Saturday, May 27, 2017

What Would Francis Think?

By Bob Ferris

A number of our men, indeed all who have not had the small pox are & soon will be under Inoculation.Alexander Scammell to Timothy Pickering, Jr. Valley Forge, 28 February 1778.  

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge. 

I do not know all that much about my ancestor Francis Chaffin, but I do know some.  I know, for instance, that he was born in Littleton, Massachusetts near the end of January in 1730.  And that he was married to Rebecca Cummings in nearby Acton on April 26, 1756.  Records indicate that he was a member of the Acton militia in the 1750s so he likely fought in the French and Indian War soon thereafter.

Statue representing Minuteman Captain Isaac Davis killed at Concord.
I know also that his father was an English emigre named Robert Chaffin and was little noted too, but that his maternal great-great grandfather was Dolor Davis who came to Boston in 1634.  I know too that Dolor and Francis were both carpenters and farmers as were many in these family lines.   Historic papers tell us also that Francis and his son, Francis Jr., along with more than a dozen Chaffin and Davis cousins including Isaac Davis (portrayed above) and Joseph Chaffin (see below) signed a document on September 29, 1774 enrolling them in the Acton Militia in preparation of anticipated troubles.

Joseph Chaffin Powder Horn 
Continental Army records indicate that father and son enlisted for three-year terms during the Revolution.   And I know that Francis died of smallpox three days after his forty-eighth birthday at a place called Valley Forge in Pennsylvania while serving as a Corporal.  He left a wife and seven mostly-grown children.

Although my siblings and I descend directly from more than a dozen soldiers who served in the American Revolution, Francis will be on my mind this Memorial Day because he was the one who died.  He gave his life for a dream of a country.  He died in a fight to free this land from rule by an entitled elite, the heavy-handedness of corporate influence and too much power resting in the hands of the Church.  That he died of smallpox rather than a musket ball, bayonet stab or saber cut matters little in the grand scheme.

There will be much running through my mind as I think about Francis this Memorial Day weekend and beyond.    But one thing seems to dominate my thoughts and that is a question.  If I were somehow magically able to sit right next to a freezing, but fevered Francis and show him what his sacrifice and that of others wrought would he be proud of what we had become?   Would he have thought that his sacrifice was justified?  What, indeed, would Francis think if he could see us now?


  1. Another great blog, Bob.

    My brother and I have discussed whether today's America is what we thought we were defending back in the '60s and '70s when we served. We don't think so.

    I believe that your ancestor would marvel that we have eradicated small pox; that we can fly through the air in machines; and that we grew into Earth's most powerful entity. He would recognize other aspects as unchanged: the willingness of wealthy people to send people to war; the failure to give veterans promised rewards; ....

    I suspect that many veterans think of lost friends, and where they would stand in today's world had they lived past their 20s and 30s. War extracts a terrible toll on those in the military, and bestows great wealth on those at the top who stay at home.

  2. Bob, thank you for honoring Francis. I too honored him in my Facebook post and too my family including my children, as I am a 6x Great Grandson of Francis. His sacrifice of fighting at Saratoga and dying at Valley Forge. I wonder what he would think of this nation he helped birth and what his descendants have made of it.
    Shawn Marchinek