Monday, July 30, 2018

The Battle of Saratoga and a Great-uncle

Battle of Saratoga - Andy Thomas, Artist - Google Image
John Oliver (1725-1811) is the 7th great-uncle of my sons. He was born in Northern Ireland and immigrated with his parents in 1736 to the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He lived in Athol, Worcester County, Massachusetts; had a wife, Mary L. Beaman (1728-1810); and together, they had 11 children. John was also a Captain of the Massachusetts Militia at the Battle of Saratoga from 19 September 1777 to 17 October 1777 – also known as “The Burgoyne Alarm.”  The Battle of Saratoga is considered by many historians to be a turning point for the Americans during the American Revolution.

John Oliver was one of four captains in Col. Nathan Sparhawk’s 7th Worcester Company of the Massachusetts militia; specifically, captain of the Third Company. John was commissioned a captain on 5 April 1776.  This particular militia was sent to reinforce the American troops “at the time of reduction of General Burgoyne,” the British commander. [1] As a captain, it was John’s responsibility to teach the soldiers how to work together and how to survive on the battlefield. The illustration to the left shows the standard captain insignia for the Continental Army during this war. These would be worn attached to the shoulders of the individual uniform.

Massachusetts Militia

It was not easy being an American soldier at this time. The death rate was high because of battles, espionage, and disease. The British has the best weapons, best commanders, and trained killers. The Americans were barely trained and had few supplies. [2]  However, the Battle of Saratoga changed everything. According to author Dean Snow, showed that “an improvised army of amateurs could take on the best army in the world and force it surrender.” [3] Because of the American success at Saratoga in defeating the British, the French started providing troops and supplies to the Americans. All in all, this win was a boost to the American spirit.

When John Oliver died in 1811, his tombstone was inscribed as follows: Capt. Third Co. Mass./1777 The Burgoyne Alarm ~ John is buried in the Old Pleasant street Cemetery in Athol, Massachusetts.

Photo from
[1] “Participants in the Battle of Saratoga.” Saratoga County NYGenWeb Project – Saratoga County, New York, Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, 15 Oct. 2015,
[2] “Life of an American Soldier in the Revolutionary War.” Infogram, revolutionary-war.
[3] Snow, Dean. 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga. 1st ed., Oxford University Press, 2016

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