GaspeeVirtual Archives
Ezra Ormsbee (variously spelled Ormsby) 1751-c1834
The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the 1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who is known to have been involved with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
While blissfully preparing for Christmas 2005, we were presented with the following surprise e-mail from Pam R. Thompson who was doing some genealogical research of her own.

I found the following curious entry in the Revolutionary War Pension File, #S21404, for Ezra Ormsbee, born 30 March 1751 in Warren, RI, son of Ebenezer Ormsbee (sometimes spelled Ormsby) and Hannah Cole (Benjamin3, Hugh2, James1)  Ezra applied for his pension in Warren, RI, on 24 August 1833.
"When I was a young man, before the Revolutionary War, I [sailed] the seas, and about four years before the war as near as I can remember I was pressed in Boston on board of the English Man of War Somerset, then in Boston, Capt. Hoyt - one Reed was Sailing Master. Their cruel treatment to me I never forgot. I staid on board 8 months and fourteen days, when I run away in Boston Harbour. In June 1772 when the English Revenue Cutter Gaspee was burnt in Providence River, I was one that went from this town and helped do it. Capt John Greenwood, James Smith, Abner Luther, Abel Easterbrooks, Nathaniel Easterbrooks, Hezekiah Kinnicut and myself went together in a whale boat and we helped burn her. I mention this merely as a revolutionary incident and not as connected with my pension claim. All the above named persons who were with me in burning the Gaspee have a long time since decd."
I do not find any of these names on your lists of participants.
Ormsbee 1833Left: Colorized .pdf image of the pension application of Ezra Ormsbee, paragraph in which he relates his and others attack on the Gaspee. Click to enlarge.

We have confirmed the above by receiving a copy of Ormsbee's pension application, together with all supporting documents directly from the US National Archives. We have long known that people from the Bristol and Warren, RI area participated in the attack, but we have only known of the names of Simeon Potter, and possibly Thomas Swan.  In fact, we only know the names of about half of the 64 men alleged to have participated in the attack on the Gaspee. This gives us a first hand list of an additional seven men to investigate to be patriots of the forthcoming American Revolution. We are thinking that the timing of Ormsbee's 1833 statement regarding the Gaspee attack came after publication of some widely read articles about the Gaspee Affair, such as the 1829 Saturday Evening Post, and newspaper articles describing the parades given in honor of other known participants (see
It must remembered that although Ezra was able to remember the names of those Warren men that accompanied him in the attack on the Gaspee, he was in his eighties when he made the statement.  Fellow raider Ephraim Bowen, when at a similar advanced age, made several factual errors in retelling his list of participants. In examining the evidentiary statements that accompany the pension application, there were no fewer than 12 upstanding citizens of Warren and the surrounding area that testified that Ezra Ormsbee's memory was strong regarding events that occurred during the Revolution.
Biographical notes

From Neil Stout's The Royal Navy in America, 1760-1775, p162, we find reference to the HMS Somerset being in Boston in 1774 as one of a contingent of three third-rate ships of the line sent to support efforts of Admiral Graves to stop smuggling by the American colonists.  Impressment of sailors was common at the time, and we surmise that Ezra must have been serving on some trading ship up in the Boston area c1771 for him to be so captured.

Ezra Ormsbee's application for pension was made in accordance with an act of Congress in 1832 that allowed for a pension to be given to certain individuals that had served honorably in the Revolutionary War. The pension was accrued by all eligible recipients from 4Mar1831, and, based on 24 months of proven service, he was granted an allowance of $80.00
per year. He did not actually receive funds, however until 28April1834 by which time he was age 83.  We also note that his pension by contract ended 4Sep1840, but he quite probably died before that time. He was never issued any formal discharge papers, and claimed he was verbally discharged by his commanding officers each time.

Enclosed with Ormsbee's Pension paperwork is a
Statement of Elisha Phelps, Comptroller of Public Accounts of the State of Connecticut
on January 22, 1834 who reviewed an authenticated copy of the payroll of the 8th Co. of the Regt. of May 1775:

" I find that Ezra Ormsbee inlisted (sic) into said company on the 11th day of May and served [therein] as a private until the 14th day of December 1775 being seven months & three days. Of the company Joseph Elliot was Captain, Benoni Calter 1st Lt., David Perry 2nd Lt., & Elisha Lawrence Ens; & of the Regiment General Putnam was the Comdt. I further certify that upon an authentic copy of an account headed "Marked from Killingly for relief of Boston & in the Lexington Alarm April 1775, I find the name Ezra Ormsbee, & in the column headed time of service, I find twenty days against the name of said Ormsbee.  It appears by this document that the company, or corps, was commanded by William Danielson, Major; Joseph Cady, Captain; Elihu Laurence, Ensign; Oliver Richmond, Simeon Lee, & Asa Laurence were Sergeants......The spelling of the name Ormsbee is used as upon the two rolls."

He had enlisted immediately after Lexington in Apr 1775 from his home in Killingly, CT as a private in the Company of Captain Elliot of the Regiment of Colonel Daggett in the Rhode Island Line (Killingly being near the border with RI) for one month and was marched to Roxbury.  He returned home to CT for but two days before reenlisting for eight more months in May 1775. At the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 he "saw General Warren that day both before and after he fell, " and he also frequently saw the British General Pitcairn during the battle. Ezra Ormsbee was discharged in Jan1776 from No. 2 Fort in Cambridge and returned home to Killingly.  He moved in February 1776 to Richmond, NH.  From there he enlisted again in March 1776 into Capt Ingall's Company of Colonel or Major Ormsbee's Regiment. This was possibly the paternal uncle (1734-96) of our Ezra (of 1751). According to The History of Warren, Rhode Island, in the War of The Revolution, 1776 - 1783 by Virginia Baker, Warren, RI, 1901, p38 lists the Roll of Capt. Ezra Ormsbee's Company of Militia in the Town of Warren, 1776.  Our Ezra was then deployed at Mount Independence (VT), across Lake Champlain from Fort Ticonderoga, for eight months through Nov. 1776, under the command of General Gates.  He then immediately reenlisted into Capt. Josiah Fish's Company of General Fletcher's Regiment, and once again was posted at Mount Independence tasked with building redoubts. 

Here we find that the Ormsbee Genealogical site erroneously gives credit for this service to his paternal cousin Ezra Ormsbee (1749-1834), who had vital dates relatively close to our Ezra (1751-c1834), so this may cause some significant genealogical confusion.. 
From: Vermont Revolutionary Rolls: "Ezra Ormsby is on the payroll of Capt. Josiah Fish for service in the State of Vermont from the beginning of the campaign in 1781 to the 30th of June in said year. Pay £6-6-8.  Ezra Ormsby on the payroll of Capt. Josiah Fish's Co., Col. Samuel Fletcher's Battalion, in State of Vt. in 1781 commencing July 1st and ending with the close of the campaign. Paid from July 1st to Oct. 18 for 108 days service in amount £7-4-0. Discharged."

He served until February 1777, then returned to Richmond, NH and moving his family immediately some 20 miles northwest to Putney, VT. From there he again enlisted back into Capt. Fish's Company in March 1777, serving until November 1777
.  At this enlistment, the Brigade joined the Continental Army under General St. Clair. The British and Canadian forces eventually overran the forts, and Ormsbee along with the remaining American forces retreated to Hubberton, VT.  At the Battle of Hubberton
...the English and Canadians coming up with us, we had a brush, and lost a considerable number of men, but the enemy lost more, though we retreated. From here we marched to Bennington & Fort Edward on the Hudson River, and then to Saratoga and Stillwater.  [I] was in the first Battle of Stillwater on Friday, and in the Great Battle [Saratoga] on Tuesday, besides skirmishes.  [I] saw General Gates, and Gen. Starks, and Genl. Arnold, & Col. Brooks and Col. Livingston, and many more whose names [I] can no longer remember. [I] served my time out and was discharged at Stillwater in Novr 1777.
He once again enlisted for a year back into Capt. Fish's Company (Ensign Caselton, Lt. Ingalls, Major/Colonel Ormsbee, General Fletcher) at Stillwater and was marched to Castleton, (VT), from where he was discharged in 1778. " all forty months service, as a private soldier, for which I claim a pension." This was a really long time in service compared to some.  We note that he was possibly illiterate, for he signed his pension application with a scribbled mark, but this could also be because he was too infirm at the time to sign his name.

Ezra Ormsbee at various times saw action in the Battles of Bunker Hill (MA), Hubberton (VT), Bennington (VT), Stillwater (NY), and of Saratoga (NY) and served the vast majority of the time between April 1775 to December 1778.  Truly this man exemplified the best in our soldiers during the American Revolution.

According to his pension papers, Ezra was claimed he was born on April 11, 1751, but this was probably his baptismal date.  Warren was his home until December 1774 when he removed to Killingly, CT.  He moved in February 1776 to Putney (NY-VT).  Note that the town of Putney is located in southeastern Vermont but was in 1777 within the border of the Colony of NY, and only subsequently assigned to the new state of Vermont in 1781. He moved around a lot and mentioned a family, but we do not know more about them. At the close of the Revolution he moved to Foster, RI .  He later lived in Burriville, RI until c1825 when he returned to his birthplace of Warren, RI.  For a while he lived with a John W. Bushee; this could be a relative or possibly a boarding home, but was from c1831-1834 known to be living in the poor asylum in Warren, RI.  His lawyer for the pension application, John Cross, Esq, sadly stated thus:
This man is unfortunately situated.  I believe he has no relation or friends to assist him in getting testimony-he is a pauper in the asylum in Warren-and is so infirm as to be entirely unable to leave the house, unless he is carried-his services were all performed in distant parts of the Country-and with men, whom for the most part, must have long since
deceased-besides this, the old man's memory as to times and names-is much impaired-Though he can minutely detail the chief events of the campaigns in which he was engaged.

Medical comment (JC):  In senile dementia or Alzheimer's Disease, it is the short-term memory that goes first....memories of things long ago can typically be remembered. Ormsbee's memory condition probably reflects that kind of problem. His stay at the poor asylum is probably an example of 18th century nursing home care for the infirm elderly.

Ezra's genealogy is fairly well presented at the Ormsbee Genealogical site at:  He was the third of seven children born to Ebenezer Ormsbee (1714) and Hannah Cole (1716) in Warren, RI.  Note that Warren is just north of Bristol, RI.  No offspring or marriages are listed, although Ezra mentions moving "his family" in his pension application; we have as yet been unable to find out anything regarding his spouse or children, if any.,,, and databases are all negative for any further information at this point.
The Gaspee Days Committee proudly recognizes Ezra Ormsbee as a Gaspee raider, and a honorable soldier in the American Revolution, one of the select group of true American patriots.
Back to Top    |    Back to Gaspee Virtual Archives

Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 1/2006  Last Revised 1/2006      EzraOrmsbee.html