Hero's Early Life a Mystery; Francisco Wounded, Fought in Key Battles

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 27, 2009 | Go to article overview

Hero's Early Life a Mystery; Francisco Wounded, Fought in Key Battles


Byline: Peter Cliffe, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Physically huge, utterly fearless and passionately patriotic, Peter Francisco won the awed respect of all who knew his prowess on the battlefield. But though he was to become famous, his origins remain mysterious.

Probably born in 1760, apparently at Terceira in the Portuguese Azores, he must have been about 4 or 5 when he was found abandoned on the wharf at City Point (now Hopewell) in Virginia. However, he was no ragged waif, but very well dressed - and already big for his age. He spoke only Portuguese.

Inevitably, he ended up in a poorhouse, from which he was rescued by Judge Anthony Winston, who took the boy to his farm in Buckingham County. Originally his name was Pedro, but this was soon changed to Peter. He became the judge's ward.

By his early teens, Francisco was more than 6 feet tall and still growing. Eventually, he reached 6 feet 6 inches and weighed 260 pounds. He was to become an active and physically powerful man. Filled with a love of his new country, he enlisted at 15 in the 10th Virginia Regiment to fight the British.

In September 1777, he was involved in the ferocious battle of Brandywine, in Pennsylvania. There, he and the young Marquis de Lafayette were wounded. It was to be the start of their permanent friendship.

Francisco was not seriously hurt, and the following month, he was in the thick of the fighting at Germantown, Pa. British and American losses were high in this savage conflict. A natural target, given his height and bulk, Francisco was lucky to survive.

Francisco had no easy time throughout the War of Independence. He was among Gen. George Washington's troops when they endured a terrible winter at Valley Forge. He fought on, being severely wounded when Washington attacked a retreating British army at Monmouth Court House in New Jersey. Although he never fully recovered from the injuries he received on that occasion, he chose to re-enlist. A thoroughly hardened trooper, he was only about 16.

In a failed attempt to seize the fortifications at Stony Point, N.Y., Francisco was wounded yet again during hand-to-hand fighting. Again, his magnificent constitution pulled him through.

When he had sufficiently recovered to fight again, he enlisted in the Virginia Militia Regiment, led by Col. William Mayo. It has to be said that the regiment's untried men did not distinguish themselves. Ranged against Lord Charles Cornwallis' British regulars, they and other army units broke and ran when attacked. …

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