There is no question that Jonathan Hosmer, builder of our 1760 Hosmer House, came from a family committed to the colonists’ side in the Revolutionary War. Jonathan’s brother Abner and his son Jonathan died while serving the cause. We thought it would be a simple matter to discover whether "builder" Jonathan also served. What we discovered instead was that over the past 240 years, writers’ assumptions have created a tangle of confused identities of three generations of Jonathan Hosmers. Trying to sort them out was daunting.
At least two major problems occur when trying to prove or disprove Revolutionary War service. Many records have been lost, assuming they ever existed. For example, three Acton companies went to Concord on April 19, 1775, but we do not have exact roster lists for any of them. Members of Captain Isaac Davis’ company have been identified based on his successor John Hayward’s “Lexington Alarm” muster roll, generally thought to be fairly complete, though still not perfect. Captain Joseph Robbins’ East Acton company was almost a complete mystery until the 1990s. His descendants found and donated to the Acton Historical Society papers that listed those who signed up to train with Captain Robbins in 1774 and a memo written at some point that listed those who served with him in the army in 1775-1776. (They, too, are probably not complete and do not specify those who were at the Bridge in Concord, but they certainly added enormously to what had been previously known.) Simon Hunt’s company of April 19, 1775 is still almost completely unidentified. Clearly, some Acton men’s service on that day (and later in the war) will never be known.
In addition, and particularly relevant for this situation, the existing lists often consist only of names without identifying details. The common practice of naming sons for fathers (or grandfathers or uncles) makes it hard for modern researchers to distinguish among them. (See our blog post on John Swift, as one example.) The lists sometimes included “Junr” or “2nd”after a name, but the designation was inconsistent, even for the same man, and might change after the older generation died.
To find out if builder Jonathan Hosmer served in the war, we first had to isolate what is known and documented.
Starting with what we know:
Three Jonathan Hosmers (that we know of) lived in Acton at the beginning of the American Revolution:
Indications of Jonathan Hosmer's Military Service
A memorial notation on Submit (Hosmer) Barker’s gravestone in Woodlawn Cemetery says: “This in memory of Jonathan Hosmer Junr, Son of Mr Jonathan Hosmor & Mrs. Submit his wife, who died at Bennington in ye Servis of his Country In the 18th year of his age.” Submit Barker, who died in February, 1783, was Jonathan (3)’s sister.
Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the American Revolution, a compilation done by the Secretary of the Commonwealth in the 1890s (volume 8, page 289) states that “Hosmer, Jonathan (also given Jonathan, Jr.)” was among men listed by Captain Simon Hunt on August 14, 1777 who were drafted “from train band and alarm list” (men available to go) to reinforce the Continental Army. On its own, the parenthetical statement “also given Jonathan Jr.” is somewhat confusing. Based on similar entries and the fact that Mass. Soldiers and Sailors only included one entry for a Jonathan Hosmer in Simon Hunt’s listing of draftees, we assume this parenthetical note was to distinguish Jonathans, rather than to suggest that two Jonathans were on the draft list. The Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors entry adds that Jonathan Hosmer enlisted as a Private in Capt. George Minott’s Company, Col. Samuel Bullard’s regiment, on August 16, 1777 and was discharged Oct. 1, 1777, noting compensation for nine days’ journey home. (From the gravestone, we know that he did not make it back to Acton.)
Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors also shows a separate entry for Jonathan Hosmer, called up with Captain Simon Hunt’s Acton company, March 4, 1776, to help to fortify Dorchester Heights. His rank was Sergeant.
No other Revolutionary War service for a Jonathan Hosmer was found by the compilers of Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the American Revolution. (Note that their records were incomplete. Early service in the war is particularly difficult to document; even Abner Hosmer who died at the North Bridge on April 19, 1775 is not listed.) Compiled lists that we have of men who went from Acton to fight at Concord or Bunker Hill do not include a Jonathan Hosmer. If one of the Acton Jonathans served in 1775, we have no proof of it.
Assumptions and Confusion
The possibility that Deacon Jonathan Hosmer (1) served militarily in the Revolutionary War was discussed in an earlier blog post, concluding that it was unlikely and that there was no supporting evidence. Jonathan Hosmer (3)’s war service is clear from the Woodlawn Cemetery memorial. Acton records show that he was born September 24, 1760, and the gravestone says that he died in service in his 18th year. This matches the military record for Jonathan Hosmer’s serving in Captain Minott’s company August 16-October 1, 1777. As discussed above, Mass. Soldiers and Sailors makes it appear that only one Jonathan Hosmer served in that company. (Another blog post discusses this 1777 service.)
Tradition in the family and town seems to have been that both Jonathan (2) and (3) served at some point in the Revolution. In 1895, the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution marked the Acton graves of individuals that they believed had served in the Revolutionary War. An April 18, 1895 Concord Enterprise listing and a 1901 inventory stated that both Jonathan Hosmer and Jonathan Hosmer Jr.’s graves had been marked. Charles Bradley Stone, born in Acton to a Hosmer mother, applied to the Sons of the American Revolution as a great-grandson of Stephen Hosmer, Revolutionary War soldier. (National SAR member #5046, application available on Ancestry.com) In addition to describing Stephen’s service, the application states that Stephen’s brother Abner Hosmer fell at Concord and that
“Jonathan Hosmer his brother was also in the service and his son Jonathan Jr was killed at Bennington. Recapitulation
My great-great grandfather Deacon Jonathan Hosmer had three sons in the service viz Sthephen [?], Jonathan & Abner and one grandson Jonathan Jr who was killed.”
Unfortunately, no sources of proof of non-ancestors’ service were presented. (Note that the list omits the service of younger brother Jonas Hosmer who moved to Walpole, NH after the war.)
Rev. James T. Woodbury, installed as first minister of the Evangelical Church of Acton in 1832, compiled a list of Acton Revolutionary War soldiers. Presumably it was based upon collective memories and the few written records that he had access to; he acknowledged at the time that it was very incomplete. Rev. James Fletcher’s Acton in History (page 263) reproduced the list, including “Jonathan Hosmer, Esq., Simon’s father, died in the army”. Jonathan (2) was Simon’s father and actually lived until 1822; this entry combined him and his son. Was the error simply a “typo” in Fletcher’s book? Did Rev. Woodbury credit service to the wrong Jonathan Hosmer, or should he have included both the father Jonathan (2) and the son Jonathan (3)? Over a century later, Harold Phalen revised the list in his own history of Acton, changing the entry to “Hosmer, Jonathan (died in Army)” (page 385). This cleared up the conflation of the two Jonathans, but it eliminated Jonathan (2) from the service list. (Adding more confusion, Phalen’s index entry for Jonathan Hosmer’s Revolutionary War service includes the title “Ensign & Capt.” that belonged to a later Jonathan Hosmer.)
Town histories are not the only source of identity confusion. At least two hereditary society applications mentioned the 1777 service of their ancestor “Jonathan Hosmer Jr.,” private in Capt. George Minott’s company, Col. Samuel Bullard’s regiment, but gave the birth and death dates of Jonathan (2). (Ada Isabel (Jones) Marshall, Daughters of the American Revolution member #46274, Lineage Book Vol. 47, page 126; Merton Augustine Jewett Hosmer, National Sons of the American Revolution member #73474 application, both available through Ancestry.com). Augustine Hosmer’s entry in the 1893 Massachusetts SAR roster (page 93) cited the same service and dates for ancestor “Jonathan Hosmer.”
Finding the father's service
If we are correct that the 1777 service cited in the Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors entry belonged only to Jonathan (3), it seems that Jonathan (2) was credited with his son's service in a number of sources. The question remains, can we definitively show military service of Jonathan (2) separate from that of his son?
It is very possible that some of Jonathan Hosmer (2)’s Revolutionary service is unrecorded, but the only actual close-to-the-time evidence that we have found is the listing of those in Captain Simon Hunt’s Acton company, March 4, 1776, called to help fortify Dorchester Heights. Sergeant Jonathan Hosmer went with the company along with Jonathan (2)’s younger brother Stephen who served as Corporal. Jonathan (3) would have been fifteen years old at that point. It is possible that he could have gone with the Acton militia that day, but it is very unlikely that he would have been chosen sergeant, outranking his uncle who was twenty-one years older. Of the information that we have, we believe that this record shows military service that belongs to Jonathan (2).
Unfortunately, the fact that both Jonathan (2) and Jonathan (3) were at times known as “Junior” seems to have led to confusion among those who tried to compile lists of soldiers in later years. We have tried, very cautiously, to disentangle the various references to Jonathan Hosmer’s war service. Much as we want answers to our questions, we can only work with the information that we have. As research on Jonathan Hosmer has progressed, we have been reminded how critical it is to state sources and to distinguish assumptions from proof so that people after us can draw their own conclusions.
We would be grateful to hear from anyone who has more information about the Hosmers’ experiences in the Revolutionary era, whether military or not. The Hosmer family of Acton contributed and sacrificed a great deal during the Revolutionary War years, and we at the Society, caretakers of a Hosmer family home, want to make sure that they are remembered.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, our usual open hours have been suspended. Please contact us for an appointment or to ask your research questions.
Hosmer House Museum:
Open for special events.
Mailing Address: PO Box 2389, Acton, MA 01720
Copyright © 2022 Acton Historical Society, All Rights Reserved