Today’s Tombstone Tuesday subject was one of the last six Revolutionary War veterans featured in Reverend Elias Hillard’s book, The Last Men of the Revolution, published in 1864. At the time of the veterans’ interviews they were all over the age of one hundred. Previous articles of three other veterans can be found here, here and here. This week’s Surname Saturday article will feature William Hutchings and next Monday’s article will finish the series with Lemuel Cook’s story.
Alexander Milliner was born on March 14, 1760 in Quebec, Canada. In Hillard’s account, Alexander’s parents’ names aren’t mentioned. His father was an English goldsmith who came over with Major General James Wolfe as an artificer (a skilled craftsman or mechanic for the armed forces). At the Battle of Quebec on September 13, 1759, Wolfe was killed. Alexander’s father died the same day, but not from a battle wound. At the end of the battle his father laid down to drink from a spring and “never rose again; the cold water, in his heated and exhausted condition, caus[ed] instant death.”
His mother, pregnant with Alexander, remained in Quebec and the following spring Alexander was born. Young Alexander and his mother eventually moved to New York where she married a man by the name of Maroney, a wealthy mason. When Alexander enlisted he did so using his step-father’s surname. Although Hillard’s article doesn’t mention the date of his enlistment, Alexander was too young to serve with rank and file soldiers, but instead enlisted as a drummer boy in George Washington’s Life Guard which was formed in 1776. Alexander served in that capacity for four years.
Alexander was said to have been a favorite of Washington, who after reveille would “come along and pat him on the head, and call him his boy.” At the time of his interview with Hillard, Alexander recalled George Washington fondly:
He was a good man, a beautiful man. He was always pleasant; never changed countenance, but wore the same in defeat and retreat as in victory. Lady Washington, too, he recollects, on her visits to the camp. She was a short, thick woman; very pleasant and kind. She used to visit the hospitals, was kind-hearted, and had a motherly care.
Alexander was present at several battles: White Plains, Brandywine, Saratoga, Monmouth, Yorktown and others. He received a flesh wound in his thigh at Monmouth, the bullet passing through the head of his drum. Alexander was also with General Washington at Valley Forge, vividly remembering the soldiers’ bloody feet. At Yorktown he was present for Cornwallis’ surrender. In August of 1777 a battle occurred near Fort Stanwix with the Loyalists and Indians joining together to oppose the Americans. Alexander again provided a vivid description to Hillard:
The Indians burnt all before them. Our women came down in their shirt tails. The Indians got one of our young ones, stuck pine-splinters into it, and set them on fire. They came down a good body of ‘em. We had a smart engagement with ‘em, and whipped ‘em. One of ‘em got up into a tree – a sharp-shooter. He killed our men when they went after water. The colonel see where he was, and says, ‘Draw up the twenty-four-pounder and load it with grape, canister, and ball.’ They did it. The Indians sat up in a crotch of the tree. They fired and shot the top of the tree off. The Indians gave a leap and a yell, and came down. Three brigades got there just in the nick of time. The Massachusetts Grenadiers and the Connecticut troops went forward, and the Indians fled.
Military service apparently suited Alexander Milliner – following his six and one-half years in the army he later served five and one-half more years in the navy during the War of 1812. Three of those years in the service of the navy were spent on the Constitution. He was captured by the French and imprisoned, declaring later that, regarding the harsh treatment he received: “of the bread which he says he has eaten in seven kingdoms, he pronounce[d] that in the French prison decidedly the worst.”
He would later receive a pension of eight dollars per month to commence on September 19, 1819. Alexander married eighteen year-old Abigail Barton in 1800 and settled in Cortlandt County, New York. When asked by Hillard how he decided to settle there, Alexander replied, “O, I kind o’ wandered round.” He and Abigail lived together for sixty-two years, “without a death in the family or a coffin in the house” until her death in 1862. They had nine children and seven were still living at the time of the interview, along with forty-three grandchildren, seventeen great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.
By occupation he was a farmer and still able to work in his garden at the age of one hundred and two years. Hillard noted that:
His temperament has even been free, happy, jovial, careless; and to this, doubtless, is largely owing the extreme prolongation of his life. He has been throughout life full of jokes; in the army he was the life of the camp; could dance and sing, and has always taken the world easily, “nothing troubling him over five minutes at a time,” care finding it impossible to fasten itself upon him, and so, after trial, letting him alone. His spirts have always been buoyant, nothing depressing him.
Even at an advanced age, his eyesight remained good and he read his Bible every day without glasses. Memories of long ago events were still fairly clear. As with the other veterans’, Hillard, perhaps hoping to find the secret of their longevity, mentioned the personal habits of Alexander Milliner:
In size, he is small, more so than his picture would indicate. Though never robust, his health has always been good. This has not been from any special carefulness in his habits – in which he has been careless – rather giving himself and his health no thought. He uses tea and coffee, and still takes regular his dram.
Alexander was pro-Union in regards to the Civil War, lamenting that it was “too bad that this country, so hardly got, should be destroyed by its own people.” On the occasion of his one hundred and fourth birthday on March 14, 1864, he was honored by the local veterans association. Hillard noted that since that time his health had begun to fail rapidly and he would not likely see another birthday.
Hillard’s observation was incredibly prescient. On March 13, 1865, one day before his one hundred and fifth birthday, Alexander Milliner passed away in Adams Basin, Monroe County, New York. He was buried in Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery.