Joseph Hancock’s Military Career
The essential military necessity of having a standing army of stable, trained and relatively disciplined troops escaped the understanding of the general public not intimately familiar with soldering during the American Revolutionary War. While citizens had a fond opinion of their state militias that were often excessively and incorrectly esteemed for their bravery and military significance during the war, the regulars, contrary to their valuable service, were looked upon as parasitic vagrants. When camped nearby, it was widely held they confiscated local foodstuffs, lived in relative comfort, and amused themselves during lengthy interludes between battles with games, and liquor. Nothing was further from the truth. The regulars were starving, suffering from exposure to the elements, improvised from the lack of clothes, blankets and tents, marching often without shoes and conscripted with no choice but to fight the enemy, which they did with conviction. The various state militias on the other hand were voluntary, temporary forces comprised of free men who could choose to fight the enemy at their pleasure. They were usually an unstable force. Furthermore, they were not willing to endure the hardships of the regular army. It was precisely due to the characteristic lack of military discipline and force stability that General Washington insisted upon and the Continental Congress approved a standing army. In the militia’s defense, they were essential to military victory and participated in many key battles. Without them there would not have been the critical mass necessary to confront the British. In addition, a few state militias conducted military conquests independent of General Washington’s Main Army that resulted in some successes. The salient point however is that no American (United States) soldier has ever returned home to more public contempt. Instead of receiving the well-earned respect they deserved in prevailing against the most powerful army assembled since the Roman Legions, they were dishonored.
The condition of these men when they returned home was deplorable. Privates were emaciated and due to the usual absence of decent clothing, often came home in rags. They were seldom paid on time and often owed arrearages for months. Their pay was in government script that depreciated rapidly. The Continental Congress had no taxing authority and therefore was dependent on state governments to provide pay. The states governments were grievously dilatory in paying their soldiers. Congress, recognizing the debt owed to these men, offered substitute incentives such as 100 acres of free land reserved specifically for veterans. However veterans were not informed where these lands were located and were never informed as to how to procure them. Destitute for money, veterans often had their government script and land grants essentially misappropriated by selling government IOU’s and grants to speculators at highly discounted prices. Joseph Hancock appears to be a case in point. He did not locate on lands reserved for veterans obtaining 100 acres free and in fact bought his first frontier property in Kentucky. He was also escheated of pay by April 1, 1787 in the significant amount exceeding 82 pounds. The state apparently made little or no effort to locate Joseph and he must have not known the process, if there was one, to claim back pay. Towards the end of their lives, due to infirmities and disability, many veterans applied for a government pension, which again piqued the ire of the general public. J.P. Martin, private in the Continental Army had a few words to say regarding pensions:
“The soldiers consider it cruel to be thus vilified, and it is cruel as the grave to any man, when he knows his own rectitude of conduct, to have his hard services not only debased and underrated, but scandalized and vilified. But the Revolutionary soldiers are not the only people that endure obloquy; others, as meritorious and perhaps more deserving than they, are forced to submit to ungenerous treatment.
“But if the old Revolutionary pensioners are really an eyesore, a grief of mind, to any and all men (and I know they are), let me tell them that if they will exercise a very little patience, a few years longer will put all of them beyond the power of troubling them, for they will soon be ‘where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.’
The specter of public disdain towards veterans and personal concern for his reputation is reflected in Joseph Hancock’s pension application:
“…. the following are his only reasons for not making earlier application for a pension that he always thought it would be a degradation of himself and tarnish his reputation as a soldier of the Revolution to burden the country with his support whilst he could by any exertion of his own support himself by his labor.”
He received his pension of $8.00 per month beginning August 25, 1828, which was paid until his death September 2, 1834 when he ceased troubling the country anymore.