Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Benjamin Gilbert Letter Book, 1780-1783

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, June 2010

Summary Information
Title: Benjamin Gilbert letter book
Creator: Gilbert, Benjamin, 1755-1828
Inclusive dates: 1780-1783
Extent: 202 pages (1 volume)
The Benjamin Gilbert letter book (219 pages) contains copies of 83 personal letters written by Sergeant Benjamin Gilbert during his service in the Revolutionary War (1780-1783). The letters provide a picture of a junior officer's perspective on the progress of the war.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1972. M-1690 .

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Alternate Format:

This journal has been published and microfilmed

Preferred Citation:

Benjamin Gilbert Letter Book, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Revolutionary War soldier Benjamin Gilbert was born in 1755 to Lucy Barns and Daniel Gilbert in Brookfield, Massachusetts. In 1775, Gilbert enlisted as a fifer in the Brookfield company of minutemen, led by his uncle Joseph Gilbert. He joined Captain Daniel Shays' company of the 5th Massachusetts Regiment as a sergeant in 1777. He served in upper New Jersey in the fall of 1780 and spent the winter at West Point. Joining Lafayette's troops in February 1781, he saw action at Trenton, Wilmington, Christiana, Elkton, Annapolis, and eventually Virginia, in pursuit of the armies of William Phillips and Benedict Arnold. He also fought with Lafayette at Yorktown. On April 17, 1782, Gilbert was commissioned lieutenant in the Massachusetts Line in the Army of the United States, a post he held until the army was disbanded in 1783.

Gilbert married Mary Starr Cornwall (1766-1857) in 1786, in her home town of Danbury, Connecticut. They moved to Middlefield, New York, and had 10 children. Benjamin Gilbert died in 1828.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Benjamin Gilbert letter book (219 pages) contains copies of 83 personal letters written by Sergeant Benjamin Gilbert during his service in the Revolutionary War (1780-1783). The bulk of Gilbert's letters are to his father and other family member, living in his home town of Brookfield, Massachusetts. The letters provide a picture of a junior officer's outlook on the war.

Gilbert wrote these letters during his service in upper New Jersey in late 1780; during his stay at West Point in early 1781; and while fighting with the Marquis de Lafayette's troops at Trenton, New Jersey; Wilmington and Christiana, Delaware; Elkton and Annapolis, Maryland; and Yorktown, Virginia. He wrote the letters dated 1782-1783 from West Point and Continental Village, New York, where the army awaited the withdrawal of Carleton's forces from New York. Gilbert discussed Arnold's treason; the revolt of the Pennsylvania Line; the burning of Manchester, Virginia; southern hospitality; the exhilaration of the impending triumph at Yorktown; widespread desertion of Hessians during the evacuation of New York; and severe shortages of pay, food, and clothing. Throughout the volume, Gilbert wrote reflective comments on the progress of the war.

Several letters concern personal matters. Four are love letters, two to an anonymous recipient (October 14, 1780, October 19, 1780) and two that relate to a paternity claim made by a Patience Converse, with whom he was romantically involved (September 30, 1782 and March 24, 1783). Family news and personal finances are mentioned frequently throughout the volume.

For an annotated transcription of the letterbook, with a comprehensive index, see: Winding Down: the Revolutionary War Letters of Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert of Massachusetts, 1780-1783

Subject Terms

    • Albany (N.Y.)
    • Annapolis (Md.)
    • Arnold, Benedict, 1741-1801.
    • Boston (Mass.)
    • Brookfield (Mass. : Town)
    • Chesapeake Bay (Md. and Va.)
    • Cornwallis, Charles Cornwallis, Marquis, 1738-1805.
    • Danbury (Conn.)
    • Elkton (Md.)
    • Gilbert, Benjamin, 1755-1828--Correspondence.
    • Green Spring Plantation, Battle of, Va., 1781.
    • Manchester (Va.)
    • Morristown (N.J.)
    • New Windsor (N.Y. : Town)
    • Paterson, John, 1744-1808.
    • Philadelphia (Pa.)
    • Putnam, Rufus, 1738-1824.
    • Shays, Daniel, 1747-1825.
    • Soldiers--Massachusetts--Correspondence.
    • United States. Continental Army. Massachusetts Regiment, 5th.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--African Americans.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Participation, German.
    • Washington, George, 1732-1799.
    • West Point (N.Y.)
    • Williamsburg (Va.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • Yorktown (Va.)--History--Siege, 1781.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letter books.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Benjamin Gilbert letterbook,  1780-1783 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The New York State Historical Association has Gilbert's diary (1778-1786). The diary was published as:

    Gilbert, Benjamin, and Rebecca D. Symmes. A Citizen-soldier in the American Revolution: The Diary of Benjamin Gilbert in Massachusetts and New York. Cooperstown, New York: The New York State Historical Association, 1980.


    This letterbook was published as:

    Gilbert, Benjamin, and John W. Shy. Winding Down: The Revolutionary War Letters of Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert of Massachusetts, 1780-1783 : From his Original Manuscript Letterbook in the William L. Clements Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.