At some point in the mid-1800s, perhaps during a long Massachusetts winter, a housewright (someone who builds wooden houses and buildings) named John Davenport decided to preserve a bit of family history. This was a time before photography, copiers, and scanners made duplicating documents easy. So, he took a set of letters that his uncles, James and Isaac Davenport, had written many years before when the young men were serving as Continental soldiers, and he carefully transcribed them into one of the ledgers he used to keep track of his farming work.

Writing with a steel-tipped pen and inkwell, John Davenport made occasional errors and corrections in his work but also seems to have diligently copied original spelling and punctuation choices. Like many 18th-century writers, Isaac and James Davenport used idiosyncratic spelling and capitalization, loose punctuation, and relatively free-form formatting, all captured in John Davenport’s copies. The 17 surviving transcribed letters give us a remarkable and rare glimpse into the thinking and writing of common Continental soldiers.

Portait of John Davenport Sr.
John Davenport, who transcribed the Revolutionary War letters written by his uncles, James and Isaac Davenport. Courtesy of Anne Hayden

Perhaps John Davenport hoped that duplicating these letters in this way would guarantee their survival even if, by some accident, the originals were lost or destroyed. Indeed, like so many other 1700s documents, the original letters of Isaac and James Davenport are now lost.

One hundred and forty years later, Anne Hayden discovered her third great-grandfather’s ledger in an old box in her mother’s attic, copied the letters, and sent them to her family. Her mother’s sister, Tommie Davenport Moore of Nova Scotia, sent a research inquiry with transcriptions of a few letters to the Valley Forge Historical Society — the Museum of the American Revolution’s predecessor institution — in 1996.

Meanwhile, years later, another descendant, James Richardson III, donated a collection of objects — including his sergeant’s epaulettes, easy chair, and baby booties — that belonged to James Davenport to the Museum of the American Revolution. In 2021, the Museum connected with Anne Hayden, who had inherited the family papers and farm ledger. Anne’s research has proved invaluable in our ability to publish these letters for the first time.

A Note on Transcriptions

The detail and spelling of John Davenport’s transcriptions suggest that he made few if any edits to the language and style of his uncles’ letters when he copied them in the mid-1800s. The photographs on this page are of his transcriptions in his farm ledger.

Each letter’s page includes an image of the original farm ledger page with hotspotted terms and names and is complemented by two transcriptions. We want to show you how historians work to decipher old documents and the choices we make when converting them for today’s readers.

The “raw transcription” is a verbatim copy of everything that appears on the ledger page, including formatting, large spaces to indicate sentence breaks, spelling, punctuation, and annotations. In some cases, capitalization was unclear and so has been transcribed here as seemed the most likely case. In others, carrotted insertions are noted in the original document. These words have been silently transcribed into their insertion points.

The “modernized transcription” makes minimal changes to formatting and writing to make the letters as accessible to modern readers as possible. We have included both versions so that readers can use whichever one they prefer and see which changes we made.


Jonathan Blake, History of the Town of Warwick, Massachusetts, from Its First Settlement to 1854 (Boston: Noyes, Holmes, and Company, 1873).

Louise Howes Burnett, “The Baylor Massacre,” Daughters of the American Revolution, 102, No. 2 (February 1968), 96-99, 164, 192.

Wayne M. Daniels, The Massacre of Baylor’s Dragoons, September 28, 1778, Excavation of the Burial Site (Board of Chosen Freeholders, Bergen County, New Jersey, August 1969).

Thomas Demerest, “The Baylor Massacre – Some Assorted Notes and Information,” Bergen County History, 1971 Annual, 29-94.

Patrick J. Furlong, “A Sermon for the Mutinous Troops of the Connecticut Lin, 1782,” The New England Quarterly 43, no. 4 (Dec. 1970), 621-631.

“General Orders, 12 May 1782,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“Revolutionary War Days: The Baylor Massacre, Its Locale, Burial Site, and Historical Markers,” Relics [Pascack Historical Society] (November 1967), 3-5.

C.F. William Maurer, “A New Assessment of the Baylor Massacre from "Dragoon Diary,”

Harris, R. W. Thaddeus Mason, Address at the Interment of R. W. James Davenport, Past Master of Union Lodge, Dorchester; July 17, 1824 (Boston: The Christian Register Office, 1824). Note: the original of this publication is in the collection of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and it includes excerpt from a “journal” kept by Davenport between 1776-1784. The location of that original manuscript is unknown.

Kevin Wright, “Overkill: Revolutionary Reminiscences of River Vale,” online paper, Bergen County Historical Society.