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   Capt. David Perry        
Provincial Soldier, American Patriot

by D.G. Jones, M.M. © 1998-2013
 
Recollections of An Old Soldier, Chapter One
Summary of Perry's Life
 
(Notes.)   (Sources.)   (How to cite this page.)   (On-site Links.)
 
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    ("FACT OR FICTION: References to Capt. David Perry's Words")  
[To order a hard copy of Perry's Recollections click here.]
NOTE: The page at connecticutsar.org is the only authorized duplicate.
 

The grave of David Perry, in Riverside Cemetery, Ira, Vermont, has two markers: one placed there by his family, and one by the State of Connecticut "in recognition of his patriotic service to his country during the Revolutionary War." 1 Many patriots of the American Revolution are buried outside the state where they had lived. Few left a record of their toils. Capt. David Perry has the distinction of being one who did.
 
The account of his life and times, written by himself shortly before he died, is very rare. Only 15 copies are known to exist. Most of these are in the special collections of universities such as Yale and Harvard, and in historical society libraries. Two are in the private sector; one of these belongs to a descendant of Capt. Perry.
 
David Perry was a resident of Killingly, Windham County, Connecticut, from 1763 until 1779, and he was actively engaged in supporting the united colonies in their efforts to obtain redress of grievances, even to the taking up of arms. During the Revolution, he served at the Siege of Boston (1775) as a 2nd lieutenant under Capt. Joseph Elliot in Company Eight of the Third Regiment, Gen. Israel Putnam commanding. Among the regiment's officers was Col. John Durkee of Norwich. Both John Durkee and Israel Putnam had been leaders of the Sons of Liberty in eastern Connecticut and had maintained a more controlled resistance than occurred in some colonies.
 
David Perry served again during the winter of 1776-77 at Providence, R.I., this time as a 1st lieutenant in the Connecticut State Militia (4th Battalion) under Capt. John Ely, Gen. Joseph Spencer commanding. They marched to Providence to protect the city in case of attack from the British, who had taken Newport, R.I. When David Perry returned home in the spring, he paid for several recruits to enlist into the Continental Army, despite his impoverished circumstances.

The son of Eliakim and Sarah (Joy) Perry, David Perry was born in 1741 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. After his mother mother died in 1748, he was raised by her brother Lt. David Joy of Rehoboth who "treated him very kindly." At the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed as a tanner and shoemaker to David Walker in nearby Dighton, Massachusetts, and resided in Dighton from 1755 until 1762. He enlisted into the Massachusetts provincial forces in 1758 at the age of 16 under Capt. (later Lt.-Col.) Job Winslow of Dighton, who was recruiting on the Taunton parade ground. Perry served in four separate campaigns during the French and Indian (Seven Years') War.
 
Perry's service included: Abercrombie's unsuccessful assault on Ticonderoga (1758); the provincial rangers' activity at the Siege of Quebec City (1759); the New England Planters' colonization of the Minas Basin area of Nova Scotia (1760); ground preparation for Citadel Hill in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and the Battle of Signal Hill in the recapture of St. John's, Newfoundland (1762). The details he recorded of the rangers' activity at the Siege of Quebec is one of only two eye-witness accounts in existence, and his record of taking Signal (Flagstaff) Hill from the French is recorded nowhere else.
 
In 1763, after a long recovery from typhus in his uncle's home in Rehoboth, David Perry moved to Killingly, Connecticut, where he married Anna Bliss of Rehoboth. Six children were born to them in Killingly. Now a tanner and shoemaker, David Perry was involved in the pre-Revolutionary turmoil in eastern Connecticut, and helped raise a company to march to Boston's aid after shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. His brother Sylvanus, also a resident of Killingly, answered the Lexington alarm and served in the Revolutionary forces until 1781.
 
In 1779, David Perry moved to Plainfield, New Hampshire, where his last two children were born. He served as selectman of that town for nine years and as a militia officer for eight, accepting a captain's commission in 1785.  In 1790, he was one of many who helped create the state of Vermont. In 1797, he moved to Chelsea, Vermont, where he continued to be active in town affairs. It was in Chelsea that he wrote his Recollections in 1819, and the manuscript was published in 1822 by the generosity of Simeon Ide -- a printer in Windsor, Vermont. Capt. David Perry died in 1826 in Ira, Vermont.
 
His record is remarkable in several respects. Thirteen years before it began, he knew the Revolution would be fought. Besides being the only eye-witness account of several actions during the French and Indian War, his memoir is one of the few accounts of near-death experiences in the 1700s, and one of the few personal accounts of the Battle of Lake Champlain during the "second war for independence" -- the War of 1812. His patriotic conclusion is eloquent and dynamic, with stunning implications for Americans today. A literate, honest soldier and citizen, David Perry exercised and valued the liberties he had "some small share in establishing" and desired nothing more than that those liberties should be preserved.
 
In the words of Simeon Ide, printer of the 1822 edition: "Few have better earned the appellation of a faithful Soldier, than [Capt. David Perry]... Though his name may not live on the annals of his country, yet his fellow-citizens should never forget... that, had it not been for the...the fortitude, patience and perseverance of those who, like himself, in the humbler ranks of the common soldier, bared their breasts to the foe, upon the 'tented field,' that country had never known 'a name and a rank among the nations.' " 2  
 
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Notes:  
 
1 Town clerk, Ira, Vermont (then Carrie [Colvin] Perry), letter dated 16 Sept. 1963; corr. Ethel [Perry] Sevigny, Ira, Vermont, 1995-1998; DAR Records of Descendants. Mrs. Carrie Perry writes: "Capt. David [Perry] is buried in our cemetery and has two markers -- one erected by his family and one by the State of Connecticut due to his military record." (Carrie [Colvin] Perry was also a member of the senate of the state of Vermont. [Source: grandson C. Whiteman, corr. 6 Jun 2003].)
 
2 These are the concluding lines of the Advertisement [Preface] to the first edition by Simeon Ide, printer, 1822, in which Ide records the circumstances surrounding the publication of Capt. David Perry's Recollections of an Old Soldier....  

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Sources:
 
Perry, David.   Recollections of An Old Soldier: The Life of Captain David Perry, a Soldier of the French and Revolutionary Wars. Containing Many Extraordinary Occurrences Relating to His Own Private History, And an Account of Some Interesting Events in the History of the Times in Which He Lived, No-where Else Recorded. Written by himself.   Simeon Ide, printer.  Windsor, Vt.: [Vermont] Republican and [American] Yeoman Printing-Office, 1822.   Electronic edition © 1998 D.G. Jones; online at The Capt. David Perry Web Site
 
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