The Forgotten Patriot

Luke Nickerson (1743-1829) married Hagar Cousins in Harpswell, Maine, in 1772. Three years later, the colonies were in an uproar, declaring civil war against England. On January 15, 1777, Nickerson enlisted in Reed’s Company, one of six men from Harpswell to do so.

That autumn, Private Nickerson was wounded in the thigh by a musket ball at the surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, N.Y. He continued to fight, despite his wound. Later taken prisoner, possibly at the Battle of Rhode Island in August of 1778, he was one of the first cartel of British prisoners returned from Rhode Island in January, 1779. That February he was confirmed to be at Cherry Valley, N.Y. He mustered out at the end of his three-year enlistment, in January of 1780.

SAR Flag Holder

Nickerson returned home to Hagar. It seems that they continued with life as usual, possibly having children. By 1818, when he applied for a war veteran’s pension he and Hagar were living in a log house in Brunswick, Maine. The application tells us their household consisted of the Nickersons and an eight-year-old boy, possibly a grandson. Nickerson, then about 74, was a laborer, unable to work consistently due to age and the lingering effects of the musket ball wound. Hagar, 66, had rheumatism but was able to work some. Their only asset was one cow; they did not own the land on which they lived. Nickerson was granted the pension.

Luke Nickerson was just one of many Maine men who fought in the Revolutionary War. What makes his story particularly compelling is that he was also one of the many African American soldiers and sailors who fought later in the war, despite British offers of freedom to any slave who fled to Nova Scotia and joined with the Loyalists. If the British won the war, Patriots would not gain their freedom. Even more compelling is that Nickerson enlisted at the beginning of 1777, a full year before Massachusetts, of which Maine was a part, made it legal to recruit African Americans to military service.Luke Nickerson headstone applicationHe died on May 4, 1829. Tradition has it that he was buried where he died, on an embankment overlooking Bunganuc Brook. His grave was marked by a simple fieldstone and Nickerson was seemingly forgotten.

Luke Nickerson Headstone

This was not the case, however. He appeared on the Brunswick Town Clerk’s veteran cards and farmers who owned the Bunganuc Brook property over the years knew exactly who was buried at the edge of their farm. In 1930, a full century after Nickerson died, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution applied to the U.S. War Department to have a veteran’s headstone placed on the site, where it still resides. The current property owners take great pride in seeing that Nickerson’s gravesite is respected and that he is remembered.

Next blog in two weeks: You’ve Got Questions; We’ve Got Answers

Sources:

  • Ancestry.com U.S. War Department Application for Headstone
  • Black Courage 1775-1783. Greene, Robert Elwell, 1984
  • Veterans Records. Brunswick Town Clerk’s Office
  • Vital Records: Harpswell, Maine; Marriage Records: Book 1. copied by Chadbourne, Ida N., North Baldwin, Maine, 1904
  • An Alphabetical Index of Revolutionary Pensioners Living in Maine. compiled by Flagg, Charles Alcott, Reprint from Sprague’s Journal of Maine History, Dover, Maine 1920
  • Interview with former area resident Robert Galloupe
  • Growstown Cemetery Records. copied by Harmon, Mrs. Fred, 1938    
  • Revolutionary War Graves Register CD, © 1993-2000. National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution
  • New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Maine Estate Schedules  from Revolutionary War Pensions [continued], vol 142, 1988
  • Harpswell in the American Revolution. Thomas, Miriam Stover, 1976
  • History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Wheeler, George Augustus, MD and Henry Warren Wheeler, Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878
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About Barbara Desmarais

Writer and amateur historian
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