The American Revolution was so many years ago, that the time period in which great men like Washington, Jefferson and Adams lived seems as distant to most of us as the fall of Rome or the reign of Alexander the Great.
Part of what makes this period so distant to us is the lack of a photographic record. We do not have actual photographs of Washington, or the Battle of Bunker Hill, or of the soldiers who fought for our freedom.
Or do we?
The advent of photography in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s was so many years after the Revolution that we, of course, have no photographs or Washington or of Bunker Hill, but there are a small handful of images of a few remaining survivors of the Revolution who lived into the age of photography.
If you’ve never seen these before, get ready to be blown away as you look on the actual faces of men who knew George Washington.
Enlisted at a young age and fought in many of the New York battles under General Benedict Arnold, General Gates and eventually under George Washington. When asked about Washington when being interviewed in 1864 for the book ‘The Last Men of the Revolution’ downing stated to the interviewer: “‘We were right opposite of Washington’s headquarters. I saw him every day.” “Was he as fine looking a man as he is reported to have been?” “Oh!” he exclaimed lifting up both his hands and pausing. “But you never got a smile out of him. He was a nice man. We all loved him. They’d sell their lives for him.”
Drafted into military service in 1778, Waldo was taken prisoner by the British at Horseneck. Released about two months later in a prisoner exchange, Waldo returned home, graduated from Yale and became a minister.
Enlisted in the war at the age of 16. He fought throughout the duration of the war until 1864. He was present at the Battle of Brandywine, and at Yorktown was a eyewitness to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. He recalled hearing George Washington give an order not to laugh at the British as they laid down their arms, as it was ‘bad enough to surrender without being insulted” (from ‘The Last Men of the Revolution’)
One of more amazing stories of all of these survivors, Millener had frequent contact with General George Washington throughout the war. Millener enlisted as a drummer boy, since he was too young for standard enlistment. He ended up becoming a drummer in Washington’s Life Guard. When remembering his days in the war, he said he was a great favorite with Washington. After the beating of the drums of reveille, Washington would come along and pat him on the head, and call him his boy. On one occasion, “a bitter cold morning,” he gave him a drink out of his flask. He described Washington as “a good man, a beautiful man. He was always pleasant; never changed countenance, but wore the same in defeat and retreat as in victory. One day the General sent for me to come up to Headquarters. After the Life Guard came out and paraded, the General told me to play. So I took the drum, overhauled her, braced her up and played a tune. The General put his hand in his pocket and gave me three dollars; then one and another gave me more– so I made out well; in all I got fifteen dollars.”
Millener was present at the battles of Brandywine, Monmouth, White Plains, Saratoga, Yorktown and others. He was in the famous encampment with Washington at Valley Forge, and at Yorktown Millener even shook hands with Lord Cornwallis.
William Hutchings saw limited action in the war. He enlisted at the age of 15. The only action he saw was at the Battle of Castine where he was taken prisoner. However, the British felt it improper to hold one so young so he was released. What a glorious reminder of the days when gentleman fought wars.
Adam Link is another who saw very little action in the American Revolution, even though he was active for the better part of 5 years. None of the skirmishes that he was involved in were important battles, but he survived the war and lived to be 102 years old.
We hope you have enjoyed this rare and interesting look at honorable faces from a generation from which there are few photographic records. The American Revolution becomes more of a mythical time as the decades and centuries pass. We hope these very rare photographs will help the reader feel a more real and close connection to the greatest era in American history.