Jacob Francis Full Biography
I was born in Amwell Township, Hunterdon County on January 15, 1754 and as a young child I was bound by my mother, a colored woman, to an Amwell farmer. My time was resold several times to other men until I was about 13 years old when my time was purchased by Joseph Saxton. Mr. Saxton took me to New York as his servant, then to St. John in the Caribbean, and finally Salem, Massachusetts. In Salem Mr. Saxton sold my time to Benjamin Deacon with whom I was to serve 6 years, until I was 21. When my servant time expired in January 1775 I stayed in Salem and after the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill I enlisted at Cambridge about the last of October in the16th Continental Regiment commanded by Colonel Paul Dudley Sergent.
When I left New Jersey with Mr. Saxton I did not know my family name, but called myself Jacob Gulick (or Hulic) after one of my several previous owners, so I enlisted with that name. My regiment remained in the neighborhood of Boston until the British were driven out of the city and sailed to Halifax. After the British army left, my regiment was ordered to New York so we marched to New London and took ship to New York. The British were on Long Island at the time and I was one of about 200 men detailed from my regiment to join our army on the island. We found our army in retreat and we retreated with it back to Manhattan.
After a while we were ordered to White Plains and joined General Washington’s army there. After the battle I stood sentinel that night in a thicket so near the British lines that I could hear the Hessians in their camp between a quarter and half a mile from me. We were ordered to Peekskill where we crossed the river and marched to Morristown.I heard guns firing when our General Lee was taken prisoner the night we lay near Baskinridge. We continued on, crossed the Delaware River, and were billeted a few miles below Coryell’s Ferry until we crossed with the army to march on Trenton on Christmas night in General Sullivan’s Division. I fought in the battle and after it my regiment was detached to ferry Hessian prisoners across to Pennsylvania. About noon it began to rain very hard and it was quite dark by the time we finished. I slept that night in an old mill house above the ferry on the Pennsylvania side.
When my enlistment was up a few days later I was permitted to return home, but with only three month’s pay rather than the seven and a half I was due. I also did not receive a written discharge at that time. We were told to go to Peekskill at a certain time to receive the rest of our pay and discharges. I immediately went from Trenton to my home in Amwell where I found my mother living, but in ill health. I remained with her and when it was time to go to Peekskill I gave up going and never did receive my pay or discharge. My mother informed me at this time that my family name was Francis and I then went by the name of Jacob Francis.
Obeying the militia law, I enrolled in the company of Captain Philip Snook of the Third Hunterdon militia regiment. I served alternate months on active duty for several years. We were generally sent to posts opposite Staten Island near Elizabethtown. One of my off months I served as a substitute for a person who could not go out and he gave me $75 Continental money to take his place. One time our company marched when there was a British attack on the militia at Elizabethtown. During the skirmish I was captured by some Hessians and marched under guard with the British army through Newark. I was guarded by four men who left me when some of our militia fired on them and I made my escape, laying in some bushes until the British were all gone, and rejoined Captain Snook. I also served under Captain Snook at the Battle of Monmouth, although we were not actively engaged. I continued to turn out for frequent militia tours for the rest of the war.
After the war I purchased and married Mary, a woman of color, in September 1789 at the home of her former master. We were married by Cato Finley, Dr. Finley’s slave, who often solemnized the marriages of colored people. Together we had several children and about 1800 moved to Flemington. In the 1830s I applied for and was granted a pension by the United States government for my service. I died on July 26, 1836.
For Jacob’s full story see his Pension File W459 in National Archives and Records Administration M804, Revolutionary War pension and bounty-land-warrant application files. 2670 miocrofilm reels. Washington: National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1974
For more on the black experience in the Revolution in New Jersey see: Pingeon, Frances D. Blacks in the Revolutionary Era. New Jersey’s Revolutionary Experience, Number 14. Trenton: The New Jersey Historical Commission, 1975.