Friday, 20 March 2015

John Bullen, Revolutionary War Soldier (1747-1824): 9 Men with the Same Name (52 Ancestors #12) Theme: "Same"

Although my family tree contains many instances of the same name occurring over and over again in a family, the one that has caused me the most confusion over the years is John Bullen. Nine men in my tree share the same name:
  1. John Bullen (1648-1702), son of Samuel Bullen and Mary Morse - my 7th great granduncle;
  2. John Bullen (1687-1757), son of Ephraim Bullen and Grace Fairbanks - my 6th great grandfather;
  3. John Bullen (1691-1741), son of John Bullen #1 and Judith Fisher - my 1st cousin 8X removed;
  4. John Bullen (1713-1778), son of John Bullen #2 and Sarah Underwood - my 5th great grandfather;
  5. John Bullen (1718-unknown), son of John Bullen #3 and Mehitable Fisher - my 2nd cousin 7X removed;
  6. John Bullen (1740-1741), son of John Bullen #4 and Abigail Greene - my 4th great granduncle;
  7. John Bullen (1747-1824), son of John Bullen #4 and Abigail Greene - my 4th great grandfather; 
  8. John Bullen (1783-1850), son of John Bullen #7 and Mary Whitcomb - my 3rd great granduncle; and
  9. John Bullen (1803-unknown), son of John Bullen #8 and Lucina Drake - my 1st cousin 4X removed.
The focus this week is on the seventh John Bullen listed above: my 4th great grandfather John Bullen (1747-1824).

John Bullen was born 08 August 1747 in South Brimfield (now Wales), Hampden County, Massachusetts to John Bullen and Abigail Greene. Like his father, young John had red hair. He was the second son of that same name; the first John (#6 above) born 1740 had died in 1741. It was not uncommon for families to use the same name again if an earlier child died.

When he was ten, his mother died in childbirth with twins who also died the same day. He grew up at South Brimfield where his grandparents had homesteaded; the site has now reverted to forest with just a few scattered foundation rocks to mark the site.

Bullen homestead site at Wales, Massachusetts; photo taken 1999
John moved to Ware, Massachusetts sometime in early manhood. He married Mary Whitcomb on 18 July 1772 and together they raised a family of eleven children. Although most often referred to as a farmer, he also owned a tavern at "Bullon's Corners" on the turnpike at Ware (Hampshire), Massachusetts. I wish I had a picture of the tavern, but it and Bullon's Corners are both long gone. The oldest building we could find in Ware was the old Meeting House.

Old Meeting House at Ware MA

John's main claim to fame was through his participation in the American War of Independence. (He wasn't the only "John Bullen" to serve; at least 5 other men with the same name, not in my family tree, also served.) According to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in letter dated 14 February 1936, John served first as a private in 1776, then as a sergeant in 1777. He was listed in the 1780 Descriptive List of men raised to reinforce the Continental army for the town of Ware for a term of 6 months. When he signed up, he was 32 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall and had a ruddy complexion. Arriving at Springfield, Massachusetts on 13 July 1780, he marched to camp that same day under the command of Captain Thomas Pritchard. He was discharged on 08 December 1780. It isn't clear what action he saw during that time.

Like so many other Western Massachusetts men who had served in the Continental army, he became embittered by their treatment after the war. By the time they received their back pay for service, it had been heavily discounted so that they had essentially no money to show for their service. On top of this, they were heavily taxed to cover what they saw as the extravagant administration of the new government. On 22 August 1786 he was sent as a delegate to plead against the excessive land taxes, but to no avail. This led to his involvement in Shay's Rebellion in which he apparently served as a captain in the affair and is thereafter often known as "Captain John". After the suppression of the rebellion, he fled in 1787 (with a price on his head) to the safety of Kirkland, NY (later renamed as Clinton). During their escape, wife Mary gave birth to daughter Pamela under some bushes (or, according to another source, in a bush hut that had been hastily erected).

The Bullens were among the earliest settlers in Kirkland, NY. Each family was given two acres of land on a street running north and south. The settlers cleared the land and farmed it. The nearest mill was at Whitestown, about 6 miles away. The Nelson/Dunlop Papers quote Grandson Lathrop Bullene who said that "the entire country west of Albany at that time would have been little else than a wilderness, and I have heard my father tell of grandfather's making a trip from Utica or Whitesboro to the farm on foot through the dense forest, and cutting a path and blazing the trees to enable him to retrace his footsteps on his return."

In 1790, there is a John Bullen of Whites Town, Montgomery County, NY listed in the census with 3 free males aged 16+ and 3 white males under 16 plus a total of 9 white females. The family had no slaves. That same year, John Bullen was chosen constable of the town.

In the 1820 US Federal Census for Paris Co., NY, John Bullen is listed with 1 free white male between 26-45 and one free white male 45+, 1 free white female between 26-45 and 1 free white female 45+. Both men were involved in agriculture.

John was considered a stern but just man. Neighbours frequently came to him to help settle their differences. He would give each man a hoe and as they worked, they would discuss the matter and then John would arrive at a decision which the others accepted. He really was no fool: I often wonder how much of his crop or garden he was able to get cultivated this way!

He died intestate at the age of 77 and is buried at the old Water Street Cemetery in Clinton (Paris) NY where his original tombstone read: "Capt. John Bullen, died June 17, 1824. ae. 77 yrs."  That stone has apparently now disappeared but his grave location and name are marked on the informational memorial in the center of Clinton Cemetery. In addition, he is listed in a monument honouring the Revolutionary Soldiers buried in the cemetery. John Bullen's name appears as a Private about half-way down the left-hand column.

Revolutionary Soldiers in Old Clinton Cemetery
Photo courtesy Richard Stauff from

In a letter dated October 1935 descendant Josephine Brooks describes a visit she had made to the cemetery:
"Captain John lies in a little cemetery with ancient dates at Parish Hill just out of Clinton, New York. The ground is covered with myrtle. The brick tombs are covered with marble slabs of inscription. On his grave is also engraven, "Honest, industrious, temperate; the poor he sent not empty away."


  • Nelson, Myrtle Bullen and Dunlop, Ruth, "Source Book for the Bullen Family" collected and compiled in the 1930's (often referred to as the "Nelson/Dunlop Papers")
  • Train, May Philips, "Samuel Bullen and Some of His Descendants", Privately printed 1941
  • United States Federal Censuses from 1790 and 1820
  • "Warren Marriages", Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 for John Bullen, accessed at on 26 February 2015
  • entry for John Bullen in the Old Clinton Cemetery, contributed by Richard Stauff (another of John Bullen's descendants)
  • Fredsall, Evelyn Claire Johnson, "Ouimette Family Heritage", 1976 accessed at 19 March 2015 


  1. The last John on your list went on to be a founder of Kenosha, Wisconsin where there is a school named after him. He is also buried at Green Ridge Cemetery in Kenosha

    1. I knew a bit about that John's history since he seemed fairly prominent, but I didn't know that there is a school named for him. Thanks for sharing that info!

  2. Greetings, My 6th great grandfather John Bullen (1747-1824). Best, Kenneth Rauch

    1. Hi, Kenneth. Thanks for being in touch, Cousin! Such an interesting family we both come from.