Lt. Ebenezer Denny

Lt. Ebenezer Denny
Courtesy of Harmar Denny Denny, Member, Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati

Ebenezer Denny was born in Carlisle on 11 March 1761, the oldest child of William and Agnes (Parker) Denny, who had come to Cumberland County, then Lancaster County, from Chester County about 1745. William Denny was the first Coroner of Cumberland County, the contractor for the building of the first courthouse in Carlisle, and became Commissary of Issues there during the war.

Ebenezer’s uncles were the revolutionary soldiers Richard and Andrew Parker, who after the war removed to Kentucky, and Captain Alexander Parker [an Original Member of the Society]. Another uncle, Captain Walter Denny of the Pennsylvania Militia, was killed at the Battle of Crooked Billet, about fifteen miles from Philadelphia, on 1 May 1778; his son, serving with the father, was captured and imprisoned aboard the Jersey prison-ship.

William H. Denny in 1859 said that Ebenezer’s father,

a highminded and gentlemanly man, fell away in his habits and circumstances. Ebenezer, therefore, felt that he ought to endeavor to assist them, as well as to support himself. At the age of thirteen [i.e., in 1774], he obtained employment as a bearer of dispatches to the commandant at Fort Pitt.

He was described at the time as “a slender, fair, blue-eyed, red-haired boy…”

Denny correctly thought that more profitable ventures could be found. Going to Philadelphia he shipped as supercargo in a letter-of-marque vessel on which he did well during the vessel’s actions in the Gulf of Mexico. He apparently returned to Carlisle to resuscitate his father’s business, or start one of his own, but 4 August 1780 was given a commission as Ensign in the First Pennsylvania Regiment. He joined his unit at York in time for the short-lived mutiny that occurred there; his journal description of Wayne’s actions has already been given.

The printed version of Denny’s journal covers the years from 1781 to 1795, with many lacunae, whether by him or his editor. It is notable for the insight he gave for day-to-day military actions and circumstances. It is interesting to see the young officer’s growing maturity and confidence in himself. His account of the battle of Green Spring has been cited; he was also present at Yorktown and would have there planted the American flag if Steuben, who had accompanied Denny’s regiment, had not done so himself.

Denny was among the officers of the three Pennsylvania regiments that marched south with St. Clair after Yorktown. Upon completion of the Southern Campaign the Pennsylvanians returned to Philadelphia by sea and arrived just in time for the Revolt of June 1783. Afterwards, Denny returned to Carlisle with his uncle Captain Alexander Parker and retired from the Continental Army as a Lieutenant in November.

Although Denny had signed the “Barracks Roll” of the Society of the Cincinnati in August 1783, in 1789 from Fort Harmar he sent the Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania the following certificate signed by Josiah Harmar and others:

These are to certify that Ensign Ebenezer Denny has served in the Pennsylvania line with great reputation from the 12th day of September 1780, being the date of his commission, until the expiration of the late war, and is entitled to become a Member of the Society of the Cincinnati. N.B. Ensign Denny has a Lieutenant’s Commission dated the 23rd. May 1781.

To this Denny added on 26 January 1789,

I, Ebenezer Denny late a Lieutenant in the Pennsylvania Line, do authorize my friend General Richard Butler to enter my name upon the record of the Society of the Cincinnati, for the purpose of becoming a member of the same.

Congress reluctantly resuscitated an army for the United States in June 1784, and on the recommendation of Josiah Harmar [an Original Member of the Society] Denny was commissioned Ensign on 12 August. He marched recruits to Fort Pitt in September and from that time became identified with the growing town there. The story of the military in the Northwest has already been outlined and can be followed in greater detail in the sources cited therefor. Denny was present at the Treaty at Fort McIntosh in 1785 and was an active participant in the Indian wars that succeeded. He was commissioned Lieutenant in November 1787, and retained that rank in the First Infantry in September 1789.

In October 1790 Harmar’s expedition against Native American towns in the Maumee country in Ohio ended in failure with more than two hundred of his command killed. He was replaced by Arthur St. Clair, who in November 1791 met a defeat even more disastrous for the Americans, with than six hundred men killed. Denny wrote on 18 November at Fort Washington (Cincinnati),

The remains of our wretched army are encamped in front of the fort. Every necessary provision ordered to make the men as comfortable as possible, but the weather has been cold and wet, with snow, and a very considerable number of officers and men are laid up. The General [St. Clair], has been much indisposed….

Denny was sent back to Philadelphia as the bearer of the official dispatches. He did not rejoin the army but resigned his commission 1 May 1792 and was not present at Wayne’s triumph at Fallen Timbers in 1794.

Denny’s entrance into civil life was for the moment a brief one, but on 1 July 1793, at the age of thirty-two he married Nancy, daughter of John Wilkins, Sr. The family, like the Dennys, were from Carlisle, but Wilkins had removed to Pittsburgh in October 1783. He had been captain of a volunteer company that had fought at Brandywine.

Denny now entered in his journal,

In the winter of 1793-4 the western frontiers of Pennsylvania lay much exposed to the inroads of the Native Americans; frequent depredations were committed. General Wayne had removed and taken with him down the Ohio, the whole of the troops of the United States, leaving at Fort Franklin only a subaltern and twenty men. I had occasion to be in Philadelphia about this time, when Governor Mifflin communicated to me a plan which he recommended to the Legislature for the protection of the western frontiers. This plan was adopted, and an act passed authorizing him to appoint and raise in Philadelphia a company of artillery, and in the western counties three companies of riflemen. A very favorite object of the Governor, and which was approved by the Legislature, was the establishment of a post at Presqu’Isle, on Lake Erie. The command intended for this favorite object was to be composed of detachments from each of the four companies, to consist of a captain, four subalterns and one hundred and seven non-commissioned and privates.

March 1st, 1794.-I was commissioned captain of the company to be raised in the county of Allegheny, and especially appointed to the command of the Presqu’Isle detachment….

On 31 May 1795,

As every difficulty seems to have ceased, and my young family not in a situation to be left, have recommended the Govenor to transfer the command and the duty of escourting the commissioners in laying out the town [Erie], the only business now to be done, to Captain Buchanan, who appears well qualified for this service.

Denny purchased a farm with a mill about six miles from Pittsburgh near the Monongahela River. In 1796 he was elected a Commissioner for Allegheny County and moved his family to Pittsburgh, where he was one of the Trustees of the First Presbyterian Church. About 1800 Denny entered into a partnership with Anthony Beelen, a Belgian, for the establishment of a glass factory on the Ohio. In 1803 Denny was Treasurer of the county, and again in 1808. In 1804 he was appointed a director of the Branch of the Bank of Pennsylvania established that year at Pittsburgh, the first bank west of the Alleghenies. He served as Commissary of Purchases for the Pennsylvania troops on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812, and on the incorporation of the City of Pittsburgh in 1816 was elected its first Mayor.

Mrs. Denney had died on 1 May 1806 in her thirty-first year, and in the summer of 1822 while on a visit to Niagara Falls Denny was taken ill. Although he was able to return to Pittsburgh, he died there on 21 July. Both were buried in the churchyard of the First Presbyterian Church, but in 1902 their remains and many others were reinterred in Allegheny Cemetery. There were three sons and two daughters.