The Tale of David Kennison
Boston Tea Party
Photo courtesy of the
Jefferson County Historical Society
The photograph was made from a dageuerreotype taken in 1848 when David Kennison was reportedly 112 years old.
Since its very beginnings, Jefferson County's history has been entwined with the military history of the country. Many of the earliest settlers were Revolutionary War veterans who were followed by generations of residents, both permanent and temporary, that served in the military. Lost in the military history of the county is David Kennison, who claimed to be the last survivor of the Boston Tea Party. Was David Kennison, who resided in Sackets Harbor, the same David Kennison that participated in the Boston Tea Party or just a daring con artist? This is the subject of much debate. Fact or fiction, it does provide a unique twist to the military history of Jefferson County.
David Kennison, born in Old Kingston, Maine on November 17, 1736, was a farmer near Lebanon, Maine and was a founding member of the “Lebanon Club”, the first liberty club formed in the colonies. Incensed by the Tea Act of 1773, the Lebanon Club was determined to destroy the tea that was scheduled to arrive in Boston Harbor. On Thursday, December 16, 1773, the evening before the tea was due in port, the men arrived in Boston. Joined by others, bringing the total number of men to 116, they boarded the three merchant ships (Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver) and in three hours dumped all 342 chests of tea into the water.
At the onset of the Revolutionary War, Kennison joined the militia and participated in battles that included Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, and all four battles of Brandywine. He also marched with Washington’s Army from New York to Yorktown, served through the siege and was present at Cornwallis’s surrender.
Shortly after the close of the war, he settled in Danville, Vermont, where he returned to a life of farming for eight years. In the early 1800s, he moved to Wells, Maine and lived there until the outbreak of the War of 1812.Reportedly he lied about his age and again joined the militia. Although the records are unclear, it appears that he served throughout the conflict and was wounded in the arm at Williamsburg.
In 1816, Kennison apparently moved to Sackets Harbor, NY residing with his friend David Mack. (The U. S. census for 1840 lists a David Kenniston (sic), age group 90-100 years, as being a resident of the Village of Sackets Harbor. Additionally New York State Pension Rolls list a David Kennison as receiving a pension of $8 per month from 1818 until 1848.) Twenty-nine years after arriving in Sackets Harbor, Kennison moved with William Mack to Chicago, Illinois in July of 1845.
On February 24, 1852, David Kennison died at the age of 115 years 3 months 17 days.