My ancestor, Pedro Francisco, was born on July 9th, 1760 to a wealthy family in the beautiful Azores Islands. Five years later, young Pedro’s life was changed forever when he was kidnapped by pirates and never saw his family again. About six weeks after the kidnapping, he was abandoned on a dock in Virginia and, in fact a monument stands in Hopewell, Virginia in honor of where he was found.
Despite his fine European clothes, his fate was ultimately decided by his dark, swarthy skin color. Now in the New World, his name was changed to Peter and Judge Anthony Winston, Patrick Henry’s uncle, took him in to work on his 3,600-acre plantation. The Judge had several children of his own who received a good education, but Peter was treated as a slave and was not taught to read or write.
In March of 1775, Judge Winston took Peter Francisco to the Virginia Convention at Saint John’s Church in Richmond. Peering through the window of the church, Peter heard Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech which ignited a passion for freedom within him.
Francisco was a 6’6” tall giant weighing 260 pounds when he joined the 10th Virginia Regiment in December of 1776. Standing a foot taller than the average man on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, his huge frame was too big for the average size sword; a shortcoming that George Washington would later remedy.
Peter’s military record shows that he participated in most of the major encounters of the Revolution in the North and South. He was wounded in the battles of Brandywine and Monmouth and was even hospitalized at Valley Forge with George Washington’s men. But, it was the Battle of Stony Point, on the Hudson River, where Peter Francisco became known as the “Hercules of the Revolution.”
Washington had assembled a team of twenty commandos to forge a path through a swamp and scale a 300-foot rock face wall to get inside the British fortress. Peter was the second man over the wall and killed two Redcoats before taking a nine-inch gash in the abdomen. With blood pouring out of his gaping wound, he reached the Union Jack flag and collapsed on it as the Continental Army stormed the fort. Only three commandos survived the initial raid, and Peter was among them.
Peter’s wound healed and the fighting now moved to the South. During this time, Francisco was at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina when the Continental Army was in a disorderly retreat. While his comrades ran from the field of battle, he used his Samson-like strength to pick up an 1,100-pound cannon out of its carriage and onto a horse drawn wagon. This story was immortalized on a bicentennial stamp in 1976.
On March 13th of 1781, George Washington had a six-foot broadsword delivered to Peter just two days before the critical Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Peter used his massive sword to kill 11 Redcoats and a monument now stands in Greensboro, North Carolina in honor of his fierce fighting that day. Three states now observe Peter Francisco Day – Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts – every March 15th, and I have been working with the North Carolina’s politicians on passing a similar resolution.
George Washington later said, “Without him, we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the war, and with it our freedom. He was truly a one-man army.” These famous words were engraved on a monument in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, Peter’s story is not widely known today, but I have committed my life to telling his story. I published a historical novel called Hercules of the Revolution, and I produced the first documentary called The Peter Francisco Story, which currently airs around the country on select stations. As an actor, I also enjoy performing dramatic impersonations of Peter’s life at different venues around the country.
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