Revolutionary Soldier and Bodyguard to General George Washington
William E. Groves
Originally published in: Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin, Summer 1996, Volume 37,
Number 3, pp. 362-369. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher.
Copyright 1996 by William E. Groves and the Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin.
Several years ago while visiting the family farm in Indiana, my son, James F.
Groves, expressed interest in knowing more about his ancestry, and realizing
that I, too, did not know much about our heritage, I decided to begin
searching to see what I could find to pass on to my children and grandchildren
concerning their Groves ancestors. This, then, is the story of my earliest
known Groves ancestor, Robert A. Groves, and how I learned what I now know
about him and his family.
>From previous work of my father’s sister, Mary (Groves) Anderson, I initially
was able to determine our Groves’ lineage to be:
James A. Groves + Mary McCarty
Robert Tarleton Groves + Rachel Allen
b. 01/24/1833, Lafayette, IN b. 10/20/1834, Clinton co, IN
d. 12/16/1890, Plainfield, IN d. 08/05/1918, Clinton co, IN
William Donovan Groves + Ella Iona Stunkard
b. 04/02/1869, Clinton co, IN b. 04/10/1870, Clinton co, IN
d. 11/08/1923, Clinton Co, IN d. 12/29/1959, Frankfort, IN
Marion Frederick Groves + Bernice Lois Truitt
b. 04/14/1905, Clinton co, IN b. 10/29/1904, Clinton co, IN
d. 01/26/1961, Dallas, TX d. 08/08/1995, Frankfort, IN
William Ernest Groves + Ina Withers
b. 09/08/1935, Flint, MI b. 07/25/1935, Glasgow, Scotland
James Frederick Groves
b. 04/02/1968, Memphis, TN
I began my ancestral search by examining deed records in the local court
house. From information told me by my father, I knew the location of the farm
in Clinton County, Indiana, where his parents, William Donovan and Ella Iona
(Stunkard) Groves, had lived from 1905 until 1923, but I did not know where
William had been born and raised. However, from a study of deed records in
the Clinton County, Indiana, Court House I was able to determine when and
where William's parents (my paternal great grandparents), Robert Tarleton and
Rachel (Allen) Groves, had lived from 1853 to 1874, and I was surprised to
learn that this was adjacent to my maternal great grandparents, which I
previously had not known. I also found that my second great grandparents,
James A. and Mary (McCarty) Groves, lived on that farm with Robert and his
While the land deeds were helpful, I could not determine the parents of James
A. Groves from them, so I next began to study Federal Census records, which
showed that from 1837 to 1839 James and his family had lived in Rush County,
Indiana. The Census records also showed that James had been born in Kentucky
in 1802, but I still did not know who his parents were and I could not
determine in which county in Kentucky he had lived. However, I was intrigued
by the possibility that he might have lived in Pendleton County, Kentucky,
since I saw Robert and Donovan Groves listed there, and my grandfather’s name
was William Donovan Groves. But the Donovan Groves in Kentucky was born
December 5, 1797, so I assumed he was probably the brother, rather than the
father, of James A. Groves, and thus Robert might have been their father.
But it was not until I found a listing in the Daughters of the American
Revolution publication for Indiana that I had evidence James A. Groves' father
really was Robert Groves. The listing in the DAR publication was essentially
GROVES, Robert (1764-August 25, 1855). Drummer in Captain David Hall's
Company, First Delaware Militia Regiment under the command of Colonel John
Haslet. Enlisted on February 27, 1776, and was in the barracks in
Lewistown, Delaware, on April 11, 1776 . Robert married Martha Miller
[2,3]. Donovan and James A. were amongst the children listed.
>From this information and census data I was able to determine that Robert
Groves was living in Falmouth Township of Pendleton County, Kentucky, in 1800,
1810, and 1820, and in Fairview Township of Rush County, Indiana, in 1830,
1840 and 1850. An examination of the tax lists and deeds in the Falmouth,
Kentucky, Court House and Library, revealed that Robert and family lived along
the South Fork of the Licking River in Pendleton County from at least 1797
until 1821, when he sold his land there, and the records in the Rushville,
Indiana, Court House and Library revealed that he bought land in Fairview
Township in 1821 and lived there until his death on August 25, 1855. Both he
and his wife, Martha, who died on August 20, 1855, are buried in the Fairview
Cemetery along with numerous other members of the family.
But what was Robert's ancestry? Who were his parents, and when and from where
did they come to this country? While searching for answers to these
questions, I learned of another person interested in Robert Groves, contacted
him, and he sent me a copy of an original 1855 obituary article concerning
Robert Groves which was reprinted in the Connersville (Indiana) Examiner
newspaper on July 10, 1944:
Revolutionary Soldier and Bodyguard to General George Washington
"The recent demise of this venerable man, at his residence in Fairview, is
an event which I know many of your readers will deem worthy of note.
"The deceased was not unknown to a majority, perhaps of the older settlers
of Fayette and Rush Counties [in Indiana]. He was born in Connecticut on
the 25th of February, 1766, and departed this life in Fairview, Indiana, on
the 25th day of August 1855, being 89 years and 6 months old. His
ancestors were from England, but the exact time they emigrated hither is
not known. His early life was cast in a period when it was not considered
disgraceful among boys to learn a trade; so he served an apprenticeship to
the cooper business ... War reverberated throughout the length and breadth
of the land, and his young heart beating high with patriotic emotions, he
volunteered, and shouldering his musket, under the command of Colonel
Willot he turned his face toward the common enemy. But one night, being
over-fatigued by a previous day's march, and being left on watch, sleep had
insensibly stolen upon him, and he was held in her sweet though strong
embrace, when one of the guards coming around and finding him asleep,
demanded his gun, which he gave up. On the following morning pardon was
offered him on condition that he would enlist for three years; to this he
readily consented, but before his time expired, the war was brought to a
"An incident or two should not here be omitted. The subject of this
article was personally acquainted with General George Washington, and as
the General (in New York State) was desirous of going from one fort to
another, our hero, Robert Groves, and a few others, were selected as his
bodyguards during the trip. As they had to camp out over night, the guard
considered it a privilege (for the want of anything better) to gather tufts
of blue grass and make their general a bed--themselves being content to
recline, though not to sleep, on the bosom of mother earth. At another
time, Fort Oswego being then a stronghold of the British, our hero in
company with 70 others, all in sleighs, in the month of February, set out
in the night to capture the fort, but having an Indian guide not well
acquainted with the route, they missed the fort some two miles, so that
daylight prevented the attack.
"At the close of the war, Mr. Groves received 500 acres of land as a
bounty for his services; this land he disposed of for an Indian pony, set
out for Virginia, stopped at Havre de Grace, and there became acquainted
with Miss Martha Donovan, who afterwards became his wife. They were
married in the old Episcopalian manner, which was by having their intention
announced at three successive meetings on the first day of the week, and on
the third announcement, if no protest was filed, they were without further
ceremony pronounced husband and wife.
"After a stay of three years in Virginia, he and a number of others,
inspired with the idea of a frontier life, set out with their families, and
after a wearisome journey across the mountains, they reached the Ohio
River. They constructed flat boats, and floated down the river to
Maysfield, Kentucky, reaching that point in the fall of 1791, when that
country was really a land of cane and turkeys, having the Indians for their
neighbors and common foes.
"In 1800 the deceased's attention was called to the subject of religion.
He joined the Episcopal Methodists, with whom he remained until his death.
Soon after he joined the Methodists, he commenced preaching (but not for
filthy lucre) for the writer has frequently heard the good old patriarch
say that all he ever received for fifty years preaching was forty cents,
and that was given him by a German, a non-professer, to pay his ferriage
across the Ohio River, where he preached half his time. Many a day has he
followed his plow with the Bible placed upon the handle. His motto was:
“If people had time to come and hear him preach, he had time to preach to
them.” He had frequently been at Boone's Fort, and for a number of year
during his sojourn in Kentucky, the only way the soil could be tilled, was
by part of the men standing guard for the others, to prevent Indian
On the one hand, this article provides some answers to the questions posed
earlier. First, it tells us that this Robert's ancestors were from
England, and second, it resolves the question of where the name Donovan
entered the family. Martha Donovan, not Martha Miller as stated in the DAR
paragraph, appears to have been Robert's wife, and she was the daughter of
Daniel and Hannah (Arnold) Donovan of Harford County, Maryland; Hannah was the
daughter of William and Elizabeth (Gilbert) Arnold. The Maryland census for
Harford County in 1776, lists Daniel Donovan and his family with a daughter,
Martha, age 7 . The obituary article indicates that at the close of the
war in 1783, Robert set out for Virginia, stopped at Havre de Grace (in
Harford County, Maryland) and there became acquainted with Miss Martha
Donovan, who afterwards became his wife. The 1790 census for Harford County,
Maryland, lists a Robert Greves (probably Groves) with a wife and one child
living next to a Daniel Donovan . The article goes on to tell us that
Robert and his family crossed the Allegheny Mountains and sailed down the Ohio
River to Maysfield (probably Maysville), Kentucky, in 1791, which is a short
distance northeast of Falmouth Township, where we find them in 1797. Their
farm was located a few miles north of Daniel Boone's Fort, which was located
near where Boonesboro, Kentucky, now exists.
On the other hand, the article raises several new questions. First, the
indicated date of birth (1766) and age at death (89 years, 6 months) both
appear to belong to his wife Martha rather than to Robert, who from his
tombstone was 91 years and 6 months of age at the time of his death. Since
Martha died just five days before Robert, these dates could have been confused
by the author of the original obituary article. And second, the DAR
publication says Robert was born in Delaware, not Connecticut as mentioned in
the obituary article. Certainly it is possible Robert was born in
Connecticut, but was living in Delaware in 1776 when he enlisted at age 12 as
a drummer in the First Delaware Militia Regiment commanded by John Haslet.
However, the obituary article makes no mention of his service under Colonel
Haslet, but instead only refers to General George Washington, Colonel Willot
and Fort Oswego. Furthermore, the article goes on to say “pardon was offered
him (Robert) on condition he would enlist for three years; to this he readily
consented, but before his time expired, the war was brought to a close.”
However, so far I can find no Colonel Willot was involved with the Delaware
Continental Army, but instead there was a Colonel Marinus Willet from New York
who commanded troops. Of course, it is possible that troops from Delaware
came under the command of New York’s Colonel Willet or perhaps Robert re-
enlisted in a New York Regiment about 1780. Regardless, the dates involved
suggest Robert was enlisted in the 1780 timeframe, when he would have been 16,
and served until 1783, when he would have been 19 years of age. During this
latter enlistment period he would have been more of an age to carry a musket
than at age 12 during his frist enlistment in 1776 -- and it was during this
latter period that Willet was a Colonel and that Fort Oswego was involved in
Continental Army maneuvers . Furthermore, it is my understanding that to
receive a grant of land, one had to serve in the Continental Army for at least
three years, so more than the 1776 enlistment for one year seems corroborated.
But to date I have not found any evidence of an enlistment other than for
And then there is the issue of the 500 acres of land Robert received from the
government. In addition to the federal government, nine states awarded from
100 to 1000 acres based on rank or situation. The nine states that awarded
bounty lands in their western reserves or on their western borders were:
Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina,
Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. However, Delaware, New Jersey, New
Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont had no bounty land policy. While
Connecticut did not have a military land bounty, it did compensate its
citizens with land in the northeastern corner of present-day Ohio on Lake Erie
if their homes or businesses had been destroyed by the British during the
Revolution . From this information I conclude the land bounty Robert
received did not come from his service in the Delaware Militia in 1776, but
did derive either from his service in the New York Militia or the Continental
Army, or perhaps from the loss of property in Connecticut -- if he really was
born there and he or his parents lost property there.
Thus some of the questions still to be answered concerning Robert Groves are
- When did Robert's ancestors come to this county?
- Who were Robert's parents?
- Where was Robert really born?
- Did Robert re-enlist in the military after 1776 and, if so, with what group?
- Why was Robert granted land and where was it located?
>From what I have learned to date, the children of Robert A. and Martha
(Donovan) Groves were:
- Margaret b.c. 1787
- Hannah b.c. 1788
- Donovan b. December 5, 1797
- Sarah Donovan b. May 22, 1798
- Elizabeth b.c. 1799
- James A. b. March 1, 1802
- Rebecca b.c. 1804
- Susanna b.c. 1805
- Joseph W. b. September 1, 1806
The names of the above children certainly show the Donovan connection, and the
name Hannah may have been given to one daughter in honor of her maternal
grandmother, Hannah (Arnold) Donovan. It is not known what the middle initial
"A" stands for in James' name, perhaps Arnold, or the "W" in Joseph's name.
According to DAR records there were living descendants for Margaret, Donovan,
Susanna and Joseph, and I am a descendant of James. Also, the length of time
between the birth of Hannah and Donovan seems rather long, unless this was the
result of their difficult migration to Kentucky; perhaps unknown children died
during this period.
Interestingly, the only time I have ever seen a middle initial associated with
my third great grandfather Robert Groves' name is on a DAR plaque in the Rush
County, Indiana, Court House, where he is listed as Robert A. Groves, but I
currently have no idea what this stands for.
My search for more information concerning my Groves ancestry continues and
thus corrections or additions to any of this data are solicited and would be
1. Delaware Archives, Military, Volume I, p. 42.
2. DAR Patriot Index, Volume I, p. 289.
3. H. C. Peden: Revolutionary Patriots of Delaware, 1775-1783.
4. Article written by "M. H." of Fairview, Indiana;
originally published in the Connersville [Indiana] Telegraph newspaper on
October 5, l855; and
re-published in a History column in the Connersville Examiner newspaper
on July 10, 1944.
5. L. Howard, Personal Communication (1996).
6. R. B. Roberts: New York's Forts in the Revolution (1980), p. 378 ff
7. L. D. Bockstruck: Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State
William E. Groves, Ph.D., CDP
109 Wisteria Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514