Peter Francisco

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This article is about the American Revolutionary War soldier. For the South African snooker player, see Peter Francisco (snooker player).
Peter Francisco
PeterFrancisco.jpg
Miniature portrait, early 19th century
Born Pedro Francisco
July 9, 1760
Porto Judeu, Terceira, Archipelago of the Azores, Portuguese Empire, present-day Porto Judeu, Terceira, Autonomous Region of the Azores, Portugal, Portuguese Republic
Died January 16, 1831 (aged 71)
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Cause of death appendicitis
Resting place Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Other names Virginia Giant, Giant of the Revolution, Virginia Hercules
Occupation blacksmith, soldier, sergeant-at-arms
Spouse(s) Susannah Anderson
Catherine Fauntleroy Brooke
Mary Grymes West
Children James Anderson and Polly Francisco with Susannah Anderson
Susan Brooke Francisco, Benjamin M. Francisco, Peter II, and Catherine Fauntleroy Francisco with Catherine Fauntleroy Brooke

Peter Francisco, born Pedro Francisco (July 9, 1760 – January 16, 1831), was known variously, as the "Virginia Giant", the "Giant of the Revolution" and occasionally, as the "Virginia Hercules", was an American patriot and soldier in the American Revolutionary War.

Early life[edit]

Peter (Pedro) Francisco, born July 9, 1760. Birth Certificate from the church at the town of Porto Judeu, Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal

Francisco's origins are shrouded in mystery. It is believed he was born on July 9, 1760 at Porto Judeu, on the island of Terceira, in the Archipelago of the Azores, under the rule of, Portuguese Empire. According to the traditional version of his biography,[1] he was found at about age five on the docks at City Point, Virginia, in 1765, and 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 able to communicate, Pedro said that he had lived in a mansion near the ocean. His mother spoke French and his father spoke another language which he did not know. He and his sister were kidnapped from the grounds, but his sister escaped, while Francisco was bound and taken to a ship. Historians believe it is possible that the kidnappers intended to hold the children for ransom or that they had intended to sell them as indentured servants at their destination port in North America, but changed their minds. The Azorean legend says the Francisco family had many political enemies and set up Peter's abduction to protect him from accident or death by his parents' foes.

Peter was soon taken in by the judge Anthony Winston of Buckingham County, Virginia, an uncle of Patrick Henry. Francisco lived with Winston and his family until the beginning of the American Revolution and was tutored by them. 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 in height, or 203 centimeters, and weigh some 260 pounds, or 118 kilograms, especially large at the time). He was well known as the Virginian Hercules or the Virginia Giant.

American Revolutionary War[edit]

Peter Francisco [left] fighting Tarleton's British cavalry (1814 engraving)

At the age of 16, Francisco joined the 10th Virginia Regiment in 1776, and soon gained notoriety for his size and strength. He fought with distinction at numerous engagements, including the Battle of Brandywine in September. He fought a few skirmishes under Colonel Morgan, before transferring to the regiment of Colonel Mayo of Powhatan. In October, Francisco rejoined his regiment and fought in the Battle of Germantown, and also appeared with the troops at Fort Mifflin on Port Island in the Delaware River. Francisco was hospitalized at Valley Forge for two weeks following these skirmishes. On June 28, 1778, he fought at Monmouth Court House, New Jersey, where a musket ball tore through his right thigh. He never fully recovered from this wound, but fought at Cowpens and other battles.

He was part of General "Mad" Anthony Wayne's attack on the British fort, Stony Point, on the Hudson River. Upon attacking the fort, Francisco suffered a nine-inch gash in his stomach, but continued to fight; he was second to enter the fort. He killed three British grenadiers and captured the enemy flag. Francisco's entry into the fort is mentioned in Wayne's report on the battle to General Washington, dated July 17, 1779, and in a letter written by Captain William Evans to accompany Francisco's letter to the Virginia General Assembly in November 1820 for pay.

Following the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, Francisco noticed the Americans were leaving behind one of their valuable cannons, mired in mud. Legend says he freed and picked up the approximately 1,100-pound cannon and carried it on his shoulder to keep it from falling into the hands of the enemy. In a petition Francisco wrote 11 November 1820 to the Virginia Legislature in his own words, he said that at Camden, he had shot a grenadier who had tried to shoot his Colonel (Mayo); he escaped by bayoneting one of Banastre Tarleton's cavalrymen and fled on the horse making cries to make the British think he was a Loyalist, and gave the horse to Mayo.

Hearing that Colonel Watkins was headed on a march through the Carolinas, Francisco joined him, seeing action at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina. He allegedly killed eleven men on the field of battle, including one who wounded him severely in the thigh with a bayonet. The feat is commemorated with a monument to Francisco at the National Military Park. Francisco in his own accounts claimed that he killed two men of the enemy—including one who bayoneted him in the leg—and mentions striking "panes" to others.

Francisco was sent home to Buckingham to recuperate. He volunteered to spy on Tarleton and his horsemen, who were operating in the area. On this journey, he performed his best-known action, Francisco's Fight. He claims to have defeated a band of Tarleton's Raiders and escaped with their horses by his own actions. Legend has it that he killed or mortally wounded 3 of 11 raiders. One night, nine of Tarleton's men surrounded Francisco outside of a tavern and ordered him to be arrested. They told him to give over his silver shoe buckles. Francisco told Tarleton's men to take the buckles themselves. When they began to seize his shoe buckles, Francisco took a soldier's saber and struck him on the head. The wounded soldier fired his pistol, grazing Francisco's side; the American nearly cut off the soldier's hand. Another enemy soldier aimed a musket at Francisco, but the musket misfired. Francisco grabbed it from the soldier's hands, knocked him off his mount, and escaped with the horse.[2]

In later accounts, the numbers vary. In Francisco's petition in 1820 to the Virginia Legislature, he reported having killed one and wounded eight of the nine raiders, and captured eight of their nine horses. In his 1829 petition to the United States Congress, he claimed to have dispatched or killed three Tarleton raiders and frightened the other six away.[3] Francisco was ordered by his commanding officer to join the army in 1781 at Yorktown; he did not fight but was witness to the British surrender.

Later years[edit]

Following Cornwallis' 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.

Marriage and family[edit]

In December 1784, Peter married Susannah Anderson of Cumberland County, Virginia. She was the daughter of Captain James Anderson and his wife Elizabeth Tyler Baker Anderson. The Andersons were of social distinction and owned a plantation called "The Mansion." Peter and Susannah had two children: a son, James Anderson, born in the log house in 1786; and a daughter, Polly, born in 1788. Peter sold the 250 acres on Louse Creek in 1788. His wife Susannah died in 1790. In December 1794, Peter married Catherine Fauntleroy Brooke, who was a relative of his first wife's, and they moved to Peter's home in Cumberland. Peter and Catherine had four children: Susan Brooke Francisco (born 1796), Benjamin M. Francisco (born 1803), Peter II, and Catherine Fauntleroy Francisco. After she died in 1821, he married in July 1823 for the third time, to Mary Grymes West.

Death[edit]

In his later years Francisco was poor, and petitioned Congress and the Virginia legislature for support. He spent the last three years of his life working as the Sergeant-at-Arms to the Virginia State Senate. He died of appendicitis, January 16, 1831; he was buried with full military honors in Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond. The Virginia state legislature adjourned for the day, and many legislators attended his funeral.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Postage stamp depicting Francisco's feat of strength at Camden
  • 1975, Francisco was commemorated on a stamp by the US Postal Service in its "Contributors to the Cause" Bicentennial series. The image shows his saving the cannon at Camden.
  • A park in the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey, where most of the population is ethnic Portuguese, was named for him. The community also erected a monument to Francisco there.
  • His farmhouse, Locust Grove, still stands outside the town of Dillwyn, in Buckingham County.
  • One of his swords (though not the special broadsword commissioned for him by General Washington) is displayed in the Buckingham County Historical Museum.
  • Some years after his death, Peter Francisco’s famous broadsword was presented by his daughter, Mrs. Edward Pescud of Petersburg, Va., to the Virginia Historical Society. Sadly, the weapon has since disappeared.
  • Peter Francisco Square, marked by a monument honoring his life and service, was named at the corner of Hill Street and Mill Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which has a large ethnic Portuguese community. The monument includes a Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) medallion of honor.
  • The states of Virginia and Massachusetts have named March 15 as Peter Francisco Day in his honor.
  • The state of Rhode Island has a special observance in place on 15 March to honor Peter Francisco.
  • The state of Maryland proclaimed March 15, 2013 as Peter Francisco Day.

In popular culture[edit]

  • A fiddle tune is named "Peter Francisco".
  • Featured in the book Badass by Ben Thompson
  • A main character in the book The Year of the Hangman by Gary Blackwood

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Other versions hold that Francisco was taken to Ireland; as a youth, he became indentured to a sea captain, and traveled with him to City Point. Found abandoned, he was put in the poorhouse until taken in by Judge Winston. This version does not support the generally accepted dates given for Francisco's birth and transport; it is considered legend.
  2. ^ "Letter of Peter Francisco to the General Assembly", William And Mary Quarterly historical magazine, Jamestown, VA: William and Mary College, 1905, pp. 217–219
  3. ^ Niles register

External links[edit]