Oliver Cromwell Full Biography
I was born in the village of Black Horse, now Columbus, Burlington County and lived with my maternal uncle, Thomas Hutchens where I was raised as a farmer. My ancestry was mixed and some records list me as mulatto while others have me as Indian. I may have been a mix of European, African, and Indian.
When the Revolution broke out I served in the militia and then on February 1, 1777, a month after the Battle of Princeton, I enlisted for the duration of the war in Captain James Lawrie’s Company of the Second New Jersey Continental Regiment commanded by Colonel Israel Shreve. Recruits of color were not always welcomed into the army, but I was allowed to enlist and took great pride in my service. At the Battle of Short Hills in June 1777, Captain Lawrie was wounded and taken prisoner. He died while in captivity in New York. Lieutenant Aaron Lane took over for several months until Captain Nathaniel Bowman took over command of our company from him. Not many records survive, but I appear as a private in his company on payrolls from May 1777 through February 1778. In February 1778, while the army was at Valley Forge I was absent from my company on furlough. My name also appears on a muster for November and December 1779. Later in the war, when our regiment was reduced in size to a battalion, I served under Captain Dayton.
While I always told people that I fought in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, and described them with enthusiasm, there is no documentary evidence that I did and both battles occurred before I enlisted in the Continental Line. While serving in the Second New Jersey we were engaged at the battles of Monmouth, Brandywine, Springfield, and Yorktown. I always told people after the war that I saw the last man killed at Yorktown. I continued to serve until the army was disbanded and received my discharge on June 5, 1783. My discharge paper noted that I had earned the “Badge of Merit” for my six years of faithful service. The Badge of Merit was designed personally by General Washington and was a purple cloth heart with the word “Merit” on it. This was one of the first awards given to ordinary soldiers like me and could be awarded for exceptional bravery or for extended faithful service, as in my case.
After the war I returned to Burlington and raised my family. In 1818, the United States Congress passed a law providing pensions to former Continental soldiers who were in need. I made my first application statement explaining my service on April 2, 1818 and then filed a second document on May 27, 1820 to prove that I needed the pension. I reported that all I owned were two iron pots, a tea kettle, four chairs, six plates, knifes, and forks, a bed and bedding and my wearing apparel. I was 67 years old and as a common laborer I was unable to earn a livelihood due to my age. My 25 year old daughter Elizabeth, who lived with me, was crippled and unable to assist me with income. I also had two young sons, Isaac and Robert aged 12 and 10, who were too young to earn income. Fortunately, I was awarded a pension of $96 a month.
In 1850, I told the census taker that I was 97 years old and was living with my daughter Elizabeth and my grandson son James and his family. When the census taker asked me my occupation I proudly told him it was “drummer in the Revolution.” There is no other evidence to prove this and Thomas Pitts was the drummer for Captain Lawrie’s and Captain Bowman’s company. But, I loved to tell stories about the Revolution. A reporter from the Burlington Gazette came to interview me on May 24, 1852 and I told him it was my one hundredth birthday. We talked about the war and the reporter noted that my eye brightened “at the name of Washington” and in all my conversations I exhibited “that deepseated attachment” to my commander, “for which all soldiers of the Revolution are celebrated.” I told the reporter that my discharge paper had been taken from me when I applied for a pension and telling him that renewed my mourning for it and my eyes became tearful.
I died on January 24, 1853 and was buried in the cemetery of the Broad Street Methodist Church. In 1914 the postmaster of Burlington wrote to the Commissioner of Pensions for information about me because there was a movement in Burlington to erect a monument to my memory. He noted that “those of our citizens who remember him speak of him as a very respectable man.” Unfortunately, nothing came of it and no monument was erected.
NARA M804. Revolutionary War pension and bounty-land-warrant application files [microform] 2670 microfilm reels; 35 mm. Washington: National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1974. Pension File S34613 for Oliver Cromwell. His pension file contains his discharge. See also pension file of Robert Thompson for Oliver and Elizabeth’s supporting letters.
NARA M246. Muster rolls, payrolls, strength returns, and other miscellaneous per¬sonnel, pay, and supply records of American Army units, 1775-83.
“Wants Negroes to have War Credit: Lawyer Gregory Tells of Colored Soldiers in American Revolution” Trenton Evening Times, April 11, 1905, page 5.
“I am One Hundred Years Old To-Day.” (From the Burlington Gazette) Trenton State Gazette, May 31, 1852, page 2