BUCKSPORT, Maine — The resting place of a long-forgotten Revolutionary War veteran who crossed the Delaware with George Washington and later was held as a prisoner of war will have a new gravestone unveiled at a formal dedication later this month.
Besides playing a heroic role in the Revolutionary War, veteran Benjamin Gross also clashed with the British army when it occupied North Bucksport during the War of 1812, days before the epic Battle of Hampden. While many in the area fled to safety that day in 1814, the then 54-year-old Gross held his ground.
When the Brits marched up the bank of the Penobscot River to his home, they found him sitting in his doorway. When asked why he did not run like many of the other locals, he told them he would never turn his back on “a rascally redcoat.” His life was spared, although the invaders confiscated his milk and other goods and ransacked the homes of his neighbors, according to historical reports.
Gross will be honored formally during a memorial dedication service conducted by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at the Arey Community Center on River Road in Bucksport. Rep. Mike Michaud, state senators, representatives and other area dignitaries will attend the memorial. Tours of the grave site at Riverview Cemetery will be held after the memorial service.
Another local Revolutionary War veteran, Charles Hutchings of Penobscot, also will be recognized at the dedication and his new stone will be placed alongside his son William’s grave at Wardwell’s Point. William Hutchings also served in the war and was credited as being the oldest Revolutionary War veteran in New England when he died at the age of 102. Charles Hutchings’ original grave site has been lost to time as roadways and home construction apparently obliterated portions of the old family cemetery.
“We are committed to honoring our veterans but sometimes these family plots can get lost,” DAR representative Donna Hoffmann of Hampden said this weekend.
Hoffmann, who is a Hutchings descendant, noted that while the local communities “are supposed to take care of these graves, they have limited finances.” She said records indicate that Charles Hutchings’ gravestone was removed for repair in the 1920s and apparently was never returned or replaced.
Hoffmann said the DAR has worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for years to restore grave sites of the nation’s veterans. She said that along with providing markers for all veterans, the department also will replace broken or missing veteran gravestones.
“It requires a lot of effort,” she said. “We have to provide documentation and other information.”
According to pension records, Benjamin Gross was born on Cape Cod, Mass., and got his first taste of battle when he enlisted in the Continental Army and took part in Gen. Philip Schuyler’s invasion of Canada in 1775. Afterward he was one of the 2,400 soldiers of George Washington’s army that crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 and surprised and captured the Hessian forces at Trenton, N.J. He was with the army when it continued on to Princeton, N.J., and defeated the forces of Gen. George Cornwallis.
Gross was with the band of brothers that was dispatched by Washington to defend New York against the attack of Gen. John Burgoyne. He was taken prisoner and confined to a prison ship on the Jersey Flats opposite New York City. Conditions on the ship were horrible. Gross and the other prisoners were fed rotten beef and rancid bread and were plagued by vermin. Smallpox was rampant.
Gross was one of the few who survived the ordeal and eventually was shipped to England where he remained in prison until the new American government worked out an exchange of prisoners and brought its veterans home. One of the government’s rewards for men who fought in the Revolution was 100 acres along the Penobscot River in the Massachusetts region of Maine. Gross joined scores of veterans in applying for a plot and relocated to what was then called Buckstown in 1794. He was on his homestead when the British came marching by in 1814.
Emeric Spooner, author, historian and assistant librarian at Bucksport’s Buck Memorial Library, came across Gross’ resting place while researching Riverview Cemetery. One of Spooner’s books is “Maine Gravestones and Flags: Honoring our Heroes.” Spooner was standing at the grave of Capt. William B. Reed, the lone Bucksport resident to be killed in the War of 1812, when a broken headstone caught his eye.
“I had been looking for his grave and when I turned away from Reed’s, there it was,” Spooner said. “At the time it did not even have a flag. I had been looking for him for some time.”
Spooner notified the DAR of his discovery and set in motion the request for a new headstone. Spooner said Gross died in 1844 at the age of 84. He had drawn a small military pension in his old age and could have collected more if he was prepared to declare himself a pauper. Gross refused to make a false claim and ended up losing his pension a few months before his death.
“Those early veterans had to fight for their pensions,” Spooner said. “They got land but they didn’t get much else. They had to make their own way after the war, but they served their country and they served it well.”
Charles Hutchings fought in the French and Indian War and settled in Penobscot in 1760 to get away from war, Hoffmann said. “He wanted to get away from the fight but the fighting came to him.”
Hutchings had eight children when the Revolutionary War broke out, and he was immediately swept up in the cause of the Patriots. He clashed with British troops that year, killing one before escaping. He was identified and a price was placed on his head. Hutchings loaded his family into a canoe, paddled across the Penobscot and traveled by foot to Newcastle where he lived off the land until the end of the war. Back in
Penobscot, the British burned his home and confiscated his livestock. He survived, however, and when he died at age 94 he was said to have 350 living descendants. Hoffmann is descended from that original Hutchings line.