He was not a pirate under Captain Jack Sparrow, but he did sail the seas and served under a another Captain Sparrow, for a very different cause.

My fourth great-grandfather James Dunham was born 12 Sep 1758 in Plympton, Plymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Cornelius Dunham (1716-1766) and Patience Barrows (1724-1807). James was a sailor, and quite an adventurer it seems. His son, James (1788-?), chose a more peaceful life as a farmer in Maine, but the junior James’ son, Seth, my great-great-grandfather, took more after his grandfather; he was a sailor and in 1850 left Maine for the gold fields of California.

I recently came across a hand-written account of the elder James’ adventures during the Revolutionary War. It is a stirring story. He wrote it out at the age of 60 and submitted it to a judge of the Third Eastern Circuit of the Court of Common Pleas of Massachusetts on April 11, 1818 in an attempt to secure a pension for his service in the Revolutionary War. The judge recommended that his petition be granted. Unfortunately, it was denied. An anonymous hand-written notation on his petition states: “Did not serve nine months on the Continental Establishment. Inadmissible.” Then there’s one of those odd 19th-century swashes that are apparently meant to indicate finality, like under my cousin John Hancock’s signature.

Nevertheless, James’ story is riveting. Here it is, transcribed from the original:

I James Dunham of Carmel in the County of Penobscot yeoman, do hereby testify & say that on or about the first of March 1778 according to the best of my recollection I shipped on board the public armed Brigg called the Hope. I think Capt. John Brown of Boston Commander. I shipped to go to Charleston S.C. and from there to Bourdeaux in france: We took in a Cargo of Rice & Indigo at Charleston: on our passage we were taken by a British Brigg of 14 Guns & carried into Grenox in Scotland: from which I was impressed on board the British twenty four called Defiance: from her I made my escape after a [indecipherable] of nine months: I then went to Bristol: from there to the West Indies & from there to Boston: I was on board our Brigg between two & three months: & was aboard about about Eighteen months: We were bound to France for Military stores for the use of our Army:

I inlisted into the Continental Service in the spring of 1777. In Capt. Sparrow’s Company & joined General Spencer’s Brigade, near Bristol in Rhode Island: I was in the six months service and was regularly discharged in Providence.

I have lost my discharge if I had one: I am now under reduced circumstances & need the assistance of my Country for support: I [indecipherable] with all claims to any Pension on account Pensions.

James Dunham

James’ signature is rough and very different from the elegant hand of the petition; we may assume he paid someone to write as he dictated.

James’ family is listed in the monumental Maine Families in 1790, published by the Maine Genealogical Society, and his service in the Revolutionary war is documented in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, a 17-volume series published by the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth between 1896 and 1908. James’ service is detailed in Volume 5, page 43:

Dunham, James. List of men mustered by James Hatch, Muster Master for Plymouth Co., dated Oct. 7, 1777; Capt. Sparrow’s co., Col. Cyes’s (Keyes’s) regt; also, Private, Capt. Edward Sparrow’s co., Col. Danforth Keyes’s regt.; enlisted Sept. 3, 1777; service to Dec. 31, 1777, 3 mos. 28 days, at Rhode Island; roll dated Providence; also, same co. and regt.; muster roll dated North Kingston, Dec. 4. 1777; also, muster roll dated Providence, Dec. 22, 1777; enlistment, 6 months, to expire Jan. 1, 1778.

James would die in Carmel, Penobscot, Maine on 16 Aug, 1829, his service as a soldier in the Revolutionary War and as a prisoner of war on the high seas unrecognized by his government.

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