A Portrait of John Cuppy

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Gabriel Neville

Most of the enlisted men of the Revolutionary War are faceless and forgotten—just names on lists. Biographies and painted portraits are honors that were reserved for officers. Even so, it is possible to trace the lives of some common soldiers using original sources. Many of them applied for pensions after 1818, which required them to provide (usually brief) narratives of their service. Some gave similar attestations when they applied for military bounty land. A small number left detailed accounts of their experiences in interviews, letters, or diaries. Finally, and very rarely, we have photographs taken in the last years of some veterans’ lives. Virginian John Cuppy may be the only Revolutionary War soldier to leave us an artifact in each of these categories.

John Cuppy

Cuppy was born near Morristown, New Jersey on March 11, 1761. While still an infant, he was brought to Hampshire County, Virginia by his German parents. Their new home was on the South Branch of the Potomac River near the town of Romney, which is now in West Virginia. About forty miles west of the Shenandoah Valley, this was the very edged of settled Virginia territory. John was just fourteen years old when the war began—too young to be a candidate for service when Hampshire was directed to raise a rifle company in July of 1775. He was still too young when Dutch-descended Capt. Abel Westfall recruited a company there that winter for Col. Peter Muhlenberg’s new 8th Virginia Regiment.[1]

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Uncovering the Continental Army in Morristown

Part of an ongoing series about the Continental Army in Morristown, New Jersey. To read previous posts, click here.

Plaque on wall of the Presbyterian Church

During the winter encampment, in 1777, at Morristown, George Washington ordered the inoculation for smallpox of the Continental Army. Although knowing the probability that some of his men would succumb to the disease when infected with even a small dosage of the puss, the commander-in-chief knew that the necessity of the process. By the end of the American Revolutionary War, more American soldiers would die of smallpox than British shot and shell.


With a population of 700 people and less than 70 dwellings, any public space of size was utilized to treat and quarantine the soldiers undergoing the smallpox inoculation. One of the religious establishments that was used was the Presbyterian Church across the street from Morristown Green, the center of town.

The Presbyterian Church already had a long history in Morristown, being the first congregation founded in the town, dating back to 1733 (the one you see today is actually the third to grace the same site).


Behind the church is a graveyard referred to as “The Burying Ground” which holds the remains of over 1,700 individuals. Included in that number are the remains of numerous soldiers that succumbed to the smallpox inoculation during the winter encampment of 1777. From the burials that are known, 138 remains are those of soldiers from the American Revolution.IMG_3383

During the annual commemoration of Independence Day, the town of Morristown will offer guided programs of “The Burying Ground.” At other times throughout the year, the church itself will offer tours. You can find information about the church programs of the  cemetery here.

Whether you visit on a guided tour or independently stroll the ground, the though to keep in mind is; the men who died whether on the field of battle, succumbed to smallpox, or lived a long life as a veteran, the all helped make Morristown the placed where “America Survived.”