Bidwell Lore – Major General John Paterson

Welcome to week 81 of Bidwell Lore! This week we will be telling you about Major General John Paterson, Deborah Sampson’s commanding officer, who was briefly mentioned last week.

Major General John Paterson: Commanding Office of Deborah Sampson

More than 225 men from Lenox, Mass, participated in the Revolutionary War and those they left at home sacrificed as well. So there was no shortage of heroes from Lenox. However, several stand out – particularly Major General John Paterson.

John Paterson was born in 1744 in New Britain (then called Farmington), CT, of another John Paterson who died of yellow fever while fighting for England in the Caribbean. His ancestors are said to have fled from Scotland to escape the tyranny of James II.

Son John graduated at age 18 from Yale in 1762 – the same year his father died in Havana. He came home to settle his father’s estate, look after his mother and sisters, and study law. He became a justice of the peace shortly after he started practicing law and supplemented his income by teaching school. He married Elizabeth Lee, also of Farmington, in 1766.

Black and white sketch of Major General John Paterson, he is in profile with a prominent nose and a ponytail.
Sketch of Maj. General John Paterson from the Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution Website; From the Monmouth Battle Monument at Freehold, NJ.

It is not clear why John Paterson moved his family (including his father in law) to Lenox in 1774 but here’s what his biographer and grandson has to say (page 7, The Life of John Paterson):
It may have been that among the people living there was a General Joseph Paterson, whose name appears on the town records of Lenox as early as January, 1765, or it may have been his desire to be on the frontier. He became at once identified with the interests of that town, and his abilities as a leader of men were soon recognized.  Almost as soon as he arrived he was chosen Clerk of the Propriety.

This would be the first of a lifetime of civic responsibilities assumed by John Paterson in Lenox and in his future home in New York. In July 1774, he represented Lenox at the Berkshire convention to discuss the non-importation agreement and to the state government meeting in Salem under the auspices of the Committees of Correspondence – and in protest of the royal government.

By April 20th, 1775, news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord had come to Lenox via express couriers who had ridden all night. Paterson and the recruits he had assembled from Lenox and the rest of the county were ready; by the next morning, they were armed, equipped, and on their way to Boston. They may have been responding to an earlier alarm, but they had certainly been prepared to carry out their role as Minute Men led by John Paterson.

As of May 26, 1775, Paterson was able to assure the Commonwealth’s Committee of Safety that his Berkshire County regiment had 496 men and was actually in the field.

On June 15, 1775, Colonel Paterson’s regiment was transferred from Minute Man (militia) status to the Continental Army for an eight-month enlistment.  Paterson would serve, with only a brief furlough, until 1783. (As you may remember from our previous article HERE, it was in April of 1783 that Deborah Sampson began serving under Paterson)

In addition to the Battle of Bunker Hill and the siege of Boston, Colonel Paterson was involved in most of the major actions of the Northern campaign:

-The relief of General Montgomery and Benedict Arnold’s invasion of Canada
-Christmas Eve crossing of the Delaware and successful attack on Trenton

-Battle of Princeton
-Battle of Saratoga
-Valley Forge Winter

-Battle of Monmouth

-Commander of West Point and various duties to hold the Hudson Highlands (including encampment at Newburg)

By now a Major General, John Paterson went back into military service in 1786 to aid in the suppression of Shay’s Rebellion. [1] In 1790, he became one of the proprietors of the “Boston Purchase,” which consisted of 230,400 acres in what is now Broome and Tioga counties in New York. He continued his pattern of service in his new home including serving as US Congressmen from 1803 to 1805. He died in Lisle, New York, in 1808, at age 64. His great-grandson, Thomas Egleston, led an effort to have him re-interred in Lenox and had memorials erected in his honor in the form of a plaque in Trinity Church and a monument in the center of Lenox. [2]

Thomas Egleston, The Life of John Paterson:  Major General in the Revolutionary Army. (G.P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1894)

Bidwell Lore will return on January 11 with a story about the “Fighting Parson” Thomas Allen.

[1] Shayites entered the home of Judge Sedgwick in Stockbridge but were held at bay by Mumbet, aka Elizabeth Freeman, a slave who was freed in court by Sedgwick and who appears in Mary Gray Bidwell’s letters. Look for more about her in a future Bidwell Lore article.

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