GREATON, JOHN. (1741–1783). Continental general. Massachusetts. Born on 10 March 1741 at Roxbury, John Greaton was the son of a small-time retail merchant who was also the last landlord of the famous Greyhound Tavern in Roxbury. The son joined his father in the family's businesses and opposed changes in imperial trade regulations after the French and Indian War, in which he apparently did not serve.
Although he was a member of the Anglican Church and accepted a commission from the royal governor as lieutenant in an elite militia unit on 18 November 1774, he also joined the Sons of Liberty and was one of fifteen local leaders chosen by their neighbors on 26 December 1774 to enforce the Continental Congress's nonimportation agreement. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress named him colonel of his local Suffolk County minuteman regiment, and he led part of the regiment in the pursuit of the British from Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775. On 19 May 1775 he was appointed lieutenant colonel of William Heath's regiment, raised for the siege of Boston. Promoted to colonel of the regiment on 1 July after Heath had been made a Continental brigadier general, he led raids on British depots during the siege, the most famous of which was against Long Island in Boston Harbor on 12 July 1775. In the reorganization of the Continental army for 1776, he was named colonel of the Twenty-fourth Continental Regiment on 1 January and on 15 April was ordered to Canada. After arduous and demoralizing service in the north, he took command of the Thirty-Sixth Continental Regiment in October and was named on 1 November 1776 as colonel of the new Third Massachusetts Regiment for 1777. In December 1776 he joined Washington's army and took part in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. He served in Brigadier General John Nixon's brigade in opposing Burgoyne's invasion in 1777, then became senior officer at Albany and for a time commanded the Northern Department.
Greaton served with his regiment in the main army for the remainder of the war, and as a colonel was given permanent command of the Third Massachusetts Brigade in August 1782. The delay in his promotion to brigadier general seems to have been a result of the reduction in size of the Massachusetts Line, not because he took an active part in expressing to Congress the distress and unrest in the army. He was being considered for promotion in December 1782 when he joined with officers from five states to ask Congress to commute half-pay for life for retired officers, already promised, into five years of full pay or a single lump sum payment. Several months later, Congress agreed to give officers five years of full pay after it had appointed Greaton brigadier general on 7 January 1783. He retired on 3 November and died 16 December 1783 at Roxbury.
Massachusetts, Secretary of the Commonwealth. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War: A Compilation from the Archives. 17 vols. Boston, Massachusetts: Wright and Potter Printing Company, State Printers, 1896–1908.
revised by Harold E. Selesky