Family Genealogy - Geary or Gary Family Genealogy

Peter Gary, A Revolutionary War Soldier

The Garys appear to have been part of the exodus during the 1700's of peoples from the war torn and devastated area of Germany called the Palatinate. They were either German or German-speaking Swiss. There is some evidence the original name may have been Geri, Gehri, or something similar.

The earliest known progenitor of the Gary/Geary family in America was Peter Gary, a Revolutionary War soldier who enlisted in Northhampton County, Pennsylvania. He may have been from a German settlement in New Jersey. His brother Killian was married in Zion Lutheran Church in Hunterdon County New Jersey in what was then New Germantown and is now Oldwick. Peter appears to have read German and may have spoken it. He had two German Bibles in his possession and belonged to the German Reformed Church in Somerset County PA where he lived after about 1785.

Peter served as a fifer with the rank of sergeant in the 4th Regiment of Artillery, Pennsylvania Line. "Line" is the equivalent to today's National Guard. States furnished and paid their troops to support the federal army and navy.

Each company had a fifer and drummer, positions generally reserved for boys ages 10 to 17. Normal age for service was 18 to 53. Peter, who served from March 1782 to June 1783, was not assigned to a company, but to the regimental headquarters, as a member of the regimental band, rather than to a company.

This regiment did not always fight as one unit. For example, on March 12, 1782, a roster only by numbers of soldiers showed 70 were in eastern Pennsylvania, 34 at Pittsburgh, and 131 in South Carolina. If one can determine where the regimental commander was, Peter was probably nearby. Records, however, are poor.

The regiment during Peter's service was credited with service in two southern campaigns that resulted in the battles of Savannah and Charleston.

Many artifacts from these battles are on display in museums in Savannah and Charleston.

This is the site for music played by a reenactment group that once formed both Revolutionary and Civil War bands, but now does only the Civil War band. To our great fortune, the re-enactors recreated the band of the 4th Pa. Continental Artillery Regiment (officially, the 4th Continental Artillery Regiment Band of Musick, or the 4th CABOM, for short -- get it? Ka-boom!). The site includes mp3 music samples of what the band would have played on the instruments of the time. Peter played in this band.

David Geary is beginning to believe Peter played in a band that was more ceremonial than combat-oriented -- more to improve troop and public morale. He reported to a band conductor. Perhaps he also did some battle calls for the regiment. Note that in combat the colors and the musicians were targeted by the enemy first because they served as the lines of communication.

A 1782 regimental by-name roster in the Pennsylvania State Archives reveals those soldiers Peter mentioned in his pension application. Unfortunately, a 1930's interpretation of a 1782 clerk's poor handwriting placed Peter's name in Pennsylvania Archives as "Peter Gunner."

Peter and his brother Killian moved to what is now Somerset County in 1785 (the county was formed from Bedford County in 1795). Peter purchased 144 acres in Somerset County. At about that time land was selling there for 25 cents an acre. Subsequently, in 1807, Peter Gary learned of the Act of Congress which provided free land to revolutionary War veterans upon application. Peter asked if any land were available "on the Missouri." No such land was available. On November 25, 1808, the President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, and a future president, James Madison as Secretary of State, personally signed a grant of 100 acres to Peter Gary for his wartime service [Military Bounty Land Warrant 361, Act of 1806, Volume 211, pg 258, Order 201971, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.] The land was located in Coshocton County, Ohio [Lot 22, Section 2, Township 6 North, Range 6 West.] As was a widely accepted practice, it appears Peter Gary sold the grant almost as soon as he received it. Killian were awarded land near Lancaster Ohio for his wartime service and moved to Ohio and died on his farm there. At the time Peter and Killian moved to the Somerset area, it was virtually frontier country. Three years before in nearby Greeneville, Indians had massacred nine persons and captured twelve. It had been only 31 years since the young George Washington, seeking to oust the French from Fort Duquesne (present day Pittsburgh) was defeated at the Battle of Fort Necessity in what is now Fayette County, adjacent to Somerset.

Somerset County is beautiful, high, rolling country. However, it is so high the growing season is considerably shorter than lower lands in the same latitude. This may be the reason some of Peter's children and grandchildren moved to adjacent Fayette County, to nearby Greene County, PA, and to its adjacent neighbor, Marshall County VA (WV). Want to know what Somerset County was like in 1795? Check out this article from the Nov 1970 Laurel Messenger.

Peter married Catherine Kester, also of German descent. There are several anglicized versions of the name Kester, including Custer. We know virtually nothing about Catherine except that she lived to be quite old, probably 90 to 100 years. The couple was married 29 July 1790. They had ten children, so their descendants may very well number in the thousands.

There is much information on Peter and his descendants at the Somerset Historical Center (R.D. 2, Box 236, Somerset PA 15501), thanks to the research of several interested persons, and especially to the coordinating efforts of David Geary, a retired major of the Air Force. In 1991-1993 there was a flurry of activity led by David concerning Peter, his genealogy and his grave site. Largely through David's effort, the Schrock Cemetery, where Peter wished to be buried, was cleared of years of undergrowth and new headstones were provided for Peter, Catherine, and another Revolutionary soldier, John Gary, who, some believe, was the father of Peter. The land Peter owned is just a short distance from the cemetery. A colorful rededication ceremony, held at the cemetery 19 May 1993, was attended by some 200 persons from as many as eight states, many of them descendants. If you wish to have your name added to this list of researchers, and are willing to share your info with others, please contact

A portion of Peter's Revolutionary War pension file is available for download in PDF or JPEG format.

Peter left a will naming his wife and ten children including the spouses of his daughters. The will was later discounted but I have included a copy of it.

Peter and Catherine had the following children: (The link will take you to the database entry for each child. From that link you can obtain a descendant's chart in register format as well as the documentation available for that child.)

If you are a researcher on any of the Geary/Gary Family lines and are willing to share your research, I would be happy to add you to this list. You can fill in this form

Children of Peter Gary and Catherine Kester

  • Anna Elizabeth Gary married Paul Henry.
    This line ends here. No researchers that we are aware of.
  • Peter Gary, Jr. and Eve Helsel - This is by far, the largest line of descent and if you choose the register report, be aware that it is LARGE and may be difficult to load even with a high-speed connection.
  • Sarah Gary married Robert Clark
    This line ends here. No researchers that we are aware of.
  • Catherine Gary married James Mickey
  • Rebecca Gary married John Whipkey
    Researchers: None that we are aware of.
  • Mary Gary married George Lenhart
    • Researchers:
      • Bruce Deal (Hannah Lenhart and Balser Walter)
  • Jonathan Gary married Nancy Agnes Clark
  • Rosanna Gary married John G. Clark
    • Researchers:
      • Anthony Keefer - We owe Tony a special thank-you as he was the one who first made us aware of Peter Gary as the patriarch of this line. He very generously shared all of his information with us. Tony can be reached at (email verified 7/19/08)
  • Killian Gary married Patience Limber
  • Adam Gary married Susan Nicklow.
    • Researchers: