Guide to the William S. Pennington (1757-1826), Revolutionary War Soldier Papers 1780-1781 MG 234
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Inventory prepared by Kim Chartlton, March 2000, as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Finding aid encoded by Julia Telonidis. March 2006. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.
The Pennington Family of New Jersey is descended from Ephraim Pennington, one of the first settlers of Newark, New Jersey, whose father, also Ephraim Pennington, immigrated to New Haven, Connecticut around 1643.
William Sanford Pennington, the sixth of the nine children of Mary Sanford (1725-1805) and Samuel Pennington (1725-1791), was born in 1757 in Newark, New Jersey. He was probably trained as a hatter, but at the outbreak of the Revolution joined the Continental Army and became, in 1777, a sergeant in the Second Regiment of Artillery under Colonel John Lamb and Major General Henry Knox. He advanced to the rank of second lieutenant in 1780, and at the end of the war was brevetted captain by a special act of Congress.
After leaving the army, William S. Pennington studied law in the Newark office of Elias Boudinot, in addition to serving in the New Jersey State Assembly in 1797, 1798, and 1799. He was elected to the State Council in 1801 and reelected in 1802, the same year he was admitted to the bar as an attorney. During the next two years he served as the clerk of Essex County and was elected to fill a vacancy in the New Jersey Supreme Court, where he remained on the bench until 1813. For the majority of that time, he was also the Supreme Court’s reporter. In 1812, Pennington was the Republican candidate for governor of New Jersey and the following year won the gubernatorial election, becoming New Jersey’s governor from 1813-1814. The year after he left office, President James Madison appointed him a judge of the Federal District Court for New Jersey, a position that he kept until his death eleven years later.
William S. Pennington married Phoebe Wheeler (d.1804), the daughter of Rhoda Lyon and Captain James Wheeler (ca.1740-1777), around 1786. They had ten children together, one of whom, William Pennington (1796-1862), also became a governor of New Jersey. After Phoebe’s death, William S. Pennington married Elizabeth Pierson (d.1840) on July 13, 1805. He died on September 17, 1826.
The papers consist of a commission and a diary of William S. Pennington (1757-1826) from the American Revolution. The commission is signed by Samuel Huntington, president of the Congress of the United States, in 1780 and retroactively promotes Pennington to the rank of second lieutenant in the Second Regiment of Artillery in the United States Army as of September 12, 1778.
Pennington’s diary was written from May 4, 1780 to March 23, 1781 during his time as a second lieutenant in the army. He describes the daily life of a soldier, writing about marches, dining with friends, letters received, visits home, and news and hearsay from the front. The entries track Pennington’s movements during this period but also give insight into the movements of the larger army and major figures in the Revolutionary War, including General George Washington whom Pennington dines with. During the course of the diary, Pennington himself marches from near West Point, New York to and around New Jersey and back again. He also mentions general problems with which the army is dealing, for example looting and dueling, and the resulting executions and deaths. More particularly, he writes of the betrayal of General Benedict Arnold in September of 1780 and the “mutiny of the Pennsylvania line” at Morristown, their surrender, and punishment (including the execution of two of their leaders) in January of 1781.
The diary has been transcribed and published in the Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, Vol. 63 (October 1945), pgs. 199-218 and Vol. 64 (January 1946), pgs. 31-42.
There are no access restrictions on this collection.
Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.
Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.
The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.
This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 234, William S. Pennington (1757-1826), Revolutionary War Soldier Papers, The New Jersey Historical Society.
The commission was donated at the bequest of A. Pennington Whitehead in 1994.
Pennington Family File, The New Jersey Historical Society.