The Legend of Conrad Heyer

Photo taken in 1852 at the age of 103, Picture courtesy of Maine Historical Society

Being a direct descendant of Revolutionary soldiers, I often pondered on the question of what my ancestors looked like.

I began wondering if there were any images of them online or published anywhere.

I started searching and to my disappointment did not find any pictures of them, but I did happen across an image of Conrad Heyer.

I had never heard of the man and my courtesy was peaked. I began researching and found some interesting facts, legends, and controversial material. I offer my synopsis of the legend of Private Conrad Heyer.

Conrad Heyer was born in the year 1749. The area was known as Waldoboro, Maine, Province of Massachusetts Bay, British America.

The area was known as Broad Bay. This was part of the land that belonged to the Wabanaki Indians.

The area was hotly contested, resulting in six wars in which the Wabanaki participated. {An interesting note in history is that the Wabanaki Confederacy was forced to disband in 1862 by Britain.

They remained in that state until 1993!} German immigrants resettled the area and amongst those settling the area were the parents of Conrad Heyer.

Some even allege that he may have been the youngest born in that particular location.

Not much was recorded regarding Conrad until the American Revolution. He served in the newly founded Continental Army.

On July 14, 1819, Conrad Heyer applied for a pension. Since he could not write, a justice of the peace too his deposition.

His statements reads: “I Conrad Hyer of Waldoboro in the County of Lincoln & State of Massachusetts testify & declare that about the middle of December AD 1775 I enlisted to serve as a private in the army of the American Revolutionary War in the Massachusetts Line and Continental establishment to serve against the common enemy for the term of one year and that in pursuance of paid enlistment

“I did actually serve said term of one year in the army aforesaid and the line aforesaid & Continental establishment and against the common enemy; that the first of said year I was under Capt. Fuller in Colonel Bond’s Regiment, but that I was afterwards transferr’d to Captain Smith’s company in said Regiment and that after the death of said Colonel Bond the regiment was commanded by Colonel Alden who had the command of the same when I was discharged & that I was then in said Smith’s company.

“I received my discharge which was an honorable discharge from Captain Agry who gave me a pass in writing including three or four others, but nothing else in writing & said pass is now lost. The place of my discharge was on the North River at Fish Kilns and the time I received it about the middle of December AD 1777.

“That I never have received any pension under the United States. And I further testify & declare that by reason of my reduced circumstances in life I am in need of subsistence from my country for support & therefore respectfully ask to be placed on the pension list of the United States by virtue of the Act of Congress of March 18 AD 1818, entitled “an Act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land & naval service of the United States in the Revolutionary War.” Conrad Hyer (X his mark)

On May 21, 1855, Conrad Heyer revised his pension claim. In a statement made in Lincoln County, Maine, he stated that he was discharged in December 1778 instead of the date put to pen. His sworn statement goes on to say he, “Was in the army when Burgoyne surrendered; for the details of his service refer to his application & proofs on which his Cert. of Pension was issued, dated July 14, 1819.”

Conrad stipulated that he, “Enlisted first at Waldoboro State of Maine on or about the first day of December 1775 for the term of three years … was honorably discharged in the state of New York on or about the fifteenth day of December AD 1778 as will appear by the muster rolls of Capt. Smiths Company & other rolls. That he was at one time one of Genl Washington’s bodyguard.”

In the mid eighteen hundreds a revolutionary method of capturing a person’s image was invented. It was called daguerreotype photography.

The image of Conrad is allegedly the earliest birth date to be captured in a photograph. There were other images taken of Revolutionary soldiers, but Conrad’s represents the neonatal stages of cinematography. One of them being a shoe cobbler by the name of John Adams.

To me, this was a very interesting find, as the first Adams in Letcher County, Kentucky was named John Adams. He is buried at Webb Cemetery in Mayking, Kentucky. A couple of others named was Baltus Stone and Caesar, a slave. He was reportedly born in 1738.

After the war, Conrad returned to his homeland of Waldoboro, and became a farmer. He lived there for the remainder of his life. He died in 1856 and was given a military funeral worthy of a veteran. The following is his obituary. Note that it states Conrad served three years in the Continental Army. Mr. Conrad Heyer, “Died, on the 18th inst., at Waldoboro’, Conrad Heyer, at the advanced age of 106 years, 10 months and 9 days. His parents were from Germany, and he was the first child, of the white race, born in that town, in which he always continued to reside. Though of rather slender form, Mr. Heyer had great physical energies, with much power of enduring labor and fatigue. He possessed remarkable health, having never till this winter been confined a day by sickness. Mr. Heyer was from early life a respected and consistent member of the German Lutheran Church. For three years, he served in the war of the Revolution, and was a pensioner. He voted at every Presidential election since the establishment of our National Government.

“His employment was that of a farmer. For the last ten years, he attracted much attention, many strangers visited him, and always found him a source of much interest, not only as a relic of the past, but for the exactness of his memory, and the very clear accounts he loved to give of early occurrences within his own observation. His maxims of prudence and propriety deduced from his long observation of men, had weight with his neighbors. As he lived with mental powers wonderfully preserved, so he continued to hold the respect of his acquaintances, and the memory of his virtues and of his wisdom will, for a long time, exert useful influences in the circle where he was so well known.”

Conrad Heyer’s legend does not end here. As with the passing of time, legends and stories grow and circulate. It has been said that he served under George Washington and was actually with him when he crossed the Delaware on Christmas day in 1776. It has also been claimed that he was at one time, a bodyguard to General George Washington.

Mr. Heyer stated in another affidavit that he served three years instead of one. It has been alleged that he was involved in major battles as well. It has been stated that he was the last man living who crossed the Delaware. He reportedly was the first child born to the German immigrants of the area of Waldoboro. He was among the oldest, if not the oldest, man to ever be photographed. His age was 103 when the daguerreotype was taken.

Several have accepted what has been written while others dispute the claims. Looking at the service record (pension application) the year of service seems to be consistent with the date of discharge (If December 1777 is the correct date), names of officers he served under, and regiment. According to Valentine Mink (a patriot serving with Conrad) the date of discharge is in question. Mink stated, “That I well knew Conrad Hyer in said service that he enter’d the same with me.” He (Conrad), “Served from the middle of December AD 1775 to the middle of December AD 1776 at which time he was discharged honorably from said service at Fish Kilns on the North River by a pass in writing sign’d by Captain Agry.” Another soldier by the name of John Vanner, stated that he, “Well knew Conrad Hyer” had served, “From December AD 1775 to December AD 1776,” and “Was honorably discharged at Fish Kilns by a pass from Capt. Agry to himself and several others of whom I was one.”

Even with the date of discharge being in error, the question still remains. Was he with General Washington in the crossing of the Delaware on that frigid December day? We may never know, but this is a fact. Private Conrad Heyer was an American patriot who served honorably in the Continental Army and his legend and legacy lives on as long as one American remembers and passes the torch of knowledge to another. Lest we forget…

Resources

https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/02/conrad-heyer-did-not-cross-the-delaware/?fbclid=IwAR3ecJk1h8ZpruC8n-Q9VggwDEy4kGnEsdMPznpcsrsQGeEoHCv3dOOgS54

https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/13423

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conrad_Heyer

https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/02/conrad-heyer-did-not-cross-the-delaware/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/conrad-heyer-a-revolutionary-war-veteran-was-the-earliest-born-american-to-ever-be-photographed-180947660/

https://petapixel.com/2014/05/20/behold-conrad-hayer-man-oldest-birth-date-ever-photographed/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington%27s_crossing_of_the_Delaware_River

https://www.amazon.com/Revolutions-Last-Men-Soldiers-Photographs/dp/1594162220

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabanaki

Taken From: Legends Amongst Us; Chaltas, David; Amazon Books; 2019