Joseph Handy: Revolutionary War Soldier

Joseph Handy was born on May 20, 1759 at Falmouth, a small coastal town in Barnstable County in southeastern Massachusetts.  He was the son of Joseph Handy and Lois Hatch.  All of Joseph's ancestors on both sides of the family were from English families that had settled in Massachusetts Bay colony in the early to middle 1600s.  One of his ancestors, Richard Warren, had been a passenger on the Mayflower.

The Handy family remained at Falmouth during Joseph's early years and he was baptized there on July 18, 1762.  Around 1772, when Joseph was age thirteen, the family moved to Lee, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  Berkshire County is at the far west end of Massachusetts, bordering on New York state.

Joseph was still quite young when the Revolutionary War began.  He did not reach his sixteenth birthday until after the battles of Lexington and Concord and turned seventeen only a few weeks before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  About eight months later, in the Spring of 1777, he enlisted as a private in a regiment of what was called the "Massachusetts line."  Many soldiers who fought on the American side during the Revolution were members of militia units who gathered as needed and then returned home, fighting for the most part in their home state.  The Massachusetts line was part of the full-time Continental army and fought in battles all over the American colonies.  Each town in Massachusetts had a quota of soldiers that it had to supply.  Most towns offered bounties to get enough men to fill the quota.

Joseph Handy joined Captain Orringh Stoddard's company of Colonel Joseph Vose's regiment of the Massachusetts line in March 1777, for a term of enlistment of three years.  Although not all of the details of his military service are known, we do know that he served at the battle of Brandywine in New Jersey in September of that year.  According to Joseph's obituary, he "stood by the side of Washington, at the Battle of Brandywine, in which battle he first shed his blood."

Joseph's injury must not have been too serious as his name appears on the muster rolls in December 1777 among the soldiers camped for the winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  During the following year he served at the battle of Monmouth in New Jersey.  Later in 1778 and early in 1779, he was near Providence, Rhode Island.  In both 1778 and 1779 there were occasional reports that he was sick, but he apparently recovered quickly.

Joseph was mustered out of the army in the Spring of 1780 at West Point, New York, when his term of enlistment expired.  After a short time at home, Joseph enlisted in Captain William Foord's Company of Colonel John Brown's regiment on July 21, 1780 for a term of three months.  He was discharged from this regiment on October 27, 1780.

On  July 26, 1781, Berkshire County superintendent William Walker signed a receipt stating that he received Handy and Jonathan Church, who had been mustered to serve in the Continental Army for three years as part of the quota for the town of Lee.  This seems to conflict with a later record showing that on September 13, 1781 the Selectmen of Lee, Massachusetts paid bounties to Handy and others to serve in the Continental army for the term of six months. According to his obituary, Joseph was at the battle of Yorktown in Virginia in 1781 - final battle of the war.

At some point in 1781, Joseph's name appeared on a descriptive list with the information that he was 5 feet 6 inches tall, of a ruddy complexion, had black hair, and worked as a laborer when he was not in the army.  This description doesn't mention it, but we do know that at some point during his military service Joseph lost the use of his right eye.

After the end of the Revolutionary War, Joseph Handy returned to his family's home in Lee.  On October 26, 1786, at the age of 27, he married Ruth Demming (sometimes spelled Deming, Damon, or Dimon) in the nearby town of Richmond, Massachusetts.  Ruth had been born February 24, 1763.  Joseph and Ruth were still living in Lee, near Joseph's parents, a few years later when the 1790 census was taken.  There is an extra female in the listing, possibly a daughter who died young (she isn't listed in later censuses).

At some point between 1790 and 1794, Joseph and Ruth decided to move to the southern part of central New York, settling in what is now Chenango Township of Broome County (it was then part of Tioga County).  By the time of the 1800 census, they had one son (Horace Handy, born in 1794) and one daughter (whose name is not known).

Joseph and Ruth did not own a farm in the early years, but on November 13, 1801, they purchased 100 acres along the west side of the Chenango River in lot 120 of the Boston Purchase from Sylvanus Dimmick at a cost of 45 pounds.  Since Dimmick resided in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, it is possible that the Handys knew him before their move to New York and had been working the land for him for several years before they bought it.

By 1810, Joseph and Ruth had added two more sons (Ezekiel and Joseph) and a daughter (Sally) to their family.  By this time their son Horace had reached the age of 15 and was probably a great deal of help on the farm.

Mr. H.P. Smith's History of Broome County (published in 1885), gives us a couple of quotes about Joseph Handy.  According to Mr. Smith, Joseph "... loved hard cider, and had an unusual capacity for storage.  He was uneducated, somewhat rough and uncouth in his manners, but possessed a kind and generous heart."  He also quotes Joseph as saying that "My religion consists in keeping up good line fences, living peaceably with my neighbors, and paying my honest debts."

On July 13, 1814, Joseph's son Horace enlisted in the U.S. Army for service in the War of 1812.  He was age 21, stood 5 feet 5 inches tall, and is described as having a dark complexion, gray eyes, and brown hair.  He served until the end of the war and was mustered out on April 22, 1815.

Besides his income as a farmer, for some years Joseph Handy received a pension of fifteen shillings per month, Massachusetts currency, because of the loss of his eye in the Revolutionary War.  In March 1818, when Joseph was 58 years old, the U.S. Congress passed legislation creating Federal pensions for veterans of the Revolution. On April 27 of that year Joseph Handy appeared before Briant Stoddard, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Broome County to swear an affidavit that he was eligible for this pension (he had no documentary evidence) and also in reduced circumstances.  Although he was inscribed on the pension rolls as of this date at the rate of $8 per month, the Commissioner of Pensions did not issue his certificate and make retroactive payment until March 5, 1819.

In September 1820, Joseph Handy returned to the Court of Common Please to swear another affidavit.  In this one he listed all of his personal property:  one cow, one yoke of oxen, toward which deponent has paid eight dollars & fifty cents, and owes the balance, five knives and forks, five iron spoons, two iron kettles, two hogs, nine pigs.

Joseph also described his family as consisting of  "my wife, aged about fifty six years who enjoys health and is able to labor - one son Ezekiel Handy aged eighteen years, who is able to labor but not very strong for his years - one son Joseph Handy Junr. aged sixteen years healthy and able to labour - one daughter Sally, aged eighteen - healthy and able to support herself."  (By this time, Joseph and Ruth's oldest son Horace was married and living in his own home.)

Joseph went on to say that he still could do some labor, but due to his age could not do a full day's work, suffered from the loss of his eye, and was scarcely able to support himself and his family.  He offered to give up his Massachusetts pension if the Commissioner of Pensions would confirm his Federal pension.

Joseph Handy died on September 20, 1838, aged 79.  The family buried him in what is now known as the Handy/Heath Cemetery, which was located on land belonging to the family of his daughter-in-law Aura Heath Handy (Ezekiel's wife).  This cemetery is at the corner of Patch Road and River Road, adjacent to the Town of Chenango Historical Society in Kattelville.  Joseph's gravestone originally contained the following inscription:

 "In early life my country called
And I its voice obeyed,
By foes my body was enthralled
And now in earth is laid."

Ruth Handy outlived her husband by several years.  As Congress had passed legislation creating pensions for widows of Revolutionary War veterans, she applied for one in 1839 and again in 1843.  In the latter year, Ezekiel Handy applied on behalf of his mother, reporting that she was unable to appear because of mental infirmity.  Her certificate of pension was issued on April 17, 1844, with the pension of $80 per year paid retroactive to March 4, 1843.  Ruth lived only a few months longer, dying on October 20, 1844 at the age of 81.

Sources: Obituary for Joseph Handy in the Broome Republican, Sept. 27, 1838;  Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, Vol. VII; military pension records for Joseph Handy (W25519) at the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

Ancestors of Joseph Handy

Descendants of Joseph Handy and Ruth Deming

Photographs of Joseph Handy's Grave

Return to our Genealogy Page

Please send corrections or additions to