The Sad Story of Lt. John Longstreth
At the Sideling Hill Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Fulton County is a granite marker dedicated to the memory of a Revolutionary War soldier named John George Longstreth. Although Lt. Longstreth passed away in 1834, the gravemarker appears to be in a remarkable state of preservation, until you look closely and see the inscription signifying that the stone was placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution just a few short years ago. For over a century, Longstreth slumbered in an unmarked grave, and the sad circumstances of his last days on earth make for a truly remarkable story about honor, sacrifice and heartbreak.
John Longstreth was born near Philadelphia sometime around 1751 but settled in Bedford County before the Revolution. When the war broke out he volunteered with Capt. Andrew Hines' Flying Camp, which, in the military parlance of the era, was a roving, mobile battalion of reserve soldiers. Flying Camps were composed of volunteer militiamen from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and their goal was to defend New Jersey from the British, thereby freeing up Washington's Main Army for the defense of New York.
Longstreth and the Flying Camp marched to Philadelphia, and then on to New Jersey, arriving at Perth Amboy on October 5, 1776. Here the various Flying Camp battalions joined the brigade of Gen. Bell, Col. Mifflin, and Lt. Col. Kingfrock and made preparations to join the Battle of Fort Washington on the sparsely-populated island of Manhattan. They marched on to Fort Lee, expecting to cross the Hudson River at dawn, but their plans were destroyed when British and Hessian forces took command of the ferry, leaving Gen. Washington and his army to suffer their worst defeat of the war thus far. Four days after taking Fort Washington, the British took Fort Lee, and Longstreth and his companions had no choice but to retreat across the Hackensack River to the village of New Bridge, where a middle-aged patriot named Thomas Paine, witnessing Gen. Washington's humiliating retreat, scribed the immortal words, "These are the times that try men's souls."
Longstreth's battalion slunk back to Trenton and then crossed the Delaware into Philadelphia, where the Flying Camp was formally disbanded. Longstreth returned home to Bedford County and married his childhood sweetheart, Margaret Ann. They purchased a farmhouse, planted an orchard, and made plans for their future.
However, no sooner had Margaret given birth to their first son, John Longstreth was pulled back into military service. He was drafted into Capt. Rush's company of militia in the fall of 1779, and assigned the duty of transporting arms and ammunition to Fort Ligonier in Westmoreland County. At the expiration of his tour, he enlisted in the militia once again as a lieutenant, and spent the next several years scouting the wilderness of western Pennsylvania for hostile Indians. Due to the poor recordkeeping from these informal scattershot militia expeditions, Longstreth couldn't provide documentary evidence of his service on the frontier; when he retired from military service, he had to relinquish his claim to the pension he was entitled to receive from the government.
After seventeen years of military service Longstreth found himself penniless and estranged from his wife and children. There was no postal service or telegraph in those days, and the only method of communication from the western Pennsylvania wilderness was gossip. Somewhere along the line, Margaret Ann had heard a rumor that John had been killed by hostile Indians. Believing him dead, she re-married.
Years later, a crippled old tramp knocked on Margaret Ann's door, begging for something to eat and a place to stay for the night. She refused and turned the old tramp away. But, before the door could close, he asked the woman for an apple from her orchard. Once again the woman turned up her nose at the haggard, old beggar.
"It's hard to be refused an apple from the orchard I planted," he sighed as he turned away on the doorstep. This remark made the woman realize that the beggar was the man she had once married, but had given up for dead. She pleaded with him to stay, but John, seeing that Margaret Ann now had a husband and several children, shook his head and limped away.
His wanderings eventually led him to the home of John Pittmann, where he remained until his death in 1834. Sadly, his death came just weeks after he was finally granted a pension of forty dollars a year for his many years of service to his country.