Saturday, March 4, 2017

Disproving Family Lore: Case Study

Fortunately, most of my "family lore" stories have been proven one way or the other with generally accepted results.

Case in point, Great-grandma Mima Simmons Crail had a brother, John W. Simmons. John served with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, remained behind, married a local girl and became police chief of Havana. That was the story I got from Mom and her brother. The obit for Mima's & John's father listed John living in P.I. P.I.? A message board query was answered by one of John's descendants. John served in the Philippine Islands [PI!], met a local girl, returned to the States, reenlisted and went back to marry his girl. I have stayed in contact with, and met, one of my 3rd cousins.

Apparently, some of the distant cousins of Mima and John are not buying the factual story of the Revolutionary War service of William Simmons, the brother of their great-great-grandfather. The story that has come down is that William enlisted at 18 and served in the Commander-in-chief's Guards. William commanded a regiment at the Battle of Trenton as a colonel. Simmons was also a confidant of Washington, Greene and other generals. He is shown as Col. William Simmons on a historical marker in Coshocton Co., OH. The story is mentioned in his biography and on more than one webpage.

William Simmons did see service in the 11th Pennsylvania and briefly served in Washington's Guards - as a private. The telling document [found on Ancestry.com] is a copy of the application for William's veteran's grave marker. The family wrote "Colonel" for rank. Government officials crossed out "Colonel" and wrote in "private" for rank.

William's skill as a clerk in the Guards got him transferred to the Comptroller's office before war's end. He served the 1st four presidents as an accountant in the Treasury and War Departments. He provided meritorious service in DC during the War of 1812 following troop movements, serving as an artillery observer, preventing Pres. Madison from being captured, and convinced troops to remove a cannon from the city before the British arrived.

C'mon folks, accept William Simmons as a private and clerk. Embrace his government service and heroics in Washington.

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