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The Hercules of the American Revolution

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The history and incredible story of Peter Francisco who was a Portuguese born American Patriot & Soldier lives on.  As a boy only five years old he was kidnapped and dropped off on the shipping docks of Virginia in 1765 . Not knowing anyone he was taken to the Prince George County Poorhouse. Not speaking English, he repeated the name “Pedro Francisco”. The locals called him Peter. They soon discovered the boy spoke Portuguese and noted his clothing was of good quality. When Peter learned to speak English he told people that him and his sister were kidnapped and that he remembered living in a mansion by the sea. Peter was soon taken in and given a home by  Judge Anthony Winston who was  an uncle of Patrick Henry.  Francisco thrived under Judge Winston’s patronage developing a keen mind and although technically illiterate, he came to understand the Colonists’ struggle against Britain.  When he was old enough to work, he was apprenticed as a blacksmith, a profession chosen because of his massive size and strength. He grew to be six feet and eight inches and weighed some 260 pounds. Because of his size he became well known as the Virginian Hercules or the Virginia Giant.

In 1776, when he was sixteen years old, Peter enthusiastically enlisted in Captain Hugh Woodson’s company of the 10th Virginia Regiment and thereby joined the Continental Army. Almost immediately he began to be noticed for his fighting abilities and his conspicuous bravery. Although he received serious wounds at the Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania, and later at Monmouth, New Jersey, he was always in the midst of the fighting and managed to kill a number of the enemy.

He was part of General “Mad” Anthony Waynes attack on the British fort Stony Point located on the Hudson River. During the attack Francisco suffered a nine-inch gash in his stomach, but continued to fight. He was the second man to enter over the forts walls killing three British grenadiers and capturing the enemy flag. After the storming of Stony Point in July 1779 his exploits had spread his fame throughout the whole army.

When his three-year enlistment period ended in December 1779, Peter returned to civilian life in Virginia but not for long. In the summer of 1780, after the war had moved to the South, he joined a militia company led by Captain William Mayo and marched to join General Horatio Gates’ army. It was during this disastrous American defeat at the Battle of Camden that Peter’s exploits reached legendary status. During the battle he had shot a grenadier who was attempting to shoot Captain Mayo. With British troops surrounding the area Francisco escaped by bayoneting one of Banastre Tarleton’s cavalrymen and then fled on horseback making cries imitating the British so they would think he was a Loyalist and gave the horse to Captain Mayo so that he could escape quickly. Following the battle and American retreat Francisco noticed the Americans were leaving behind one of their valuable cannons, mired in mud. Knowing how important that cannon would be in future battles he charged back onto the field freeing and picking up the cannon carrying it on his shoulder to keep it from falling into the hands of the enemy.

Some time after and hearing the news that Colonel Watkins was headed on a march through the Carolinas Peter Francisco reenlisted in the army this time as a cavalryman.  At the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March, he was once again in the thick of the fiercest fighting and managed to kill eleven British soldiers before sustaining a severe bayonet wound to his leg. The feat is commemorated with a monument to Francisco at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

    Monument to Francisco

Following Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Francisco pursued his basic education. He went to school with young children, who were fascinated by his stories of the war. Legends of Francisco’s strength abounded, during his lifetime.

Pension files provide heroism, through three enlistments, at Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and Stony Point in 1777; Camden in 1780; and Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse in 1781. Saving the 1,100-pound cannon during the retreat from the Battle of Camden qualifies Peter for an 18-cent commemorative stamp by the U.S. Post Office in 1975.

Post-revolutionary records and memoirs reveal Peter committing to a three-year education through private classes at the John McGraw School and operating a blacksmith shop in Curdsville. They suggest land ownerships in Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, and Prince Edward Counties before Peter’s last service-related position as Sergeant-at-Arms in the Virginia legislature from 1825 onward.

George Washington

“Without him we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the War, and with it our freedom. He was truly a One-Man-Army.”

I hope you enjoyed this post about Peter Francisco! He was an amazing man who had great courage and was truly Legendary. Tell your friends the history and as always thanks for being a part of the Deercreek Society!