Thirty years ago, Dutch Henderson was “stomping through the woods” near Lake Sinclair in central Georgia when he stumbled upon an old gravestone. Some might have thought it an odd spot for a grave, but Dutch knew the history of the area and it made sense. In fact, the setting told him the man six feet under had played an important role in American history.
The inscription on the marker read: “CORP. DRURY JACKSON, SLAUGHTER’S CO. 8 VA. REGT. REV. WAR.” Why was this headstone for a Revolutionary War soldier all alone in the woods near a lake? Time changes things. Neither the lake nor the woods were there when Drury Jackson died. Back then the grave was on cleared ground overlooking the Oconee River. Depressions in the soil still reveal to the trained eye that Drury was buried in proper cemetery. The river became a lake in 1953 when it was dammed up to create a 45,000-kilowatt hydroelectric generating station. When Dutch found the grave, the cemetery had been neglected and reclaimed by nature. Today it is in a copse of trees surrounded by vacation homes.
Dutch spends his free time studying local history and conducting archeology. He has made some important finds, including a string of frontier forts along what was once the “far” side of the Oconee. He’s pretty sure that Drury’s burial in that spot is an important clue to his life in the years following the Revolutionary War. From there, however, things get complicated.
...continue to Emerging Revolutionary War Era.
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One of the great adventures of early American national history is the Lewis & Clark Expedition, which began in 1803. There is a close tie between the Corps of Discovery and the 8th Virginia: William Clark was the youngest brother of Captain Jonathan Clark. Middle brother John Clark was a 2nd lieutenant in Robert Higgins’ company. (Another brother was Gen. George Rodgers Clark, famous for leading the Virginia’s Illinois Regiment in the Northwest.)
There seems to be another connection, as well. Among the first recruits for the Corps of Discovery were privates Reuben and Joseph Field. They signed up in Kentucky (where the entire extended Clark family now lived) but were—according to various sources—born in Culpeper County, Virginia. Meriwether Lewis said the brothers were “two of the most active and enterprising young men who accompanied us. It was their peculiar fate to have been engaged in all the most dangerous and difficult scenes of the voyage, in which they uniformly acquited themselves with much honor.”
Three decades earlier, five men with the same last name enlisted in Capt. George Slaughter’s Culpeper County company of the 8th Virginia: Abraham, Henry, William, Larkin, and Reuben. This Reuben Field cannot be the Reuben Field from the Corps of Discovery, but there is every reason to believe they were closely related—perhaps first cousins or an uncle and a nephew. Genealogies posted on the internet show a large extended family that frequently used certain given names—Abraham, William, Reuben, Henry, and others—in many generations and collateral lines. They are consequently difficult to navigate.
Captain Slaughter was himself married to Mary Ann Field, the daughter of Culpeper County’s Col. John Field (who fought at Braddock’s Defeat and died at the Battle of Point Pleasant). Mary Ann’s mother mother is identified as Anna Rogers Clark, who has been erroneously identified as the sister of the regiment’s Jonathan and John. Another genealogy seems to indicate that she was the aunt of the Corps of Discovery’s Reuben and Joseph. Colonial Virginia was a small place, genealogically speaking. It is entirely possible that Mary Ann was related to the famous Clarks.
The 8th Virginia's Reuben appears to be the son of William Feld and Hanna Roberts Field. Genealogists state Reuben’s birth date as November 11, 1757 and the month of his death as April, 1815. This aligns with Virginia veterans records. This Reuben had a unique career in the war. He enlisted as a private early in 1776 but soon managed to get appointed as a cadet (an officer in training), still with the 8th Virginia. He was commissioned an ensign in March of 1777 and was a lieutenant by the Battle of Germantown, where he was captured. He was later exchanged, promoted to captain, and served nearly to the end of the war.
Abraham Field was among the many 8th Virginia men to succumb to malaria during their southern campaign of 1776. He died on August 6 of that year. The same Virginia records indicate that he was Reuben’s elder brother. The 8th Virginia’s Henry Field, the original 1st lieutenant of Slaughter’s company, also contracted malaria. He went home on an extended furlough and died in 1778, probably from complications caused by malaria. He, however, does not appear to be our Reuben’s brother (though our Reuben had a brother of the same name). Almost certainly a cousin.
This is all very confusing. Obvious errors in online genealogies confuse the matter further. I have made a point of avoiding genealogical investigations in this project, leaving that to the descendants of the men. Family relationships, however, were a major factor in the life of the 8th Virginia. Officers were given recruitment quotas in 1776 and looked first to those closest to them. Those who were not related before the war became related, in many instances, in the years after it.
If anyone knows of an authoritative genealogy of the Fields family and can help connect the five soldiers of the 8th Virginia with the two brothers of the Corps of Discovery, I will be very grateful.
Read More: "George Slaughter: Louisville's Forgotten Founder."
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Most of the enlisted men of the Revolutionary War are faceless and forgotten—just names on lists. Biographies and painted portraits are honors that were reserved for officers. Even so, it is possible to trace the lives of some common soldiers using original sources. Many of them applied for pensions after 1818, which required them to provide (usually brief) narratives of their service. Some gave similar attestations when they applied for military bounty land. A small number left detailed accounts of their experiences in interviews, letters, or diaries. Finally, and very rarely, we have photographs taken in the last years of some veterans’ lives. Virginian John Cuppy may be the only Revolutionary War soldier to leave us an artifact in each of these categories.
Cuppy was born near Morristown, New Jersey on March 11, 1761. While still an infant, he was brought to Hampshire County, Virginia by his German parents. Their new home was on the South Branch of the Potomac River near the town of Romney, which is now in West Virginia. About forty miles west of the Shenandoah Valley, this was the very edged of settled Virginia territory. John was just fourteen years old when the war began—too young to be a candidate for service when Hampshire was directed to raise a rifle company in July of 1775. He was still too young when Dutch-descended Capt. Abel Westfall recruited a company there that winter for Col. Peter Muhlenberg’s new 8thVirginia Regiment.
...continue to Emerging Revolutionary War Era.
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Why Germans? The 8th Virginia Regiment of Foot was authorized by the revolutionary Virginia Convention on December 13, 1775. It had no numeric designation yet, but was intended to be unique in two ways. It would be ethnically-based and all of its men would carry rifles. It was conceived as a “battalion” to “be composed of Germans, with German officers.”
The concept may have originated with the Rev. Peter Muhlenberg and Jonathan Clark, both delegates from Dunmore County in the Shenandoah Valley. Dunmore (now called Shenandoah County) was the cultural hub of German life in the Valley. It is inconceivable that the resolution could have been drafted without the involvement of at least Muhlenberg and probably of Clark as well. Muhlenberg was the Rector of Beckford Parish, the geography of which was identical to that of Dunmore County. His church was at Woodstock, the county seat. He was, however, more than just the community’s pastor. He was the son of the patriarch or the Lutheran Church in America, whose church was in the village of Trappe near Philadelphia. Clark was the county’s deputy clerk, an important job, under Thomas Marshall (soon to be colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment and father of future Chief Justice John Marshall).
The Shenandoah Valley’s Germans had nearly all come the way Muhlenberg had: down the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road to Virginia. The road passed through communities that remain heavily German to this day, such as Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Scotch-Irish immigrants followed the same route, but tended to settle farther south in the Valley, around Staunton and Augusta County.
Lutheran Germans like Muhlenberg were seen by the Virginia gentry as reasonably reliable and trustworthy. Their theology differed little from the Church of England. Muhlenberg had, in fact, gone to London to be ordained before taking his position in Woodstock. (King George III was himself of German descent and his great grandfather, George I, couldn’t speak English when he took the throne.) The Ulster Irish, however, were less trusted. They were theological dissenters and often politically radical. Their Calvinist faith differed in important ways from Anglicanism. They could, however, be counted on to fight
The ordinance creating the 8th Virginia and the selection of field officers that followed it suggest that what the convention really meant by calling it “German” was that Germans would command it (and that the Irish would not). Muhlenberg was the perfect candidate for such a role. He and Clark both served as officers in the regiment, something that may well have been predetermined. Muhlenberg would be the top officer and Clark would command one of Dunmore County’s two companies (the German one).
“And be it farther ordained,” read the resolution, “That of the six regiments to be levied as aforesaid, one of them shall be called a German regiment, to be made up of German and other officers and soldiers, as the committees of the several counties of Augusta, West Augusta, Berkeley, Culpeper, Dunmore, Fincastle, Frederick, and Hampshire (by which committees the several captains and subaltern officers of the said regiment are to be appointed) shall judge expedient.”
The committees were generally dominated by English elites and could be counted on to appoint the right kind of company officers. Only two of ten companies had Irish captains: Fincastle County and the West Augusta district (both on the frontier) selected James Knox and William Croghan. Both were capable and loyal officers.
The choice of field officers, however, was up to the Virginia Convention and it chose three Germans as it had planned. Each was from a different down in the lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley. Muhlenberg was appointed to be the colonel. Abraham Bowman of Strasburg (also in Dunmore County) was appointed to be the lieutenant colonel. Bowman came from a prominent family. His grandfather, Jost Hite, had led the first group of German settlers into the valley from Pennsylvania in 1731.
Muhlenberg and Bowman were both too young to have participated in the French and Indian War as most of Virginia’s other senior officers had. Muhlenberg had spent some time in a British military unit after dropping out of seminary in Germany years before. Bowman had experienced at least one dangerous encounter with Indians as a teenager. It is fairly clear that in choosing them the Convention prioritized their ability to rally and unite the Shenandoah Valley over their fairly meager military experience. Patrick Henry was the only other appointed colonel who had no real military experience.
When they received their commissions Muhlenberg was twenty-nine years old and Bowman was twenty-six. The regiment’s major was Peter Helphenstine, a German from Winchester in Frederick County. He was about twice Bowman’s age, in his middle fifties. He had commanded a company in the governor’s division during Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774. He was a respected tradesman and an active Lutheran.
Below them, the officers of the ten companies—captains, lieutenants and ensigns—were a diverse group. English, German, and Scotch-Irish were most common. Capt. Abel Westfall of Hampshire County was Dutch, though his family had been in America for generations. Lieut. Jacob Rinker was Swiss. Lieut. Isaac Israel was Jewish. Religiously, though it is hard to trace, they were mostly Anglican, Lutheran, German Reformed, Presbyterian, and probably Baptist. If there were no Methodists, some of them—including Capt. Westfall—would become Methodists soon.
The diversity of the officers reflected the diversity in the rank and file. The 8th Virginia was a microcosm of the Continental Army at large. It was America’s original “melting pot.” Originally divided by race and religion, their shared hardships would soon make them a band of brothers.
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Joseph Carman was thirty years old when he enlisted in Captain William Croghan’s company of the 8th Virginia. He joined at Fort Pitt, then claimed by Virginia, early in 1776. He was from Bordentown New Jersey but had gone west for reasons that aren’t known. Croghan was the Irish-born nephew of the controversial Indian agent, trader, and land speculator George Croghan. Abraham Kirkpatrick, the company’s senior lieutenant, had fled Maryland as a youth after killing a man in a fight.
When we think of the “wild west” we are far more likely to think of Arizona than Pennsylvania. Yet, the distinction is really one of time, not of geography. No place illustrates this better than Pittsburgh. When the Revolutionary War broke out, and for years after, it was a virtual “Dodge City.” It was full of sketchy characters with fluid loyalties. People there were often just “passing through.” It was already known for violence and would soon be better known for whiskey. Its very existence was, in a sense, illegal under British rule. Fort Pitt was there to guard the frontier, but it was beyond the 1763 Proclamation Line and people were not supposed to settle there.
The great event of the pre-Revolutionary frontier was the 1774 Indian war known as Lord Dunmore’s War. Carman had been a soldier in that war in the division of the army personally commanded by Dunmore—the royal governor. Dunmore’s division had arrived too late at Point Pleasant to join in the victory there on October 10. Negotiations to formalize terms with the defeated Indians were just about to begin when Croghan’s men marched out of town a year later. They marched southeast along Braddock's old road toward Winchester, en route to the provincial capital at Williamsburg and an intended final destination at Suffolk.
The unique story of Croghan’s company in 1776 has been told here already. After another missed rendezvous, they were reassigned to the 1st Virginia Regiment for the year. Carman died too soon to leave a narrative of his specific experiences in the war. None of his five messmates are known to have left a record either. (They were Michael Martin, Moses Martin, George Martin, Daniel Viers, and John McDonald.) It is likely that he crossed the Delaware with Washington on Christmas Day for the attack on Trenton. Though most were too ill after the Trenton adventure he may also have been at the battles of Assunpink Creek and Princeton in early January. United at last with the 8th Virginia in the spring, he was very likely at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. Muster rolls confirm he was present and healthy during this time. His Continental service concluded when his two-year enlistment expired near the end of the winter encampment at Valley Forge
Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, the Indian peace broke down again and there was plenty to keep the militia (every fighting-age male) busy. An expedition across the Ohio under Col. Edward Hand failed about the time Carman was discharged. If Carman returned directly to Pittsburgh, he may have participated in one or both of the campaigns led by Gen. Lachlan McIntosh and Col. Daniel Brodhead in 1778 and 1779.
Though Pittsburgh itself was on the frontier Colonel Brodhead reported in 1780, “The Emigrations from this new Country to the Settlements on Kentucke & the Falls [of the Ohio—later Louisville] are incredible….” Joseph Carman and his family were among the thousands of pioneers headed to Kentucky, though the date of their move could fall anywhere between 1778 and 1787.
Seven years later Carman was living at Well’s Station. This was a frontier Kentucky settlement located about half way between Louisville and Frankfort. Well's Station was near the home of storied longhunter, frontiersman, and former 8th Virginia Captain James Knox. The town of Shelbyville would appear close by in 1792. In the fall of 1787, Carman and two companions—Vincent Robbins and Aaron Van Cleve— set out on a buffalo hunt. Buffalo were still common in Kentucky at the time. They headed a few miles north toward Drennon’s Lick, a saltwater spring that attracted large game. The site is known today as Drennon Springs.
They were ambushed there by a party of Indians—probably Shawnee—who fired on them. Van Cleve had a finger and part of the breech of his gun shot off. Though wounded, he and Robbins were able to escape. Carman was not so lucky. Van Cleve and Robbins raced to the settlements along the Bullskin Creek for help. Robbins then led a rescue party that set off after Carman and his captors. From the site of his capture they followed a trail of blood for about two hundred yards to the place where the Indians had been camping. There they found Carman’s body “dismembered and hung about on saplings. They gathered it up and took it back to Well’s Station, his home, for burial.” He may have been tortured, though the record doesn’t say and there may have been no way for his neighbors to know.
Carman left behind a wife, Mary, and six children. Though little more than courage can be discerned from our sources about Joseph Carman’s character, the fact that one of his sons was named “Isaac Newton Carman” is intriguing. Carman's fate was not an unusual one at that time on the frontier. A final "peace" with the Shawnee would not be achieved until after William Henry Harrison's victory at Tippacanoe in 1811 and the collapse of Tecumseh's Confederacy following the Battle of the Thames in 1813.
(Thanks to Duane Carter for sharing information about his ancestor.)
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A map of the 8th Virginia's recruiting counties shows that the regiment was largely composed of frontiersmen and pioneers. No Tidewater counties and only one Piedmont county raised companies. Instead, the regiment was instructed to raise its ten companies in the westernmost settled areas of the province (Virginia wasn't a state, yet). This made the regiment unique in several ways. The regions beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains were ethnically and religiously different from the rest of Virginia. Soldiers, some of whom were occasional subsistence hunters, were typically better marksmen than the average soldier. Consequently, the used rifles instead of muskets (for the first year). Their motives for fighting were less focused on taxes and trade and more focused on their desire to head west--something the King had forbidden since 1763.
Political geography has changed. All of these counties were later divided, some within months of the regiment's formation. West Virginia, which is not shown, was created in 1863 and would occupy the left-center of the map. The disputed northeast part of the Augusta District is now southwest Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh. Western Fincastle County became Kentucky County in 1776 and the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1792. Most Americans are unaware that beginning in 1774, Ohio and lands west of it were pulled into the Province of Quebec. This, technically at least, extended holdover French civil institutions to the border of settled Virginia. Quebec had no elected legislature and had been allowed to keep its Catholic institutions. Both facts were seen by Virginians as sure signs of creeping tyranny.
The West Augusta District and Dunmore County each raised two companies. Augusta, Berkeley, Culpeper, Fincastle, Frederick, and Hampshire counties each contributed one. Initially called the "German Regiment" and long remembered that way, the map also shows how wide-ranging and diverse the zone of recruitment actually was. The lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley counties of Berkeley, Frederick, and Dunmore had significant German populations and all three field officers were from that area. Hampshire had a smaller German population. Culpeper, the only Piedmont county, had a smaller German population that descended from the Germanna Colony. The other counties were predominantly Scotch-Irish and English.
To learn more about the individual companies, visit the Soldiers page.
[Revised and Reposted from 9/1/19]
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As an old man, Daniel Anderson wanted to spend his last years in prayer. He said he would “ever pray for the success and prosperity of his native state and country.” He would pray “to secure the liberties of which in his younger days he voluntarily encountered the perils of war and shed his blood in her service.” These were not platitudes. The bloodshed was real and there is no reason to doubt that his prayers were just as authentic. He was a humbled man. He was disabled by his war wounds and obliged to use the few resources he had caring for his wife and three physically and mentally handicapped adult children.
Surprisingly, the unique contours of Anderson’s war service resolve a persistent question. The men of the 8th Virginia fought almost everywhere during the Revolution. I have sometimes described them as having served “from New York to Georgia,” but wished I could say “from Canada to Florida.” The regiment didn't range that far, but I have long suspected that some of its men did over the course of the war.
The Florida question remains unsolved. In 1776, Maj. Gen. Charles Lee took the regiment south to attack the Tory haven at St. Augustine. They made it to Sunbury, Georgia before the expedition was called off. The malaria-stick regiment was posted there at Fort Morris, on the Medway River, for some time. Did they ever cross the St. Mary’s River into what was then the colony of East Florida?
The governor of Florida reported in October of 1776 that “depredations were made by the Rebels as far [across the border] as Saint John River,” forcing him to commandeer a boat for defense. The main body of the 8th Virginia was probably gone by then, but had any of them gone scouting across the river before the raid? Quite a few men also remained behind to recover from sickness and some--like William Gillihan and Collin Mitchum--transferred to the 5th South Carolina Regiment. Did any 8th Virginia men participate in the foray to the St. John’s River that summer or fall? Probably. Maybe. We may never know.
The Canada question, on the other hand, is now settled. The very first companies of Congress-authorized “Continental” troops included two companies of riflemen raised in the Shenandoah Valley in July of 1775. I have hoped to find just one 8th Virginia soldier who was in Capt. Daniel Morgan’s Frederick County company. But was there one? Yes. Daniel Anderson enlisted in Morgan’s rifle company in July of 1775 and was with him at Boston and the attack on Quebec. He was wounded at Quebec in the chest and the right arm, captured, and held prisoner for months. He was eventually exchanged and then discharged at Elizabeth, New Jersey.
In February 1777 he enlisted again under Morgan, who was now the colonel of the 11th Virginia. There is no record of Anderson in the 11th Virginia rolls, however, because he was promoted to sergeant and transferred into Capt. Thomas Berry’s company of the 8th Virginia. Anderson was with the 8th through Germantown, Whitemarsh, Valley Forge, and Monmouth. He was discharged on February 2, 1779. He then received a state commission as a lieutenant in the Western Battalion of Virginia state troops (state regulars—not militia and not Continentals), probably fighting Indians as far west as Indiana under Col. Joseph Crockett. Other 8th Virginia men were on the frontier as well, serving as far west as Illinois. After the war, Anderson settled in Shenandoah County, Virginia and lived the rest of his life there.
So what can we claim for the length and breadth of the regiment’s service? “From Canada to Florida” is still a stretch beyond what we can prove. To the Florida line? Still too far. Until we can prove more, we’ll have to settle for “From Canada nearly to Florida.” Can we also say, “From the Atlantic to the Mississippi?” Not yet, but it’s entirely plausible. Regardless, the range of the 8th Virginia’s men is impressive. Almost all of that movement was covered on foot.
In retirement, Daniel Anderson’s wounds kept him from performing hard labor—even the work of a subsistence farmer. Still, he somehow had to support his wife and three disabled children. “I am by occupation a farmer,” he said in 1820, “but owing to wounds and age I am unable to follow it. I have my wife living with me, aged 57 years; 1 daughter, aged 23 years, a cripple; and two dumb children, both simple, one a girl aged 14 the other a boy aged 27. The reason for his older daughter’s disability was her being “so much afflicted with Cancers that she has not been out of the house for 16 months.” The word "dumb" in those days still meant "mute." "Simple" meant intellectually disabled.
There were no federal pensions yet, but he applied to the Virginia legislature for pension on the basis of his own service-connected disability. He made his case before a judge. His conclusion was recorded by the court in the third person: “The prayer of your petitioner therefore is that your honorable body will pass an Act allowing such pension as in your wisdom you may deem sufficient to enable him to end his few remaining days in praying, as he will ever pray for the success and prosperity of his native state and country to secure the liberties of which in his younger days he voluntarily encountered the perils of war and shed his blood in her service.”
The date of his petition isn’t shown, but it was supported by notes from doctors and a letter from Daniel Morgan in 1796: “The bearer of this Dan’l. Anderson Inlisted a soldier with me in the year 1775 march’d with me to Boston & from thence to Quebec – was with me in the storm of the garison, on the last Day of Dec’r. when Gen;l Montgomery fell. He Rec’d two wounds in the action, one in the Breast & one in his Arm which Doctor senseny & Doctor Balwin certyfies that said wounds has so disabled him as to Rendered unfit for Hard Labour & thinks Him a proper object for a Pension.”
"Doctor Balwin" was Cornelius Baldwin, the former surgeon of the 8th Virginia. Anderson received his state pension and later received federal support as well. He died on November 6, 1840.
UPDATE: Thanks to Carolyn Brown Butler who alerted us to the pension of her ancestor William Smith. Smith, after his time in the 8th, served under George Rogers Clark and (former 8th VA captain) George Slaughter. He was sent by Clark as an express rider to the Iron Banks, six miles below the mouth of the Ohio on the Mississippi. So now we can say that at least one 8th Virginia man served from "the Atlantic to the Mississippi."
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There is no dignity in being forgotten. A case in point is Virginia Lt. Col. Richard Campbell, a Continental officer who died bravely for his country but lies today in an unmarked grave far from his home. “Killed near the end of the battle at Eutaw Springs,” wrote the authors of a 2017 study of that battle, “he is virtually unknown today.” In his own day, however, Nathanael Greene called him a “brave, active, and intrepid Soldier.” Light Horse Harry said he was an “excellent officer” who was “highly respected and beloved.” In 1832 one of his soldiers still remembered him as “the brave Col. Campbell.” Dick Campbell, as he was known, deserves to be remembered.
Little is known of his early life. Historian Louise Phelps Kellogg asserted a century ago that he was “a distant relative of the Campbell family of southwest Virginia.” This would tie him to militia Gen. William Campbell, a leader at the Battle of King’s Mountain. He was evidently born in Virginia about 1730 and raised in Dunmore (now Shenandoah) County, where he was appointed a sheriff’s deputy in 1772 and reappointed in 1774. The Shenandoah Valley was culturally distinct from the eastern parts of Virginia. Many of Campbell’s neighbors were Germans who had migrated from Pennsylvania.
As war approached, he joined the First Independent Company of Dunmore. News of the Virginia Powder Alarm sent the company parading out of the county seat at Woodstock toward Williamsburg. When word of a peaceful settlement arrived they returned and held a barbeque. In November 1775, Campbell was tasked with conducting a census of his part of the county, reporting for his own household ten white and two black residents. Notably, his was the only household out of seventy-six that reported black, likely enslaved, members.
...continue to The Journal of the American Revolution.
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Maj. Gen. Adam Stephen was the 8th Virginia's division commander in 1777, leading them at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. He worked closely with George Washington for more than two decades, sometimes challenging and undercutting him. He ran against Washington for the House of Burgesses and almost ruined the surprise Christmas, 1776 attack on Trenton by sending soldiers across the river to settle a personal vendetta against the Hessians. He was reportedly drank too much, and was finally court-martialed and cashiered from the Army after the disaster at Germantown.
That did not end his life of civic engagement, though. He founded Martinsburg (now in West Virginia) and served in the Virginia convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. Sometime during the war, he built a fine house for himself where Martinsburg grew up. Intriguingly, he built his house over the mouth of a cave. According to tradition, this was done to prove an escape in case of an attack by Indians or other enemies. Since that era, the cave has been filled in with dirt, leaving a persistent mystery: where does the natural underground tunnel lead? For nearly twenty years, TriState Grotto--a local caving club--has been working to excavate the passage, one five-gallon bucket at a time. Videos of their progress (and archeological finds) have been posted occasionally on YouTube. Here they are, in chronological order.
Stephen died in 1791 and is buried under a rustic monument not far from his home. Despite the controversies associated with his life, he served his country at important moments and in important ways. He was with Washington at Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity, and Braddock's Defeat years before his Revolutionary War service. His French and Indian War waistcoat and gorget are in the Smithsonian. Aside from his legacy of service and these artifacts, he left an enduring mystery beneath his house. One day soon, perhaps, we'll know where the tunnel leads.
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On November 21, 1821 an old Revolutionary War veteran in Buckingham County, Virginia named Bartholomew Cyrus wrote a letter to the President and the Secretary of War. Missing one of his hands and living in desperate poverty, he was looking for help resolving a bureaucratic problem with his pension. It is a powerful narrative from a “poor boy” who owned nothing but his “shirt and pantaloons” when he entered the Continental Army in 1777. Like many enlisted veterans, Cyrus was barely literate. Nevertheless, he wrote to President James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun asking for help. The tone is desperate but also dignified. Though poor, he addresses Monroe and Calhoun as duty-bound public servants and concludes familiarly by writing “no more at present but your well wishing friend” above his signature. Though he was poor, they worked for him. It is worth navigating the misspellings and missing punctuation to read an enlisted-man’s perspective that is only scarcely available from the Revolutionary War.
Annotations are given below as end-notes to preserve the flow of the text.
Nov. 21st 1821 Buckingham Cty.
Honorable presedentand secatary of warbelonging to the united states I wish to inform you of my sufferance in the revolutionary war I inlisted in the year 1776I went from Chesterfield County under Capt. James Harris a three year Soldier then inlisted some time after that for during the war I belonged to the 15 Virginia Ridgment General Woodfords brigade near Philadelphia at valy forge next summer we fought at monmouth the year following our brigade was sent off to CharlestownSouth Carrolina there almost all were taken prisoners by the Britishthen General Green took command of usand the first battle was at Gilford Courthousethe next at eutawspringsand a number of lives were lost on both sides we lay at ninety six siegenear 1 month scarcely 1 hour in the night but firing like claps of thunder many days we could not get any thing to eat 40$was cried through the camp for 1 hoecake of bread and it could not be got we were like hogs that had been wallowing when we came out of the intrenchment the next siege was at camblainnear 1 month and we suffered very much there and a great many dserted and would not stand the sufferanceI was never absent one day without liberty. I was discharged in the year 1783 July the 6 day at winchester barracksunder the command of General neulinburgCapt. kirk partrick was my Capt.I served during this time without ever being confined or one lickwhich few can say in truth sir look at your records and you’ll find this to be truth Sir I have received three draws from the pension you bestowed us then I sent my Schedule and have got no return from it proved before judge Daniel I am upon sufferance I have had the misfortune a few years since to loose one of my hands by a gun bursting and am troubled at times with reumatic pains and my wife worse off than myself I am going on 64 years of age and my wife is near 70 years of age I was a poor boy had nothing but my shirt and pantaloons when I went in to the army. I think it hard for me to suffer now after doing as much for my country as I have and without your assistance am oblige to go to the poor house and I had almost rather diedI thank you for what you have done with more thanks than my lips can express and would freely down with my nees for assistanceno more at present but your well wishing friend
I would be thankful to you to let me know at Oakville post office Buckingham County what I am to depend on
Cyrus got his pension. After his wife died, he got married again in 1833 to a younger woman named Phebe. He died in 1855 at the age of 97, and Phebe inherited his pension. A decade later, after the end of the Civil War, sheapplied for the restoration of the benefit, which had been suspended during the war. She was unable to return the old pension certificate, because it hd been “destroyed by being in a house between the lines of the two armies while engaged.” She had given the certificate to a neighbor named William Durrum to keep in his house, but during the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse “it was destroyed or taken off by the soldiery.” She stated that she had resided in the town of Appomattox Courthouse during the Civil War, when her means of subsistence had been “a small remnant of her pension fund and then she was supported by her relations and friends, except a small allowance from the pauper fund from the Overseers of the Poor of Appomattox County.” The Bartholomew Cyrus pension file contains an Amnesty Oath signed with her mark. The oath, as prescribed by President Johnson, was as follows:
I, _____, do solemnly swear or affirm, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder. And that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.
[Source:Pension Application of Bartholomew Cyrus W25467, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. Summary of Phebe Cyrus application adapted from C. Leon Harris.]
Rural Buckingham County lies between the Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War ended, and Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello.
James Monroe, now in his second term.
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
An error. He enlisted in 1777.
Charles Town was renamed Charleston at the end of the war.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln surrendered May 12, 1780. Cyrus evidently escaped or avoided capture.
Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, 3 Dec 1780.
TheBattle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, March 15, 1781.
The Battle of Eutaw Springs, September 8, 1781.
The Siege of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, May 22 to June 18, 1781.
Probably a mis-transcription of “Cambdain,” or the Second Battle of Camden, better known as the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, April 25, 1781. Though it was an American loss, Greene returned to the area after the battle so it is not unreasonable for Cyrus to recall it as a “siege.”
The actual sequence of events was: Guilford Courthouse, Camden, Ninety-Six, Eutaw Springs.
Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg.
Captain Abraham Kirkpatrick.
Jailed or whipped.
He would almost rather die than go to the poor house.
He would go down on his knees to beg for help.
A post script.
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is researching the history of the Revolutionary War's 8th Virginia Regiment. Its ten companies formed on the frontier, from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh.
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