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Harmon Sawyer in the War of 1812


Harmon Sawyer was born in Pownal , VT in 1770 and was the first child of Jesse Sawyer and Catherine White.  He married his cousin Catherine E. White born 1775/6 of Salisbury, CT.[1]

Harmon Sawyer served in the New York State Militia for a number of years, through the end of the War of 1812. At the time he was appointed an officer of the militia, the assignment of officers was a political process.  In New York State a Council of Appointment nominated all military officers.  The Governor had the exclusive right to assign them to command and could brevet or assign officers temporarily to higher rank.  There was continual conflict between the council  controlled by the Federalist Party and the Governor who was a Republican.[2]  Against this background, Harmon Sawyer took the oath of office as Lieutenant in the New York State Militia on July 6, 1803. The commander of the Delaware County Militia Regiment to which subordinate companies of Infantry reported was Putnam Farrington. He took the oath of office as Lt. Col. on June 28, 1803.[3]  Both Harmon and Putnam came from military backgrounds.  Harmon Sawyer’s father was Jesse Sawyer well known for his service in the Revolutionary War as a scout and a member of Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys.[4] Harmon was only five years old when his father was appointed Lieutenant of a company of Green Mountain Boys. He was his mother’s only help during Jesse Sawyer’s absence and was reported to be brave, self-reliant and a worthy son of his father and mother.[5] Later on both Harmon and Jesse became residents of Delaware County , New York coming there together from Vermont in 1795.[6]  Putnam Farrington’s father was Lt. Col. Thomas Farrington of the Revolutionary War who served at Bunker Hill . He and his family settled in Delaware County in 1786 near the village of Delhi .[7] The appointments of Harmon and Putnam followed that of their fathers in terms of military rank. Harmon was appointed commander of a Company of Infantry on June 13, 1808.[8] At this time Gov. Tompkins refused to assign officers to command who were not Republicans be they Ensign or Brigadier General.[9]  It would be safe to assume that both Harmon Sawyer and Putnam Farrington were of the Republican Party and were not Federalists.

With war threatening, the President of the United States directed  organization and detachment of militia forces from the State of New York with a quota for  Infantry units.  The General Order dated November 15, 1808 , HQ. Albany NY, directed the military detachment for Delaware County to be 312 men.  They were under the brigade of Brigadier General Erastus Root a well known and staunch Republican supporter of Gov. Tompkins.[10]  On June 18, 1812 Congress declared war on Great Britain after deliberating on the request made by President Madison on June 1, 1812.[11] From the time Gov. Tompkins took office in 1808 until the declaration of war, he caused a number or re-organizations  of the command structure of the state militia. Commanders and their staffs were changed as well as unit designators. With the declaration of war, the Governor made another shuffle of the militia by detaching or separating it from its former county structure and creating new divisions, brigades, and regiments. In this way he was assured that he had commanders at each level that he knew and trusted and who had the same political beliefs.  He was now assured that his orders would be carried out. By General Order of June 18, 1812 the new state militia structure was to be two numbered divisions each commanded by a Major General, eight numbered brigades each commanded by a Brigadier General, and twenty numbered regiments each commanded by a Lt. Col. The Delaware County Infantry complement was called the 1st Division, 4th Brigade (Brigadier General Erastus Root), 13th Regiment (Lt. Col. Farrington) under which was Harmon Sawyer’s Company of Infantry as well as a number of others.[12]  The military records of 1812 show Harmon Sawyer, a Captain replacing Johnson who was promoted and Elnathan Goodrich Lieutenant replacing Sawyer who was promoted.[13]Through the remainder of 1812 and into 1814 the 13th Regiment was not called for duty.  The time spent was for training, equipping and exercising arms much as the National Guard does today. The militia was supposed to drill regularly and be ready to respond when called upon. Harmon Sawyer’s life continued on as usual with the birth of four of his children during the war build up and conflict phase of the War of 1812. Volney was born in 1803, Eliza in 1806, John W. in 1810 and Sarah C. in 1813.[14]  

Gov. Tompkins directed by General Order on July 20, 1814 that elements of the 1st and 2nd Divisions amounting to 9,504 men be dispatched to the defense of New York City .  Lt. Col. Farrington’s Regiment was not called for this deployment.  This General Order did establish a standard structure for an Infantry Company such as that commanded by Harmon Sawyer. The company consisted of a Captain commander, 2 Lieutenants, 2 Ensigns, 5 Sergeants, 6 Corporals, 1 Drummer, 1 Fifer and 90 Privates.  This made Capt. Sawyer’s command 108 men. The 13th Regiment of Lt. Col. Farrington was about 1,000 men consisting of his own staff and subordinate companies of which there were several.[15]

By General Order August 29th 1814, General Steven’s 1st Division was called to service.  Detached elements of the 1st Division of Militia were ordered to the defense of New York City and Harbor.  The detached Regiment of Putnam Farrington with several Companies of Infantry including that of Capt. Harmon Sawyer was in the deployment.  For this assignment, units were not identified by numbered regiment or designated company. They were identified by the name of their commander. For example: Capt. Sawyer’s Company of Infantry, in the Regiment of Detached Militia commanded by Lt. Col. Putnam Farrington.[16] On October 14 1814 , President Madison appointed Gov. Tompkins Military Commander of Military District #3 which included New York City and Harbor. The HQ. was established at City Hall.[17]

          The pay and muster (gathering or assembly for any purpose) vouchers for Horace Sawyer, who was waiter to his father Harmon, show they were located at Camp Greenwich , New York . The camps exact location has not been found.  Clues appear in the court martial records of Nov.- Dec. 1814. At that time trials were held in the 3rd Military District at Tammany Hall.  One particular court met several times to dispense military justice for alleged offenders from the immediate area, including Camp Greenwich ,[18] the Encampment of Stuyvesant’s Ground,[19] and Harlam Heights .[20]  Several of Capt. Sawyer’s men were tried for desertion from duty by a military court on November 1, 1814. The trial was held at Tammany Hall within the 3rd Military District in New York City .   Camp Greenwich was probably in this area of the city. This court also tried a Corporal of Col.Farrington’s regimental staff. The record of the court also identifies by name four other Captain commanders of the regiment.[21]

The militia began mustering out by General Order on November 26 1814. Equipment and arms were turned in to the arsenal of the state.  The men were paid off by company and discharged.[22]  Capt. Harmon Sawyer’s pay voucher for September 8 through October 7, 1814 shows that he was paid $40 for that month of service.[23] In addition to this monthly pay, Harmon was authorized to draw 3 rations (food allowance) per day. Harmon’s son Horace, who was then about 16 years old, drew $8 per month as waiter to his father.  By this assignment his pay was increased above the $5 per month given to Privates.  Putnam Farrington drew $75 while Major General Steven’s received $166 per month plus rations.[24] The year after the war ended (Harmon) Sawyer resigned his commission and was replaced in the militia (1815).[25]

Capt. Sawyer served for about three months in the defense of the city and harbor of New York , August 29th  to November 26th, 1814. He remained a Captain at the end of the war while Putnam Farrington became a brigade commander with the rank of Brigadier General.[26]  The British forces in the War of 1812 never attacked New York City and harbor. Although shots were never exchanged with the British in New York , military life was not that pleasant. Privates of company’s were often young farm boys away from home for the first time.  They were poorly paid, trained and often not properly led. Military court actions show that desertions were often blamed on lack of food, no money, boredom and cheap liquor. The major activities were guard duty, look-out, parade, exercise of arms and work details. Militia men on guard duty often were not given ammunition (bullets) for their rifles due to shortages and the fear they would shoot each other. In some cases fighting and gambling among both officers and enlisted men led to disciplinary action.[27] Even so life in this garrison (military post) duty environment was a great deal safer than on the front lines where men were being killed and maimed.

 To date no record of a pension or land patent resulting from service in the War of 1812 for Harmon Sawyer have been found in the National Archives or the New York State Archives.

  Lt. Col. Fred Tietbohl USAF, Retired

December 05, 1999 . This is an original work. You may copy or use it as you see fit. The author would appreciate being given credit if you quote from it.


[1] Vanderpool, Mrs. Jennett Nicholas, Genealogy of the White Family, Eaton NY , 1899.  p.70, 88.

[2] Tompkins: Public Papers of Daniel D. Tompkins, Governor of New York   1807 – 1817.  Military Vol I.  With an Introduction by Hugh Hastings, State Historian.  Published by the State of New York , Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. ,  State Printers,   New York and Albany , 1898.  pp. 8-13.

[3] Delaware County Militia and Oaths  1801-1864, Delaware County Clerk’s Office, Electronic Text by Joyce Riedinger. Para 6D for both men, Rootsweb Project.

[4] Biographical Review – 1895.  The Leading Citizens of Delaware County , NY .  3rd Section. Electronic text.  Paragraph Mrs. Melinda Sawyer wife of Isaac W. Sawyer.

[5] Vanderpool,  p. 74.

[6] Munsell, WW.  History of Delaware County ,  Paragraph “The Settlement of Walton.” 1797-1800, Electronic Text, Rootsweb Project.

[7] Munsell, WW, History of Delaware County ,  Paragraph “The Settlement of Delhi .” 1797-1800, Electronic Text, Rootsweb Project.

[8] Reported by M. Bess, attributed to Clifford Sawyer who has the notes that Gov. Tompkins signed the assignment order on June 13, 1808 .

[9] Tompkins, pp 13-14.

[10] Tompkins, p.18,  pp. 203-207.

[11] Tompkins, p. 33.

[12] Tompkins,  pp. 336-342

[13]  Military Minutes of the Council of Appointment to the State of New York (1781-1821), Compiled and Edited by Hugh Hastings,  State Historian,  Published by the State of New York .  Volume II. Albany : James B. Lyon, State Printer, 1901. p. 1332 Note: Elnathan Goodrich (1776 –1850) was Harmon’s brother in law having married Polly Sawyer (1775-1810) in Walton , NY . Elnathan was for many years a business partner of Elisha Sawyer a brother of Harmon. Elisha also enlisted in the Delaware County militia as a musician. Both Elnathan and Elisha were part owners on the deed to the “Old Burying Ground” in Walton.

[14] Tatum, The Family of Harmon Sawyer: a letter written March 13, 1941 from the grand daughter of Volney Sawyer to her cousin Frank Sawyer.  By Viola S. Tatum.  Her father was Ezra Sawyer, his fatherVolney Sawyer, his father Harmon S. Sawyer. p. 4. ( Tatum gives all four names and birthdates); Luedmann J. M. The New York Genealogical and Biographical Review,  “William White of the Province of New York and Colony of Connecticut ,” Vol. 124, Oct 1993, p. 216. (Luedmann gives the names of Volney, Eliza and John W. but no birthdates).

[15] Tompkins,   pp.  490-492.

[16] Tompkins,   pp.  504-507;  Photocopy of Pay and Muster Vouchers for Horace Sawyer, Sep-Nov 1814.

[17] Tompkins,   p. 699.

[18] Tompkins,   pp.  737-738.

[19] Tompkins,   pp.  740-741.

[20] Tompkins,   p. 746.

[21] Tompkins,   pp.  732-733.

[22] Tompkins,   pp.  727-728

[23] Photocopy of Capt. Harmon Sawyers Pay Voucher, Sep 8 through Oct 7, 1814 .

[24] Tompkins,  p.  530

[25]  Military Minutes of the Council of Appointment to the State of New York (1781-1821), op. cit. p. 1850.

[26] Delaware County Militia and Oaths 1801-1864, Delaware County Clerk’s Office, Electronic Text by Joyce Riedinger.   Para . 24.  Rootsweb project.

[27] Tompkins, pp.  731-748.

 This pay voucher dated Sept 8 through Oct  7 1814 shows Capt. Harmon (Harman) Sawyer received $40 in pay for the month:  Source  New York State Archives.  


A copy of the Tatum letter giving family data: