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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.

10 Responses to Conclusion

  1. Cheryl Bowen Hqance

    Hello, I am trying to track anything on my 3rd Great grandfather Michael Bowen from Lawrence County, Ohio. I have his Military documents and he names where he traveled during the Revolutionary War in the 8th Regiment of the PA line, serving under Col. Brodhead, General MacIntosh, Let. Col. Wilson and some I can not read. He talks about building Fort MacIntosh, Quibbletown, Big Bear Ridge, and so on. How would I find any other information on him during this time? He is said to be buried in Washbash, Illinois and died either 15 Nov, 1830 or 15 September 1830. I can not find where. PLEASE let me know if you can tell me anything about him.
    Cheryl Bowen Hance

    • Bruce Hancock

      Sorry I’m so late in getting back. Have been distracted by other issues for some time.

      I am gratified that this work is of some use to other 8th regiment families. From your information it would appear your great grandfather was with the 8th until he was discharged at Fort Pitt. Therefore he would likely have been in the same places and the same time as rebeljoe. My manuscript covers a lot of the time and places the 8th was from its inception. You might want to google rosters for the 8th. There is a website at Valley Forge that contains a rooster however I had to provide support to get rebeljoe on the list. I would recommend the following from my reference list at the end of the manuscript on the website listed by author: Hassler, McGuire (Paoli and Germantown highly recommended), Martin, Reed, Stille, & Trussell(with reservation due to insufficient research on minor matters).

      I would be interested in the entire list you have of battles he may have been in. Big Bear Ridge is not on mine.

      Best Regards

    • Bruce Hancock

      Very interesting. I would be interested in where Big Bare Ridge is located. There are some battle locations that are mysterious.

      Look in my reference file. You might look in the library for: Trussell, John B.B. The Pennsylvania Line Regimental Organization and Operations, 1775-1783. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical And Museum Commission, 1993. There is some information contained therein on the 8th. I have documented in my work the activities of the 8th in.

      I do not see him on the muster roll at Valley Forge but Joseph wasn’t either until I submitted detailed information. You might search the pension files in the event he filed for and received a Pension. has them but there may be other electronic sources.

  2. Rick Sprague


    Thank You so much for your time and effort on this project. I am the 5th G-grandson of Joseph. I found your book while searching the web on Joseph. Here is my lineage:
    Joseph Hancock Jr (1758 – 1834)
    Cynthia Hancock (1806 – 1894), daughter of Joseph Hancock Jr
    Sophia Reeder (1824 – 1864), daughter of Cynthia Hancock
    John C. Ring (1849 – ), son of Sophia Reeder
    Cecil Adda Ring (1879 – 1962), daughter of John C. Ring
    Madge Mariam Taylor (1904 – 1961), daughter of Cecil Adda Ring
    Richard Louis Sprague (1927 – ), son of Madge Mariam Taylor
    Richard “Rick” James Sprague

    I am very happy to add this book to my ancestry. Thank you, Rick Sprague

    • Bruce Hancock

      Thank you for the acknowledgement. It was a labor of love to write the script and one of the few that is taken from the foot soldiers point of view.

  3. Elizabeth Young

    i was given an Ancestry DNA kit for my birthday last November. When I got results I found Joseph Hancock’s name on my list. I had never come across is name in my research. However I started to follow his trail and am honored to be one of his descendants. You are to be commended for this body of work on Joseph and thank you so much for doing this. I am related through my father Julius Dean his father John Dean, his father Harry Dean, his father William Allison Dean’s wife Suzanna Smeltzer. Her mother is Elizabeth Hancock Smeltzer. Elizabeth is the daughter of Joseph Hancock and Susannah Millman. Joseph is the son Joseph Hancock Jr, and Catherine Baltimore.

    • Bruce Hancock

      Thank you for your compliment. I have forwarded your comment to Linda Shelton who is a descendant of John and Susannah Hancock.

    • Bruce Hancock

      hank you for the compliment. I hope to publish on Ancestry a tree that goes down at least two generations from our patriot. This is possible thanks Linda Shelton who is a descendant of Joseph and Susannah Hancock. I am a descendant of our patriots John Hancock whose line was largely known back to our patriot and enabled me to do the military history research. I will forward this comment to Linda.

    • Bruce Hancock

      Thank you for the compliment. I hope to publish on Ancestry a tree that goes down at least two generations from our patriot. This is possible thanks Linda Shelton who is a descendant of Joseph and Susannah Hancock. I am a descendant of our patriots John Hancock whose line was largely known back to our patriot and enabled me to do the military history research. I will forward this comment to Linda.

  4. Don Cady

    Cpl. James Maxwell of the 8th Pa was my ancestor and enlisted at Kittaning to protect the frontier but made the trek to the East to fight in major battles. Was not listed at Valley Forge but I think he stayed with his parents near Rising Sun for that winter; he had gone west to the frontier ere the war began. He went back to Pitt having pursued Indians up the Susquehanna and finally went up the Alleghany to destroy the Seneca Villages, according to his pension application. He married a Quaker girl Margaret Hammond from a settlement near Brownsville. I suspect he was billeted with the Hammond family for the winter as her brothers were dropped from the Church “for aiding soldiers against the faith.” They settled near Butler Pa. where he lived to at least 1833. The veteran lands were very confuusing and he actually purchased his farm, later getting a veteran’s grant in Muskiand Ohio. It’s remarkable what those people went through and I enjoy reading about the events and especially the people. Ironically I was born just a few miles north of the extent of the Brodhead Expedition of the Alleghany River and hunt deer near Brokenstraw where the only engagement with the Senecas took place. Thanks for your information; James acted as a sergeant much of the time. Would you be able to find James Maxwell in any records of the 8th regiment?

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