Joseph Nevitt, Minuteman


In the Upper Burial Ground of Georgetown’s Holy Trinity Church, now Holy Rood Cemetery, the long-forgotten grave of a Revolutionary soldier was honored on July 8, 2000.






At the western edge of Holy Rood Cemetery, in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington D.C.,  is a small headstone that reads: J. Nevitt. Died Oct. 25, 1834, aged 85.

What Nevitt might have been, or done, in his lifetime, is not to be learned from those few words, but Nevitt was probably one of the last living veterans of the War of Independence to be seen on the streets of Georgetown. The old soldier was eighty when Congress enacted legislation to award pensions to surviving veterans of the Revolution.

In his application, in 1833, Nevitt states that he became a Minuteman when the news of the battle at Bunker Hill reached him in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. The Potomac shore of Maryland was being raided by Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, whose ultimate goal was to sail up the Potomac, occupy Alexandria, and divide the colonies in two. Dunmore’s plan was thwarted by the resistance he met in southern Maryland. Minutemen assembled wherever the governor’s fleet appeared. After the battle at St. George’s Island (where Nevitt saw action), Dunmore withdrew.

Congress granted Nevitt’s pension, but he had less than two years to enjoy his seventy dollars a year. When he died he was laid to rest in the Upper Graveyard of Georgetown’s Trinity Church, which we know as Holy Rood Cemetery.

On July 8th, 2000, one hundred and sixty-five years after his death, the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution unveiled a bronze plaque over Joseph Nevitt’s rediscovered grave, and the old soldier was honored by the unfurling of Old Glory, and the sounding of Taps.











The Color Guard of the District of Columbia National Guard, Holy Rood Cemetery, July 8th, 2000.


“A Marker of Honor for Revolutionary War Soldier”, Washington Post, July 9, 2000, C3




“Revolutionary Vet Draws Final Honor”, Georgetown Current, July 12, 2000



“Revolutionary Vet Draws Final Honor”, Georgetown Current, July 12, 2000













“A Revolutionary Find”, Georgetown Current, February 3, 1999

“GU Opts To Allow Revolutionary Memorial”, Georgetown Current, March 31, 1999

“Maryland Minuteman”, Catholic Standard, July 6, 2000, p.28

“A Marker of Honor for Revolutionary War Soldier”, Washington Post, July 9, 2000, C3

“Revolutionary Vet Draws Final Honor”, Georgetown Current, July 12, 2000

“Unearthing Cemetery’s Past History”, Georgetown Current, October 30, 2002





Notes and Sources


While date of Joseph Nevitt’s death is known, the year of his birth is uncertain. When Joseph Nevitt applied for his pension in 1832, he stated that he was eighty (i.e. born 1752), but that he had no record of his birth. The age given by the tombstone inscription, on the other hand, would suggest that he was born in 1749. It is possible that the priest estimated Nevitt’s age.

Further confusion exists because there is another Joseph Nevitt, born 1769; married Barbara Willett, August 16, 1805; died October 8, 1831. (Dates from a family bible, courtesy of a descendant.) This is most likely a son, Joseph Nevitt, Jr.  (D.C. Probate and Estate Records, bond filed November 1, 1831)

1705 St. Mary’s County Rent Rolls show a Richard Nevitt at “Nevitt’s St. Ann”, 100 acres on the south side of Bretton Bay, near the town of Bretton; John Nevitt, at “Knevet’s Beginning”, 100 acres on Newtown Neck between St. Clements Bay and Bretton Bay; and John Nevitt, at “John Nevitt’s Land”, 50 acres on the Potomac River, between Poplar Hill Creek and Bleak creek, south of Bretton Bay.

Father Joseph Walton baptized Ann, daughter of Joseph and Ann Nevitt, at Newtown, Maryland (St. Francis Xavier), June 18, 1778.

The 1790 census of St. Mary’s County, Maryland shows a Joseph Nevett, head of family. The household includes 4 free white males over 16, 2 free white males under 16, 3 free white females, and a slave.

Nevitt stated in his pension application that he lived in St. Mary’s County “until the year 1791, when I removed to Washington county in the District of Columbia, where I have continued to reside ever since.”

In the 1800 census a Joseph Nevitt appears in D.C. (and a Joseph Nevett is listed in the 4th District of Montgomery County).

In 1808 Henry Gaither bought and improved a lot on the west side of High street, B&H 266 (on Wisconsin Avenue, just below Calvert Street. Gaither, veteran of the Revolutionary War, died in 1811. A few years later Joseph Nevitt owned the lot, which now had two houses on it. Nevitt advertised that it was particularly suitable for a gardener (i.e., someone who grew produce for the market) because it had a well. But, Nevitt also thought it had possibilities as an inn, and described it as “well-situated for a wagon stand and house of entertainment for travelers”. (The sale was to be at auction, but since Nevitt was still paying taxes for these houses the following year, it may be that he did not find his price.)  (Federal Republican, November 23 through December 15, 1812)

Many references in District records link the Nevitt family to other families who all kept inns and taverns. Joseph Nevitt, Jr. married Barbara Willet, of a family that had the Spinning Wheel tavern and blacksmith shop on River Road near what is now Ridgefield Road, near Willet Branch, in the area now known as Westbard. (Hopkins Atlas of Montgomery County, Maryland, 1879; Margaret Loughborough and James H. Johnston, The Recollections of Margaret Cabell Brown Loughborough: A Southern Woman’s Memories of Richmond, Va. and Washington, DC, in the Civil War, 2010, p.9; David Nathan, Amy Rispin, L. Paige Whitley, “Tracing a Bethesda, Maryland, African American Community and its Contested Cemetery”, Washington History, Fall 2017, pp.24-41)

John Tennally (whose name survives in Tenleytown) kept an inn; when his sister and heir Sarah wrote her will, Joseph Nevitt, Jr. was her executor, and Barbara Nevitt her witness. Sarah Tennally’s house and furniture went to the daughter of Theophilus Robey, an innkeeper with whom Joseph Nevitt owned land in partnership. A Joseph Nevitt was one of the executors of Robey’s will. Henry Riszner also had an inn in Tenleytown, but in 1816 he sold it and bought one of Joseph Nevitt’s houses in this neighborhood.

In the 1820 census a Joseph Nevitt is shown on the west side of Rock Creek, a neighbor of Sarah Tennelly.

Joseph Nevitt, the Minuteman in the American Revolution, can be found in the 1830 DC census (pp.200-1), in Tenleytown, D.C., aged 70-80.

The elder Joseph Nevitt appeared in DC Circuit Court Jan. 8, 1833, stating his age as 80, a resident of Washington County, DC. In his affidavit he describes himself as a Minuteman, who served whenever called, three to six times a year, every year, from 1775 until the end of the war, in the fall of the year 1783.





The only surviving witness of Nevitt’s service was an 87-year old cousin named Henrietta Simpson, who gave a deposition in support of his claim. Other deponents on Nevitt’s behalf were Nathan Luffborough, Lewis Carbery, Isaac Peirce, Charles A. Beatty, Thomas Hyde, and the Revd. S.L. Dubuisson, “Pastor of the Church to which I belong” (i.e. Holy Trinity, Georgetown). (Pension File S11136, indexed in 1870 in Vol. A, page 274. Roll 1809 of Microfilm M-804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files 1800-1900, frame 0466.  (National Archives).

Joseph Nevitt’s pension, under an act of June 7, 1832, was granted January 30, 1833, and was retro-active to March 4, 1831.  (District of Columbia File, Revolutionary Pensioners, DAR Library)



Final Payment Voucher Received From General Accounting Office, indexed in Vol. C, pp.199-224 (missing after 1953, but index of vouchers made in that year) .




Trinity Church Death Register, p.60: Joseph Nevitt, died October 25, 1834, aged 85, full pay range, Trinity Church upper grave yard.



The match of dates in these two separate records proves that the man buried at Holy Rood was the man who drew the pension for service in the Revolutionary War.

Selden Marvin Ely, the author of the most comprehensive attempt to list the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers, was unaware of Joseph Nevitt. (The District of Columbia in the American Revolution, and Patriots of the Revolutionary Period Who Are Interred in the District or in Arlington, Records of the Columbia Historical Society (1918), Vol.21, p.129)


“Mr. Nevitt’s grandfather took an honorable part in the revolutionary war, and lived to a very advanced age, and Mr. Nevitt was rich in colonial and revolutionary incidents, which he gathered from his grandfather.”  (“Death of Robert Nevitt“, Evening Star, February 18, 1895, p.10)




 Carlton Fletcher

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