the town after his death. I like to think it may have contained original copies of pamphlets and papers written by Franklin. Maybe even Common Sense by Thomas Paine! Unfortunately, all was lost to a fire and time.
Surviving is Peacock’s family bible, a valuable source of genealogical information for several generations. And, a series of newspaper articles, published in 1965, offers a fascinating biography. Entitled, “Patriot and a Citizen of Vision In the New Town Along the Juniata,” the series was based on extensive research by a local historian.
Patriots Through the Generations
Many of Peacock’s descendants served our country, ensuring Independence Day celebrations to come.
My husband’s ancestor, Benjamin, was a captain in the American Army during the Battle of 1812. His son, Joseph, served in the Civil War. My father-in-law went to West Point. During the Battle of the Bulge — on Christmas Eve — he was captured and sent to a German prisoner of war camp.
Dad was listed as missing in action for nearly a year. His mother prayed, and promised that if her only son came home alive, she would say a rosary everyday. She kept that promise for the rest of life, dying just 17 days short of her 100th birthday.
Tomorrow, on Independence Day, I’ll picture him elderly and frail, saluting the flag as it passed by during a Memorial Day parade. And, I’ll remember his ordeal as a prisoner of war, and his sacrifice in preserving our freedom. Read his inspirational story, A Salute to a WWII POW Veteran.
Let us all pray for those lives and livelihoods adversely impacted by this horrible pandemic. While also doing our part to ensure the health and safety of our fellow Americans.
Maybe not the happiest July Fourth, but one worth celebrating nevertheless.
2021 Update: Happily, this year both our sons, eldest’s lovely girl, and two puppies will all gather together here in Pittsburgh for an entire week of activities and merry-making. We are all fully vaccinated and ready to celebrate and count our blessings!
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