william-tenery-pension-app-fragmentOn New Years Day of 1845, an old soldier died in Pine Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh. His name was William Tenery (sometimes written  “Trenary”) and while dates given for his birth are contradictory, he was certainly in his 90’s. His war was the American Revolution.

William was born and raised in northern Virginia in the areas historically occupied by Frederick and Loudon Counties (those counties were subdivided in subsequent years). Family historians claim his father Richard Trenary immigrated to the American colonies in about 1742 from Cornwall, England. His mother Mary’s maiden name may have been Fenton as that would explain his brother’s middle name – Samuel Fenton Tenery. William was born around 1752, give or take a few years, based on the ages given in his pension records, so he was about 23 years old as the revolutionary fervor in the American colonies began to reach a critical stage.

After the battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia during the summer of 1775 and authorized the creation of the Continental Army to resist British efforts to snuff out the rebellion brewing in the colonies. William was an early volunteer in the fall of 1775, joining forces being raised in Virginia to defend the state and participating in early confrontations that led to the burning of Norfolk in early 1776. By 1777, his 2nd Regiment of Virginia Regulars was assigned to the main Continental Army and they marched north to join General George Washington in New Jersey. William then fought in several famous engagements, including the Battle of the Brandywine where Washington unsuccessfully sought to keep the invading British Army from reaching Philadelphia; the inconclusive Battle of Germantown where the Americans attacked the British after they were ensconced in Philadelphia; and the 1778 Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, where the Continental Army attacked the British Army as it traveled from Philadelphia to New York and forced the British to flee the field.

In between the Battle of Germantown and the Battle of Monmouth the poorly equipped Continental Army spent the bitter winter of 1777-1778 struggling to survive in a place northwest of Philadelphia called Valley Forge.


George Washington at Valley Forge by Edward C. Moran, Library of Congress via Wikimedia

Valley Forge was a turning point in the American Revolutionary War effort. Since initial success at Boston, the Continental Army had done nothing but retreat except for the notable morale-boosting victories at Trenton and Princeton the prior winter. It was difficult for the relatively untrained colonial troops to stand up to the bayonet charges of the professional British army, and both the organization and equipment of the revolutionary forces were far inferior. But over the miserable winter at Valley Forge, and under the tutelage of the Prussion drill-master Baron von Steuben, Washington forged a true army. The difference between the retreats at Brandywine and Germantown in 1777 and the victory at Monmouth in 1778 was Valley Forge.

William Tenery’s pension application reveals something very interesting about his participation. He describes entering service in the Virginia militia in 1775 and remaining in the Continental Army until the end of active conflict in 1781, when he was discharged after the surrender of Cornwallis. This length of service was highly unusual, particularly since early in the war most soldiers would enlist for a period of a year, or a few months, or even just a few weeks, after which they would go home. The turnover in the army and the militia was a constant headache for Washington and other officers. As a veteran who stayed enlisted for the duration of the war and became a part of the core army at Valley Forge, William was unusually experienced and well-trained among the rank and file soldiers.

After the war, William married Sarah Bellwood in Frederick County, Virginia, had ten children, and around 1810 moved to Pine Township of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Little is known of much of the family, although sons Richard and Henry show up to testify on behalf of their mother’s pension claims after William’s death in 1845. She apparently was very persistent in pursuing all the benefits owed to the family – in the pension file, more than one court officer comments about the frail, very elderly woman who has once again appeared in his office to inquire about the status of the claim owed to her because of her husband’s service.

The Tenery’s of Giles County, Tennessee claim descent from this Revolutionary War couple, including Lola Belle Tenery who would marry Charles Paysinger the day before Christmas of 1899.

Note: A transcript of William Tenery’s pension application can be found at a website entitled Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications and Rosters. While his name does not appear on the compiled Valley Forge Muster Role, the name of one of his fellow soldiers, John Warner, does appear, and Warner testified under oath that William served with him throughout the war. In addition, William Trenary appears on the payrolls for the 2nd Virginia Regiment, as recorded on the List of the Revolutionary Soldiers of Virginia, Special Report of the Department of Archives and History for 1912. A scan of his wife’s pension application – which includes his original application as part of the file – is online at for those who have an account. The file contains many useful details about William’s family.


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