Bio File - Peter Francisco
One of the most colorful soldiers of the Revolutionary War, Peter Francisco (c. 1760-1830) was also a man of mystery. And he was probably the biggest and strongest man to serve in the war.
Francisco was found on a dock in the present Hopewell, Virginia., in 1765. Aged about five or six, he spoke Portuguese, and there is some evidence to suggest that he had been kidnapped from the Azores, possibly to be held for ransom, only to be abandoned by his captors when the money was not forthcoming. The boy was taken in by Judge Anthony Winston, an uncle of Patrick Henry. Big and strong even as a child, by 1775, aged about 16, Francisco stood some 6’6” tall, weighed 260 pounds, even bigger than George Washington, who, at 6’ 4” and about 220, was an unusually big man for his times. The young man was so strong he could lift a man in one hand. He soon volunteered for Continental Army.
Francisco’s size and strength stood him in good stead through nearly a dozen major battles, including Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, Stony Point, Camden, and Yorktown, not to mention numerous smaller engagements. Wounded five times, his exploits were so spectacular that he became a legend in his own time, and it is sometimes difficult to separate the truth from the myth. Thus, it seems likely that he really was the second man over the wall at Stony Point. But at Guilford Courthouse he slew only two of the enemy with the 5-foot broadsword that Washington had given him, not the eleven attributed to him by legend. Nor did he tote a cannon on his back during the retreat from Camden, though he did killed two of the enemy in that battle, one of whom had been about to do in Francisco’s regimental commander. One of the most spectacular tales told of him, does seem to have been true.
In mid-1781, having recovered from a bayonet wound to his leg incurred at Guilford Courthouse, Francisco went scouting to locate British raiders in Virginia. At Ward’s Tavern, in Amelia County, he was accosted by nine of Banastare Tarleton’s Tory dragoons, who tried rob him. Seizing a sword from one of them, Francisco killed two and put the rest to rout. He then made his escape on one of their horses, while stealing the rest of their mounts, getting away though hotly pursued by several more of the enemy.
After the war Francisco was variously a farmer, storekeeper, tavern keeper, and smith. In 1785 he married a well-dowered woman, and became a country squire. She died in 1790, and he married a second time. His new wife died in 1821, and two years later he married yet again. Settling in Richmond, he became Sergeant-at-Arms of the Virginia House of Delegates. In 1824 he accompanied his old comrade the Marquis de Lafayette on his tour of Virginia. Francisco, who had four sons and two daughters by his several wives, died in 1830, aged about 70 or 71, from an acute intestinal attack, generally believed to have been appendicitis.