A remarkable Revolutionary War record of the 8th Massachusetts Regiment at West Point

Francis Tufts and others, with later additions by Gardner Tufts, [Title on front board:] The Continental Regimental Book Kept by the Late Adjutant Francis Tufts, 1779-81 with Orders &c. Copied from Orderly Books by Gardner Tufts [Title page:] Returns of the 8th Massachusetts Regiment of Foot Commanded by Col Michl Jackson of West Newton. [As?] kept by Adjutant Francis Tufts & Others from Septr. 3rd 1779 to Decr. 18th 1781, with some additions & remarks made since by Gardner Tufts. [West Point and vicinity,] September 3, 1779 to December 18, 1781, with 19th-century additions.
Folio (13”h x 8”w). 160 leaves, mostly 18th-century paper with 28 leaves of later wove paper interleaved, plus 8 tipped-in lithographic portraits and a few other small ms items laid in. 19th- century half leather and marbled boards with large red morocco title panel on front. Boards worn, front board and several leaves detached. Scattered minor foxing, soiling and staining throughout. Faint tide mark affecting the text on many leaves, though it remains everywhere legible.

A remarkably comprehensive set of returns for the 8th Massachusetts Regiment during the Revolutionary War, documenting its presence at West Point from 1779-1781.

The 8th Massachusetts Regiment was raised on April 23, 1775 in the immediate aftermath of Lexington and Concord. Its first commander was Col. Paul Dudley Sargent, who was replaced by Col. Michael Jackson (1734-1801) of West Newton on January 1, 1777. Jackson led the regiment from then until June 12, 1783, when he was transferred to command another unit. The 8th saw action at Bunker Hill (1775); the New York campaign, Trenton and Princeton (1776); Saratoga (1777); and Monmouth (1778).

For the remainder of the war the 8th was stationed in the Hudson Valley, primarily on garrison duty at West Point, with brief stints elsewhere in the area. Though there was little action in the region after “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s victory at Stony Point on July 15, 1779, it was of vital strategic importance as a potential invasion route to and from Canada, and for maintaining the flow of communication and supplies between New England and the mid-Atlantic states. Hence the very real danger posed by West Point commander Benedict Arnold’s attempted betrayal of the fortress in August-September of 1780. The regiment was furloughed on June 12, 1783 and formally disbanded on November 3, 1783, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

The volume includes the regiment’s weekly returns from September 3, 1779 to October 26, 1781, with additional miscellaneous returns as late as December 18, 1781. The data is broken down by company and rank, with further tallies for specialists such as sappers, waggoners, “field officers waiters”, and butchers. Additional tallies cover men unavailable for duty because they are detached for other service, unfit due to illness, on furlough, or for other reasons; as well as the arrivals of new recruits and departures of those whose enlistments had expired. There is in all an enormous amount of information, sufficient for a careful researcher to track the movements of hundreds of individual officers and enlisted men over the period covered. Thus, the returns provide a continuous, weekly picture of the regiment’s available strength over more than two years.

Even a cursory examination reveals that for the period covered the regiment was always badly undermanned. Per the reorganization of the Continental Army passed by Congress on May 28, 1778, each regiment was to include 582 officers and men, with a “bayonet strength” of 504 men organized in eight infantry and one light infantry company. At its peak strength, in the return of October 1, 1779, the regiment was “wanting” 159 privates, five sergeants, and two drummers and fifers. At its ebb, the regiment was down 488 privates, sergeants and six fifers and drummers, or more than 80 percent of its desired strength.

The volume also contains a number of miscellaneous returns for men and material, including four returns of non-commissioned officers and privates; “Return of the Field, Staff, and Commissioned Officers in the 8th Massachusetts Regiment, January 1, 1780 to December 31, 1780”; “Register of the Commissioned Officers of Colo. Michael Jackson’s Regiment Dead & Discharged Since May 3”; “Return of the Men, Arms, Accoutrements, Clothing and Camp Equipage in the Eight Massachusetts Regiment”; a listing of Regulation books delivered to the officers at Peekskill, September 7, 1781; “Return of the Drums & Fifes Wanting to the 8th Mass. Regt., March 18, 1782”; “Return of the Mens Names Discharged that Carried off Arms & Accoutrements in the 8th Massachusetts Regiment… West Point, May 14, 1780”; “Return of the Names Rank Date of Commission of the Officers in the 8th Massachusetts Regiment of Foot… October 31, 1780”; “Return of the Invalid and men unfit for the Field for want of Clothing”; “Return of the Artificers in public Work in the 8th Massachusetts Regiment, November 17, 1781”; and “Return of the number of men that has not had the smallpox in the 8th Mass. Regiment, January 4, 1782”.

The returns are executed in two, possibly three different hands, including that of Lieutenant Francis Tufts (1756-1823), in whose family this volume descended for at least a generation. Tufts signed most of the returns dated November 3, 1780 and later, though many of the earlier records are also in his hand. A native of Medford, Mass., Tufts enlisted in the Continental Army in 1776, and was promoted to Ensign on October 9, 1777, possibly in recognition of heroism at the Battle of Saratoga. It is said that during the battle he saw a standard-bearer fall, picked up the standard (thereby making himself a prime target for British sharpshooters) and rallied the troops to advance. On August 12, 1779 he was promoted to Lieutenant, and on April 27, 1780 he was appointed regimental Adjutant (roughly, regimental administrative officer), and he served until the regiment was disbanded. After the war he married Hannah Greenleaf in 1785, had four children, and operated a distillery on Essex Street in Boston.

Secondary use of the volume
The returns passed, presumably at or around the time of Tufts’ death in 1823, to his second son Gardner Tufts (1793-1863), for some reason bypassing elder son Francis Tufts, Jr. (1788-1866). I have found surprisingly little about Gardner: He was born in Medford and married Margaret Crawley (1800-1872) in 1820, and they had 10 children, at least three of whom died relatively young. They lived at various times in Boston, Milton, Dorchester and finally Newton, where he died in 1863. Like his father he operated a distillery for a time. At some point he left the business, apparently for religious reasons, as the evidence, both in the present manuscript and family testimony, suggests that he was quite devout. He seems to have been reasonably prosperous, either through inheritance, success in business, or both: The 1860 census valued his real estate at $3300 and personal estate at $7000.

In 1841 Gardner had the returns rebound in half calf over marbled boards, interleaving with them 28 leaves of later wove paper, primarily toward the beginning and end of the volume but with no apparent rhyme or reason. Perhaps at this time he also tipped in eight lithographic portraits of Columbus, Charles Carroll of Carrolton (last living signer of the Declaration of Independence), George Washington, John Warren (brother of Joseph, hero of Bunker Hill), La Fayette, John Adams, Edward Augustus Holyoke (a prominent Massachusetts physician, educator and centenarian) and William Henry Harrison. These lithographs are all extremely rare, with OCLC recording impressions at the American Antiquarian Society and at most one other institution.

Over the coming years Gardner (and possibly other family members, as there appears to be a variety of handwriting) filled the added leaves with a great variety of material. There is no obvious logic to the sequencing; indeed, at one point, the regimental return for October 29, 1779 is interrupted by a leaf bearing religious reflections on the recto and patriotic sketches on the verso. In any event, the additions include among other things a brief narrative of Francis Tufts’ military service and other references thereto; copies of orders taken from regimental orderly books maintained by Francis and apparently at the time still in the family (and now at the Huntington); lengthy moral, patriotic and religious essays, reflections, and diagrams, some framed in ornamental borders; a lengthy draft of a speech in which Gardner Tufts apparently renounces his career as a distiller; and at least four sketches of family homes, including two of Francis Tufts’ house at No. 58 Essex Street in Boston (one on a separate sheet of wove paper laid in).

In all, an extraordinary volume, for its unique Revolutionary-era content by a significant figure in the Continental Army, its unusual secondary use by a descendant, and the inclusion of eight extremely rare lithographic portraits of major figures in American history.

Rarity and references
I find no record of substantial 8th Massachusetts regimental documents (diaries, returns, orderly books) having appeared on the antiquarian market. The Huntington Library holds 8th Regiment returns for “1782-1783”, signed by Frances Tufts and William Hildreth, though its on-line catalog does not list the precise dates covered. The Huntington also holds a couple of company returns, each on single sheets.

Robertson and McDonald’s on-line Index of Continental Army Orderly Books lists 25 extant volumes, in aggregate covering Jan. 15, 1777 through April 6, 1783, with a few lacunae. Of these, 16 are held by the Huntington Library, with others at the Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society and Peabody Essex Museum.

Historical background of the 8th Massachusetts Regiment obtained from revolutionarywar.us and revwar75.com. Biographical information on Francis Tufts obtained from Fold3.com and “Tufts Military History Part Two” on line at Tufts Family Genealogy. Information on Gardner Tufts from Ancestry.com. Background on the 1778 reorganization of the Continental Army from Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army, esp. p. 126.

List of interleaved lithographic portraits

  • Lith. of Endicott & Swett, N-York, COLUMBUS, The discoverer of America. New York: Peabody & Co. and Philadelphia: Childs & Inman, [ND, but 1830-34]. OCLC 950901491 (AAS only).
  • Lith. of Endicott & Swett N.Y., CHARLES CARROLL, Of Carrolton. New York: Peabody & Co. and Philadelphia: Childs & Inman, [ND, but 1831-34?] OCLC 950901490 (AAS only).
  • Drawn & Printed by Childs & Inman, WASHINGTON. New York: Peabody & Co. and Philadelphia: Childs & Inman, [ND, but 1830-33]. OCLC 950900795 (AAS only).
  • R. Peale Del. & pinxt. / Pendletons Lith., JOHN WARREN M.D. [Boston, 1830.] OCLC 191118041 (MassHist) and 960916141 (AAS).
  • Pendleton’s Lithogy., LA FAYETTE, The friend & benefactor of America… [Boston, 1825.] OCLC 960915981 (AAS only). Trimmed with loss at right.
  • Drawn & Printed by Childs & Inman, Philadelphia, JOHN ADAMS. New York: Peabody & Co., [ND, but 1831-33?]. OCLC 950900769 (AAS) and 192110431 (Clements).
  • Osgood Pinxt. / Pendleton’s Litho., E. A. HOLYOKE, M.D.L.LD. AGED 100 YEARS. [Boston, 1825-36). Unrecorded.
  • J. H. Bufford del. / Thayer, Successor to Moore, Boston, GENERAL WM. H. HARRISON. From the Portrait painted for the Whig Association of Massachusetts, by Joshua H. Howard, 1840. Boston: Weeks, Jordan & Co., 1840. OCLC 1035813326 (AAS only).