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Revolutionary Service of the Triplett Family
of Fairfax County, Virginia

by John D. Sinks
Fairfax Resolves Chapter
Sons of the American Revolution

 

Today we honor the Revolutionary Services of a patriot of Fairfax County and an officer of the Continental Army: William Triplet. In determining the activities of William Triplett during the Revolution, however, one must examine the activities of his relatives. Although we are placing a marker at the grave of William Triplett today, we are in a very real sense honoring the services of the Triplett family of Fairfax County.

 

William Triplett was born about 1730 to Thomas and Sarah Tripplet. Thomas Tripplet, like the Washingtons, was of the landed gentry of Westmorland Co., Virginia, and moved to old Prince William County (now Fairfax) to settle on unexhausted land. His plantation was Round Hill, and the tract included the ground on which we are now standing. Thomas died in 1737, and the following year Sarah Married John Manley. When he reached 21, William inherited Round Hill. His brother Thomas, who was younger by two years, lived on an adjacent tract. About 1762 William married Sarah Peake. Thomas married Sarah Dade.

 

Before the Revolution, William was engaged in many of the activities one would expect of the Virginia gentry. He and his brother Thomas were hunting companions of their neighbor, George Washington, and all three men served on the vestry of the church. William was not merely a farmer and planter, but evidently had a very skilled labor force which contracted out for construction on other plantations in the area. William and his workers made extensive alterations to Mt. Vernon for George Washington, enlarging it into the mansion we know today.

 

We have found no evidence of activity by either William or Thomas early in the Revolution. The War did not end quickly, however, as many believed it would. On 27 December 1776 Congress authorized General Washington to raise sixteen additional regiments. To avoid too much influence by Virginia, these regiments were to be recruited ďat largeĒ from several states (including Virginia) by not credited to one particular state. Col. William Grayson was appointed to command one of these Regiments on 11 January 1777. William and Thomas Triplett both served in the regiment. To understand Williamsí service, it is necessary to understand Thomasís.

 

On 13 January 1777, just two days after Grayson was commissioned to command the new regiment, Thomas Triplett was commissioned as the captain of the first company in Col. William Graysonís Additional Continental Regiment. He was the first of the ten captains commissioned. Typical of the day, he did not join the regiment immediately, but set to work recruiting. The company did not fill fast. The September rolls of Graysonís Regiment state that Thomas was back in Virginia recruiting. The December rolls list Thomas as on furlough. He may have never rejoined rejoined the regiment, but appears to have been on duty in January. Lund Washington wrote his cousin, George, on 28 January 1778,

 

Mrs. Washington crosses the River today, in order to go to camp. Captain Thomas Triplett attends her there. I fear she will have a bad journey, the roads being froze.

 

On 29 April 1778 Thomas wrote to George Washington,

Sir,
 

I have the greatest reason to believe I shall not sufficiently recover my Health to discharge the duties of my Office this Summer, as I have been very much affected ever since I was inoculated. I should have been glad, had my Health permitted to have made this Campain. But for the above reasons have enclosed you my Commission. I do most sincerely wish your Excellency Success & Happiness.

I am yr. most obedient Humble
 

Thomas Triplett

April 29, 1778

 

ďInoculationĒ was small pox vaccination. It was not done with weakened virus, but by putting the discharge from the sores of a victim of the disease on a cut. Sometimes it worked just like our modern vaccinations did, but in other cases a person would contract a full fledged case of small pox. Thomas did not fare well, but at least he did not die as some often did following inoculation. It would appear that most of the regiment was not inoculated, for when Graysonís Regiment was reorganized into Gistís Regiment in April of 1779 it was badly undermanned due to smallpox. Perhaps Thomas Triplett got his inoculation at the Continental Hospital in Alexandria when back in Virginia. In any event, George Washington took the time to write to Thomas Triplett on a little over a month later,

Head Quarters, June 8, 1778

Dear Sir,
 

I received your letter of the 29th of April by Mr. Washington, and am exceedingly sorry your indisposition should make it necessary for you to resign your Commission. Your discharge I have inclosed, It is of the date of your application. I thank you for your kind wishes and you will accept mine for a perfect recovery. I am etc.

 

 

Thomas may well have never recovered his health. Fairfax County Will Book D records the inventory of the estate of Captain Thomas Triplett made on 24 October 1780. It is interesting to note that Thomas military rank was used in the document. Sarah Triplett was named administrator of the estate, was still a widow at the time the Personal Property Taxes were recorded for Fairfax County in 1787.

 

Now let us move back in time and examine William Triplettís service. When Thomas Triplett returned to Virginia in the fall of 1777, he was seeking both enlisted men and officers. On 1 November 1777 William Triplett was commissioned as an ensign in Thomasí company. Like his brother, he did not report to the main army immediately, and apparently joined his unit sometime after March of 1778. Because many officers and men were furloughed for the winter, this is not unusual. On June 28 1778 the Regiment was engaged at the Battle of Monmouth. From the rolls of the regiment we know that William was at White Plains in July and August, at North River in September and Middlebrook in December. The company was badly under strength. Although Thomas Triplett had resigned in April, returns of the company list the unit as ďLate Captain Triplettís CompanyĒ as late as August, indicating that he had not been replaced. Starting in September of 1778 and through March of 1779, the company returns identify the company as ďEnsign William Triplettís Company.Ē By this time, the company was without lieutenants as well. On 10 January 1779 William Triplett assumed another duty in addition to commanding a company: he became the regimental paymaster.

 

We have located one document apart from muster and pay rolls pertaining to William Triplett during the time he served in Graysonís Regiment. On 15 August 1778 William Triplett signed a receipt to Robert Tilly, Paymaster for Graysonís Regiment as Ensign.

 

By April 1779, both the Additional Regiments of William Grayson and Nathaniel Gist were well under strength. Graysonís Regiment was dissolved and consolidated with Gistís Additional Regiment. The May roll lists William Tripplet as a lieutenant in Captain Thomas Bellís Company (the tenth company). Bell was a former lieutenant in Graysonís Regiment. In June, William Triplett as listed as a lieutenant in Captain Alexander Breckenridgeís Company. In July he was also as Quartermaster as well as lieutenant, and remains as such on the rolls through November. After November, we do not have returns for Gistís Regiment.

 

In December of 1779 many Virginia troops were ordered South to reinforce General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston. Gistís Regiment also went south. Lincoln went to Charleston, where he became involved in bickering with local officials about whether to abandon the city. He waited too late and was trapped. On 12 May 1780 Lincoln surrendered his army, and with it the vast part of the Virginia Line. Gistís Regiment became prisoners of war. Through some stroke of luck, William Triplett avoided capture. With a letter dated 22 July 1780 George Washington enclosed a list of eleven officers in Gistís Regiment who were in Virginia. William Triplett was one of the lucky eleven, and is listed with a rank of lieutenant.

 

At what point did William Tripplet leave the service? Heitman lists Triplett as retiring on 1 January 1781 and evidently relied upon auditors records in the Virginia State Archives because he repeats an error made by the auditors. The erroneous records are two pay certificates issued to William Triplett. The first was issued in December of 1785 covering service as an ensign from 1 November 1777 to 10 May 1778, and as a lieutenant from 11 May 1778 to 1 March 1780. The date of promotion recorded here is one year earlier than the muster and pay rolls of the unit indicate. Williamís signature as ensign on a receipt to the company paymaster settles any question about the year. The second certificate was issued on 30 January 1786 for service as a lieutenant from 1 March 1780 to 31 December 1780. Another piece of evidence of when William left service is a letter from James Howell to Major Nathaniel Mitchel, formerly of Gistís Regiment, asking whether Triplett served until this date because Triplettís claim for bounty land cited this date. Unfortunately, Mitchelís response has not been found. As the was the ranking officer of the eleven who were in Virginia instead of Charleston in 1780, Mitchel may well have told us something of Williamís military activities during that latter portion of his service. Finally, the occurrence of a particular event on 1 January 1781 makes Williamís retirement on that day very plausible: it is the date on which Gistís Regiment was officially dissolved as a unit.

 

We have located one document pertaining to Williamís activities during the period of time he served under Grayson. Officers of the Virginia Line in camp in the State of New York, led by Brigadier Generals William Woodford and Peter Muhlenberg, petitioned the House of Delegates on 26 August 1779 for relief from taxes on unprofitable lands while they were absent in the army. Among the signatures is ďWilliam Triplett Lieut,Ē with no designation of regiment. All three officers signing below Triplett were in Gistís Regiment, as were the three signing immediately before him. Although the signature does bear perfect resemblance to the signature on the early receipt, there is enough resemblance and its location in the middle of a set of seven signatures from the same regiment lead us to conclude that William was indeed one of the petitioners. The State of Virginia was hard pressed for money, and the petition was rejected.

 

William Triplettís service to the Revolutionary cause did not end with his career in the Continental Line. On 26 April 1781, William Triplett was issued a certificate for providing one beef weighing 550 pounds. The commissioner issuing the certificate was James Lawrason, the officer and patriot whom we honored one year ago. This claim was subsequently recorded in the Fairfax County Court Booklet in the February Term of 1782 (p. 9). A second claim is also recorded: 900 bundles of fodder and 12 bushels of corn (p. 2). Either public service claim alone is sufficient to justify the marker we place here today.

 

There was yet another Fairfax County Triplett who provided service to the Revolution: Sarah Triplett. On 26 October 1780, cattle were examined at the request of one of the Commissioners of the County and Mrs. Sarah Triplett. The eleven cattle were judged to weigh about 2915 pounds. The Fairfax County Court Booklet shows that at the February term of 1782 Mrs. Triplett was credited with 350 pounds of beef, the weight of both the red steer and the brindle steer. It was extremely unusual for a woman to conduct this kind of business in the 1780ís. It is safe to assume that the lady in question in the widow of Captain Thomas Triplett, rather than the wife of William.

 

It would not be complete to close the discussion of the Revolutionary services of the Fairfax County Tripletts without a brief discussion of William and Thomas Triplett of Fauquier and Culpeper Counties. Thomas Triplett of Culpeper Co. and later Kentucky applied for bounty land on the services we have attributed to Thomas of Fairfax County. Two different witnesses testified he served as a captain until the end of the war, something the captain in Graysonís Regiment did not do. The diaries and letters of George Washington contain no hint that he even knew the Tripletts of Fauquier and Culpeper County, but are filled with references to his two neighbors. George Washington took the time to write Thomas Triplett after receiving his resignation from the army. It is implausible that this letter was directed to a Culpeper County resident. Will Book D of Fairfax County, moreover, explicitly refers to Thomas Triplett as Captain Thomas Triplett.

 

William Triplett of Fauquier County was undoubtedly a militia captain at the end of the Revolution, commanding a company of men from Fauquier in the Yorktown campaign. The roll for his company is in the National Archives. The Rev. Arnold Harris Hord speculated that he was the officer in Graysonís and Gistís Regiments, but made no definite claim. T. Triplett Russell and John K. Gott in Fauquier County in the Revolution, however, make several definite claims. They abstract of services for the two William Tripletts services as follows:

Triplett, William. 1759-1812. Ens., Graysonís Add. Cont. Regt., 1777; 1st Lt. same Regt., 1778; Capt., Col. Wm. Washingtonís 3rd Cont. Dragoons, 1779; Capt. of Cav., Col. Francis Triplettís Regt., Morganís Va. State Regt., apptd. June 1781. (Note: His military record in Heitman is confused that of his cousin, William Triplett of Fairfax Co., also an officer in Graysonís Regt.)

 

Triplett, William. c. 1735-1822. Pvt., Capt. Benj. Harrisonís Co., Fauq. Mil. 1777.

 

A William Triplett was awarded 4,666 acres and 666 acres as a captain in the Revolution, and the roll of Captain William Triplettís Company of Fauquier Militia is in the National Archives. The consolidated service records for William Triplett in the files for Graysonís Regiment and Gistís Regiment do not indicate that two men of the name served. An examination of some of the original rolls is consistent with this. The only inconsistency I can find involving Heitman is the year of William Triplettís promotion to lieutenant, which I attribute to an error by an accountant in 1786 writing the wrong year. It is very clear that the lieutenant was still serving under Gist in 1779 and even 1780, when Russell and Gott claim the Fauquier Officer was serving as a captain under Col. Washington. Unfortunately, I have been unable to verify the service under Washington. I have, however, found service by a William Tripplet as lieutenant and adjutant in Captain John Steedís Company, 2nd Virginia Brigade commanded by Col. Christian Febiger. The rolls of the 2nd Brigade list Triplett for December of 1779 and January, February, March, and April of 1780. Sgt. John Cockrell in his pension application stated that he was discharged by Col. Febiger and marched towards home under Lt. William Triplett, who drew rations for their support. Cockrell originally enlisted in Capt. John Ashbyís Company, Third Virginia Regiment. That Company was raised in Fauquier County. Finally Moses Fleshman of Culpeper County in applying for his pension testified that he in a tour of militia duty in early 1780 he served about 3 weeks under Captain William Triplett. While I am not in a position to lay out completely and definitively the services of the officer from Fauquier, it certainly appears that he was employed elsewhere while William Triplett of Fairfax County was serving under Grayson and Gist.

 

 

 

Lieutenant William Triplett Grave Marker

 

Lt. William Triplett Grave Marker

Lt. William Triplett Grave Marker

 

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2017 Fairfax Resolves Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution