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WWI’s Sgt. Clinton Peterson, Pride of Putnam

February 1, 2021, BREWSTER, NEW YORK — The Putnam County Historian’s Office has partnered with The Putnam County Courier to post a digital reference guide of Kent Cliffs native, Sgt. Clinton J. Peterson’s 1919 column, “My Year in France”.  It is a serialized record of Peterson’s experience as an African-American serving “191 days in the trenches” with the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, better known as the “Harlem Hell Fighters”, alongside the French during World War I.  His account was first published and heralded in the columns of The Courier over 100 years ago.

 “Making this resource available to the public is very important,” says Michael Bartolotti, Putnam County Clerk and Record Management Officer. “It is a terrific example of bringing Black History and service to our nation to light.  Sgt. Peterson’s detailed record of his service is the pride of Putnam and I’m pleased the Historian’s Office focused their efforts to get this done.”

 Records of Peterson’s service, along with his application for the Putnam County Honor Roll, can be found in the Putnam County Archives, located in Brewster, New York, under HC602, World War I Veterans Collection, 1918-1919.

 Highlights of Peterson’s account include the conditions of embarkation and sailing, “packed like sardines”  on the U.S.S. Pocahontas, sailing through submarine infested waters, arriving in France, marching past French families dressed in mourning clothes, being attached to the French Army, moving to the Front with their first entry into the trenches in the Champagne sector, gas attacks, the battle of the Argonne, survival, and eventually returning home.

 “All night long the enemy kept sending up rockets which made No Man’s Land as light as day…” – Sgt. Clinton J. Peterson

 This exact transcription from the columns of the century old newspaper, including dates, volume and page numbers, was painstakingly recorded and edited by the Historian’s Office staff so that it remained true to the original content. The digital document is now available for free download by teachers, students, researchers, and interested readers alike. 

  “We had not been in the trenches long before the Germans knew that a strange organization was opposing them, but they did not know who we were nor from whence we had come. They had seen and learned to fear the black soldier who came from the colonies of Africa and who delighted in cutting off ears, fingers and noses from their prisoners and tying them around their necks. But here was a regiment of black soldiers wearing the United States uniform, English gas mask, French helmet and equipment and who spoke English…”  – Sgt. Clinton J. Peterson

 The guide is already in use as reference for a local historical fiction writer and a Girl Scout Gold Award project to commemorate Peterson’s service in World War I and the history of the Putnam County Farm, currently known as Veterans Memorial Park in Kent, NY.  Kent is not only Peterson’s birthplace, but at one time during his youth, he lived at the County Farm, also known as the “Poor House” or “Almshouse”, with his mother who worked there in return for their room and board. 

  “We knew then, that we would see no infantry, as it was daylight, and the machine gun and rifle firing which we could hear on our left told us plainer than words that they had come over at that point and that, as we stood and listened, men were giving their lives to make the world safe for democracy.”  – Sgt. Clinton J. Peterson

 For the free digital download, please visit or for more information, please contact the Historian’s Office at 845-808-1420 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

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Welcome to the Putnam County Historian’s Office and Archives! We are located in Brewster, New York, in the lower Hudson River Valley region.

Our local government office preserves, interprets, and promotes the history of Putnam County. New York’s Town and Village Historians have been serving public history since 1919, in part to document World War I Veterans back into civilian life. 

Putnam County Office Building

40 Gleneida Avenue
Carmel, New York 10512

© 2005 - Putnam County Online

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