The Revolution’s Longest Love Story

He was the longest living Revolutionary War veteran, and also had the longest marriage in U.S. history.He was the longest living Revolutionary War veteran, and also had the longest marriage in U.S. history.

Daniel Frederick Bakeman, the leathery New York farmer who lived long enough to become the American Revolution’s last surviving veteran, played his part brilliantly.  He despised the British until his death at 109.

Even after turning 100, Bakeman continued firing his wartime flint lock musket thirteen times every July 4, one for each original colony. Then, with the touch of an accent reflecting his Dutch or Palatine German origins, the old man saluted beloved generals and comrades, shouting: “HURRAH FOR WASHINGTON, GATES, PUTNAM, AND LEE AND ALL DER BRAVE MEN WHO FOUGHT FOR LIBERTEE.”  Bakeman’s fellow villagers in the aptly-named Freedom, New York, were so charmed that after the Civil War they lobbied for him to get a long-delayed Revolutionary War pension.

The government finally granted Bakeman $500 annual pay in 1867, two years before he died.

This oldest revolutionary veteran made history in love not just war. His 91-year, 12-day marriage to Susan née Brewer is the longest matrimonial claim on record.  Even if, as some allege, the two were married only eighty-one years, both spouses displayed remarkable endurance.

Of course, both achievements emphasize one ability – durability. Just as John Kennedy downplayed his PT-109 naval heroics against the Japanese during World War II by saying “It was involuntary, they sank my boat,” Bakeman simply outlived any rivals. But while voting in every election from George Washington’s in 1789 to U.S. Grant’s in 1868 required near-superhuman longevity, staying married for nine decades demanded godlike patience.

Census and baptismal records, the pension battle, and family histories, provide some basic facts. Daniel and Susan married 243 years ago on August 29, 1772. If these dates are correct – and some dispute them – he was twelve, having been born in 1759. She was 14.  She bore eight children between 1782 and 1804. At least 5 predeceased him. The census listed Daniel as a farmer and Susan’s occupation as “housework.”  Susan died on September 10, 1863, at 105, six years before her younger husband.

The few surviving stories describe two as strong-willed, optimistic pioneers. They uprooted their family at least twice, “going west,” across New York state. They suffered three house fires, with one destroying Bakeman’s Revolutionary service records. One blaze erupted during a routine, four-day trip to Albany for supplies.

Even when elderly, the hardy Bakemans continued crisscrossing the state to visit relatives with their own horse and buggy – never stagecoach. William Vernon Smith, a Michigan lawyer, remembered Mr. Bakeman as “a man of wit and spirit, a jollier and a lover of life.”  Once, as Bakeman helped others dig a well, the dinner bell rang and the gang mischievously left him sixteen to eighteen feet below. The old man blithely joined them minutes later. The pranksters “never got a word out of him as how he climbed out of the well,” Smith recalled, proving “he never grew too old to enjoy a joke.”

Daniel Frederick BakemanLibrary of Congress

When Bakeman’s equally buoyant wife Susan turned 100, she requested a “Turkey-Red dress.” One descendant, Joyce Mosher Moyer, reports that Bakeman’s daughters “said it was not at all suitable for her years and persuaded their Father not to get it for her.” Moyer’s great aunts lamented such pre-consumerist, pre-feminist puritanical deprivation, insisting:  “if you live that long you should have what you want!”

Beyond this minimal historically-documented prose, this spry couple’s stamina inspires great speculative poetry too. Susan may have set world records in darning socks or listening repeatedly to his darned yarns. Daniel may have set records in washing dishes or dishing out spousal compliments. They both may have set records in sweet “good mornings” or curt, post-fight, “good nights.”

Back then, men and women usually functioned in “separate spheres,” socially and professionally, although hardscrabble farm life thrust the Bakemans together more than most. Today’s voluntary, love-based, “companionate marriage” emerged only in the 1900s. Even if the Bakemans never experienced a Broadwayesque “Do you love me” breakthrough, hopefully, all those kids, years, and errands produced some tenderness, some soul connection.

Indeed, most long marriages form their own magical adhesive properties, with countless unspoken moments cementing profound bonds. Such long relationships usually soothe the body, mind, and soul. One British study estimated that a long, happy marriage was as physically beneficial as quitting smoking.

Tragically, injecting romance into the partnership equation overburdened modern marriage with unrealistic expectations. Nevertheless, America’s divorce epidemicis slowing. Despite Ashley Madison hook-ups and Kardashian breakups, monogamy just might become “hip.”  This summer, an ode to fidelity hit big: Andy Grammer’s “Honey I’m Good.”

History is usually lived in minute flecks but remembered in broad brushstrokes. Washington Irving’s fictional Rip Van Winkle slept through two decades of Revolutionary war trauma and wifely nagging, awakening to an America transformed. The actual Merry Berry-Bakemans absorbed more sweeping changes but experienced them incrementally, usually imperceptibly. Word would have reached their farm of the Revolutionary victory in 1783; the Constitutionalcounter-revolution in 1787; George Washington’s election in 1789; the British burning Washington in 1814; the Erie Canal’s opening in 1825; the Mexican-American War’s territorial expansion in 1848; various Civil War horrors in the 1860s; and the Northern victory followed by Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

Meanwhile, bit by bit, their lives changed thanks to enchanted inventionsincluding the steam engine, cotton gin, telegraph, sewing machine, and Bessemer Method for processing steel. The post-Civil War they left had been industrialized, democratized, urbanized, westernized, powered by these inventions, by the railroad, and, ultimately, by Thomas Jefferson’s empowering idea that “all men are created equal.”

On April 5, 1869, Daniel F. Bakeman, of Freedom, New York, “the last pensionedsoldier of the Revolution,” died. A month later, workers drove in the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, uniting the United States – no longer these United States — with one transcontinental railway system.

So let’s toast our Merry Berry Bakemans on their 243rd anniversary. Their grueling lives evoke sympathy. Their marital fortitude and individual jauntiness merit mirroring. And the American democratic miracle they helped create inspires awe.