My ancestor William Handy was born on August 15, 1762 in Sandwich, Massachusetts, a town on Cape Cod, and died in Sandwich on February 8, 1852 at the age of 89.
Mr. Handy served in the Continental Army under George Washington during the Revolutionary War when he was eighteen years old.
It is astonishing to me to realize the following: Mr. Handy was my mother’s great-great grandfather. That means he goes back only four generations from my mother, Elinor H. Smith (1918-1973; nee Elinor Congdon Handy).
My mother was the daughter of Ralph E. Handy (1893-1947). Her grandfather was Henry T. Handy (1845-1916). Her great-grandfather was Henry Handy’s father, Joshua Handy (1813-1877). Joshua Handy’s father, my mother’s great-great grandfather, was the above mentioned William Handy.
Here’s a very interesting fact, among several, about William Handy. His Revolutionary War service required him to travel to New York State. Presumably, this would have been on foot. During his service, he was present at the execution of Major John André (1750-1780), the British Army officer who was hanged on October 2, 1780 in Tappan, Rockland Country, New York as a spy during the Revolutionary War for assisting Benedict Arnold’s attempted surrender of the fort at West Point to the British.
An account of Major André’s hanging indicates that a large crowd was assembled for the hanging, including many troops.
The hanging is described as follows in an eyewitness account by James Thacher, M.D., a surgeon in the American Revolutionary Army (in his The American Revolution: From the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army Given in the Form of a Daily Journal, with the Exact Dates of all the Important Events; Also, a Biographical Sketch of the Most Prominent Generals):
The fatal hour having arrived, a large detachment of troops [italics added] was paraded, and an immense concourse of people assembled; almost all our general and field officers, excepting his excellency [Washington] and staff, were present on horseback; melancholy and gloom pervaded all ranks, and the scene was affectingly awful.
In his History of Cape Cod, vol. II (1862), Rev. Frederick Freeman, who knew Mr. Handy personally, writes:
During the revolutionary period, at a time when it was most difficult to obtain men for the war, he volunteered and served in several campaigns. He was present at the execution of Andre, a scene the incidents of which he related at the very close of his life, not only with nice accuracy but with an exhibition of fine sensibilities and generous feeling.
The full account of Rev. Freeman is as follows:
Capt. William Handy was, in some respects, a remarkable man.
During the revolutionary period, at a time when it was most difficult to obtain men for the war, he volunteered and served in several campaigns.
He was present at the execution of Andre, a scene the incidents of which he related at the very close of his life, not only with nice accuracy but with an exhibition of fine sensibilities and generous feeling.
Endowed with an iron constitution, of good judgment and most determined will — fearless, resolute, and full of energy, his earlier life was chiefly devoted to maritime pursuits — first in the merchant service and then in whaling.
After one whale voyage as mate, he was for many years in command of some of the best and most successful ships engaged in that business, making repeated voyages from New Bedford, and also from Dunkirk in France in pursuance of an arrangement made first by Tupper with Bonaparte when First Consul and afterwards by Rotch with the Consul as Emperor.
Captain Handy’s ability, integrity, and success were proverbial, securing unlimited confidence. Retiring from the seas, he engaged still in maritime affairs, establishing a ship-yard near his house on Buzzard’s Bay and becoming largely a ship-owner.
He sent forth from his own yard the ship Rebecca, the brig Fame, schooners Resolution, Nancy [named after his daughter], Sophronia, Love [named after his wife], Acsah Parker [named after his daughter Acshah Handy, who married Calvin Parker], and sloops Betsy [named after his daughter], Nancy [named after his daughter], Deborah, and other smaller vessels designed for the Long Island Sound trade during the war of 1812. These last smaller vessels were, for greater security against the ravages of the enemy, built near his door at a distance from the shore, and then without great difficulty launched across fields to their intended element.
Capt. H. suffered greatly from French spoliations, as well as from the war of 1812; but cherished faith in the tardy justice of his country to the very last of life.
When more than 60 years old he resolved, to replenish his coffers and “to show the boys how to take whales,” to adventure one more voyage. His purpose was no sooner known in New Bedford than eminent merchants and ship-owners were ready to further his views. Put in command of the Com. Decatur in 1821, he accomplished in 15 months a most successful cruise to the admiration of all.
He had an utter repugnance to public life, and yet was elected Selectman, and commissioned as Jus. Pac.
Anecdotes might be related of him … showing the energy and daring of the man; and one … would be of thrilling interest — that of a rencontre by himself and one other with a white polar bear, engaged upon the ice and snows without firearms. The contest was desperate; but the bear weighing more than 500 lbs. labored under the disadvantage of breaking through the snow-crust, whilst his assailants were supported by it and finally conquered.
William Handy married Love Swain (ca. 1779-1857), who was born on Nantucket. Love Swain Handy was a descendant of the first settlers of Nantucket, including Peter Folger (ca. 1618-1690), Benjamin Franklin’s maternal grandfather.
The couple had nine children, the youngest of whom was Capt. Joshua Handy (1813-1877), our mother, Elinor H. Smith’s great-grandfather.
Love (Swain) Handy, William Handy’s widow, applied on April 14, 1855 for a pension based on her husband’s service in the Revolutionary War.
— Roger W. Smith