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Washington Discharges a Gunner’s Mate After Six Years of Faithful Service
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“The above Edmund E. Hill has been honored with the Badge of Merit for Six Years faithful Service...”

Edmund E. Hill, a matross (member of a gunner’s crew) in the 2nd New York Artillery regiment receives his discharge. Hill was a long-serving veteran of the War for Independence, having enlisted on 1 January 1777.  Here, he receives an honorable discharge and the Badge of Merit, an award created by Washington intended for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers.

GEORGE WASHINGTON. Partially Printed Document Signed. Also signed by John Trumbull, Jr., James Bradford, and “Col. Lamb.” [Newburgh, N.Y.], [June 1783]. 1 p., 7½ x 11¾ in.

Inventory #23997       Price: $11,500

Complete Transcript

By His Excellency

George Washington, Esq;

General and Commander in Chief of the Forces of the United States of America.

These are to Certify that the Bearer hereof Edmund E. Hill Matross in the Second New York Artillery Regiment, having faithfully server the United States from the 1st Jany 177 untill the present and being inlisted for the War only, is hereby Discharged from the American Army.

Given at Head-Quarters the

 [signed] G:o Washington

By His Excellency’s Command,

J Trumbull Jun Esqr

Registered in the Books of the Regiment, / [Ja]mes Bradford Adjutant

The above Edmund E. Hill / has been honored with the Badge of Merit for Six / Years faithful Service / Colo Lamb

[On verso, in print]

Head-Quarters, June 1783.

The within Certificate shall not avail the Bearer as a Discharge, until the Ratification of the definitive Treaty of Peace; previous to which Time, and until Proclamation thereof shall be made, He is to be considered as being on Furlough.

                                                                                    George Washington.

Edmund E. Hill (1746-1821) was born in Manchester, England and immigrated to the United States in 1767. Hill settled in Haverhill, Mass., and served in the militia from 1775 to 1777.  He then enlisted in the army for three years as a carpenter in the company of Captain John Wood of Westborough, in Colonel Hays’s regiment. In the summer of 1779, Hill signed up for the duration of the war, attached to the company of Captain Andrew Moody of the 2nd New York Regimental Artillery as a matross (second to the gunner), under Colonel John Lamb. (Alexander Hamilton had also served under Lamb, in 1776). In 1792, Hill married Abigail Curney. He applied for, and received, a pension for his Revolutionary War service in 1818.

There was some intrigue with this very document. His pension file notes that the discharge signed by Gen. Washington & Col. Lamb was “carryed away ... to use ... in obtaining some land in my name & I have never seen it since...” (Hill’s Pension Application, National Archives)

The Badge of Merit was created by Washington as an award for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers – something that would never have been considered in the Old World. Finishing three years of loyal service “with bravery, fidelity, and good conduct” earned rank-and-file troops a chevron, worn on their uniform coat’s left sleeve. For six years of service, two chevrons were worn. At the end of 1775 and throughout 1776, men enlisted for short, set time periods. Army reforms in 1777 ended problems created by the practice by switching to enlistments for three years, or “the entire term of the war.”

Between October 19, 1781 when Cornwallis surrendered to American and French forces in Yorktown, Virginia and the Peace of Paris, signed September 3, 1783, British and American forces continued to skirmish in frontier areas of North America, and in Caribbean and Atlantic waters. Washington maintained a fighting force while continuing the peace process. After several strategic losses to the French navy, and turmoil at the highest levels of the British government, King George III issued a Proclamation of the Cessation of Hostilities in February. Congress responded with a similar proclamation in April, and attention turned from continued military actions to peace negotiations.

By the time of this June discharge, negotiations led by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay with British representatives were nearing a conclusion. The British government was again in a state of flux, but the Americans refused any modifications to any earlier agreed-upon terms, largely due to the delays of two Atlantic crossings to obtain Congressional approval. Finally, on September 3, 1783, British and American negotiators signed the Peace of Paris. Hill, who had “inlisted for the War only,” earned an honorable discharge for his service. Under the terms of its discharge, he technically remained in Washington’s service until the Confederation Congress ratified the final treaty on January 14, 1784.

Condition

Fair. In worn condition, as are many discharge certificates considering that they were folded and carried in pockets for long periods of time. Some losses at folds, trimmed a bit close.

Sources

“The Badge of Military Merit/The Purple Heart.” http://www.history.army.mil/html/reference/purhrt.html

Vital Records of Haverhill, Massachusetts: Marriages and Deaths (Haverhill, Mass.: Topsfield Historical Society, 1911), p. 421.


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