Rev. Mr. John Watkins, Chaplain

John Watkins. John Watkins is one of five Continental Navy Chaplains listed in Mess Night Traditions by Charles J. Gibowicz (2007). According to Gibowicz, Watkins was born on 23 September 1753 and served as Chaplain on the frigate Alliance under Captain Peter Landais. Watkins appears as a Seaman on the 3 October 1779 Alliance list of officers and men who ten days earlier took part in the action between the Bon Homme Richard under John Paul Jones and the Serapis on 23 September 1779. He is likewise listed as Jean Watkins, a Seaman, on a 5 September 1785 “roll of crew entitled to prize money” for the frigate Alliance. However, the list of officers and men who served on the Alliance during this time period and used by Congress many decades later to determine bounty shares for ships captured under the command of Peter Landais note Watkin’s rate as chaplain. Wakins identifies himself as Chaplain of the Alliance in a 27 October 1779 letter to John Paul Jones written at Texel, Holland stating he “was reposited, May last (1779), in the presence of John Adams by Captain Landais to officiate as Chaplain on the Alliance; has no written agreement and fears that Captain Thomas White, formerly Pilot of the Alliance and now Prizemaster of the Union will draw his prize money.” A letter from Alliance petty officer Benjamin Pierce to John Adams dated 1 June 1780 from L’Orient, France lobbying for the return of Landais to the ship confesses, “We feel the loss of Captn. Landais in the government of the ship. Not one sermon has been suffer’d to be preach’d since he left us. The Rev. Mr. Watkin desires his respects to be paid to Your Excellence and wishes for liberty to perform duty as usual.” Martin Griffin in Catholics and the American Revolution suggests it is possible that the Rev. John Watkins is the same American priest Jean Wanton listed as serving on the French ship Le Neptune between February 1780 and June 1783. French chaplain Abbe Potterie or Poterie, also of Le Neptune, would later become the founding father of the Catholic Church in Boston. According to Gibowicz, John Watkins was married to Elizabeth McFarren in 1797. She must have died within seven years of their marriage if the Reverend John Watkins who was married in 1804 to Anna Camp in Lanesborough, MA. is the same individual. Anna Camp was born on 7 March 1764 to William Camp and Bethia Medbury at Rehoboth, MA. She was first married to Levi P. Cole on 23 December 1782 in “open court” at Adams, MA by James Barker, JP. Cole was born on 11 June 1761 to Eddy Cole and Ruth Salisbury of Foster or Scituate, Rhode Island. Cole entered service as a marine under Captain of Marines William Jones in Boston on the frigate Providence under the command of Commodore Abraham Whipple on 20 September 1779. Later he was listed in the ship’s books as a Waister or Gunman and the Ship’s Corporal. Captured with the ship in Charleston on 12 May 1780, he remained in South Carolina until exchanged in Philadelphia during that summer where he was assigned to the public barracks until furloughed to Rhode Island in August 1780. The pension application W-19583 of Levi Cole’s widow, reveals that after fathering five children; Levi Cole- “a quarrelsome ugly man”- deserted his family at Adams, Berkshire County, MA in 1792. His family “abandoned to a life of destitution and great hardship”, Levi Cole traveled initially to Canada and was not heard from until many years later. Their children included Zaben born on 16 May 1784 in Foster, RI; Amy born 20 January 1786 in Adams, MA; Eddy born 28 August 1787 in Cherry Valley, Oswego County, NY; Betsey born 14 July 1789 in Canajohare, Montgomery County, NY; and Levi born 27 August 1791 in Adams, MA. Even before his father abandoned the family, the pension application indicates that Eddy Cole was given to his grandparents to raise when he was just two years old. Her husband absent over eleven years and believing him dead, Anna Camp Cole- “a very handsome looking woman… with fine black eyes”- married again to Rev. John Watkins in 1804. The couple moved to New York within two years as evidenced by an exquisitely drawn family record in the pension application which includes the birth of Curtis Fox Watkins in Schoharie on 28 September 1806. The 1810 Census shows the family living in Schoharie with Anna’s two older daughters Amy and Betsey and two children under ten, one son presumably Curtis and one unnamed daughter. Nineteen year old Levi, Jr. has left the household by this time. Although Gibowicz notes John Watkins death as 14 May 1814 in Albany, the obituary reads, “Died, on Wednesday, July 29 [1812] the Rev. John Watkins, aged 66, a pious and sincere Christian, and an honest and upright man, He was a patriot of the Revolution, and present and an actor in many of its most important and trying scenes.” His age at death noted in the obituary suggests Watkins was born in 1746, indicating the need to confirm that Anna Camp was indeed married to the former Navy chaplain. Afterward, Watkins’ widow Anna is listed as residing at 55 Eagle Street in the Albany directory of 1819. Subsequent directories list the widow’s address as Capitol (Street) in 1820, 16 Capitol in 1821-1822, 21 Capital in 1823 and 25 Capitol in 1824-1826. Years after the death of her second husband, in 1825, Anna Watkins discovered that her first husband was alive and living in Washington DC. Cole had also married a second time. According to genealogical sources he married Lydia Evison on 30 September 1815. Anna filed for a widow’s pension after her first husband’s death in Annapolis on 7 January 1846. The pension application, which names Cole’s second wife as Elizabeth, details a legitimacy battle between the two widows over the rights to Levi P. Cole’s Revolutionary War pension. In December 1846, the aged Anna widow is living in Hume, Allegheny County, NY probably in the household of son-in-law Richard Smith where she appears in the 1850 Census. Anna Camp Watkins died on 6 April 1854 at the home of her daughter Amy and son-in-law Richard.

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