In the U.S. Revolutionary War, many young boys served as soldiers or sailors. Many of them were drummers or fifers, and a few in their early teens even marched as soldiers in local militias. There was a report of one as young as nine years old and claims of others even younger than that. So who was the youngest?
The claim of a nine-year-old sailor surfaced in a Bangor Daily News article about an abandoned and unmarked grave of John Barry, who had served as a “powder monkey” aboard a ship commanded by American naval hero John Paul Jones. The article explains that the Navy in that era routinely used boys to take gunpowder from cramped spaces below deck to the cannons.
The story handed down over the generations claims that the youngster was killed during an attack on the ship and was buried back in his native Maine. I am curious which ship he served on. John Paul Jones commanded several ships in the Revolution although he is best known for his battles while commanding the Ranger. The Ranger’s battles were all off the coast of England and France. It is unlikely that anyone killed in battle there would have been brought back to the U.S. for burial since ships of that era did not have the capability to store bodies for the long trip home.
Jones also commanded several other ships, some of which were in battles off Maine as well as off Newfoundland. It seems more likely that the youngster would have been killed while serving on one of those, a ship that could easily return to a Maine port soon after a battle.
A search of the web is somewhat useless since the famous “Father of the American Navy” had the same name: John Barry. A search on Google or other search engines finds hundreds of “hits” of the name John Paul Jones alongside the name John Barry. However, all of them seem to be references to Irish immigrant Captain (and later Commodore) John Barry. None of the hits on Google referred to a nine-year-old of the same name from Maine. The search is made even more complicated by the fact that John Paul Jones reported to Commodore John Barry for much of the Revolution.
In any case, it makes for an interesting story. So, who is buried in the unmarked cemetery in Maine? You can read the full story reported in the Bangor Daily News at https://www.bangornews.com/news/templates/?a=111726
Another story claims that Isaac Wheeler, Jr. (1768 – 1856), was the youngest soldier of the Revolutionary War. He reportedly was eight years old when he served as a fifer and served with his father, Isaac Wheeler. While there have been several references to him online, none offered verifiable primary documentation of that claim.
So this still leaves the original question: Who was the youngest (verifiable) soldier or sailor of the American Revolution? If you have any information, please contact us..
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