DNA From a Revolutionary War Ancestor: John Woodbury (1752-1821)

On the Fourth of July we specifically commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but we also celebrate many of the events contributing to the Independence and founding of the United States of America including the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, the War of 1812, and more.

In my own family tree, I have many ancestors who are reported to have served in the American Military during the American Revolutionary War. In future posts, we will consider each in turn. This year, however, I wondered if I inherited DNA from any of these specific ancestors who served in the American Revolution. To start, I decided to focus on my Revolutionary War ancestor John Woodbury (1752-1821).

John Woodbury was my fifth great grandfather. I descend from him in the following line of ancestry: My grandfather, Frank Alan Woodbury (1923-2001), was the son of George Lambert Woodbury (1892-1957), son of Frank Bartlett Woodbury (1867-1962), son of Orin Nelson Woodbury (1828-1890), son of Jeremiah Woodbury (1791-1883), son of John Woodbury (1752-1821). In this case, documentary evidence provides a clear trail of evidence linking these proposed generations. Autosomal genetic evidence also supports these proposed generational linkages back to at least Jeremiah Woodbury, John’s son. Y-DNA evidence also provides some support for my proposed Woodbury ancestry back to the 1600s.

Four types of DNA follow four different inheritance paths. Males inherit Y-DNA from their direct-line paternal ancestors (father of father of father…). All individuals inherit mitochondrial DNA from their direct-line maternal ancestors (mother of mother of mother…). All of us inherit 50% of our autosomal DNA from our parents, and about half that again for every more distant generation of ancestors (about 25% from a grandparent, about 12% from a great grandparent…). Finally, we each inherit X-DNA from a subset of our ancestors: males and females inherit X-DNA from some of their maternal ancestors and females also inherit X-DNA from some of their paternal grandmother’s ancestors.

Tracing the origins of specific pieces of your autosomal DNA gets more difficult the further back in time you research. If your ancestral lines are reasonably independent, then you can begin to assign with some confidence particular segments of shared DNA to specific shared ancestors. However, if any of your ancestral lines are related to each other through endogamy, pedigree collapse, or cousin marriages, or if you and a genetic cousin share multiple ancestral lines in common, it can be much more difficult to assign segments of autosomal DNA to a specific progenitor. While I have pursued chromosome mapping for myself, parents and grandparents over the last several years, at this point, I have not yet assigned any segments of DNA to my ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War. Perhaps in the future, as I continue my chromosome mapping efforts, that may change.

There is evidence that I may share at least some of my autosomal DNA with my fifth great grandfather, John Woodbury and/or his wife, Mary Ward. At AncestryDNA, I have ThruLines connections to several genetic cousins who report descent from this same couple including three matches with segments over 10 cM.[1]

Autosomal DNA connections to other descendants of John Woodbury and Mary Ward.

Even so, there is no guarantee that the DNA I share with these individuals in fact came from John Woodbury himself. First of all, each of these matches have other ancestral lines from New England not all of which have been extended and explored to rule out other possible relationships. Also, even if we assumed that the DNA I shared with these individuals did indeed come from the ancestry of Orin Nelson Woodbury, it would be very difficult to determine its more precise origin since Orin Nelson Woodbury’s parents were related to each other.

John Woodbury (1752-1821) was the son of Jeremiah Woodbury (1727-1820) and Sebelia Jerusha Tucker (1728-1801). John’s son, my fourth great grandfather, Jeremiah Woodbury (1791-1833), married his first cousin, Elizabeth Bartlett (1794-1851), who was the also a granddaughter of Jeremiah Woodbury (1727-1820) and Sebelia Jerusha Tucker (1728-1801) through her mother and John’s sibling, Hannah Woodbury (1767-1834). Therefore, the autosomal DNA that I share with other descendants of John Woodbury could come from John Woodbury and his wife Mary Ward, or it could come John’s sister, Hannah Woodbury, wife of Obadiah Bartlett.

My double descent from Jeremiah Woodbury and Sebelia Jerusha Tucker

Given the complications of my multiple relationships to John Woodbury, I may not be able to prove that I inherited autosomal DNA from this specific Revolutionary War Ancestor. Even if I shared DNA with him, any DNA I share with John’s descendants could very possibly have come to me through Hannah Woodbury instead. Nevertheless, there is evidence that I did inherit my Y-DNA from a Woodbury ancestor in this generation, and given the documentary evidence, my Y-DNA probably came from John Woodbury (1752-1821).

Though I have performed Y-DNA testing at Family Tree DNA to the Big-Y level of testing, my closest Woodbury Y-DNA matches have only tested at the 67-marker level. At the 67-marker level, I have two matches carrying the Woodbury surname, one of whom has a genetic distance of 0.[2]  Y-DNA test results at Family Tree DNA are prioritized by genetic distance. Rather than communicating the generational distance between two individuals, genetic distance communicates the number of stepwise mutations distinguishing two genetic cousins. According to the interpretation charts for Family Tree DNA, 90% of individuals with a genetic distance of 0 at the 67-marker level are related within five generations of ancestry. Review of the TiP calculator of my relationship to this match suggests a 99% probability that my match and I are related within eight generations.[3] However, in this case, my match and I are proposed tenth cousins twice removed along our direct paternal lines – the equivalent of twelve generations to our most recent common ancestor. I descend from William Woodbury and he descends from John Woodbury, two individuals who are purported to be brothers who migrated to Massachusetts during the Great Puritan Migration in the 1630s. We’ll work on proving these connections in future posts

Proposed connection between me and my Y-67 match with a genetic distance of 0.

Given my Y-DNA connections to distant Woodbury relatives, it is likely that the generational linkages reflected in documentary evidence between Jeremiah Woodbury (1791-1851), John Woodbury (1752-1821) and Jeremiah Woodbury (1727-1820) are also representative of biological relationships.

Jeremiah Woodbury married Elizabeth “Betsy” Bartlett on 15 June 1815 in Leverett, Franklin County, Massachusetts.[4] Jeremiah was just one of several Woodbury relatives married in Leverett around the same time including: Palley Woodbury who married Silas Field in 1805, Isaac Woodbury who married Eunice Asgood in 1813, Sybble Woodbury who married Joshua Hobert in 1813, Ward Woodbury who married Nancy Field in 1821.[5] Two other Woodbury family members from Leverett married in nearby Montague in 1804: John Woodbury to Lydia Gunn and Susannah Woodbury to Abel Bancroft.[6] All of these Woodbury family members from Leverett were identified as the children of John Woodbury in his last will and testament drafted in 1818.[7] As part of his last will and testament, John provided for the care of his elderly father, Jeremiah Woodbury.

Last will and testament of John Woodbury (1752-1821) dated 12 April 1818, probated 18 December 1821

John married Mary Ward on 26 September 1775 in Montague, Massachusetts, a town just north of Leverett.[8] Both were identified as residents of Leverit [sic], and though his name is listed as Woodward in the marriage record, it is most likely that this record refers to the couple of interest given that there were no Woodwards in later records of the town and they named one of their sons Ward. John Woodbury was born in 30 June 1752 in Brookfield, Massachusetts to Jeremiah and Jerusha Woodbury.[9]

John’s Service in the Revolutionary War     

Though I have admittedly had little experience researching Revolutionary War soldiers, here is what I have been able to piece together so far on John’s service. (Links to original records are included in the sources so if you want to take a look for yourself, I would welcome additional insight or feedback in the comments).

According to the Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogical Research System database, John Woodbury (1752-1821) served as a private in Captain Dickinson’s company and Colonel Porter’s regiment and also as a private in Captain Sylvanus Smith’s company in Colonel Timothy Bigelow’s regiment.[10] These details are confirmed in the book Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War.[11]  Consultation of this compiled record reveals that there were several other John Woodbury’s from Massachusetts who also served during the Revolution. Nevertheless, all other Johns were from Eastern Massachusetts. The only John Woodbury listed in this source from Western Massachusetts was John Woodbury who served for the town of Amherst which was located just south of his residence in Leverett.

John enlisted in the continental army on 14 June 1777, the same day that the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the United States.[12] John first appeared in the muster roll of Sylvanus Smith’s company on 1 September 1777 at which time the company was stationed at Van Schaick’s Island in New York.[13] The Continental Army left Van Schaick’s Island on 8 September 1777 for the campaign that would eventually result in American victory at the Battle of Saratoga.[14] John Woodbury participated in this march as evidenced by the fact that on 11 September 1777 he was recorded on the muster roll for Sylvanus Smith’s company at Stillwater.[15] John participated in the Battles of Saratoga on 19 September and 7 October 1777 which stopped the advancement of John Burgoyne’s troops on their march south from Canada, cut Burgoyne’s army off from other British reinforcements and resulted in heavy casualties for Burgoyne’s army.[16] After two small battles, Burgoyne surrendered – a turning point in the war because news of Burgoyne’s surrender was instrumental in bringing France into the war as an American ally.

File:Surrender of General Burgoyne.jpg
Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull

 A month later, on 8 November the 15th Massachusetts regiment was transferred from the Northern Department to the Main Continental Army.[17] John and his company marched more than 250 miles from Stillwater to join the main army. On 18 December 1777, John Woodbury was identified in the muster of Sylvanus Smith’s company near “The Gulf” or Gulph Mills, just nine miles west of Valley Forge.[18]

March to Valley Forge by William B. T. Trego

John Woodbury was present for the beginning of the hardships at Valley Forge. As the troops under Washington’s command marched to Valley Forge, the General wrote, “To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lay on, without shoes by which their marches might be traced by the blood from their feet, and almost as often without provisions as with; marching through frost and snow and at Christmas taking up their winter quarters within a day’s march of the enemy, without a house or hut to cover them till they could be built, and submitting to it without a murmur is a mark of patience and obedience which in my opinion can scarce be paralleled.”[19] Because of the British capture of Philadelphia in September 1777, the supply chain to the army was already broken by the time they arrived in Valley Forge. By December 1777, Washington had no way to adequately feed or clothe the soldiers in his camp. The remote location of the camp further complicated efforts to obtain adequate supplies. Washington and his commanders struggled to maintain order and good spirits among the troops. He reported that just four days after arrival, they had to quell a dangerous mutiny fomenting among the troops. Over the course of the winter, one thousand troops died due to starvation, disease and exposure. Though John witnessed the beginning of the trials at Valley Forge, his enlistment expired on 10 January and he soon thereafter returned home to Leveret, backtracking many of the 250 miles he had just marched south. By 22 February he was listed on the return of men engaged in the Continental Army for the company of Captain Dickinson in Colonel Porter’s regiment in the county of Hampshire.[20] However, a note indicated that he had returned from service on 10 January at which time “he ended” his service.

Thank you to John Woodbury and to the thousands of others who sacrificed a great deal in the struggle for our country’s independence.


[1] “ThruLines™ for John Woodbury,” ThruLines, https://ancestry.com, private database, accessed July 2020.

[2] “Y-DNA – Matches,” kit 282627 (Paul Woodbury), match Private, genetic distance of 0 at 67 markers, https://familytreedna.com, private database, accessed July 2020.

[3] “Y-DNA TiP Report,” comparison of kit 262827 (Paul Woodbury), and match [Private], https://familytreedna.com, private database, accessed July 2020.

[4] Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 (index and images), marriage of Jeremiah Woodbury and Betsey Bartlett, 15 June 1815, Leverett, Franklin, Massachusetts, and marriage of Isaac Woodbury and Eunice Asgood, 18 January 1813, and marriage of Silas Field and Polley Woodbury 27 January 1805, p. 63, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed July 2020.

[5] Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 (index and images), marriage of Joshua Hobart and Sybbel Woodbury 8 September 1813, p. 167, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed July 2020; and,

 Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 (index and images), marriage of Ward Woodbury and Nancy Field, 1821, p. 123, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed July 2020.

[6] Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 (transcriptions), marriage of John Woodbury and Lydia Gunn and marriage of Abel Bancroft and Susannah Woodbury, 20 January 1804, Montague, Franklin, Massachusetts, p. 123, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed July 2020; and,

[7] Massachusetts, Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991 (index and images), last will and testament of John Woodbury, 12 April 1818, Leverett, Franklin, Massachusetts, probated 18 December 1821, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed July 2020.

[8] Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 (transcriptions), marriage of John Woodbury and Mary Ward 26 September 1775, Montague, Franklin, Massachusetts, p. 199, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed July 2020.

[9] Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 (transcriptions), birth of John Woodbury 30 June 1752, Brookfield, Worcester, Massachusetts, p. 78, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed July 2020.

[10] Daughters of the American Revolution, Genealogical Research System, “John Woodbury, A128362, https://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search_adb/?action=full&p_id=A128362, accessed July 2020.

[11] Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War (Images Online), Woodbury, John, Amherst,Vol. 17, p. 812, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed July 2020.

[12] Massachusetts, Revolutionary War, Index Cards to Muster Rolls, 1775-1783 (images), John Woodbury, 14 June 1777, Smith’s Company, Bigelow’s Regiment, https:/ /familysearch.org, accessed July 2020; and,

“1777 in the United States,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1777_in_the_United_States, accessed July 2020.

[13] Massachusetts, Revolutionary War, Index Cards to Muster Rolls, 1775-1783 (images), John Woodbury, 14 June 1777, Smith’s Company, Bigelow’s Regiment, https:/ /familysearch.org, accessed July 2020; and,

Massachusetts, Secretary of State, Muster/payrolls, and various papers (1763-1808) of the Revolutionary War [Massachusetts and Rhode Island], “Vol. 48, Muster and payrolls 1777-1780,” item 321, Muster Roll of Captain Sylvanus Smith Company, from January 1, to September 1, 1777, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed July 2020.

“1777 in the United States,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1777_in_the_United_States, accessed July 2020.

[14] “Camp Van Shaick,” Fort Wiki, http://www.fortwiki.com/Camp_Van_Schaick, accessed July 2020.

[15] Massachusetts, Revolutionary War, Index Cards to Muster Rolls, 1775-1783 (images), John Woodbury, 14 June 1777, Smith’s Company, Bigelow’s Regiment, https:/ /familysearch.org, accessed July 2020; and,

Massachusetts, Secretary of State, Muster/payrolls, and various papers (1763-1808) of the Revolutionary War [Massachusetts and Rhode Island], “Vol. 69, Muster rolls, warrants, returns, lists of officers’ clothing receipts 1775-1782,” item 76, Muster Roll of Captain Sylvanus Smith Company, 11 September 1777, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed July 2020.

[16] “Battles of Saratoga,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_Saratoga, accessed July 2020.  

[17] “Massachusetts Regiments in the Continental Army,” American Revolutionary War Continental Regiments, https://revolutionarywar.us/continental-army/massachusetts/#ma-15, accessed July 2020.

[18] Massachusetts, Revolutionary War, Index Cards to Muster Rolls, 1775-1783 (images), John Woodbury, 14 June 1777, Smith’s Company, Bigelow’s Regiment, https:/ /familysearch.org, accessed July 2020; and,

Massachusetts, Secretary of State, Muster/payrolls, and various papers (1763-1808) of the Revolutionary War [Massachusetts and Rhode Island], “Vol. 69, Muster rolls, warrants, returns, lists of officers’ clothing receipts 1775-1782,” item 77, Muster Roll of Captain Sylvanus Smith Company, 18 December 1777, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed July 2020; and,

J Aubrey Anderson, Esq., “The Overhanging Rock at Gulph Mills,” Historic Valley Forge, https://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/history/rock.html, accessed July 2020.

[19] “Valley Forge,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_Forge, accessed July 2020.  

[20] Massachusetts, Revolutionary War, Index Cards to Muster Rolls, 1775-1783 (images), John Woodbury, 14 June 1777, Smith’s Company, Bigelow’s Regiment, https:/ /familysearch.org, accessed July 2020; and,

Massachusetts, Secretary of State, Muster/payrolls, and various papers (1763-1808) of the Revolutionary War [Massachusetts and Rhode Island], “Vol. 53, miscellaneous loose rolls, no. 2 1776-1783,” item 198, Return of the names and the number of men engaged in the continental army for the Company of Cap Dickinson in Col Porters regt in the County of Hamshare of Massachusetts Bay, Amhurst, 22 January 1778, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed July 2020.

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