Monday, October 3, 2016

Military Monday: Busting Myths About Richard Gaines

Military Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers for bloggers to post their images, stories and records of their ancestors’ service in various branches of the military.

Sooo, you think your ancestor was on that boat with George Washington breaking through the ice of the Delaware River. Or you heard stories that your ancestor was with George Washington at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered.
Letter 1911 about Revolutionary War service of Richard Gaines
Letter dated 1911 inquiring about service of Richard Gaines

     Please inform me if the records of your office contain anything with regard to the Revolutionary services of RICHARD GAINES and MICHAEL CLORE (sometimes spelled GLORE).
     Family tradition states that Richard Gaines, born 1752, died 1837, was with General Washington at the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. He belonged to Captain Pearson’s company at one time, though he served more than one enlistment. He was also with Washington when he broke the ice and crossed the Delaware River, surprised the British at Trenton and captured a thousand Hessians. Was also at Egg Harbor. He was buried at Poplar Springs, S.C., having removed there from Virginia, with his father, after the war.

Such are the stories passed along to descendants of Richard Gaines (1752-1837), the man who married the somehow-related-to-me Frances Jolly of Culpeper County, Virginia.

I have bad news for some of the Gaines descendants who have been enjoying the trickle-down glory of having a hero in the family who fought alongside George Washington. The facts just don’t support it. Just ask Richard himself.

It’s easy to see how family lore gets confused and exaggerated over time. Even documents that spell out the truth can be misinterpreted by those reading them. It doesn’t help matters when several men share the same name. The DAR website includes five Virginia patriots named Richard Gaines. That does not mean they were the only men with this name. It means women of today have joined the DAR by tracing their lineage to only these five.

Three of the Richards served in their local militia. The other two, who were about 25 years older than the young soldiers, provided material aid and supplies.

The Richard who was married to Frances was a private in the Culpeper County Minutemen. He was born in Culpeper County in 1752 and died in Laurens County, South Carolina 9 November 1837. Two wives were listed: Elizabeth Flint and Frances Jolly. The majority of DAR members tracing lineage to this Richard Gaines do so through James, a son by Frances Jolly.

I then checked Fold3 to see if there is a record of service, pension applications, and so forth. And yes, there is. There are records also for the Richard Gaines who spent his entire life in Albemarle County, Virginia as well as the Richard Gaines from Charlotte County who migrated to Kentucky. Service records for Sergeant Richard Gaines are available too, but this rank does not match any of the Richard Gaines listed with the DAR.

And that is where the family stories lose a little of that glamour and excitement surrounding an ancestor rubbing elbows with ol’ George.

Richard Gaines service recorded in pension application 1832
from Richard Gaines' pension application of 1832 
In his application for a pension, Richard described his own service:
…. That he enlisted in the army of the United States in the year 1774 or 1775 with Capt. John Jamison and served in the first Continental Regiment of the Virginia line under the following named officers, viz: Col. Laurence Taliaferro, Major Alexander Spotswood, Capt. John Jamison, Lieut. Gabriel Long and Ensign David Jamison. That he was discharged and left the service on the [ blank ] day of [ blank ] 1776 or 77, that he resided at the time he entered the service in Culpepper County in the State of Virginia. That he enlisted for two years, and was at the siege of Little York Norfolk.

As it turns out, his application was rejected for failure to actually PROVE service for six months. Furthermore, the rejection was based on not serving in an “embodied corps.”

Besides service records and pension applications, my Richard’s file at Fold3 contains letters of inquiry to the Pension Board and War Department. In 1853, James Gaines, son of Richard and Frances, appealed to the Pension Board on behalf of his surviving siblings claiming their father did not receive all that he was due from service in the Revolutionary War. He claimed his father had been a sergeant in his company but did not report it with his original application for a pension in 1832 because according to the Act of 7 June 1832, he was not required to report all the details of his service.

Response to James Gaines about Richard Gaines' service as sergeant in Revolutionary War
Response to James Gaines
The reply from the Pension Department was essentially, “Nope. Sorry.” While they granted that Richard Gaines certainly knew his own service and that his children might have also been aware of it, he never claimed to have been a sergeant. Furthermore, the pension payments for the only Richard Gaines who had been a sergeant had gone to the one who served through 1781. James’s father himself said he served only two years. Available records just did not match the claims; therefore, the appeal was rejected.

That did not stop the family from believing it though. On Richard’s tombstone is etched his entire war career which unfortunately is most likely a mĂ©lange of service performed by at least 2 if not 3 men named Richard Gaines.

Tombstone of Richard Gaines Laurens Co, SC
Tombstone of Richard Gaines
courtesy of MJ

Richard Gaines
Miss Francis Jolly
Soldier in
Revolutionary War
Sergeant in
Col Holt Richeson’s Co
In 5th VA Reg with
Gen Washington at
Surrender of Cornwallis
At Yorktown, VA  Also at
Battle of Trenton, NJ
And at Egg Harbor
And Other Battles
Minute Man with Captain
John Jamison Col Lawrence
Taliferro’s Reg at Siege of
Norfolk, VA 1775

Richard’s own words did not include serving under Col. Holt Richerson or being at the Battle of Egg Harbor which took place in 1778, long after Richard supposedly completed his duty. The Richard who advanced to Sergeant served under Richerson, that’s a fact. But if we can trust MY Richard Gaines’ own memory, he served only two years. Had he been in Trenton or Yorktown, those would have been far more worthy of mention than the Siege of Norfolk.

Possibly the wording was provided by Richard’s great-grandson “L. P. Gaines,” author of one of the letters that spelled out the family story that Richard had served with George Washington. Was he trying to set the record straight, the record as he knew it, that is?

It is clear the tombstone was not commissioned at the time of Richard’s death, judging by the genealogy on the back.
Back of tombstone of Richard Gaines Laurens Co, SC
Back of Tombstone
courtesy of MJ
Richard Gaines 1686 – 1755
Father of
Henry Gaines 1731 -1837
Richard Gaines 1752 – 1837
James Gaines 1791 – 1866
Reuben Gaines 1815 – 1899
L. P. Gaines 1845 –
Jim Gaines 1878 –
Reuben Gaines 1911 – 

While the abbreviated genealogy is mostly correct, the family trees created on Find A Grave through links to parents and siblings are a complete mess. For example, in the list of siblings is Francis Gaines whose link goes to a memorial in which his parents are named Hierome Gaines and Margaret Taliaferro. My Richard was son of Henry Gaines and Mariah Woods.

The trees at Ancestry are not much better. Several link pension records to this Richard and Frances Gaines that actually belong to the Richard Gaines who lived his entire life in Albemarle County, Virginia. Now if you’re looking for a claim to fame, THAT Richard had it: he was employed by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

Compiled Service Record of Gaines, Richard (Sgt, Third and Seventh Regiment, VA) digital images,’s Fold3 ( downloaded 25 September 2016); imaged from Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, National Archives microfilm publication M881 [roll number 0971].

Record of Gaines, Richard (Pvt., John Jamison’s Co., 1st Continental Regt, VA) pension application 3866; digital images,’s Fold3 ( downloaded 25 September 2016); imaged from Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives microfilm publication M804 [roll number 1041].

Record of Gaines, Richard (Pvt., Landon Jones’ Co, Albemarle Co., VA Militia) pension application 8546; digital images,’s Fold3 ( downloaded 25 September 2016); imaged from Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives microfilm publication M804 [roll number 1041].

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Very interesting and thoroughly researched. The research must have been interesting,too.

  2. Lots of research has led you to this conclusion. Good job!

    1. With Fold3, I found quite a lot pretty quickly. If there are other sources that confirm the family's view, they were not available.

  3. Sometimes family stories can be verified with research but not always.

    1. Yeah, I have not been able to prove my family once owned Natural Bridge (Rockbridge Co, VA). Hrmph, that's one story I can't believe, not in the way it has been told anyway.

  4. Wendy, this is so awesome. I love that you know so much about each of the men with the same names that you can separate them all. Great work!

    I know I'm getting old, but I had so much trouble reading the 1911 graphic you included. Would you considering transcribing it, posting it, and then linking it from this blog post. If not, no worries. Just a suggestion.

    1. Glad to oblige! I don't know why I didn't do it to begin with. Lazy?? I figured there wasn't anything new that I didn't summarize, but still people are more interested than I sometimes give them credit for. Thanks for jarring me out of my complacency.

  5. I suppose many stories are just passed down without anyone giving a second thought to verifying it. You sure blew their stories out of the water!

  6. Currently doing research on my own family history and I am pretty sure you just made my dad's day with distinguishing which was which here. Thank you for that.