Monday, July 13, 2015

Military Monday : Following the Trail of a Spy, John Howard

John Howard might have been only 15 at the time, but he had his place in the events of the Revolutionary War. It turns out that young Howard was a spy for the colonial troops along the North Carolina / South Carolina border. This story about my 5 Great Uncle has been told with this one sentence in many places, but I wanted to see if I could learn more about him.

My interest in John Howard started as I was looking for more information about the family of my 3GreatGrandmother Elizabeth Howard. It was not too difficult to move back another generation and find her father Samuel Howard, his brothers (among them John Howard), and their father John Milton Howard, thanks to a will transcription I found online.(1)

Later, looking at several sources for burial information, I found a photo of the grave marker for John Howard with a birth date that matched what I already had known about John. His marker was clearly one that had been added long after his death, and it appeared to be a military-style marker.

John Howard, 1767-1851
FindAGrave memorial #108835867, photo by "cliffoflancing"

Knowing he had been in a soldier lead me to explore the Revolutionary War resources available on What I found was a 56-page folder of papers related to John's filing for a soldier's pension in 1832. It also included various paperwork filed on behalf of his wife Nancy for a widow's pension through the years after John's death in 1851.(2)

There was so much information contained in the file that I ended up putting pertinent information into a timeline spreadsheet. That way I had a clearer picture of what went on in the lives of John and Nancy since the files themselves were not in chronological order. It was worth looking over each document in the file in order to get all of this information.

1767Feb 11John Howard bornLawrence County, SC
1781abt Feb - OctJohn entered service in Rev. WarLawrence County, SC
ca 1782-1892John resided in Laurens, SC for 20 yrs after the warLaurens, SC
ca 1800-1809John Howard in KentuckyChristian County, KY
1810January 29Marriage bond for John Howard and Nancy HowardKnox County, TN
ca 1810-1811Marriage of John Howard and Nancy HowardKnox County, TN
     1814-1815John and Nancy moved from Knox to Morgan County
ca 1832-1833John started receiving military pension under act of 1832, $20 per yearMorgan County, TN
1851April 9John Howard diedMorgan County, TN
1853Mar 23Nancy Howard applied for widow's pensionMorgan County, TN
1855Apr 11Nancy Howard applied for widow's pension Morgan County, TN
1860Sep 4Restoration of pension for NancyMorgan County, TN
1862Jul 14Nancy Howard applied for restoration of pension Morgan County, TN
1866May 28Certificate of Widow's Pension Morgan County, TN
1872Mar 22Nancy had ?s about losing her pension certificateMorgan County, TN

It was a special moment when I found the following statement in John Howard's application for a pension. In it, he has sworn that at ...

Here was John Howard's statement that he had been a "volunteer indian spie" during the war and that he had served under Capt. Berry and Lt. William Brown. The document was written by his lawyer and related the various events John provided as proof of military service. This is probably the same document that someone else found years ago, added to an online family tree, then had it repeated (but without a source) on countless other family trees. At least, there is a source for saying John Howard had been a spy.

I decided to pay another visit to J D Lewis' information-packed website Carolana, the place where you can find  "almost everything you ever wanted to know" about the Carolinas. Here I also found verification of John Howard's military service. In the database of "The Privates, Horsemen, Fifers, and Drummers", I found a listing for John Howard which indicated that he enlisted in the New Acquisition District Regiment in 1781, completed his service in 1781, and served under Capt William Barrey and Lt. William Brown during these months.(3) This agreed with the statements in Howard's pension application plus provided the name of the regiment in which he served.

Trailing this spy lead me to learn more about his military service, his marriage and the various places where he lived. It also explained why I had found marriage, census, and burial information in Tennessee instead of near his birthplace in South Carolina. If so many people had not noted his service as a spy, I might never have taken the time to even look for information about this John Howard. Now, I need to start looking for more about his father, my 5 GreatGrandfather, also named John Howard, but who was apparently not a spy.

(1) West, Mary E, "Ancestors & Descendants of Thomas and Harriet Compton Howard", accessed on the website of the Hamilton County Tennessee Genealogy Society,
(2) "Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files", folder for John Howard, publication M804, National Archives Catalog ID 300022, record group 15; accessed through
(3) Lewis, J D. "The American Revolution in South Carolina,  The Privates, Horsemen, Fifers, Drummers, etc",


  1. John Howard is a common name, so I was surprised when your list included Morgan County, TN. His descendants married into my husband's collateral Williams family. Small world! John Howard had an interesting story waiting to be told. Thank you for sharing!

  2. It would be interesting to know what lead John to leave South Carolina and head to Kentucky and then to Tennessee. I suspect that it was land related, but so far I haven't come across land grants to explain his moving around. Do you have information that might shed some light on this?

  3. I love this! Great work substantiating a family tale!

    I think my favorite part of the sworn statement are the bits not remembered. It adds such a human element that is not necessarily present in many kinds of records.