March 14, 1760 -March 13, 1865
Served in Continental Army & Navy.
Born in Quebec Alexander Milliner moved to upstate New York in his youth where he had countless encounters with the French and Indians in the Mohawk Valley. At the age of 104 he was photographed and interviewed, along with five others, as one of the last surviving veterans of the American Revolution. Milliner served six and a half years in the Continental Army during the War of Independence. His mother had followed him in camp as a washerwoman. Too young to serve in the ranks, Milliner (enlisting under his step-father's surname of Mahoney) served as a drummer boy in Washington's Life Guard for four years.
General and Mrs. Washington were fond of the lad. After playing his tattoo of reveille, his commander would often pat him on the head and call him his boy. Washington also made a personal request of Milliner that he play the drum to impress a guest, for which he received hearty tips with which he purchased tea for his mother. On one bitter cold morning, Washington gave him a drink from his own flask. One time the general even paused to show the boy and his peers how to "jerk" a stone across the river.
Milliner's remembrances of his commander were that "He was always pleasant, never changed in countenance, but wore the same in defeat and retreat as he did in victory." He recalled Lady Washington as being "Short, thick, very pleasant and kind. She used to visit the hospital, was kind-hearted and had motherly care." He observed that she fastened her clothing with "thorns instead of pins" during the winter at Valley Forge.
|Spirit of '76 by Archibald Willard|
Drummer boy Alexander Milliner is said to be the inspiration for the painting, Spirit of '76. He was present (first as a drummer, later as a soldier) at the battles of Brandywine, Monmouth (where he was shot in the thigh after a bullet passed through his drum), Saratoga, White Plains, and Yorktown (where he was present for Cornwallis's surrender). Milliner went on to serve six and a half more years in the United States Navy during the War of 1812. He served upon the frigate Constitution for three years and was on board during the capture of British vessels Cyane and Levant. Later he was gravely wounded and taken prisoner by the French.
Alexander Milliner went on to become a farmer and married at the age of thirty-nine. He and his wife, Abigail, had nine children, forty-three grandchildren, seventeen great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren. He was blessed to have never had a "death in the family or coffin in the house" in the sixty-two years of their marriage. He was able to cultivate his own garden even at the ripe old age of 102. It was said about him that "His temperament has even been free, happy, jovial, careless; and to this, doubtless, is largely owing the extreme prolongation of his life. He has been throughout life full of jokes; in the army he was the life of the camp; could dance and sing, and has always taken the world easily, “nothing troubling him over five minutes at a time,” care finding it impossible to fasten itself upon him, and so, after trial, letting him alone. His spirts have always been buoyant, nothing depressing him."
Mr. Milliner remained patriotic until the end of his days, lamenting during the Civil War that it was “too bad that this country, so hardly got, should be destroyed by its own people.” He longed to play his drum for the volunteers at the beginning of the Civil War. True to the Union cause, at age 102, he presided over meeting to raise recruits for a local regiment which was received with much enthusiasm. During a tribute to him upon his 104th birthday he exhorted his community to remain true to their country.