William Gouyd was the son of William Talmage Gouyd and widow Mitchell. He was born about 1763 in Albany, New York and was only a year old when his father drowned in the Hudson River.
In 1775, when William was twelve, the colonists of the thirteen British colonies in North America seized control of the local governments, set up the Second Continental Congress, and formed a Continental Army. The following year, they formally declared their independence as the United States of America. Between 1775 and 1783, the fledgling United States fought against British rule in a war known as the American Revolutionary War. By 1780, the war had grown to include a host of participants including a number of Native American tribes living in and around the Mohawk Valley and Appalachian Mountains. These tribes, specifically the Mohawk, sided with the British during the war. Living in the Albany area, William and his mother must have been all too familiar with the dangers from invading British or their Indian associates.
It is highly likely that William joined the Continental Army to help defend his family and their home.
On February 14, 1781, when he was eighteen, William enlisted in Schenectady, New York and was immediately deployed to Middle Fort in old Schoharie, New York. During the next nine months, he was involved in at least two campaigns against the enemy. Soon after he arrived at the Fort, he and his garrison was called to march to a place called Coreytown. The British and Indians had attacked the town and set fire to a number of buildings. The troops from Schoharie met up with troops from Fort Rensselaer and defeated the invaders, killing a large number during the engagement.
According to his testimony, given in 1834, his garrison had arrived just in time to save the town. In October, he was again called into action and marched with all possible speed to Fort Hunter. The troops from Schoharie joined the main Army, under the command of Colonel Marinus Willet, and proceeded to Johnstown where they “met a large body of British Tories and Indians.” The engagement was severe and resulted in a considerable number of the enemy killed and taken prisoner. Immediately after the conflict, the combined forces followed the retreating enemy from Johnstown to German Flatts where most of the corps marched in pursuit. William did not participate in the pursuit and remained in German Flatts for a few days. He then marched back to Schoharie via Fort Plain. For the remainder of his duty, William performed sundry tasks as a private and was discharged in November of 1781.
William moved from New York State to Enosburg, Vermont sometime after he was discharged with the Continental Army but probably not immediately. Doing so would have been extremely risky since the war continued for another year. Additionally, Enosburg, a small farming community, was situated right in the middle of Mohawk territory. Although American and French settlements existed in that area, Indian attacks were commonplace and typically resulted in death. Nevertheless, William did eventually settle in that area and probably did so before the birth of his first son in about 1791.
William most likely moved north to farm. Family stories suggest he purchased a tract of land with the intention of raising crops since early Vermonters were self-sufficient. It was probably during this period that he met and married Christian. While there are no records or stories about his wife, there’s a good chance that she was the daughter of a Frenchman. The region that eventually became Vermont was once held by the French and unquestionably retained a number of families of French descent. Her surname, Kernew, sounds surprisingly like the French- Canadian surname Corneau.
Over the course of the next few years, William and Christian had nine children. Of the nine, two died from typhoid fever – Daniel and Elizabeth. While the dates of their deaths is not known, family history holds that Christian died around the same time from the same affliction. Typhoid fever was common because feces from an infected person or animal frequently found its way into the food or water supply. Typhoid fever is characterized by a slowly progressing fever followed by profuse sweating, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, diarrhea, headache, cough, and general malaise. Left untreated, it led to intestinal hemorrhaging and death. Living on a farm as they did, they probably caught the disease because of poor sanitation. Given that their last son was born about 1809, Christian and her two children probably died about 1810 or 1811.
Shortly after his wife’s death, William began to experience some significant financial problems that led to his appeal for support from the United States. In 1818, “Congress granted pensions to Revolutionary War veterans for service from which no disabilities resulted. Officers and enlisted men in need of assistance were eligible, under the terms of the 1818 act, if they had served in a Continental military organization or in the U. S. naval service for 9 months or until the end of the war. Pensions granted under this act were to continue for life.” On August 3, 1818, William submitted a request for pension.
The Judge of Probate for the State of Vermont, Georgia District, recorded William’s words.
“State of Vermont “Georgia District, ss
“On this third day of August 1818 upon [me] the subscriber, Judge of Probate in & for the District of Georgia & State of Vermont personally appear William Gouyd, aged fifty four years and resident of Enosburgh in said [—] who being by me first sworn as the Law deeds on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the pension made by the act of Congress entitled, “An act provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the Revolutionary War” that he the said William Gouyd on the 14 day of Febr 1781 at Schenectady in the State of New York enlisted in a Company commanded by Capt Hale in Col Debois regiment in the Continental establishment, that he continued to [serve] in said Corps & in the service of the United States until the 14 day of Nov 1781 when he was discharged at the middle Fort in old Schoharie in the State of New York. He was in the battles of which [—] in about 18 miles from the upper Fort of Schoharie that he is in reduced circumstances & stands and in need of the operation of his Country for support that he has no other evidence nor is his [– -] of his said [—].
“Declared & sworn before Me the day & year above
“Said Seth Wetman Judge of Probate”
William’s request was suspended for want of further proof. While records show that the request was received, deliberated, and judged, it is unclear if William ever received the verdict. If he did, he either ignored it or simply forgot. Fourteen years later, William again applied for the pension under an Act of Congress passed on June 7, 1832. In this request, William states that “he thinks” his previous application was acknowledged and that a statement of his service, under oath, would be sufficient to execute the pension.
“That he entered the service of the United States and served as herein after states
“On the 14th day of February 1781, at Schenectady in the State of N. York, he enlisted for nine months under (he believes) Capt Hale and marched from Schenectady to the middle Fort in old Schoharie under the command of Lieunt or Ensign Van Ingen or VanIngens. That according to the best of his recollection he left Schenectady about the first of May in company with several persons named in his former declaration, with which he was acquainted and some other whose names he does not now recollect in the whole to the number of fifteen or twenty. That while he remained at the Fort aft he was under the command of L VanIngan. It is his impression that he was told at the time he enlisted that Col Dubois commanded the troops at that station but has no recollection of seeing him during the campaign. No Col resided at or near the fort at Schoharie (believes) they rec’d orders from Col Courtland, or Col Willet who had the command of the [Levies] on the Mohawk. The applicant states that he was stationed at Schoharie during garrison duty the whole time during the campaign, except two tours of duty. Soon after he arrived at Schoharie, there was an alarm and a part of the troops stationed at the fort and a company of Military marched to a place call Coreytown where the Tories & Indians had plundered the inhabitants and set fire to some of the buildings, but the troops arrived in time so save them. The enemy was attacked by the troops from Fort Rensselaer and those from Schoharie and defeated [with] many of them killed in the engagement.
“That after the engagement at Coreytown, he returned back to Schoharie where he remained doing garrison duty in said fort until same time in October when there was an other alarm. The Militia and troops at Schoharie was called for and marched with all possible dispatch to Fort Hunter where they joined the main Army under the command of Col Willet, crossed the Mohawk at Fort Hunter and proceeded to Johnstown where they met a large body of British Tories & Indians, and attacked them and continued the action until night. A considerable number of the enemy were killed and taken prisoners and the rest fled to the woods. In the day or so following they marched from Johnstown to a place called German Flatts where (he believes) they stayed one or two days when most of the troops marched on a scout in pursuit of the enemy. But the applicant remained at German Flatts a few days and marched from there to Fort Plain where he remained three or four days and from there to Schoharie where he remained doing duty as a private in the garrison until end of November and was then discharged after having served nine months.
“He has no documentary evidence what ever and knows of no person by whom he can prove his service except by the enclosed aft – he hereby relinquishes every claim whatsoever to a pension or annuity except the present and declares that his name is not on the pension role of the agency of any state.
“[Said] Gouyd further states to [said] Court, that and application has heretofore been made to the war Department under the act of 1818 to place him the [said] Gouyd on the pension roll, that the evidence of his service (he thinks) was acknowledged, but not continental. He concludes that the evidence of his nine months service is in the war office and that a statement of his service under oath will be sufficient.
“He hereby relinquishes every claim whatever to a pension or annuity, except the present & he declares that his name is not on the Pension roll of any agency in any state.”
Although William provided a number of character references with his 1832 pension request, it was – again – denied. In both cases, William did not or could not provide the necessary documentary evidence needed to validate his claim of service. Compounding the lack of evidence, his age probably hindered his ability to correctly recall names and dates. As a result, his second request contained a number of errors that probably fueled pension dismissal.
There is strong circumstantial evidence that supports William’s claim to have participated in the Revolutionary War. The first, in a letter from Col. Marinus Willet to Governor Clinton of New York in 1781, talks about the efforts to repel the British and Indians from Corey’s Town, the first battle William addresses in his declaration.
“Fort Rensselaer, 1st July, 1781.
“Sir,—In my letter of yesterday, I informed your Excellency, that, wiiile I was writing, several smokes were discovered to the south-east ; and that they were supposed to be produced by the enemy setting fire to Corey’s Town. I had, early in the morning, detached thirty-five men of the levies, under the command of Capt. Gross, to Thurlough, but, upon the discovery of the smoke, I sent an express to Capt. Gross, to try to find out the trade of the enemy. At the same time that the express was sent off to Captain Gross, I detached Captain McKain, with sixteen levies, with directions to collect as many of the militia as he could, and move towards Corey’s Town. Notwithstanding this settlement was eleven miles from this place, Captain McKain was in time to assist in saving some of the buildings, by quenching the fire. In the mean time, I was endeavouring to collect as many of the militia as I could, in order to join with the few levies I had, to go in pursuit of the enemy. It was dusk before I could get ready to march; and when I did march, the whole of my force, after being joined by the detachment of Captains McKain and Gross, was only one hundred and seventy strong. I had been so fortunate, as to discover, not only the track of the enemy, but the place where they had encamped the same day ; and had reason to think, that they would return there again, and, probably, that night. This determined me to march directly to the place of their encampment. Notwithstanding it was reported that the enemy were numerous, and the distance to the encampment eighteen miles, still I conceived it possible to arrive there before day, and, perhaps, surprise the enemy asleep in their encampment.”
The second piece of circumstantial evidence, in the form of an official report, also comes from Col. Willet. Addressed to General William Alexander and dated November 2, 1781, the communiqué echoes William’s description of the Battle of Johnstown almost to the exact detail.
“Having just returned from persuing the Enemy my first business is to acquaint your Lordship of the particular transactions that have taken place in this quarter from the time of their first appearance. Eight o’clock PM of the 24th I received advice that a considerable body of the Enemy were discovered in the upper part of the Mohawk District. Every means was instantly taken to collect the force of the Country in order to oppose them without loss of time so that so that by one o’clock the following day I was within two miles of Fort Hunter with between four and five hundred Levies of Militia. There I learned that the Enemy having burnt several Houses and Barns at Warrensbush had crossed the River at a Ford some distance below & were marching to Johnstown. This obliged me to cross the River as soon as possible and march by the shortest route to the place whither they were directing their course. When within two miles of Johnstown I was informed they were already there, had halted and busy in killing cattle belonging to the inhabitants. Thus situated I determined to attack them as soon as possible and ordering the left wing of the few troops I had to perform a circuit through the woods and fall upon their right Flanks while the while the right wing advanced in front. A few minutes brought us in view of them. The troops of this wing were parties onto a field adjoining the one possessed by the Enemy where they displayed to the Right & advanced in a line towards them who retired with precipitation to a neighboring wood closely pressed by our advance who began the Skirmish with them while the remainder of the wing was advancing briskly in the two columns. In this pleasing situation without any apparent cause the whole of this wing turned about and fled, nor was it possible to rally them. A field piece which was left upon a height a small distance from the wood to secure a retreat was abandoned and fell into the hands of the Enemy. At this critical period our left wing commanded by Major Rowley of the Massachusetts State, and composed of the militia of this county, except about sixty of the levies of the above State, made their appearance in the enemy’s rear.
“These soon regained everything our right wing had lost, and more. Night came on, and the enemy retired into the woods, leaving a great number of their packs behind them. After marching six miles, they encamped on the top of a mountain. By information from prisoners who made their escape from them in the night, it appeared to be their intention to strike at the frontiers of Stone Arabia in order to furnish themselves with provisions. This induced me to march to that place the next morning, where we remained all that day and night, without hearing any thing further from them, than that they were pointing their route further into the wilderness. I was now sure they were unable to make any sudden stroke below the Little Falls, and in consequence, on the morning of the 27th, I removed to the German Flatts, in order to be between the enemy and their boats, which they had left on Oneida-Creek. On my way I learnt; that the party which I had detached to destroy them, had returned without doing their duty. The 28th was passed in furnishing the choicest of the troops with five days provision, and sixty Oneida Indians, who had this day joined me.”
By 1840, William was no longer in a position to support his family and the role shifted to his son James. Six years later, William, who had fought so valiantly for his country and his family, died in Franklin, Vermont. He was 83 years old.
James made one last attempt to obtain his father’s pension. Based on the tone of his letter, he, like his father, was struggling to support his family.
“Buffalo Feb 1, 1857
“A.E. Heath Esq “Commissioner of Pensions
“My father William Gouyd was a Revolutionary soldier as I was informed by him and made application soon after the passage of the Pension Act of 1818 which claimed was suspended for want of proof. I do not know that any efforts were made after the exhaustion of the pension Laws by the Act of 1832. My father resides in Franklin County, Vermont where he made application for his pension. That he died there in the year 1846.
“Will you have the goodness to inform me, if the application my father is on file and if so, the date and period of service claimed & have been performed and names of his officers and what proof has been provided if any and what will be necessary for his children to obtain the amount due him at the time of his death. I am one of three children now living.
There are no records that indicate whether or not James received a response but most likely he did not. To this day, his pension records remain marked “rejected”.
Could William Gouyd have lied to try and get money from the government?
His official story could only be true if he somehow obtained, or intercepted, copies of the official records when they were communicated. Unless William was a spy or held a clerical position with the State of New York, it is doubtful he gained the information in this way. He may have colluded with an actual participant and used that information as the basis for his pension claim. While plausible, the fact that he submitted a second request for a pension makes this less than likely. William had a large family to support and would have recognized the impacts should he be incarceration for fraud.
Perhaps he happened upon a copy of William Willet’s book that described the military actions of his father Colonel Marinus Willett? A Narrative of the Military Actions of Colonel Marinus Willet was published in 1831 and does contain detailed information on each of the two engagements William was supposedly engaged in. However, the book was published the year immediately before his second pension request and could not have been used as the basis for his original 1818 claim.
No, William Gouyd didn’t lie. He would have only known the details of both engagements if he had been present. His imperfect narrative reads true. It reflects a man of nearly seventy who does the best he can to recall a short military career that happened forty years earlier.
Although the United States did not believe that William Gouyd played an active role in the American Revolution, he most certainly did. Despite our government’s verdict, I firmly believe that William Gouyd was our family patriot and did, in fact, serve with the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary war.
Thanks, William Gouyd, for helping America gains its freedom.
Happy Independence Day!
You can read more about William Gouyd and others in Gouyd: The History of an American Family (2014) available on Lulu.com.