Captain (Dr.) Joseph Parsons, New Hampshire Militia in Continental Service
Joseph Parsons was born in 1746 in Rye, New Hampshire. He was the son of Rev. Samuel Parsons and Mary Jones. He married Mary Seavey, also of Rye, in 1768 and had six children.
Joseph Parsons began practicing medicine in his native town in 1770 and served as the first regularly settled physician in his community for over 60 years. He studied medicine with Dr. Dearborn of North Hampton, NH, who was most likely Dr. Levi Dearborn, not his famous younger brother, original Society member and former Secretary of War under Jefferson, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Henry Dearborn.
In July 1770, Joseph Parsons was chosen to be member of a Committee of Safety “for to stand with the Sons of Liberty.”
A need arose in May 1775 to provide support for the Port of Portsmouth, at which time Captain Joseph Parsons gathered volunteers for service under the Committee for Inspection. Thus, before the summer of 1775, Captain Parsons raised and personally outfitted a company of 42 officers and men, a drummer, and a fifer, to protect Portsmouth Harbor from expected attacks. Serving under the command of Col. Joshua Wingate, he was stationed at Great Island (Newcastle) through 2 Dec 1775.
Hastily mustered 22 Nov 1775, departed 6 Dec 1775, and served “until the British vacated Boston” (17 Mar 1776), Captain Parsons led the 24th Company for a march on Cambridge, MA (now Somerville) to support Gen. Sullivan at “Winter Hill.” His mission was to help fortify the area around Boston and quickly fill the void left by the “Defection of the Conecticut Troops.”
On 5 Jul 1776, Captain Parsons led a call to arms in Rye to excite the townspeople to come “armed and equipped according to law in order to draft out soldiers to join the Northern Army…” with fervent hope that “every person who values life, liberty or property will punctually attend.” As a result of his efforts, he was able to prepare a town force to quickly march to Rhode Island.
From 5 Dec 1776 to 11 Mar 1777, Parsons commanded the 5th Company in a march to New York (near Peekskill) and to battles in Trenton and Princeton to help reinforce the Continental Army within Col. David Gilman’s regiment.
From 26 Jun 1777 to 6 Jan 1778, Captain Parsons marched with his 3rd Company as part of Lt. Col. Senter’s battalion, Gen. Whipple’s brigade to defend Rhode Island. While covering up to 34 miles per day, Captain Parsons “became sick with fever” and was left along the route with his aide. He rejoined his company at Warwick, RI on 21 Dec 1777. The following is an account of the ordeal:
While dangerously sick with his company in Rhode Island, [Private] Richard Webster being his waiter, the company having orders to march, the first lieutenant went to Webster and told him to wait while he (Parsons) died and see him buried, and then hasten to join his company, but his slight speech caused Webster to move more assiduous in his attentions and very desirous that Capt. Parsons might recover and join his company, which he soon did. There was persistence and patience and long-sustained endurance in the make-up of this man of action.
From 3-30 August 1778, Parsons marched again to Rhode Island with his Company (the 8th) under Gen. William Whipple and Col. Moses Nichols.
From the end of 1780 through the end of 1781, Captain Parsons and his 3rd Company served first at the Onion River [now Winooski River] under Col. Daniel Reynolds, and then for 3 months at Charlestown No. 4 under Col. Daniel Reynolds and Lt. Col. Joshua Wentworth
Returning to the seacoast in February 1782, Captain Parsons once again found himself guarding Portsmouth Harbor under Lt. Col. Joshua Wentworth.
On 8 July 1782, Captain Parsons’ skills as a recruiter were called upon to “fill up the battalions for three years or during the war.” He raised the required troops and later represented seacoast veterans when he successfully petitioned the state for compensation promised but not completely delivered.
On 13 August 1785, Joseph Parsons of Rye was appointed 2nd Major of the First Regiment of Militia. In 1797, when the state militia was reorganized under Captain General and Commander in Chief John Taylor Gilman, Joseph Parsons was made Major of the 1st Battalion, in the 10th Regiment under Col. Samuel Ladd.
Between deployments, and especially in 1779 and 1780, Joseph Parsons repeatedly served as a key representative to the New Hampshire General Assembly and Concord Convention for the purposes of raising funds, raising troops, voting for representatives for the Continental Congress, and “forming and laying a permanent plan or system of Government for the future happiness and well-being of the good people of this State.” [In response to the 3 Feb 1778 acceptance of the Articles of Confederation]
Joseph Parsons was undoubtedly dedicated to the Patriot cause and took every opportunity to serve his community, his state, and his new nation. Besides a devotion to the health of seacoast citizens as Rye’s physician, he was a representative to the General Court for twenty years (being the first representative under the new Constitution) and a justice of the peace and quorum.
Sources: C.E. Potter, The Military History of The state of New Hampshire, From its Settlement, in 1623, to the Rebellion, in 1861: Comprising and account of the Stirring Events Connected Therewith; Biographical Notices of Many of the Officers Distinguished Therein: and Notes Explanatory of the Text (Concord NH, 1866), 277-280, 294-5, 341-350, 360, 384; Charles A. Hazlett, History of Rockingham County, New Hampshire, and Representative Citizens (Chicago, 1915), 650, 656-60; D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Rockingham and Stafford Counties, New Hampshire: With Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men (Philadelphia, 1882), 464-5; Isaac Weare Hammond, Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War, May 1777 to 1780 – New Hampshire, (Concord NH, 1886), 256-259, 262, 266, 527; Isaac Weare Hammond, Rolls and Documents Related to Soldiers of the Revolutionary War (New Hampshire), (Concord NH, 1887), 261; John Sullivan, From John Sullivan Camp on Winter Hill Decemr. 21st 1775, Papers of John Adams, Vol. 3.; Langdon B. Parsons, History of Rye, N.H., 1623-1903 (Concord NH, 1905), 256-7, 259-60, 263, 266, 268, 476-7.
Compiled by Scott Robert Papp who has represented Joseph Parsons in the New Hampshire Society since 1992.