James Kay enlisted in the 8th Virginia on February 20, 1776. This was four days after someone named John Kay enlisted in the same company. Recruiting and enlisting were family and community affairs in those days. John may have enlisted and then talked James into joining him. John was promoted to sergeant and then became an officer, so he was almost certainly older—probably James’s brother, but maybe his father, an uncle, or a cousin. James was only seventeen.
Captain Berry grew up in King George, at the family plantation known as Berry Plain. Like so many others, his great grandfather had come to Virginia in 1650 as an indentured servant. From that humble start, the family did well. Berry Plain was built about 1720. Thomas and his older brother Benjamin moved to Frederick County sometime before the war and settled near Battletown, the tavern village famous for street brawls sometimes featuring future general Daniel Morgan. Berry Plain is still standing, has been restored, and was up for sale in 2007. (Some of the plantation’s valuable and ancient boxwoods were sold to Colonial Williamsburg in the 1930s, providing much needed funds to “save the farm.”) Battletown, meanwhile, is now known as Berryville and is the county seat of Clarke County (created in 1836). Benjamin is recognized at the town's founder.
When Berry and Jolliffe were appointed by the Frederick County Committee of Safety, they had recruiting quotas to fill. It appears that Berry's ties to King George County were still so strong that he made a trip home to recruit among his old friends and neighbors. That, at any rate, would explain Kay’s enlistment. Berry’s company was assigned to the 8th Virginia Regiment, which was brought south into the Carolinas in the spring of 1776. Berry and Kay were present in Charleston for the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, though most 8th Virginia men were not in combat. We know Private Kay was at Sunbury, Georgia that summer when many of his comrades succumbed to malaria. Having grown up near the Chesapeake, he may have had some resistance to the mosquito-borne disease. The soldiers were given furloughs after returning to Virginia that winter and then marched to Philadelphia where they were inoculated for smallpox. Lieutenant Jolliffe was quarantined with smallpox that spring in Winchester, either naturally contracted or from inoculation, and died from it.)
After the war, thousands of Virginia veterans moved to Kentucky. Kay settled in Fayette County, named for the Marquis de Lafayette. By 1826 he lived in Boone County, named for Daniel Boone, but since Boone had originally been part of Fayette that doesn't necessarily mean he moved. He applied for a veteran’s pension in 1833 to supplement a wounded veteran’s benefit he was already receiving and died soon after. He was buried at Salem Baptist Church, then a log church built by a congregation formed in 1827. The church has since been known as Salem Predestinarian Baptist Church and as Salem Creek United Baptist Church.
They found Private Kay’s marker intact but lying flat on the ground in the Salem Baptist Church cemetery. Because the stone is worn and hard to read, they plan to replace it with a new one. The ground is frozen, however, so they are leaving it alone until after the ground thaws. For now, they are working on the application for a government-issued headstone and searching for relatives who might attend a ceremony this summer or fall. If you are a descendant or relative of James Kay, please reach out to the Simon Kenon Chapter, SAR.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
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.
© 2015-2022 Gabriel Neville