Uzal Knapp was the last of General George Washington’s Life Guard and for that reason was buried with military honors at Washington’s Headquarters, Newburgh

This article appeared in the Orange County Post on Thursday, July 6, 1967.


Uzal Knapp

by Margaret V. S. Wallace











Uzal Knapp was the last of General George Washington’s Life Guard and for that reason was buried with military honors at Washington’s Headquarters, Newburgh. He spent the last years of his life in Little Britain, and so he was one of those who made it big.

Long and careful study of available material about him has showed both facts and questions. There are discrepancies in dates, which can generally be explained. Uzal Knapp’s memory or his arithmetic seem to have been rather poor. And there is a claim that he was not in the Life Guard. This can be refuted. The following aims to be an accurate account of him.

Roger de Knapp was knighted in 1540 by King Henry VIII to reward his skill and success at a tournament held in Norfolk, England, when he unseated three knights of great skill and bravery. Roger de Knapp was an esquire as is shown by the esquire’s helmet on his shield. This insignia was used by John Knapp, son of Roger, in 1600. It is stated on good authority that John had three sons, William, Nicholas and Roger, who emigrated from Sussex, England to America about 1630 with the Winthrop and Saltenstall expedition. Nicholas settled in Watertown, Mass. Uzal Knapp was descended from him through Caleb (1637-1674), John (1664-1749), his son John (1697-1763) and Nathaniel (1726-1804).

Nathaniel Knapp, the father of Uzal lived in various places, Stamford, Conn., Dutchess County, NY, perhaps in Little Britain, and finally in Sugar Loaf. He Married Jemima

Ware in Stamford in 1751. Two or three of their children were born there. Their daughter Jemima was born in Little Britain in 1754. She may have lived in Little Britain for she married Jonathan Parshall, a Little Britain man.

Uzal Knapp was born in Connecticut, probably Stamford. Four dates are given for his birth, 1758, 1759, 1761 and 1763. He enlisted, as he said, when he was eighteen. That would argue for 1758, for he fought at White Plains, which battle was in 1776. The Newburgh monument gives his birth as 1759. Since the record of his enlistment is June 1, 1777, that argues for 1759. If one asks how he could have been at White Plains before he enlisted, it can only be said that he went along with the army and got into the fracas. What boy of eighteen would not want to see what it was all about! But 1761 is the date he used when applying for a pension in 1818. That could be a time when his memory was not working well. 1763 is the date in the Stamford town clerk’s record, along with entries for the births of his wife and children, and so obviously, made later than at the time of his birth. It was made by some one in the town clerk’s office. 1763 is also the date in the family record in his Bible. It looks as if one of these records was copied from the other.

A note in the NICHOLAS KNAPP GENEALOGY says that Uzal Knapp was living with Samuel Knapp, age 79, in 1761. This rules out the 1763 date. A careful search of the GENEALOGY shows no Samuel Knapp who was 79 in 1761. There was a Deacon Samuel Knapp, born in Danbury, Conn. in 1726, died 1816. And there was a Lieut. Samuel Knapp, born in Goshen in 1738, died in the Battle of Minisink 1779. Both of these Samuels were old enough to take the young Uzal into their home in 1761. We wonder about Nathaniel’s ways with his children. But the times were difficult. He fought in the French and Indian War and in the Revolution, so we can’t wonder that he needed help for his children. In appreciation, Uzal named his oldest son Samuel.

Uzal Knapp was living in Stamford when he enlisted, but he had spent time in Little Britain, for when he was with General Washington’s Life Guard in New Windsor, he was the one sent to look for poultry for Christmas dinner as he knew the farmers of the region.

The Bureau of Pensions states that Uzal Knapp enlisted for and during the war May 1, 1977 as a private in Capt. Stephen Betts’ Company, 2nd Regiment, Connecticut Line, Col. Charles Webb. The date is also given as June 1 and July 1. He was promoted to Corporal March 20, 1780, and to Sergeant March 22, 1781. He fought at White Plains, was with Wooster at Ridgefield, wintered at Valley Forge and was with Lafayette at Monmouth. He was continually on duty until his discharge in June 1783, at which time he received from the Commander-in-Chief the Badge of Military Merit for six years of faithful service. This honorary badge of distinction was established by Washington in August 1781 and was conferred upon non-commissioned officers and soldiers who had served three years with bravery, fidelity and good conduct and upon every one who should perform any singularly meritorious action. His paper is in Washington’s Headquarters Museum, Newburgh.

What is the argument against his being a member of Washington’s Life Guard? Carlos Godfrey in his COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF’S GUARD – REVOLUTION said that Uzal Knapp was not listed in the official records, but he admits that occasionally small squads of cavalrymen were detailed for brief periods to serve as an auxiliary guard. In other words, his list was not complete. Uzal Knapp did not belong to the original Life Guard, the dress parade guard we might call it, who were all tall men and wore blue and white uniforms. Benson J. Lossing wrote that in the winter of 1780 when the number of the Life Guard was augmented, he entered that corps at Morristown and received from the hands of Washington the commission of sergeant.

It is admitted that the war records are not complete. In Washington’s Headquarters Museum, Newburgh, there is a paper from the Adjutant General’s Office, May 4, 1939 which states that "Uzal Knapp is not listed with the Commander-in-Chief’s Continental Troops, but the War Department has never compiled a list of the members of the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, Continental Troops."

Mr. Edwin Knapp of Walden wrote" Uzal Knapp was the last surviving member of Washington'’ Life Guards. Dr. Carlos Godfrey of Trenton, NJ is mistaken in saying the story of Uzal Knapp was a myth that has been imposed upon the public for nearly a century. My Grandfather, John Nelson Knapp, was a brother of Uzal Knapp. I have heard the whole history told many times by my parents."

Joseph Alexander wrote in the NEWBURGH JOURNAL Sept. 12, 1895, "Uzal Knapp was the most notable character in the United States for many years as he was one of Washington’s Life Guards…and for many years was known as the last survivor." He told of a visit to Mount Vernon, and seeing Uzal Knapp’s picture there, and a crowd around it.

Uzal Knapp can speak for himself about this. Benson J. Lossing in his HOURS WITH THE LIVING MEN AND WORMEN OF THE REVOLUTION, 1888, reports a visit he had had with Uzal Knapp in Little Britain. "Were you with Washington all the time he was at New Windsor?" "Certainly," he replied, "I was one of the Guard, and I believe I am the only one living." "When did you join the Guard?" I asked. "Not long after the battle of Monmouth Court-house. I joined the army when I was eighteen, and my first battle was at White Plains. I was afterward with General Wooster in the affair at Ridgefield, Conn., where he was killed. Then I joined the light infantry under Lafayette, fought in the battle at Monmouth Court-house in New Jersey on that terribly hot Sunday in June, and was chosen a member of the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard a month later." "Where did Washington reside at New Windsor?" I inquired. "IN a plain old-0ldfashioned Dutch farm house. The house stood in the village and was pulled down many years ago."

After the war, Uzal returned to Stamford. He joined the First Congregational Church of Stamford in 1786, married Abigail Hoyt in 1788, and had nine children in Stamford. That took him to 1809. The record of the birth of these nine is entered in the office of Stamford town clerk. Here is the list with their birth dates from the Stamford record, and their death dates from other sources: Samuel Ward, 1788-1873; Hanford, 1790-1865; Levina, 1793-1855; Raymond, 1794-1825; Nancy, 1798-1878; Nathaniel, 1800-1825; Sally Maria, 1803-1844; Edson, 1806-1875 and Abigail Jane, 1809-1879. In the Bible, Ebenezer W., 1817 is added. He died in 1887.

The question is – when did Uzal Knapp come to Little Britain? No record has yet been located of his owning and selling land in Stamford. But the Stamford land records mention a fence agreement between Uzal Knapp and Hanford Hay, dated July 5, 1814. Joseph Alexander wrote in the NEWBURGH JOURNAL noted above, "In the summer of 1816 I found that we were near neighbors to Uzal Knapp the last of Washington’s Life Guards, and I knew him until his death." The Alexander’s moved to a farm near the Little Britain meeting house in 1816. Uzal may have come in 1815. That is a good approximate date.

Uzal Knapp never bought a farm in Little Britain. There is no deed recorded for him in the Goshen county clerk’s office. In 1839, the farm where the Langes live now, long known as the home of Charles and Sarah White, was bought by Ebenezer W. Knapp. This farm of fourteen and a half acres at that time had been a part of the William Watson property. He died before his wife Susannah and she willed one third of her property to her grandson John Gott in 1801, who sold part of his third to Ebenezer W. Knapp. Perhaps Uzal rented this place when he first came to Little Britain. There is no record. But he lived there from 1839 till his death in 1856. Ebenezer was only 22 in 1839, so it could have been Uzal Knapp’s money that bought the place, but it was recorded in Ebenezer’s name.

Ebenezer W. Knapp has been thought to be the tenth child of Uzal because of his name appearing in the Bible after the ninth child. When Uzal Knapp died, without a will, his estate was settled by his grandson Ebenezer W. Knapp. That posed a problem until a note was found in the NICHOLAS KNAPP GENEALOGY that Ebenezer is thought to be the child of one of Uzal’s daughters and was brought up as his son. This has been confirmed by family letters. He was the son of Lavina, was brought up by his grandparents and was their pride and Joy. Ebenezer W. Knapp became a substantial citizen of Walden and was postmaster there for over thirty years.

Uzal Knapp and his daughters Lavina and Sally joined the First Presbyterian Church of Newburgh in 1816. Dr. John Johnston was the pastor, and he wrote of him in 1852, "Mr. Uzal Knapp was received a member of this church April 5, 1816 from a Congregational church in Stamford, Conn.…He converses like a pious man and next to his Savior, he loves to talk of Gen. Washington, and fight over again the battles fought under his command."

The next church connection we know of is a Baptist church in 1830. This note is in the Uzal Knapp file at the Washington’s Headquarters Museum, made by Dr. A. A. Knapp, the editor of the NICHOLAS KNAPP GENEALOGY. At that date there was no Baptist church in the village of Newburgh. Thee had been one from 1821 to 1828. The present First Baptist Church of Newburgh was organized in 1834. But there was one near Leptondale on what is now Lakeside Road near North Plank Road. Uzal Knapp’s sister, Jemima Knapp Parshall left money to this church "at Big Pond" in her will made in 1823. She died in 1825. It is a good guess that Uzal Knapp joined that church, but it can’t be proved, for the membership list is lost. It is not in the archives of the Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, N.Y. and it has not been found locally. The church was discontinued in 1832.

In 1838, Uzal Knapp and his daughters Nancy and Abigail Jane joined Goodwill Presbyterian Church. It was a drive of six and a half miles from their home. The Little Britain church was only two miles away. We wonder why they did not come here. Uzal Knapp had a niece Harriet, daughter of his brother John Nelson Knapp, who married James Knapp and lived on the Goodwill parsonage farm. This could have influenced the Uzal Knapps.

Uzal Knapp’s wife died in 1843 and is buried in Goodwill Cemetery. The census of 1850 shows that his daughters Abigail Jane and Nancy were still living with him then. Family letters show they continued with him until his death.

Uzal Knapp in his old age still loved to ride his white horse, which he did long distances, and fast, according to his near neighbor Robert Burnet. He attended the wedding of a relative in Newburgh. The reception was in Middletown, where the guests were taken by stage coach, but Uzal rode his horse.

Not long before his death he attended a patriotic gathering in Newburgh. He was introduce, and the whole audience rose in his honor. He made a little speech and invited them all to his funeral.

He died January 10, 1856. Mr. Donald Stubbins of Wauseon, Ohio, is a descendant of Uzal Knapp, has family letters of over a hundred years ago and graciously loaned some of them for this study. A part of one can be given here. It was written by Ebenezer W. Knapp to his sister shortly after Uzal Knapp’s death. It is dated Walden, N.Y., Jan 18, 1856. "" have to announce to you the death of Old Grandfather. He died the 10th. He retained his senses to the last. He was confined to his bed eight weeks…He had been gradually sinking ever since last fall. He was a man of strong constitution. He was buried the 16th with military honors at Washington’s Headquarters, Newburgh…They made a great display. There was one company of soldiers from Albany that claimed the honor of burying him as they promised him to do last fall. They were in Newburgh then and Grandfather was there. I think there were more folks in Newburgh than I ever saw there before. The body was taken down on Monday and deposited at Headquarters under a guard of soldiers, and on Wednesday we met there and formed in procession and went to the Episcopal church (he being the chaplain of the Regiment) about as large a church as there is in Newburgh and it was literally crammed. And they said that not one quarter of the people could get in. And then they marched clear through Grand Street to the north end of Newburgh and back through Water Street, the principal business street, and it was trimmed in mourning from one end to the other. The hearse was drawn by four white horses and a negro driver and one on foot with a rein to each horse, all dressed in livery. It made a very impressive appearance…He was laid in a metalic coffin with a silver plate on it with his name and age, 94 years 3 months. Received this from your brother, E. W. Knapp."

Munsell’s ANNALS OF ALBANY says, "Continental Company B went to Newburgh to attend the funeral of Uzal Knapp the last of Washington’s Life Guards, where it was assigned the post of honor." Also marching were the Newburgh Continental, the Orange Hussars, the Montgomery Guards, and the Port Jervis Light Guard. J.W.F. Ruttenber wrote, "The funeral was inspiring. For two days the body lay in state in Washington’s Headquarters. On the coffin was the uniform of a mounted Continental soldier; under it was the national flag. Col. Parmenter was marshall of the procession that escorted the remains to St. George’s church where the Rev. Dr. Brown delivered a eulogy." His text was from the book of Job, "I would not live always."

In the procession, Uzal Knapp's own white horse was led after the hearse. Soon after, the family thought it best that he follow his master in death.

Four years later, the monument was erected. It reads:


Uzal Knapp

Born 1759 Died 1856

Monmouth, Valley Forge, Yorktown

Uzal Knapp was a little man made big by devotion to his God and his country.

Many people have helped in this search. A few of whom are Mr. And Mrs. Wright W. Jackson, who spent hours searching and copying from the NICHOLAS KNAPP GENEALOGY: Mr. And Mrs. Donald Stubbins, who wrote letters about the knapps and loaned precious old letters; Mrs. Helen Predmore, historian of the Chester Historical Society; Miss Edna Denniston who also helped with the Mt. Airy school article; Mr. Louis A. Clapes, town clerk of Stamford, Conn. Our grateful thanks to you and to all the others, including Mr. Bernard Barnes, teacher of photography at Newburgh Free Academy.


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