Celebrating 17 years

Seth Pomeroy: The Forgotten General

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Renewed religious devotion gave the Louisbourg campaign the mood of a religious crusade against the Catholic French. Although he recognized the fort was well built and strategically placed on the coast he was not disheartened. "It seems impregnable, but we have been so successful hitherto I do not doubt that Providence will deliver it into our hands." Pomeroy was constantly prepared, however, to accept whatever fate God may render upon him. [33]

"My dear I wouldn't have you think I have forgot home." Pomeroy by no means neglected his spousal duties while he was engaged in military matters. He constantly urged his wife to "avoid all hard and tiresome work" and to not let his long absence disturb her because she must "remember to submit to an overruling hand in Providence, which order all events." He reminded her to teach and instruct the children so that they may help her in the duties required of the household. Pomeroy tried to buy an African slave to aid his wife with the chores required of her at home. The asking price was too high and he settled on a different type of labor: indentured servitude. "I have bought an English girl's time for five years, which I hope will prove well, for I gave price enough for her." [34]

Not to be overlooked, Pomeroy played the role of father as well. His personality demanded respect and exhibited sternness when necessary. He never spoke out of anger; he was a man of temperance but yet fiercely devoted and passionate. These are the qualities so valued by the troops he commanded and passed along to his children. A story of Seth and his son Lemuel has often been told, and disregarding its validity, it demonstrates Pomeroy as a father, devoted and courageous soldier and faithful man of God. The story goes that Lemuel was reluctant to go into the woods nearby their home to search for cattle which had gone astray because he feared Native Americans may be lurking. In response Pomeroy said, "Lem, never fear to do your duty no matter where it calls you; no matter how great the danger, never be afraid to do your duty. But, if you are tempted to do a mean thing or a wrong thing, be the greatest coward in the world."[35]

Back at Northampton with the children Mary wrote, "My heart is with you, soul distressed and much pained for you." But she also submitted to the higher being, "My dear husband I leave you in the hands of God desiring to submit to his will what ever it be." She handled circumstances at home well, as Pomeroy's mom said of her, "your wife manages the affairs with conduct and courage." [36]

They would write each other with letters filled of reminders of their eternal love for each other. Pomeroy constantly impressed upon his wife how he longed for her companionship. It appears that in Pomeroy's case distance did make the heart only grow fonder as he commented, "I never knew what love was before." Mary Pomeroy was dutifully worried for the safety of her husband. During the French and Indian War, after hearing her husband was on the move north from Albany to engage the enemy she commented, "departing from Albany raised at first a commotion in my anxious breast for you- but being it must be so I endeavored to calm myself and commit you to him who has heretofore protected you trusting that he will still care for you and us." [37]

Seth Pomeroy was not one to seek pity though. When he was sick at Louisbourg, he did not write his wife about his illness because, "you could do me no good & do your self much hurt with concern for me." His desire to return home to his family and children was far superior to any aspiration he had for military glory. "Upon returning home after Louisburg he wrote, "came home to Northampton about 5 o'clock. Amen." [38]

Pomeroy was ready to die for his country and his strong religious background made the thought of death bearable for he genuinely believed he would see his wife again, in this life or the next.

My dear wife; if it be the will of God, I hope to see your pleasant face again, but if God in his sovereign Providence has ordered otherwise, I hope to have a glorious meeting with you in the Kingdom of Heaven, where there are no wars not fatiguing marches, no roaring cannon, nor screeching bombshells, nor long campings but an eternity to spend in peace and perfect harmony. [39]

American Revolution

Seth Pomeroy's service in the early stages of the American Revolution has garnered him the most fame but due to its legendary status it is often misrepresented.

We know some basic facts about his life through which we can ascertain the events of the last years of his life. The only facts were can establish to be true are those written by his hand.

In 1775, with the conflict between Britain and her colonies reaching a breaking point, Pomeroy was entering his sixty-ninth year of living. He never had the personality or the demeanor for politics but with the climate of the colonial relationship with Britain changing he took minor political positions. He was a delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1774 and 1775. He was sought after not only for his experience but also for his leadership, which at this late stage in his life was growing ever larger.

In May 1775, before Lexington and Concord, Pomeroy, along with Artemas Ward and John Thomas were named the commanders of the Massachusetts militia with Pomeroy as its third in command. After the events of April 1775, Pomeroy rode east to Boston to join in the command of the growing colonial army surrounding Boston and the British troops. His reputation had justifiably reached its apex with the onset of the American Revolution. [40]

A fact often neglected is Pomeroy's allegiance to the cause of independence. Many colonists needed to decide whom they supported and Pomeroy clearly chose opposition to the British crown. After a life full of service to the British crown, Pomeroy had made the choice to join in the revolution. He had no love for the British army occupying Boston. He expected General Gage "will send small pox into the army" but relying on his ever steady confidence of the almighty he continued, "but I hope in the infinite mercy of God will prevent it." As to his personal feelings on the battle against the perceived British tyranny, he wrote in a letter to his son only a few days before his death: "I go cheerfully, for I am sure the cause we are engaged in is just, and the call I have to it is clear, and the call of God." [41]

After overseeing the militia army circling Boston, Pomeroy went home in June of 1775 for a much deserved rest. The years had taken a toll on his body and he was the oldest commanding officer in the Boston area with Israel Putnam being the closest to his age at only fifty seven. Upon returning home the story picks up with the opening introduction of this essay. Exaggeration and embellishment now take center stage but there are some facts known to be true. He did ride back to Boston in about twenty four hours after being alerted by Putnam of the colonial movements towards Breed and Bunker Hill. He did deny any command and took up a position with John Stark on the fence and helped that flank keep the British regulars at bay. It is reported he urged the militia not to run but to rather "fight them with the breech of your muskets". It's an attractive quote to attribute to the man but in dealing with the facts it would appear he had a different role at the conclusion of the battle: to stand and fight would have been foolish. [42]

Upon witnessing the British regulars entering the breastworks at the top of Breed's Hill and the militia falling back, the troops along the fence line realized their position was in danger. If the British troops swung down around the hill the militia lining the fence would be flanked on all sides by British troops. General Stark and Pomeroy realized this and led a retreat back to Bunker Hill. A disorderly sprint for safety could be reasonably expected from the green militia but under the command of two seasoned veterans like Stark and Pomeroy, the militia fell back in orderly fashion and helped covered the retreat for the troops running down from the hill. Pomeroy denied any official command so his role in the retreat would scarcely be recorded. However, taking into account his actions during the retreat at the Battle of Lake George, he most likely exercised the same wherewithal to aid in this retreat.[43]

After the battle of Bunker Hill, Pomeroy would head back home and help recruitment and training efforts in his home town. Interestingly, Pomeroy may also be responsible, in part, for the scheme to seize Fort Ticonderoga from the British. The legitimacy of that claim may never be decided but due to Pomeroy's position on certain committees he may have been instrumental in the hatching of the idea. [44]

Meeting in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress was attempting to create a unified army and so was trying to decide who would lead the Continental forces. George Washington was named the commander-in-chief along with four major generals. On June 22, 1775 the Continental Congress demonstrated the high regard they held for Seth Pomeroy when they named eight brigadier generals and put him at the top of list in seniority. Pomeroy effectively would be the sixth highest ranking officer in the new Continental Army. [45]

Other men campaigned actively for rank and grew irate or even resigned when they felt they were disgraced by acquiring a lower rank than they thought worthy. Pomeroy did not seek the rank accorded him but rather was granted such status based on merit. It speaks highly to the character of Pomeroy and his reputation. Adding an even more interesting twist to his ascent to top brigadier general is the fact that he did not serve in the post for more than a month.

Confusion has surrounded the actual events around Pomeroy's actions as concerns the commission but it is most likely he received the commission and after twenty eight days had to decline the position. Why? Age would be the most logical explanation. Pomeroy does not seem like the type to perform a task at anything but full tilt and so at his advanced age, the burdens required of such a rank would be difficult to accomplish. John Thomas (who had resigned because he was angry over not being named one of the four major generals) was moved from second to first ranking brigadier general. [46]

In January 1777, possibly at the plea of George Washington personally, Pomeroy took the field again at the head of militia of Massachusetts. More confusion surrounds his actual title whether it be colonel or general when in fact it does not matter. Pomeroy did not care much for rank but rather for duty. Duty required him to serve his country once again. Against the better judgment of his wife, family and physician he took off at the head of the militia to aid Washington in New York. Marching south, his age finally caught up to him and his body could take no more.

Pomeroy anvil monument

Descendants of the Pomeroy surname are creating anvil monuments across the country in the spirit of the actual Pomeroy anvil which was passed down through generations (including Seth) located in the Historic Northampton Museum.

The old soldier, marching to come to the aid of his countrymen as he had done countless times before, had fought his last battle and passed away in Peekskill on February 15, 1777. [47] He was buried at a nearby Church as the militia watched their respected leader leave them for good. Mary Pomeroy would pass away in September of the same year, joining her husband in their eternal union. [48]

Pomeroy was a name many would recognize in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, however his fame would not survive with its notoriety intact to the present day. In 1898 the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York would place a granite plaque where Pomeroy passed. In 1911 a poem describing the adventures of Seth Pomeory was published. Too lengthy to reproduce here it is a telling symbol of the place Pomeroy hold in revolutionary popular culture. Currently descendants of the Pomeroy surname are creating anvil monuments across the country in the spirit of the actual Pomeroy anvil which was passed down through generations (including Seth) located in the Historic Northampton Museum. Even so, his name still does not receive the recognition it deserves. [49]

A blacksmith and gunmaker, a loving husband and devoted parishioner, a militia officer and Native American frontiersman, Seth Pomeroy was a man of his time. Historian Robert Middlekauff described Pomeroy and his conduct in 1775 as "so steady in mind and manner as to seem immune to the madness that sometimes overpowers men facing the choice between battle and passivity".

Pomeroy was not seeking personal glory nor was he interested in haughty political ventures. He was a man of duty and devotion to his God, family and country. He is a microcosm. He represents the generation often overlooked, the founding grandfathers, if you will. They were the generation who carried on the Puritan legacy to the soon to be young leaders of the United States. They are the bridge between the settling generation and the early American generation. Jefferson, Adams, Madison and the like will receive the focus of study in revolutionary America, and rightfully so. However, the generation of Pomeory and men of his character set the foundation for the Founding Fathers. As the fathers and leaders in pre-revolutionary America they established a tradition that would influence the founding generation and a new country.


[33] Ibid, 61.

[34] Ibid, 65, 93, 130.

[35] Address of George Eltweed Pomeroy, June 17, 1898.

[36] de Forest, Journals and Papers, 62-63, 68.

[37] Ibid, 63, 131.

[38] Ibid, 48, 69.

[39] Ibid, 61.

[40] Ibid, 162.

[41] Ibid, 167, 171.

[42] Ibid, 164-165.

[43] W.J. Wood, Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781 (Chapel Hill: De Capo Press, 2003), 30-31.

[44] Ibid, 166; James Russell Trumbull, History of Northampton, Massachusetts Volume II (Northampton: Press of Gazette Printing Co, 1902),  364.

[45] Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 2, 103.

[46] Ibid, 191.

[47] Certain sources have Pomeroy's death occurring on February 17 or February 19. See Mary Theresa Leiter, Biographical Sketches of Generals of the Continental Army of the Revolution (Cambridge: University Press, 1889), 77;  de Forest, Journals and Papers, 163.

[48] de Forest, Journals and Papers, 165.

[49] The poem is by Katherine Tyron Shepherd Smith, Seth Pomeroy's Ride: Northampton to Bunker Hill, 1911. The American Pomeroy Historic Genealogical Association: http://www.americanpomeroys.org/