In memory: William Posten, gunner, died ca 1779

Private William Posten died during the Revolutionary War.  ‘William Posten (gunner), dead’ is listed on the rolls of Captain Willing’s company of marines, who served from January 1778 to June 1779. [1]  What is his story?

William’s story is also the story of the United States Marine Corps.  Did you know that USMC traces its history back to the American Revolution? The Continental Marines protected ship captains and officers among other duties. One author described these men as “half soldier and half-sailor”[2]  The Continental Marines formally existed from November 1775 to 1783. In 1798, the service branch was re-created as the United States Marine Corps.

Captain James Willing’s story must also be told.  James Willing belonged to a prominent Philadelphia family. He received a commission “through the influence of his brother, Thomas, and a close friend, Robert Morris.”[3] Drawing soldiers from Fort Pitt (current day Pittsburgh),  Captain Willing’s orders included travel down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to deliver supplies and win assistance of persons who lived on the east bank, then return to Fort Pitt.  A boat named Rattletrap, with Captain Willing and 34 men, left Fort Pitt on 10 January 1778 and arrived at Natchez in February.  Continuing to New Orleans, the journey was marked by looting goods, stealing slaves and burning property of British sympathizers along the way. The marines returned up the Mississippi “under Lieutenant Roger George in order to join General George Rogers Clark in the Illinois territory, while Willing himself departed by sea for the east.” (Smith & Waterhouse, 1975).  William Posten, gunner, was killed during the journey.

Map provided courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. United States, ca 1796. Call no. X912.13c18a. “Fort Pitt” added by Susan Posten Ellerbee. Source: https://digital.library.illinois.edu : accessed 25 May 2020.

What were the duties of a gunner?  “The gunner took charge of the ship’s guns and all the implements needed to work them.” [4] A gunner was an officer and others (gunners’ mates, gunners’ yeomen, and quarter gunners) assisted him.  An interesting document, found on the Naval History and Heritage Command website, outlined the specific duties of men on ships of war. [5]  Since William’s rank is listed as private, he possibly held one of the lower assignments.  

A Revolutionary War company muster roll yielded information about Wm. Poston, a private in a Virginia regiment. [6]  From October 1778 to March 1779, he appeared on a roll for Fort Pitt. The form includes this remark: “wth C Willing”. Enlistment in a Virginia regiment suggests residence in that state. Is he somehow related to my Posten family which has resided in Pennsylvania since the early 1800s?  An ongoing boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia makes this plausible. (For more information, read “The Boundary Controversy between Pennsylvania and Virginia, 1748-1785” by Boyd Crumrine in Annals of the Carnegie Museum, Vol. 1, 1901-1902,  pages 505-524, available from Internet Archive,  https://archive.org/details/annalsofcarnegie01carn/page/n5/mode/2up:  accessed 25 May 2020).

Analysis: William Posten served as a gunner with Captain Willing’s company of marines. William died about 1778 – 1779. William was probably from Virginia.  The men were recruited from Fort Pitt which explains the listing in Pennsylvania Archives.

On this Memorial Day, 2020, I honor William Posten (gunner), who died during the American Revolution. I still don’t know his whole story and I don’t know if we are  related.  Plundering the homes of British sympathizers was accepted during this time period. He is one of  millions who died fighting for this country we call America and for the freedoms that we enjoy today.   Thank you, William!

REFLECTION:

Again, I took one piece of information and expanded on it.  When I did my initial research 12 years ago, I was sure that William Posten (gunner) was somehow related to my family. I based that assumption solely on the entry in the Pennsylvania Archives.  I began to question my reasoning until today when I discovered information about the border dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia during the late 1700s.  There is always so much more to every story!

What I learned:  History of U.S. Marine Corps, duties of a gunner on a war ship. Consider both the information and the source—look deeper! Boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia in late 1700s.

What helped:  Entry found previously, online access to Naval and Marine Corps history.

What didn’t help:  Assumption that listing in Pennsylvania Archives meant all names were of persons from Pennsylvania. Even that is in question!

To -do:  Search for more information as BSO item.


SOURCES:

[1] ‘Journals and diaries of the War of the Revolution with lists of officers and soldiers, 1775-1783.”   In Pennsylvania Archives, Series 2, Volume XV, pages 658-660.  Accessed 12 December 2011 from www.fold3.com ; p. 659

[2]Edwin Howard Simmons, The United States Marines: A History, 4th ed. (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1998); (https://archive.org/  :  accessed 24 May 2020), page 1.  

[3] Charles R. Smith & Charles H. Waterhouse, A Pictorial History, The Marines in the Revolution (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975;  https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/  : accessed 22 May 2020).

[4]E. Gordon Bowen-Hassell, Dennis Michael Conrad & Mark L. Hayes. Sea raiders of the American Revolution: the Continental Navy in European waters. Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, Dept. of the Navy, 2003.. Page 8: Life on Board a Continental Navy Warship.

[5] Thomas Truxton. “A short account of the several general duties of the officers, of ships of war, from an Admiral, down to the most inferior officer. Placed on the Books of the Navy, according to the British Regulations. Arranged with additions, &C. “ (no date). Naval History and Heritage Command  (https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/s/short-account-of-the-several-general-duties-of-officers-of-ships-of-war.html#gunners  :  accessed 24 May 2020).  Note:  search term “gunner American Revolution”; one of 9 documents under Category: American Revolution.

[6] “Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who served in the American Army during the Revolutionary War,” database with images, Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com  : accessed 23 May 2020), entry for Wm Poston, Virginia, imaged index card; citing Compiled service records of soldiers who served in the American Army during the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783, M881 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration [n.d.], roll 1060.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots, 2020

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