Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Story

It is part of the fabric of my family history:

Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 NY
Willett´s Regiment of Levies, 1781-1783
Lieutenant James Albert Guinall was born probably about 1744. He served as 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th Company of the Tryon County Militia and. He was among the heroes, who under the brave Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer, fell during the Battle at Oriskany. He died August 6, 1777.

Our family tradition is that after he was wounded he made a great effort to get to his knees and prayed for God to bless his unborn child and prosper the American cause.

That last sentence, describing his efforts to pray before he died, has been recorded and published, with varying degrees of accuracy, in papers, books and on the web for generations.

I always accepted it as part of my history.

Many years ago I began to wonder how the story was relayed to James' family, his widow and children, especially to that unborn daughter, My great great great great grandmother, Cornelia Guinal Robison. Was Matilda Collier Guinal told the story by her husband's commanding officer? Perhaps. Would he have known of his Lieutenant's final struggles. Again, perhaps.

The first version of this story that I remember came from Lucretia Lyman Ranney, a Robison cousin. That account included this information:
Frothingham's "History of Tryon Co.," page 85 states, "No perfect roster of patriots of Tryon County, who fought in the battle of Oriskany has been preserved. They came from various parts of the county and the slaughter filled Old Tryon with such grief that history was neglected in the general horror. They were patriots of the highest rank."
Over the years I learned that while there is no "perfect roster", there are records proving that my Grandfather Guinal was in the battle and died there. Still, I wondered about the transmission of the story about Lieutenant Guinal's prayer. How did that story persist through the years?

Any time I looked for information about Grandfather Guinal on the internet, the story would show up. I even found it in a book called: Charts and Chronicles of Matthew Grenelle's Descendants. It included the story, even though they could not link James Albert Guinal into their family. They stated:
Lt. James Albert Grinnell (occasionally found as Gueenall) of Canajoharie, Tryon County, New York, was killed at the battle of Oriskany (NY), on the 6 August 1777. He was appointed 2nd Lt. on the 26 August 1775 in Captain Rynier Ven Evera's 7th Company. He was under Col. Ebenezer Cox on the 4 August 1777 with 800 men marching to relieve Fort Schuyler (Stanwix) when the company was ambushed at Oriskany and James was killed. Family history reports that before he died on the battlefield, James prayed for the American cause and the unborn child who became Cornelia.
His father's name appears to have also been James. Stories conflict on the exact spelling of the surname and the possibility the family was of Dutch origin. Inter marriages with the Dutch lines from the Mohawk valley area may contribute to the confusion. In spite of the Queenall/Gueenell background, descendants insist the name has always been Grinnell.
 This mention of Lieutenant Guinal's father started a train of thought. It wasn't a very fast train, but eventually it did arrive at the station.

Along the way, I stumbled across a set of books called New York in the Revolution, published in Albany, New York in 1887. It included an index and I found this listing for Lieutenant Guinal on page 294:
Tryon County Militia, 1st Battalion (Canajoharie), 7th Company, 2nd Lt. James Guinall
Since there are so many variant spellings of Guinall, I looked for other records, thinking perhaps that James might have other relatives who served during the war. This entry on page 186 came to my attention:
Tryon County Militia - Capt. John Winn - Rangers
               Enlisted men:
               Gueenall James
Could this be an earlier entry for Lieutenant James Albert Guinal? I looked closer at that record. I found that the Rangers were a unique group of soldiers. In MacWethy's Book of Names it states:
In the battle of Oriskany all were called and it was not uncommon for father and son to fight side by side. In several cases three generations were represented. Rangers were the scouts of that day. They were selected from the militia.
Later I heard that many of the Rangers had served earlier in the French and Indian War, but I don't have any documents to back up that assertion.

This was not a duplicate entry for one James Guinal. These were separate entries for Lieutenant James Albert Guinal and his father, Sergeant James Guinal.

Learning that multiple generations participated in the Battle of Oriskany, the picture became clear in my mind. When I realized that James Albert Guinal's father, Sergeant James Guinal, Ranger in the Militia, was also on the battlefield that day, the train pulled into the station.

Of course the father would have kept an eye out for his son and namesake. The father would have rushed to his side when conditions allowed. I'm sure it was the father who witnessed his son's final agonizing moments and the heartfelt final prayer and testimony by James Albert Guinal.

It then became his solemn duty to convey the story of his son's heroism to his bereaved daughter-in-law and her step-children. I'm pretty sure that a few years later he would tell that then unborn daughter, Cornelia, of her father's dying prayer, as well. I'm sure that Cornelia told her children about her father and included the things she learned from her grandfather.

No comments: