Profiles in Awesomeness: Peter Francisco

It stands to reason that the superheroes we see on the big screen — Batman, Superman, Captain America — bare a resemblance to the people who live among us. The qualities and attributes that we respect and stand in awe of are magnified by writers and artists. Those superheroes we laugh and cry with only evoke such reactions because we can see part of ourselves, some humanity, in these figures who initially appear larger than life.

Among us mortal people have walked a few titans who have simply defied logic. They cram so much awesomeness into their lives that we are left stunned and humbled, heads shaking and mouths agape. However, many of these men and women have escaped the attention of the masses. And so, we bring you the first edition of Profiles in Awesomeness.

Peter Francisco

Steven Francisco

photo credit: Library of Congress

As with all good stories, Peter Francisco’s begins shrouded in mystery:

He first appeared at a Virginian wharf in 1765 at the age of five, unable to communicate with anyone. He was put in the poorhouse until a local judge, Antony Wilson, heard of the strange child and took him into his house. The only words the boy spoke were “Pedro Francisco.” Being good English folk, the Wilson family thought that Pedro wasn’t a proper name, so they opted for “Peter.” Once Peter was able to speak English, he told his adopted family he had grown up in a mansion on the coast. He told them that one day he was seized by a number of men, taken aboard a ship, and brought to America, where the captain left him ashore.

In 1971, an American researcher investigated the claims made by Francisco and concluded his story fell in line with a legend from the Azores. According to the tale, the powerful Francisco family, afraid of political opponents, shipped their child Pedro away to keep him from harm.

Whatever the story, Peter Francisco grew up in colonial Virginia. In his teenage years, he began to garner attention from local people due to his size. Later in life, he would grow to 6’8, weighing a mighty 260 pounds. Fittingly for his size, Francisco became a blacksmith.

In 1775, a year that erupted the passions of the American colonists against the British, Wilson brought Francisco to a meeting of the Virginia Convention. While there, legend goes that a fight broke out at a bar and Francisco intervened. He grabbed the two men, lifted them into the air, and knocked them together until the fight was shook out of them.

Later in the convention, Francisco stood outside St. John’s Church while his step-cousin, Patrick Henry, gave a speech. Henry’s words, “give me liberty or give me death!” echoed though the air and the minds of all present. Francisco was so inspired that he enlisted in the American army the next year at the age of 16 and thrust himself into Revolutionary War lore.

In his first battle at Brandywine Creek in 1777, the colonial troops were defeated but Francisco was part of the regiment that held off the British so the rest could retreat. He was wounded, and while recovering Francisco became friends with General Marquis de Lafayette (the “Hero of Two Worlds“).

Two years and two major wounds later, Peter Francisco found himself attacking Stony Point with General “Mad” Antony Wayne. Even after sustaining a significant wound in his stomach Francisco led the charge into the English fort. He killed three English soldiers, and captured the English flag.

In 1778, while in Virginia, Francisco joined the militia to help check British advances on Savannah. The Battle of Camden followed in 1780 and was one of the most one-sided battles in American history. The English suffered slightly more than 300 causalties, while the American forces figure stood at 900, with 1,000 captured. For Francisco, it was where his legend grew by leaps and bounds:

At the end of the battle, Francisco bayoneted a mounted Englishman, lifted him from the horse, then climbed on himself and escaped the battlefield. Once he caught up with the American forces, he gave the horse to his exhausted colonel. According to legend, Francisco then noticed one of the valuable American cannons was stuck deeply in the mud and had been left for lost by the retreating forces. He stepped into the mud, lifted out the cannon, and carried it on his shoulder to prevent the English from taking possession of it. Peter Francisco, according to the masses, was the strongest man alive in America. No small claim.

Francisco continued to impress for the next 50 years. Highlights include:

  • Killed 14 men (including one whose head was chopped in half) at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. (93 British soldiers were killed in the battle, so Francisco personally accounted for 15% of casualties. 4,500 Americans fought that day.)
  • Learned to read within three years at the age of 21.
  • Granted a monthly pension by Congress in 1819.
  • Visited by Marquis de Lafayette after becoming a hero of the French Revolution.
  • Became the obvious choice for the next movie starring The Rock.

For more stories about Peter Francisco, visit Historynet.

photo credit: Library of Congress