The Pike of Bunker Hill: A grandson's memory found in our records

This year, NYG&B staff and volunteers digitized thousands of records from a number of our physical collections that we plan to add to our eLibrary soon. 

One of these collections includes "vertical files" from the Holland Society of New York. Vertical files are collections of genealogically relevant material on a family, which can include newspaper clippings, personal memoirs, oral histories, and other sources that are collected by an organization or society.

These files are incredibly deep and can contain amazing narrative material not found in standard genealogy record sets. 

"From a doubtful war implement it had
become a peaceful domestic weapon with
which to stir up the dying embers of
the fireplace."

We're particularly fond of vertical files for the amazing stories they contain. A digitization volunteer was recently working with a vertical file that contains excerpts from an "egotistigraphy" by John Sanford Barnes from 1910. 

In it, the author describes his paternal grandparents, and includes an amusing story about his grandfather, who fought in the American Revolution as a young boy.

As an old man, he carried the pike he allegedly used at the Battle of Bunker Hill around with him everywhere, using it as a "peaceful domestic weapon with which to stir up the dying embers of the fireplace."

Although John Sandford Barnes doubts his grandfather's claims, the story preserves a touching family memory. 

If you're interested in helping us digitize these files, please visit our volunteer page for more information.


A hero of Bunker Hill

The following text is transcribed from the original document - see below for the complete text of the story and the original image of the document. 


My father, James Barnes, Major-General of Volunteers during the late unpleasantness with our Southern friends, was born in Boston, June 1805, the only son and child of Benjamin Barnes and Deborah James. Benjamin was the son of Enoch, a shipbuilder, and Deborah, the daughter of John and Abigail James, well-to-do people of the period.

Benjamin claimed to have been one of the heroes of Bunker Hill, where as a lad of sixteen he bore a pike, to which he often pointed with pride, when, as a child, I listened to the story of his prowess and wondered what on earth he could possibly have done with it for the cause of Independence, as from a doubtful war implement it had become a peaceful domestic weapon with which to stir up the dying embers of the fireplace and commonly designated the poker. 

Perhaps he poked the Britishers with it; at all events he carried it off with him when, as my grandmother frequently remarked he ran away. As a lad of sixteen he couln't very well have won much distinction behind the haystacks, and no history of that or any other battle includes his name as a warrior.

He was, however, a very tall and handsome old gentleman, as I remember him, and up to the time of the cessation of his activities, persisted in wearing breeches and shoe buckles, a small cue secured by a comb, a blue coat with brass buttons, and a buff waistcoat. 


As we gather with family members for the holidays, it serves as a reminder of the many fantastic stories that our family members can offer.

This Thanksgiving, make sure to ask your older relatives not only about their own lives but about the memories of the older generations of their family - these memories can help you learn about ancestors that you have never had the chance to meet. 

All you have to do is ask! 


The original text from the Holland Society Vertical File, which we hope to add to our eLibrary
in the coming year!


About the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society

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