Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Discovering Elizabeth Poole

Patron's Perspective

Discovering Elizabeth Poole at the David Library

One of our patrons, Kimberly Hess, sent me the fascinating story of Elizabeth Poole, which she unearthed doing research at the David Library. The Pension Records she used hold countless stories of long forgotten patriots - and in this case, the story of one remarkable woman.

--Patrick Spero 

I was fortunate to make a discovery at the David Library about 24 years ago when I began doing genealogical research. With the help of a librarian, I located the widow's pension application for my fifth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Stillwagon, which she made when she was 84 years old. This document suddenly brought to life Elizabeth and her husband, Peter, in ways that other documents could not. Because of the events in their lives during and after the Revolution, Elizabeth did not have documents to prove her marriage and did not know anyone alive who could prove her husband's service during the war. To apply for a pension, she told her story in great detail under oath.

Elizabeth Poole lived in Philadelphia when she married a German immigrant named Peter Stillwagon in March 1773. Around the time of the Declaration of Independence, Peter enlisted in the patriot army under Captain Fleming, and almost two weeks later Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, Daniel. Peter was marched to New Jersey, where Elizabeth must have spent the war. At some point during his five years of service, Peter was captured by the British and marched to New York, where he was imprisoned at the Sugar House for 23 months. A source in DAR Library files suggests that Peter and other soldiers were trying to warn the militia in Shrewsbury of a British landing at Eatontown when Tories fired on them and captured them.

While Peter was engaged in the large war, Elizabeth experienced the "small war" that engulfed New Jersey. As an 84-year-old woman, she recalled that after her husband was taken prisoner the British troops came to her house and destroyed what they could find, even the clothing of her children after being treated so meanly by the British soldiers when they were at her house she became alarmed for her own safety and moved in with a neighbor. The British returned and burned her house down. In an interesting brush with larger historical figures, General Forman moved Elizabeth into housing with the wife or widow of Captain Joshua Huddy.

Other records indicate that Peter survived his war experience, and Elizabeth bore thirteen children in New Jersey, of whom nine survived. The family moved to Connellsville in Fayette County, Pennsylvania after 1800 and lived what must have been a comparatively peaceful life on the frontier. Peter died in 1831, but Elizabeth lived until 1854 when she was found "burned to a crisp," having died at home while smoking her pipe at approximately 100 years old.

Kimberly Hess

Have something you want to share, such as a question, research find, or a personal story about the Library? Email Will Tatum at tatum@dlar.org

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