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Guest Contributors...                Myron C. Smith

Researching Lake Champlain...
The Valcour Bay Research Project- XII (d)

Daniel McCay's
Military Record

"It was very exciting to discover that my ancestor, Daniel McCay had been fighting side-by-side with these brave soldiers on the gunboat, New York."

Myron C. Smith, MD

Myron C. Smith MD, descendant of Daniel McCay, Valcour Bay Patriot


Daniel McCay (1756-1816?) was my g-g-g-grandfather. While researching his Revolutionary War service records, a pension application (R 16202) was identified which contained several letters detailing his eight years of military service with the American Army.  One letter in that application, dated 25 Oct 1814, contained the following statement:

 “He further states he was frequently sent on small detachments from the regiment – once was ordered on Capt. John Reed’s gunboat on Lake Champlain; one of the guns on the boat burst and tore the deponent from the right hip almost to the navel.  The wound was sewed up and healed so that he could perform his duty during the War.”

With this information in hand, a quick examination of the available websites lead directly to the Valcour Bay Research Project site which contained several articles by Edwin R. Scollon dealing with the Battle of Valcour Island.  In these excellent articles Ed Scollon examined the story of an exploding cannon on the gunboat, New York that had occurred during the first day of battle, 11 Oct 1776.  These articles went on to describe Lieut. Thomas Rogers and his neighbor, Jonas Holden who were also involved with the exploding cannon on the New York.  Lieut. Rogers was killed and Jonas Holden was wounded during the explosion.  It was very exciting to discover that my ancestor, Daniel McCay had been fighting side-by-side with these brave soldiers on the gunboat, New York.  Several other articles in this website described the details of that battle in which a fleet of American vessels under the command of Benedict Arnold had participated in the first American naval battle with the British.  While being greatly outgunned and outnumbered, the Americans fought bravely and under the leadership of Benedict Arnold many were able to escape.   Jonas Holden and Daniel McCay, both of whom were wounded, apparently made it back to Fort Ticonderoga with the remaining Americans. 

Daniel McCay was born in Scotland in Dec 1756 and was believed to have arrived in America just prior to the start of the American Revolution.  From his military records we know that he was about 5 ft. 9 in. tall, had red hair, and blue eyes.  As an 18 year old immigrant he joined the American Army as a private in what is now Falmouth, Maine and saw action at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Three Rivers in Canada, Lake Champlain, Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights near Saratoga, and White Marsh.  He spent the winter of 1777-8 in Valley Forge in Col. Timothy Bigelows 15th Massachusetts Regt. and later fought with the 15th Massachusetts at the Battle of Monmouth.  During that battle he was wounded again and his company commander, Capt. Paul Ellis was killed.  Because of his wounds he was hospitalized at Newburgh, NY in 1778 and was later stationed at the Last Encampment at New Windsor, NY.  He was discharged there on 15 Dec 1783 as a Lieutenant from the 1st Massachusetts Regt. under the command of Col. Joseph Vose.  Daniel McCay’s pension application contained a personal letter written by Col. Vose from Milton, MA dated 18 Feb 1805 in which he attested to Daniel’s service as an officer in his regiment.  Daniel McCay served eight years in the Army, had risen from private to Lieutenant, and only missed three days of duty during that time.  He was wounded four times – Three Rivers, Lake Champlain, Saratoga, and Monmouth.  He served in numerous military units including, Col. Phinney’s Regt., Col. Wigglesworth’s Regt., 1st, 5th, and 15th Massachusetts Regts. and briefly served under Col. Benedict Arnold on the gunboat, New York on Lake Champlain and with Col. Daniel Morgan’s Riflemen, possibly at the Battle of Saratoga. 

Just before he was discharged in 1783 Daniel McCay joined the newly formed Society of the Cincinnati and his true signature has been identified in the original 1783 Subscription Book of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati that is currently held by the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.  This military, benevolent, social and non-political Order was formed 13 May 1783 near Newburgh, NY and was organized by General Knox and General Steuben - George Washington was its first president.  Each officer member was expected to donate a months pay to help fund the organization.

After the war Daniel McCay moved to South Carolina where he was probably married at least twice.  The name of his first wife is unknown.  About 1803 he married Elizabeth Stanley of Spartanburg, S.C. and they had four children.  In 1809 Daniel McCay was awarded two hundred acres of land in Ohio because of his military service in Massachusetts (B.L.Wt. 229-200).  He sold the land because he needed the money and filed his pension application in 1814.  He stated that the crippling effects of his military wounds had made it very difficult for him to work his farm near Pendleton, S.C.  His pension application contained a letter from a doctor stating that because of the nature of his wounds he was unable to gain a livelihood by manual labor.  On 15 Mar 1816 he was granted a pension at two-thirds the pay of an Ensign.  His death record has never been located, but it is generally believed that he died soon after getting the pension.  He was not present in the 1820 U.S. census record.  He was probably buried in the cemetery of the Old Stone Church near present day Clemson, S.C.  Also buried in that cemetery was one of South Carolinas greatest Revolutionary War heroes, General Andrew Pickens – as a colonel he had been the second in command under General Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781.  Many historians consider that battle one of America’s most remarkable victories during the Revolutionary War. 

Daniel McCay was one of many soldiers in the American military that fought under the leadership of George Washington to help establish the United States of America.   He served under George Washington and, as an officer, had probably seen him on many occasions.  One of the many ironies of history was the fact that Daniel McCay had a grandson named George Washington McCay who fought and died during the Civil War for a cause whose goal was separation of that united America.  Daniel McCay’s descendants have continued to live and prosper in South Carolina and family reunions of those descendants have been held in South Carolina and Georgia for almost 100 years.  Daniel McCay’s many descendants are extremely proud and have not forgotten his personal sacrifice and dedication to the cause of Liberty. 

Myron C. Smith, MD
November 2002

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Other links about Valcour Island and the Battle of Valcour within The Lake Champlain and Lake George Historical Site

The Battle of Lake Champlain
: The American Revolution on Lake Champlain

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