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Remembering a Patriot

July 4, 2014 Archive Insight


It’s the 4th of July and what’s on my mind isn’t just picnics and fireworks. What I’m thinking about is a young man from long ago named William Hood, who gave service during the American Revolution. William Hood was my fourth great grandfather and –

A patriot.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, William Hood was just about 18 years old. He was stationed near the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. This was an area where there had been repeated attacks by the British and their Native American allies.

With most of the able-bodied men away in the Continental Army, only women, children and the elderly were left behind to defend their homes and farms from the British. And the situation continued to get worse throughout 1777 and 1778. The story of what happened next is told in great detail in Northumberland County in the American Revolution.

By June of 1779, virtually all of the colonists had abandoned their homes, left the area completely or hunkered down in one of several small forts in the area. The British destroyed everything that was left behind.

This mass exodus was called “The Great Runaway”.

By the 4th of July in 1779, things had gotten so bad that the only people still living in the West Branch were at Fort Freeland, Fort Augusta or Fort Boone, where William Hood was stationed. Although the colonists begged for reinforcements, there just weren’t enough men to send to help.

The British viewed Fort Freeland as a strategic target because it was the furthest colonial outpost on the American frontier. Removal of this fort would leave the other colonial forts vulnerable. It is likely that these reasons helped the British to decide to attack Fort Freeland near dawn on July 28, 1779.

According to first-hand reports from survivors, there were more than 300 British and Native Americans who surrounded Fort Freeland that day. There was no way to defend against this massive attack and by late morning, the colonists had surrendered.

But hearing the gunfire and believing that Fort Freeland was still under siege, Captain Hawkins Boone, from nearby Fort Boone, gathered his men, including William Hood, and rushed to aid the colonists. Unfortunately the British ambushed Captain Boone and his soldiers as they arrived at Fort Freeland. William Hood and others in the rescue party escaped. But Captain Boone and 15 of his men were killed at the fort.

That day in 1779, 108 colonists were killed or taken as prisoners of war and the women and children were sent packing to find shelter wherever they could. Then the British burned Fort Freeland.

The battle of Fort Freeland was a devastating loss for the colonists, but by no means the only one during the eight long years of the Revolutionary War. Despite defeats like this and the personal losses that came with them, patriots like my ancestor, William Hood never gave up.

It is his commitment that I think about today. Because William Hood and others stayed the course, we as Americans are able to embrace our independence and enjoy freedoms we now hold dear.

Now there’s something to celebrate!

Karen Batchelor is a genealogist who has been chasing ancestors – and family stories for almost forty years. She is also a historical presenter at The Henry Ford’s colonial Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village; where you can experience what life was like in 1760.

Pennsylvania, 18th century, holidays, by Karen Batchelor

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