Piecing together service records of Revolutionary War soldiers can be complicated. No one got a DD 214 when they were mustered out. Many soldiers had their service records compiled by the Federal Government in the late nineteenth century, and applications for Federal veteran’s pensions usually include a (mostly) thorough record of service. Unfortunately, the compiled service records often omit early 1776 service–most of what we need–and not all men applied for pensions.
The rest of the time, as a result, figuring out a Revolutionary War soldier’s military career means paging through books, letters, and other records, trying to find information about his service. This is especially tricky when there is more than one soldier with the same name. In many such cases, it is simply impossible to differentiate the men. There were at least seven John Smiths who enlisted in the First Maryland Regiment in 1776, for example, and well more than that over the rest of the war. There were no Social Security Numbers, street addresses, or phone numbers in the eighteenth century to help differentiate people easily.
We recently researched one soldier who had a common name, but left behind plenty of clues that help distinguish him. Peter Smith enlisted as a private in the Fourth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 24, 1776. While he had a common name, he also had a very distinct signature, and that enabled us to track his military career, and even his parts of his civilian life afterward.
His signature on pay receipts in 1779 helped confirm service we found in other sources:
Smith’s signature was even more helpful after the war. There were many Peter Smiths in Maryland’s population, but our Peter Smith still stood out. It let us eliminate a number of other people, including a Peter Smith who was a land speculator in Western Maryland. With the ability to eliminate many other Peter Smiths, we could zero in on the most likely man, one who came from Harford County. Unfortunately for us, he left the state around 1800, and gave us no paper trail to follow.
Be sure to read Peter Smith’s complete biography to learn more of what we found!
Excellent points made about the difficulty in identifying the correct person of the same name.