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Drawn portrait of Stephen Tainter

Stephen Tainter

Stephen Tainter was barely 16 years old when he joined his first patriot militia unit. Instead of a gun, Stephen carried a drum.

The role of the drummer

During the American Revolution, some young patriots who were not yet old enough to enlist as regular soldiers instead served as musicians. Stephen and his fellow drummers performed vital services in camp and on the battlefield.

The beat of Stephen's drum kept soldiers in synch as they marched. Stephen beat out a cadence to rise soldiers for the day, gather for meals, and end the day's work.

Importantly, it was Stephen who helped translate commanding officers' orders on the battlefield. His loud drum beats carried over long distances and above the noise of battle.

The importance of militias

General Washington utilized militias throughout the conflict to augment the Continental ranks. Stephen joined his first Massachusetts militia unit in 1776. When his service was up he joined several times more serving in different units throughout the remainder of the war.

An illustrated map showing the location of Morristown, New Jersey

He joined his first unit, Sparhawk's regiment, just in time to spend the winter of 1776-1777 with the Continental Army at Morristown, New Jersey.

An illustrated map showing the direction of General Burgoyne's invasion from Canada.

While serving with Colonel Job Cushing’s regiment from July to August 1777, Stephen opposed General John Burgoyne's invasion from Canada.

An illustrated map showing the locations of the Battles of Bennington and Saratoga.

They arrived too late to take part in the or the

Painting showing the surrender of British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, New York on October 17, 1777.

However, Stephen was with General Horatio Gates' army when Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga on October 17, 1777.

Image: The surrender of the British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga by John Trumbull; U.S. Architect of the Capitol

An illustrated map showing the location of the siege at Newport, Rhode Island.

Stephen joined another Massachusetts militia in June 1778. Serving as a drummer in Colonel Nathaniel Wade's regiment, Stephen became part of the army under General John Sullivan, which besieged Newport, with the help of a French fleet.

An illustrated map showing the British counterattack at the siege at Newport

Stephen witnessed the first Franco-American operation of the Revolutionary War—but it went poorly. The fleet had to withdraw, and the Americans were forced to fight a rearguard action against a British counterattack.

Stephen recalled later that he was in Rhode Island at the time, but did not participate in the fight. He spent his 18th birthday in Wade's regiment, and continued serving through the remainder of 1778.

Continued service

May of 1779 saw Stephen stationed at Tiverton, Rhode Island. He was likely part of the garrison at Fort Barton, guarding the passage between British-occupied Aquidneck Island and the mainland.

Even after the formal end of the war, Stephen continued to serve. From October 1783 to March 1784, he was part of a militia unit stationed in Guilford, Vermont.

All in all, Stephen Tainter spent the better part of 8 years performing vital service for patriot militias, all before his 24th birthday.

Medical career and family

After the war Stephen had a 30-year career as a physician. He married twice and had five children. Like many veterans, Stephen applied for and was granted a pension for his service in the Revolutionary War. In the 1830s, he moved to Prairie du Chien in the Wisconsin Territory, “for the purpose of enjoying in the decline of his life the society of his son.” Stephen remained in Wisconsin until his death in 1847. He was 86 years old.

Themes of the period
Modern-day Legacy

Historical marker: Menomonie, WI

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