11 Ordinary People Who Aided the Revolution
The men who declared American Independence in 1776 get their due respect in the history books. But often, many of the men and women who helped earn that independence are forgotten. Here are 11 of the unsung heroes who made huge contributions to the American Revolution.
1. William Dawes
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem only immortalized one of the two brave men who rode through the night on April 18, 1775, to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of possible arrest. After learning that the British were preparing to march on Lexington, Dr. Joseph Warren sent Paul Revere to cross the river in a rowboat while Dawes was responsible for slipping past the British sentries who guarded the land bridge connecting Boston to the rest of Massachusetts. Ultimately, both men made it, with Revere beating Dawes to Lexington by half an hour, so Dawes’ act of equal bravery is often overlooked.
2. Dr. Joseph Warren
Warren did more than just dispatch Revere and Dawes—he was a steadfast supporter of the Revolution in his own right. After the passage of the Townsend Acts in 1767, Warren wrote a series of inflammatory articles for the Boston Gazette under the pseudonym “A True Patriot” that got him and his publishers accused of libel. He was responsible for raising the militia in Boston and was elected second general in command of the Massachusetts forces by the Provincial congress on June 14, 1775. Despite his position of command, he went into battle along with the rest of the militia and was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
3. Crispus Attucks
This escaped former slave is generally considered to be the first American to die in the Revolution. He was working as a merchant seaman in Boston when Samuel Adams called on colonists to demonstrate against the British troops guarding the customs commissioners. In what became known as the Boston Massacre, 40 to 50 patriots armed with clubs and sticks were fired on by British troops, with Attucks as the first casualty.
4. Nancy Hart
A comely, rough-around-the-edges frontierswoman, Hart did everything she could to help the patriot cause while tending to the household during the Revolutionary War. While her husband served in the militia, Hart would often disguise herself as a simpleminded man to infiltrate British camps to gather information. Once, she even shot and killed a British solider in her own home after plying a group of them with wine and stealing their weapons. She held the rest of the group at gunpoint until her husband returned home.
5. Pedro/Peter Francisco
The first few years of Francisco’s life are a mystery because he was abandoned on a dock on the coast of Virginia when he was just four years old. The young boy, thought to be Portuguese, was taken in and raised by local judge Anthony Winston. Francisco grew up while the Revolution was brewing and finally at 16, Winston let the already-towering boy enlist in the militia. Francisco, who at 6’6” was a good foot taller than most of the men of the era, was renowned during the war for his many feats of strength and bravery—one story credits him with carrying a 1,000-pound cannon off the battlefield after a defeat so it didn’t fall into enemy hands. George Washington himself was said to have called Francisco a “one-man army.”
6. Laodicea Langston
Known as “Dicey,” Langston was just a teenager when she started spying to protect her fellow patriots. Although her immediate family all supported the Revolution, with her brothers joining the Continental Army, many of their friends and neighbors remained loyal to King George. Langston used these connections to gather information about the enemy. In one particular instance, she got word that the Bloody Scouts band of Tories was headed towards her brothers' camp. To warn them, she traveled on foot all night, through the woods and icy waters of the Enoree River, arriving in time to save their lives. By the time she got home, the Bloody Scouts were threatening her father at gunpoint. She threw herself in front of him, so impressing the Tories that they spared both Langstons.
7. Betsy Hager
Orphaned at the age of nine, Hager became what was known as a “bound girl,” working as a servant for different families to earn her keep. In doing so, she picked up an array of skills atypical for women at the time. When the war broke out, she put those skills to use by working with blacksmith Samuel Leverett to refurbish old British guns and artillery for use by the Continental Army. She also cared for injured soldiers, picking up skills she would use after the war when she practiced medicine.
8. Hannah Arnett
Arnett herself didn’t participate in the action of the Revolutionary War quite as much as some of the others on this list, but with her words, she reached many of the men who did. In 1776, a group of men in Elizabethtown (where she lived) met to discuss abandoning the Revolutionary cause and pledge their loyalty to Great Britain to try to ensure their safety in the coming war. Barging in on the meeting, Arnett called the men cowards and traitors and even threatened to leave her husband if he sided with the King. The men were swayed by her words and remained loyal to the Revolution.
9. Roger Sherman
Somehow, Sherman gets forgotten while his fellow Founding Fathers are lauded. He held a number of political positions in our fledging country, including associate justice on the Supreme Court of the colony and the first mayor of New Haven. In addition to his various day jobs, Sherman helped draft the Declaration of Independence and, in fact, is responsible for the nation’s bicameral congressional system. Although often overlooked, he was the only member of the Continental Congress who signed all four of the great state papers: the Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
10. Joseph Plumb Martin
Martin was a typical soldier in the Revolutionary War. He joined the Connecticut state militia at just 15 years old and went on to serve almost seven years in the Continental Army of General George Washington. What set Martin apart is that he kept a detailed diary during the War and many years later published an anonymous account based on that diary entitled A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observation. Although it sold poorly during his lifetime, the book was republished over 100 years later under the title Private Yankee Doodle and shed new light on the daily life of the men who made independence possible.
11. Jeremiah O’Brien
O’Brien was responsible for the first naval victory in the Revolutionary War. Just as tensions between the British and colonists were coming to a head in 1775, the Unity and Polly ships arrived in Machias, Maine with much needed supplies from Boston. When they arrived, however, residents were outraged to find that the ships were accompanied by the British armed schooner Margaretta, which had been sent to retrieve lumber to build British barracks. When attempts to capture the Margaretta’s captain and lieutenant on land failed, O’Brien led a group of 40 men armed with guns, swords, axes, and pitchforks aboard the Unity to engage Margaretta at sea. After the British captain was killed, the colonists claimed weaponry from the ship and the first naval victory of the war.