Robert A. Groves


Revolutionary Soldier and Bodyguard to General George Washington


William E. Groves

Originally published in: Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin, Summer 1996, Volume 37, Number 3, pp. 362-369. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher. Copyright 1996 by William E. Groves and the Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin.

Several years ago while visiting the family farm in Indiana, my son, James F.

Groves, expressed interest in knowing more about his ancestry, and realizing

that I, too, did not know much about our heritage, I decided to begin

searching to see what I could find to pass on to my children and grandchildren

concerning their Groves ancestors.  This, then, is the story of my earliest

known Groves ancestor, Robert A. Groves, and how I learned what I now know

about him and his family.

>From previous work of my father’s sister, Mary (Groves) Anderson, I initially

was able to determine our Groves’ lineage to be:

James A. Groves                       +     Mary McCarty



Robert Tarleton Groves                +     Rachel Allen

b. 01/24/1833, Lafayette,  IN               b. 10/20/1834, Clinton co, IN

d. 12/16/1890, Plainfield, IN               d. 08/05/1918, Clinton co, IN



William Donovan Groves                +     Ella Iona Stunkard

b. 04/02/1869, Clinton co, IN               b. 04/10/1870, Clinton co, IN

d. 11/08/1923, Clinton Co, IN               d. 12/29/1959, Frankfort,  IN



Marion Frederick Groves               +     Bernice Lois Truitt

b. 04/14/1905, Clinton co, IN               b. 10/29/1904, Clinton co, IN

d. 01/26/1961, Dallas, TX               d. 08/08/1995, Frankfort,  IN



William Ernest Groves                 +     Ina Withers

b. 09/08/1935, Flint, MI               b. 07/25/1935, Glasgow, Scotland



James Frederick Groves

b. 04/02/1968, Memphis,    TN

I began my ancestral search by examining deed records in the local court

house.  From information told me by my father, I knew the location of the farm

in Clinton County, Indiana, where his parents, William Donovan and Ella Iona

(Stunkard) Groves, had lived from 1905 until 1923, but I did not know where

William had been born and raised.  However, from a study of deed records in

the Clinton County, Indiana, Court House I was able to determine when and

where William's parents (my paternal great grandparents), Robert Tarleton and

Rachel (Allen) Groves, had lived from 1853 to 1874, and I was surprised to

learn that this was adjacent to my maternal great grandparents, which I

previously had not known.  I also found that my second great grandparents,

James A. and Mary (McCarty) Groves, lived on that farm with Robert and his

wife Rachel.

While the land deeds were helpful, I could not determine the parents of James

A. Groves from them, so I next began to study Federal Census records, which

showed that from 1837 to 1839 James and his family had lived in Rush County,

Indiana.  The Census records also showed that James had been born in Kentucky

in 1802, but I still did not know who his parents were and I could not

determine in which county in Kentucky he had lived.  However, I was intrigued

by the possibility that he might have lived in Pendleton County, Kentucky,

since I saw Robert and Donovan Groves listed there, and my grandfather’s name

was William Donovan Groves.  But the Donovan Groves in Kentucky was born

December 5, 1797, so I assumed he was probably the brother, rather than the

father, of James A. Groves, and thus Robert might have been their father.

But it was not until I found a listing in the Daughters of the American

Revolution publication for Indiana that I had evidence James A. Groves' father

really was Robert Groves.  The listing in the DAR publication was essentially

as follows:

GROVES, Robert (1764-August 25, 1855).  Drummer in Captain David Hall's

Company, First Delaware Militia Regiment under the command of Colonel John

Haslet.  Enlisted on February 27, 1776, and was in the barracks in

Lewistown, Delaware, on April 11, 1776 [1].  Robert married Martha Miller

[2,3].  Donovan and James A. were amongst the children listed.

>From this information and census data I was able to determine that Robert

Groves was living in Falmouth Township of Pendleton County, Kentucky, in 1800,

1810, and 1820, and in Fairview Township of Rush County, Indiana, in 1830,

1840 and 1850.  An examination of the tax lists and deeds in the Falmouth,

Kentucky, Court House and Library, revealed that Robert and family lived along

the South Fork of the Licking River in Pendleton County from at least 1797

until 1821, when he sold his land there, and the records in the Rushville,

Indiana, Court House and Library revealed that he bought land in Fairview

Township in 1821 and lived there until his death on August 25, 1855.  Both he

and his wife, Martha, who died on August 20, 1855, are buried in the Fairview

Cemetery along with numerous other members of the family.

But what was Robert's ancestry?  Who were his parents, and when and from where

did they come to this country?   While searching for answers to these

questions, I learned of another person interested in Robert Groves, contacted

him, and he sent me a copy of an original 1855 obituary article concerning

Robert Groves which was reprinted in the Connersville (Indiana) Examiner

newspaper on July 10, 1944:

Robert Groves


Revolutionary Soldier and Bodyguard to General George Washington

      "The recent demise of this venerable man, at his residence in Fairview, is

an event which I know many of your readers will deem worthy of note.

     "The deceased was not unknown to a majority, perhaps of the older settlers

of Fayette and Rush Counties [in Indiana].  He was born in Connecticut on

the 25th of February, 1766, and departed this life in Fairview, Indiana, on

the 25th day of August 1855, being 89 years and 6 months old.  His

ancestors were from England, but the exact time they emigrated hither is

not known.  His early life was cast in a period when it was not considered

disgraceful among boys to learn a trade; so he served an apprenticeship to

the cooper business ... War reverberated throughout the length and breadth

of the land, and his young heart beating high with patriotic emotions, he

volunteered, and shouldering his musket, under the command of Colonel

Willot he turned his face toward the common enemy.  But one night, being

over-fatigued by a previous day's march, and being left on watch, sleep had

insensibly stolen upon him, and he was held in her sweet though strong

embrace, when one of the guards coming around and finding him asleep,

demanded his gun, which he gave up.  On the following morning pardon was

offered him on condition that he would enlist for three years; to this he

readily consented, but before his time expired, the war was brought to a


     "An incident or two should not here be omitted.  The subject of this

article was personally acquainted with General George Washington, and as

the General (in New York State) was desirous of going from one fort to

another, our hero, Robert Groves, and a few others, were selected as his

bodyguards during the trip.  As they had to camp out over night, the guard

considered it a privilege (for the want of anything better) to gather tufts

of blue grass and make their general a bed--themselves being content to

recline, though not to sleep, on the bosom of mother earth.  At another

time, Fort Oswego being then a stronghold of the British, our hero in

company with 70 others, all in sleighs, in the month of February, set out

in the night to capture the fort, but having an Indian guide not well

acquainted with the route, they missed the fort some two miles, so that

daylight prevented the attack.

     "At the close of the war, Mr. Groves received 500 acres of land as a

bounty for his services; this land he disposed of for an Indian pony, set

out for Virginia, stopped at Havre de Grace, and there became acquainted

with Miss Martha Donovan, who afterwards became his wife.  They were

married in the old Episcopalian manner, which was by having their intention

announced at three successive meetings on the first day of the week, and on

the third announcement, if no protest was filed, they were without further

ceremony pronounced husband and wife.

     "After a stay of three years in Virginia, he and a number of others,

inspired with the idea of a frontier life, set out with their families, and

after a wearisome journey across the mountains, they reached the Ohio

River.  They constructed flat boats, and floated down the river to

Maysfield, Kentucky, reaching that point in the fall of 1791, when that

country was really a land of cane and turkeys, having the Indians for their

neighbors and common foes.

     "In 1800 the deceased's attention was called to the subject of religion.

He joined the Episcopal Methodists, with whom he remained until his death.

Soon after he joined the Methodists, he commenced preaching (but not for

filthy lucre) for the writer has frequently heard the good old patriarch

say that all he ever received for fifty years preaching was forty cents,

and that was given him by a German, a non-professer, to pay his ferriage

across the Ohio River, where he preached half his time.  Many a day has he

followed his plow with the Bible placed upon the handle.  His motto was:

“If people had time to come and hear him preach, he had time to preach to

them.”  He had frequently been at Boone's Fort, and for a number of year

during his sojourn in Kentucky, the only way the soil could be tilled, was

by part of the men standing guard for the others, to prevent Indian

hostilities." [4]

On the one hand, this article provides some answers to the questions posed

earlier.  First, it tells us that this Robert's ancestors were from

England, and second, it resolves the question of where the name Donovan

entered the family.  Martha Donovan, not Martha Miller as stated in the DAR

paragraph, appears to have been Robert's wife, and she was the daughter of

Daniel and Hannah (Arnold) Donovan of Harford County, Maryland; Hannah was the

daughter of William and Elizabeth (Gilbert) Arnold.  The Maryland census for

Harford County in 1776, lists Daniel Donovan and his family with a daughter,

Martha, age 7 [5].  The obituary article indicates that at the close of the

war in 1783, Robert set out for Virginia, stopped at Havre de Grace (in

Harford County, Maryland) and there became acquainted with Miss Martha

Donovan, who afterwards became his wife.  The 1790 census for Harford County,

Maryland, lists a Robert Greves (probably Groves) with a wife and one child

living next to a Daniel Donovan [5].  The article goes on to tell us that

Robert and his family crossed the Allegheny Mountains and sailed down the Ohio

River to Maysfield (probably Maysville), Kentucky, in 1791, which is a short

distance northeast of Falmouth Township, where we find them in 1797.  Their

farm was located a few miles north of Daniel Boone's Fort, which was located

near where Boonesboro, Kentucky, now exists.

On the other hand, the article raises several new questions. First, the

indicated date of birth (1766) and age at death (89 years, 6 months) both

appear to belong to his wife Martha rather than to Robert, who from his

tombstone was 91 years and 6 months of age at the time of his death.  Since

Martha died just five days before Robert, these dates could have been confused

by the author of the original obituary article.  And second, the DAR

publication says Robert was born in Delaware, not Connecticut as mentioned in

the obituary article.  Certainly it is possible Robert was born in

Connecticut, but was living in Delaware in 1776 when he enlisted at age 12 as

a drummer in the First Delaware Militia Regiment commanded by John Haslet.

However, the obituary article makes no mention of his service under Colonel

Haslet, but instead only refers to General George Washington, Colonel Willot

and Fort Oswego.  Furthermore, the article goes on to say “pardon was offered

him (Robert) on condition he would enlist for three years; to this he readily

consented, but before his time expired, the war was brought to a close.”

However, so far I can find no Colonel Willot was involved with the Delaware

Continental Army, but instead there was a Colonel Marinus Willet from New York

who commanded troops.  Of course, it is possible that troops from Delaware

came under the command of New York’s Colonel Willet or perhaps Robert re-

enlisted in a New York Regiment about 1780.  Regardless, the dates involved

suggest Robert was enlisted in the 1780 timeframe, when he would have been 16,

and served until 1783, when he would have been 19 years of age.  During this

latter enlistment period he would have been more of an age to carry a musket

than at age 12 during his frist enlistment in 1776 -- and it was during this

latter period that Willet was a Colonel and that Fort Oswego was involved in

Continental Army maneuvers [6].  Furthermore, it is my understanding that to

receive a grant of land, one had to serve in the Continental Army for at least

three years, so more than the 1776 enlistment for one year seems corroborated.

But to date I have not found any evidence of an enlistment other than for


And then there is the issue of the 500 acres of land Robert received from the

government.  In addition to the federal government, nine states awarded from

100 to 1000 acres based on rank or situation.  The nine states that awarded

bounty lands in their western reserves or on their western borders were:

Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina,

Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.  However, Delaware, New Jersey, New

Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont had no bounty land policy.  While

Connecticut did not have a military land bounty, it did compensate its

citizens with land in the northeastern corner of present-day Ohio on Lake Erie

if their homes or businesses had been destroyed by the British during the

Revolution [7].  From this information I conclude the land bounty Robert

received did not come from his service in the Delaware Militia in 1776, but

did derive either from his service in the New York Militia or the Continental

Army, or perhaps from the loss of property in Connecticut -- if he really was

born there and he or his parents lost property there.

Thus some of the questions still to be answered concerning Robert Groves are

as follows:

- When did Robert's ancestors come to this county?

- Who were Robert's parents?

- Where was Robert really born?

- Did Robert re-enlist in the military after 1776 and, if so, with what group?

- Why was Robert granted land and where was it located?

>From what I have learned to date, the children of Robert A. and Martha

(Donovan) Groves were:

- Margaret        b.c.               1787

- Hannah          b.c.               1788

- Donovan         b.    December 5,  1797

- Sarah Donovan   b.    May 22,      1798

- Elizabeth       b.c.               1799

- James A.        b.    March 1,     1802

- Rebecca         b.c.               1804

- Susanna         b.c.               1805

- Joseph W.       b.    September 1, 1806

The names of the above children certainly show the Donovan connection, and the

name Hannah may have been given to one daughter in honor of her maternal

grandmother, Hannah (Arnold) Donovan.  It is not known what the middle initial

"A" stands for in James' name, perhaps Arnold, or the "W" in Joseph's name.

According to DAR records there were living descendants for Margaret, Donovan,

Susanna and Joseph, and I am a descendant of James.  Also, the length of time

between the birth of Hannah and Donovan seems rather long, unless this was the

result of their difficult migration to Kentucky; perhaps unknown children died

during this period.

Interestingly, the only time I have ever seen a middle initial associated with

my third great grandfather Robert Groves' name is on a DAR plaque in the Rush

County, Indiana, Court House, where he is listed as Robert A. Groves, but I

currently have no idea what this stands for.

My search for more information concerning my Groves ancestry continues and

thus corrections or additions to any of this data are solicited and would be

most welcome.


1.  Delaware Archives, Military, Volume I, p. 42.

2.  DAR Patriot Index, Volume I, p. 289.

3.  H. C. Peden: Revolutionary Patriots of Delaware, 1775-1783.

4.  Article written by "M. H." of Fairview, Indiana;

originally published in the Connersville [Indiana] Telegraph newspaper on

October 5, l855; and

re-published in a History column in the Connersville Examiner newspaper

on July 10, 1944.

5. L. Howard, Personal Communication (1996).

6. R. B. Roberts: New York's Forts in the Revolution (1980), p. 378 ff

7. L. D. Bockstruck: Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State

Governments (1996)


William E. Groves, Ph.D.,  CDP

109 Wisteria Drive

Chapel Hill, NC  27514


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