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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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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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.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
Long after the Revolution, Col. John Stuart of Greenbriar County recalled the Virginia Militia army that defeated the usually victorious Shawnee at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774.
General Lewis’s army consisted chiefly of young volunteers, well trained to the use of arms, as hunting, in those days, was much practised, and preferred to agricultural pursuits by enterprising young men. The produce of the soil was of little value on the west side of the Blue Ridge— the ways bad, and the distance to market too great to make it esteemed. Such pursuits inured them to hard ships and danger. We had more than every fifth man in our army killed or wounded in the battle,— but none were disheartened ; all crossed the river with cheerfulness, bent on destroying the enemy;- and had they not been restrained by the Governor’s orders, I believe they would have exterminated the Shawanese nation.
Stuart said this after noting that the Shawnee were the tribe that had (often with allies) repeatedly defeated Virginian and American armies on the frontier: those of Gen. Edward Braddock (1755) and Major James Grant (1758) in the French and Indian War; colonels John Todd and Stephen Trigg at the Battle of Blue Licks (1782) in Kentucky; and against generals Josiah Harmar (1790) and Arthur St. Clair (1791) in Ohio.
The victory at Point Pleasant was a very big deal. Moreover, though Lord Dunmore (the governor of Virginia) had raised and led the army, the victory had been won without him by the other of two divisions. An army of frontier Virginia marksmen, many of them occasional subsistence hunters, had proven what they could do.
Dunmore headed back to Williamsburg. His officers, cognizant of political events, convened on November 5 at Fort Gower (modern Hockingport, Ohio) on the Ohio River. Among those present were many men who would be important in the Revolution, including William Campbell, George Rogers Clark, Simon Kenton, Andrew Lewis, Daniel Morgan, William Russell, and Adam Stephen. An unidentified officer (possibly Adam Stephen) addressed the group. Having concluded the campaign against the Indians, he said, “it only remains that we should give our country the strongest assurance that we are ready, at all times, to the utmost of our power, to maintain and defend her just rights and privileges.”
He was careful to deny that the army had any revolutionary intentions while also making it clear where their real loyalties lay. “We have lived about three months in the woods without any intelligence from Boston; or from the Delegates at Philadelphia. It is possible, from the groundless reports of designing men, that our countrymen may be jealous of the use such a body would make of arms in their hands at this critical juncture. That we are a respectable body is certain, when it is considered that we can live weeks without bread or salt; that we can sleep in the open air without any covering but that of the canopy of Heaven; and that our men can march and shoot with any in the known world. Blessed with these talents, let us solemnly engage to one another, and our country in particular, that we will use them to no purpose but for the honour and advantage of America in general, and of Virginia in particular. It behooves us then, for the satisfaction of our country, that we should give them our real sentiments, by way of resolves, at this very alarming crisis."
A committee was formed to draft the resolves, which were published soon after. Like other documents of the period immediately before the war, it proclaims loyalty to the King and the governor, but in a way that implied a threat.
Resolved, That we will bear the most faithful allegiance to his Majesty King George the Third, whilst his Majesty delights to reign over a brave and free people; that we will, at the expense of life, and every thing dear and valuable, exert ourselves in support of the honour of his Crown and the dignity of the British Empire. But as the love of Liberty, and attachment to the real interests and just rights of America outweigh every other consideration, we resolve that we will exert every power within us for the defence of American liberty, and for the support of her just rights and privileges; not in any precipitate, riotous, or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen.
Resolved, That we entertain the greatest respect for his Excellency the Right Honourable Lord Dunmore, who commanded the expedition against the Shawanese; and who, we are confident, underwent the great fatigue of this singular campaign from no other motive than the true interest of this country.
Signed by order and in behalf of the whole Corps,
BENJAMIN ASHBY, Clerk.
Lord Dunmore, whose motives for leading the campaign came to be suspected, fled Williamsburg just a few months later.
Little is remembered about Benjamin Ashby, who signed the document on behalf of the unanimous officers. The ink he put to paper had an impact, however. Just three years later his nephew, George Ashby, a private in the 8th Virginia, would be scrambling about the ground during the Siege of Fort Mifflin collecting and recycling hot cannonballs as his comrades’ ammunition ran low.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
It wasn’t really their fault, they said. Slavery, men of the founding generation liked to argue, was brought to the colonies by Britain. It came via Barbados and the other sugar islands of the Caribbean. Thomas Jefferson and Henry Laurens both blamed Britain and wished the colonies could free themselves of the practice. It was ironic, therefore, that American slavery not only outlasted the War for Independence but also outlasted slavery in the British Empire. In truth it was more than ironic: it was a tragedy that led to additional decades of forced labor and the deaths of well over half a million Americans in the Civil War.
Could the abolition of American slavery have come sooner? Maybe. Slavery never existed in the New World without someone also speaking out against it, and antislavery views took a demonstrably large leap forward during the founding era. Christianity, social contract theory, and the very spirit of the Revolution led many Americans to the same conclusion. Even many slaveowners understood it was wrong. “I can only say,” wrote George Washington about slavery in 1786, “that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.”
....continue to The Journal of the American Revolution.
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In 1775, the North American colonies had no professional armies and few leaders with significant military training. What possessed them, then, to believe they could take on the mighty British Empire? Politics and principles aside, two experiences led the Americans to believe they could stand up to the British: the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg and the 1755 Battle of Monongahela. The first dispelled any notion that they were powerless against professional forces. The second dispelled the notion of British invincibility.
In the 1740s, the maritime French colony of Île-Royale and its fortress at Louisbourg guarded the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Today, the two main islands of Île-Royale are known as Prince Edward Island (Canada’s smallest province) and Cape Breton Island (part of Nova Scotia). The French and the Wabanaki Indians were a constant threat to New England. Multiple engagements had occurred during little-remembered wars such as King William's War, Queen Anne’s War, and Father Rale’s War. Louisbourg was (and is) positioned on the east coast of Cape Breton and directly east of the modern state of Maine, which was then part of Massachusetts. Louisbourg itself was a threat to New England: it was a center for privateering and well positioned to interfere with New England’s economically crucial fishing industry.
At the start of King George’s War (known in Europe as the War of Austrian Succession) in 1744, a Franco-Indian force raided and destroyed the British fishing village at Canso, in nearby Nova Scotia. In 1745, Massachusetts Governor William Shirley organized a response. Militia from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, set off on an expedition supported with funds and supplies from Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania. While there were no professional soldiers involved, they did have support from the British Navy.
The Fortress of Louisbourg was thought to be impenetrable from the sea. A land approach, however, provided hilly terrain that allowed for the erection of siege batteries. After a siege of several weeks and a number of raids and skirmishes, the fortress surrendered on June 27, 1745. While the French forces had suffered from poor morale and other issues, the stark fact remained that American militia had taken on and defeated a professional army sheltered in a major fortification.
A decade later, early in the French and Indian War, General Edward Braddock suffered his better-remembered defeat near the banks of the Monongahela. The lesson here was that British redcoats were not invincible. In a report to his mother, Washington wrote, “The Virginia troops showed a good deal of bravery, and were near all killed; for I believe out of three companies that were there, there are scarce 30 men left alive. … In short, the dastardly behavior of those they call regulars exposed all others that were inclined to do their duty to almost certain death; and, at last, in despite of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they broke and ran as sheep pursued by dogs; and it was impossible to rally them.”
While the British army was humiliated, Washington’s own reputation for heroism was bolstered, in part because of his own reports. “I luckily escaped without a wound,” he wrote, “though I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me.”
Louisbourg (1745), Monongahela (1755), and the outbreak of the Revolution itself in 1775 are milestones in the colonists’ increasing confidence in their own military capabilities. Though Louisbourg was remote from Virginia, it was not remote from those who began the war in Massachusetts. Braddocks’ defeat was very much front-of-mind to all Virginians at the start of the war. This must have been especially true for men like the 8th Virginia's Maj. Peter Helphenstine and Capt. Thomas Berry of Winchester (Washington's headquarters during the French and Indian War) and Captains John Stephenson and William Croghan who filled their companies with men from the settlements near the site of the general’s failure.
Twenty years after Monongahela, Massachusets’ 1775-1776 experiences at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, and the Siege of Boston reinforced New England’s view that militia could take on professional troops. Victories won by militia and green provincial troops at Great Bridge and Sullivans Island indicated the same to Virginia and the south.
This elevated view of their militias’ capabilities must be viewed as an important factor in the colonists’ decision to take up arms against the Crown. It is even more important in view of the prevalent Anglo-American dislike of standing or “regular” armies. Oliver Cromwell had used his “New Model” army to rule by martial law. King James II had attempted to use a standing, professional army to restore the monarchy’s supremacy over parliament. For this is he was deposed and replaced by William and Mary, who accepted a Declaration of Rights (enacted as a “Bill of Rights” in 1689) that specifically forbade standing armies on British soil in peace time.
When Britain decided to leave a standing army in America after the French and Indian War, the colonists reacted in a way that should have been predictable. Peace-time standing armies had been illegal in Britain for nearly a century, universally seen as a threat to the “rights of Englishmen.” And yet there they were, posted in the colonies and quartered in private homes. Colonial charters had guaranteed the rights of Englishmen to the colonists. This was a clear violation. Virginia’s 1606 charter read, for example:
"Also we do ... DECLARE ... that all and every the Persons being our Subjects, which shall dwell and inhabit within every or any of the said several Colonies and Plantations, and every of their children, which shall happen to be born within any of the Limits and Precincts of the said several Colonies and Plantations, shall HAVE and enjoy all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities, within any of our other Dominions, to all Intents and Purposes, as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realm of England, or any other of our said Dominions."
Among the 27 indictments against the King in the Declaration of Independence was the charge that “He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.” When the war began, it was a war between American militia and British regulars. While some might have seen this as an uneven fight, many more saw it as proof of the justice and moral superiority of the American cause.
The British Army was the most powerful in the world, and there may have been a time when the colonists would not have dared to fight them. In 1775, after the Siege of Louisville, after Braddocks defeat, and with God and Justice on their side, the Americans believed they could win. And they did win, but not until the Continentals themselves were professionalized. Still, consistent with principle, the Continental Army was disbanded at the end of the war.
Read more: "A Campaign of Amateurs: The Siege of Louisbourg, 1745" by Raymond F. Baker.
In 1781, the traitor Benedict Arnold was sent to Virginia by the British to disrupt American supply lines supporting patriots farther south. Opposing him was Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg, the 8th Virginia’s original colonel. Gov. Thomas Jefferson gave Muhlenberg instructions to capture Arnold and specified that the plan should be carried out by “men from the western side of the mountains.” As a former pastor from Woodstock and colonel of the 8th Virginia, Muhlenberg knew many such men. Jefferson wrote:
You will readily suppose that it is above all things desireable to drag him from those under whose wing he is now sheltered. ... Having peculiar confidence in the men from the Western side of the mountains, I meant as soon as they should come down to get the enterprize proposed to a chosen number of them, such whose courage and whose fidelity would be above all doubt. Your perfect knowlege of those men personally, and my confidence in your discretion, induce me to ask you to pick from among them proper characters, in such number as you think best, to reveal to them our desire, and engage them [to] undertake to seize and bring off this greatest of all traitors. Whether this may be best effected by their going in as friends and awaiting their opportunity, or otherwise is left to themselves. The smaller the number the better; so that they be sufficient to manage him. Every necessary caution must be used on their part to prevent a discovery of their design by the enemy, as should they be taken, the laws of war will justify against them the most rigorous sentence. I will undertake if they are succesful in bringing him off alive, that they shall receive five thousand guineas reward among them, and to men formed for such an enterprize it must be a great incitement to know that their names will be recorded with glory in history....
Arnold wasn’t captured. His security was too tight. Some histories, however, report rumors of a failed attempt. Edward Hocker’s 1936 biography of Muhlenberg, for example, documents a “tradition” that Col. George Rogers Clark (who had two brothers in the 8th Virginia) was tapped to lead the mission. Clark was newly famous for his successful campaign against the British in Illinois and his capture of Gov. Henry Hamilton, the coordinator of Indian attacks on the frontier.
According to Hocker’s narrative, one of Clark’s men was captured and taken before Arnold, who asked him, “What would be my fate if the Americans caught me?” The prisoner replied, “We would cut off that shortened leg wounded at Quebec and Saratoga and bury it with the honors of war, and then hang the rest of you.”
Ironically, it was George Rogers Clark who ultimately had his leg cut off. Many years later, after a having a stroke and in a drunken stupor, he fell into a fireplace and severely burned himself. When gangrene set in, he was told a leg would have to be amputated. On the day of the procedure, he arranged to have fifers and drummers from the local militia come and play martial tunes to celebrate. He reportedly tapped his fingers in time with the music as they sawed off his leg, “effected more by the music than the pain.”
Updated August 24, 2019
On May 15, 1776 the provisional government of Virginia voted to instruct its Congressional delegation to propose and support a declaration of independence from Great Britain. This was two days after the 8th Virginia marched south with General Charles Lee to meet the enemy in the Carolinas. However, a few of the regiment’s soldiers—stragglers and sick men who were left behind—may have witnessed the celebration on May 16. The Union Jack was lowered from the capital and replaced with the Grand Union flag. The men were paraded to nearby Walter’s Grove, attended by the commander of the provincial army (General Andrew Lewis), the Committee of Safety, the Virginia Convention, and members of the public.
The resolution was read aloud, followed by three toasts. The first was to “The American independent states.” The second was to “The Grand Congress of the United States and their respective Legislatures.” The third was to “General Washington, and victory to the American Arms.” Each toast was saluted by the firing of cannon. After the reading, an outdoor “refreshment” was held for the soldiers. When the sun set, illuminations were lit to celebrate. The next day, May 17, was set aside as a day for fasting and prayer.
Three weeks later, the Virginia delegation complied with its mandate, proposing independence to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Less than a month after that, Independence was formally declared. It took until early August for the 8th Virginia to hear the news in far-off Charleston, South Carolina.
Meanwhile, 8th Virginia stragglers continued to arrive in the capital, including an entire company under the command of Captain William Croghan from Fort Pitt. These men were present when two truly world-historical events occurred in Williamsburg: the June 12th adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (a precursor to and model for the Declaration of Independence), and the June 29 adoption of a new, written (rather than evolving or “living”) constitution which declared the people rather than a monarch to be sovereign.
The May 15 resolution and the Virginia Declaration of Rights are both worth the few minutes it takes to read them. The Declaration was written by George Mason with revisions from Robert Nicholas and James Madison. It is clear how much Thomas Jefferson depended on Mason’s writing in drafting Congress’s declaration for the colonies. Mason's declaration was a template for the Bill of Rights as well. Similarly, the Virginia Constitution was, at least in some respects, a template for the U.S. Constitution--though other states can claim that as well. For the United States, July 4 is celebrated as Independence Day. Virginians should also celebrate--or at least remember--May 15.
The May 15 Resolution
Forasmuch as all the endeavours of the United Colonies, by the most decent representations and petitions to the King and Parliament of Great Britain, to restore peace and security to America under the British Government, and a reunion with that people upon just and liberal terms, instead of a redress of grievances, have produced, from an imperious and vindictive Administration, increased insult, oppression, and a vigorous attempt to effect our total destruction. By a late act all these Colonies are declared to be in rebellion, and out of the protection of the British Crown, our properties subjected to confiscation, our people, when captivated, compelled to join in the murder and plunder of their relations and countermen, and all former rapine and oppression of Americans declared legal and just; fleets and armies are raised, and the aid of foreign troops engaged to assist these destructive purposes; the King's representative in this Colony bath not only withheld all the powers of Government from operating for our safety, but, having retired on board an armed ship, is carrying on a piratical and savage war against us, tempting our slaves by every artifice to resort to him, and training and employing them against their masters. In this state of extreme danger, we have no alternative left but an abject submission to the will of those overbearing tyrants, or a total separation from the Crown and Government of Great Britain, uniting and exerting the strength of all America for defence, and forming alliances with foreign Powers for commerce and aid in war. Wherefore, appealing to the Searcher of hearts for the sincerity of former declarations expressing our desire to preserve the connection with that nation, and that we are driven from that inclination by their wicked councils, and the eternal law of self-preservation:
Resolved, unanimously, That the Delegates appointed to represent this Colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this Colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances, and a Confederation of the Colonies, at such time and in the manner as to them shall seem best: Provided, That the power of forming Government for, and the regulations of the internal concerns of each Colony, be left to the respective Colonial Legislatures.
Resolved, unanimously, That a Committee be appointed to prepare a Declaration of Rights, and such a plan of Government as will be most likely to maintain peace and order in this Colony, and secure substantial and equal liberty to the people.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights
A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.
Section 1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
Section 2. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants and at all times amenable to them.
Section 3. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration. And that, when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
Section 4. None of mankind is entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge to be hereditary.
Section 5. That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judiciary; and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burdens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections, in which all, or any part, of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.
Section 6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their own consent or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented for the public good.
Section 7. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights and ought not to be exercised.
Section 8. That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man has a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of twelve men of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty except by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers.
Section 9. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Section 10. That general warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offense is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive and ought not to be granted.
Section 11. That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to be held sacred.
Section 12. That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
Section 13. That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
Section 14. That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from or independent of the government of Virginia ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.
Section 15. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.
Section 16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.
The adventures of 8th Virginia Captain James Knox have been unfairly overshadowed by those of Daniel Boone. This may be true generally, but it is definitely—and literally—true at the site of a memorial marker in Greene County, Kentucky.
The 8th Virginia’s recruitment area was vast—covering almost the entire Virginia frontier, which at that time stretched from Pittsburgh to the Cumberland Gap—a distance of 450 miles. Those two places were, at that time, the only practical access points to the “Kentucky Country”—all of which was, at the start of the war, part of Fincastle County, Virginia. To get there, you could float down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, or you could travel overland through the Cumberland Gap. Few had taken the latter route, however, when James Knox led a hunting party that way in 1770.
Knox was one of the original “Long Hunters,” who entered Kentucky on months-long or even years-long hunting trips, intending to return with large quantities of pelts. Daniel Boone is by far the most famous of the long hunters, but that is partly because there is only room for one of these little-remembered adventurers in public memory.
In 1770, James Knox and his team established a hunting camp and pelt repository (a “skin house”) by the north bank of a creek now known as Skinhouse Branch. Years later, a church was built on the same site. Today, the 187-year old nondenominational church sits at the intersection of Skinhouse Branch and Long Hunters Camp roads—neither of which carries enough traffic to warrant painted markings. It is surrounded by farms growing corn, tobacco, and soybeans. Two stone markers were put there long ago by local citizens to memorialize James Knox and the hunting expedition of 1770. In front of them, and closer to the road, is an official Kentucky state historic marker noting that Daniel Boone was also there—a year later.
Early in 1776, Knox recruited one of the 8th Virginia’s ten companies. His men were decimated by malaria during the South Carolina expedition of that summer and fall. By the spring of 1777, only a handful were left. Knox became a captain in Morgan’s Rifles and commanded a company at the victory at Saratoga. He took a few of his 8th Virginia men with him, and his 8th Virginia Regiment company ceased to exist. He was a prominent citizen of Kentucky in his later years, but has always been overshadowed by Daniel Boone.
Read More: "Searching for Captain Knox" (3/29/18)
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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