Revolutionary soldier retired to Murfreesboro

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, June 19, 2018

The history of our county reveals few Revolutionary War soldiers returning to live in our midst.  Yet one outstanding soldier, Peter Jennings (1752-1842), returned as a contributor to community and friend to all.

Jennings was an African-American born in Pequonnock, Connecticut, on April 2, 1752.  As a young man, he stood at 5 feet, 6 inches.

While many of the youth in our newborn nation had little schooling, Jennings was adept at reading and writing. He enlisted in the army in 1776 in Providence, Rhode Island, where he resided.

Jennings was a private in the 5th Regiment of Artillery of Blacks in the Continental Line and served under Gen. James Mitchell Varnum of the 1st Rhode Island. This was one of the few units in the army to serve all four years.

He also fought for our new country under Edgar’s Company of Regulars in the first Regiment of Infantry, as well as Brewster’s Regiment, comprised mostly of African-Americans.

Jennings bore arms bravely in the exciting and bloody action of Bunker Hill during the British siege on Boston. On June 17, 1775, Jennings charged the hill in victory. There were 405 casualties on this day, yet Jennings escaped injury.

Jennings was also present on the icy Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776, as his troops attempted to surprise a Hessian force in Trenton, New Jersey.

Jennings served four years in the war and continued 10 months as a soldier after the surrender of Lord Cornwallis in Yorktown in 1781. He was discharged at the Town of Fairfield in Connecticut.

Even though the British offered freedom in exchange for enlistment, Jennings was born a free man and chose to serve among the 5,000 black soldiers fighting for our original 13 colonies. For his service, he received an annual $100 allowance.

He was engaged in major battles, including Battle of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine and Yorktown. He suffered a shot wound on his right knee that he carried a lifetime.

Under George Washington in 1780, he braved harsh winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey, where many soldiers were barefoot 

and starving. Yet, Jennings made the best of hard circumstances and continued his devoted patriotism to our newly developing country.

After his service in the war, Jennings was a seaman for 20 years and traveled much of the world. In a shipwreck near the Bahamas, he lost his discharge papers while on a trading expedition. Nevertheless, he did apply for an annual pension of $250 that began at age 81 and continued through his death at age 90.

In the 1830 census, Jennings lived in Murfreesboro, a town of 1,000 residents, at the corner of Vine and Church streets. The one-story frame building was the first house on this corner and served as his residence and bakery. He lived as a free black and was a wonderful baker, creating ginger cakes and delicious bread.

Jennings enjoyed chatting with the young boys who gathered near his shop to hear of his adventures on the high seas and his historical tenure with the New England troops. He would give thrilling accounts of seafaring with descriptive sea phrases, and he would demonstrate army maneuvers with a broom stick for a gun. He also taught the boys boxing and fencing.

During his time in Murfreesboro, the city was the capital of Tennessee and bustling with prominence of the era in living history.

Jennings died on Jan. 22, 1842; yet the exact location of his burial is unknown. The Daughters of American Revolution erected a beautiful memorial headstone with an engraved cross for Jennings in the Old City Cemetery.

Peter Jennings was a soldier who fought for the independence we experience today. He also chose Murfreesboro as his final home where he found great happiness to the end of his life.

Contact Susan Harber at [email protected].

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