Monday, October 4, 2010

Amanuensis Monday- George Washington Signed Here? A Mystery Document

My 5x great grandfather Abner Poland served in Revolutionary War, but so did his father, Abner Poland, Sr., and so the records have always been difficult to separate when I started to research the Poland family. He was born in 1761, and was only fifteen when the Battles of Lexington and Concord occurred in 1775. He enlisted not long after, on 15 January 1776 as a private in Captain Abraham Dodge’s Company in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He reenlisted in 1777 for another two years, and reenlisted again in 1780 serving a total of seven and half years until his honorable discharge at Newburgh, New York. He was in the battles at Hubbardston, Stillwater, Monmouth and Yorktown. Most interesting of all was that he received the Badge of Merit in 1785 from George Washington!

Although I knew Abner Poland had received this honor, and I had read about it in town histories and compiled genealogies, it was remarkable to find a copy of the honor amongst the paperwork for his pension application on  I guess he had mentioned his honor in his application, and a copy of the award was placed into his file. There is also a handwritten document with the same information, without Washington’s signature.

By His Excellency
General and Commander in Chief of the Forces of the
United States of America.

THESE are to CERTIFY that the Bearer hereof
Abner Poland, Coporal
In the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment, having faithful-
ly served the United State Seven years and six Months
and having inlisted for the War only, is
hereby Discharged from the American Army.
Thirteenth day of June 1783
Geo. Washington
I. Trumbull Lieut.

REGISTERED in the Book
of the Regiment
Francis Tufts, Adjutant,

THE above Corporal Poland
has been honored with the BADGE OF MERIT for seven years & six months
Years faithful Service
M. Jackson Colo.

[written diagonally across the paper]
Land warrant No. 4871 ???
To Joseph Foss ?? for
700 acres ?? Abner Poland
Nov. 2nd, 1795

The mystery is that the pension file is dated 1818, and his wife received widows benefits until her death in 1846- but George Washington died on 14 December 1799. Is this document a copy of an original paper signed in 1783 upon Abner’s discharge? Or is a document made in 1818 when he registered for a pension? If I travel to the National Archives in Washington DC will I see George Washington’s actual signature on the paper, or a copy made later?  Also, is the name on the bottom of the second document also George Washington's signature?

The Poland Lineage:

Generation 1. Thomas Poland, b. England, d. 22 Feb 1666 in Wenham, Massachusetts; married to Hannah (maiden name unknown)

Generation 2. John Poland, b. abt 1631 in England, d. 3 August 1713 in Hamilton, Massachusetts; married about 1657 to Bethiah Friend, daughter of John Friend, b. about 1637.

Generation 3. James Poland, b. about 1665 in Wenham, Massachusetts, d. 1722; married on 12 April 1694 in Wenham to Rebecca Kimball, daughter of Richard Kimball and Rebecca Abbye, b. 20 Oct 1668.

Generation 4. John Poland, b. about 1693 in Hamilton or Wenham, Massachusetts, d. 21 April 1777 in Hamilton, Massachusetts; married on 11 April 1777 in Hamilton, Massachusetts to Abigail Davis, daughter of James Davis and Abigail Metcalfe, d. 19 April 1776. I descend from two sons, Abner (below) and Daniel (1724-1768) who married Sarah Bishop.

Generation 5. Abner Poland, b. about 1736 in Essex, d. 9 February 1824 in Essex; married on 3 April 1761 to Dorothy Burnham, daughter of Caleb Burnham and Dorothy Browne, b. 11 August 1734 in Essex, d. 7 April 1789 in Ipswich, Massachusetts. This Abner, Sr., also enlisted in Capt. Abraham Dodge’s regiment, reenlisted and saw the battle of Burgoyne, Long Island, White Plains and Harlem Heights. He was also issued a pension. He was a prison at Forton Prison, England. Later he was the commander of several privateers listed in Salem.

Generation 6. Abner Poland, b. 17 May 1761 in Essex, d. 14 January 1835 Enfield, New Hampshire; married on 20 March 1783 in Essex to Sarah Burnham, daughter of Westley Burnham and Deborah Story, b. about 1759 in Essex, d. 10 November 1846 in Canaan New Hampshire. This is our Revolutionary War veteran who earned the Badge of Merit.

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Very interesting. I wonder if somebody at NEHGS could help you or even the Mt. Vernon estate to verify the signature. If it is, you are very lucky. When I read it, I thought the name "I. Trumbull Lieut." was actually J. Trumbull Jr., but I could be way off.

  2. Barbara, you may be correct! There was a Lt. Colonel Jonathan Trumbull with George Washington at headquarters at this point in the war. He was the son of Gov. Jonathan Trumbull of CT., brother to the painter John Trumbull. (I just googled this)

  3. I am the daughter of Albert Poland of Manchester, New Hampshire. His parents were Ethel and Herbert Poland of Wilder, Vermont. Herbert's mother was Ellen Gilbert Poland (1871 -1954) and his father was Charles Alonzo Poland (1866-1929). Charles's father was David Poland (1823-??) and his mother was Chastina Kinnie. I am desperately trying to figure out if any of my relatives fought in the civil war. Do you know? My name is April Poland Gill. email: Please let me know if you have any info to share. Thank you.