HISTORICAL SKETCHES OF WILKES COUNTY
Published by John Crouch in 1902
Wilkes County has been the scene of many historic occurrences. From the time that the Moravians first made their appearance within her borders her inhabitants have boon making history by the wholesale. During the Revolutionary struggle I dare say there was not another county throughout the colonies that figured so prominently as Wilkes.
At Kings Mountain the turning point of the Revolution, about one-half the American forces were from Wilkes. And gallantly they did their country's service until the enemy's commander, who swore he had found a place "where God Almighty could not drive him from," lay dead upon the battle field and his forces either killed or taken prisoners. And when the Tories and Indians needed attention, "Cleveland's Devil's, as the Tories called them, were always equal to the occasion, and there always had to be some tamest "cleaning up" on the part of the Tories and Indians or some of their party would dangle from a limb.
In the conflict with Mexico Wilkes furnished a company which did valiant service in behalf of the American cause, and our illustrious Colonel Sidney Stokes was so admired by those under his command that a beautiful sword was presented him as a token of respect and love.
And when it came to the Civil war our record stands without a parallel. Some men from Wilkes made excellent soldiers in the Union army, but most of the men of Wilkes took their stand with the Confederacy. Such leaders as Gordon, Stokes, Barber, Cowles, and others, with their brave subordinates, won the esteem and love of the whole Confederate army; and their achievements on the battle fields show the display of such courage and bravery as has never been excelled in the world's history.
In the recent wars with Spain and the Filipinos Wilkes soldiers have served with distinction.
It is a lamentable fact that the history of our country has been strangely neglected. Any of our school teachers and scholars can tell us about the history of Rome and Greece but few of them know anything of the history of their own county, not even the formation data. The fair records of her early fame are almost forgotten. It is the purpose of this little book to gather such as can be obtained of those records; and give them to the people of the county in a shape that they may be preserved, and that future generation may know of and share in the glory of our ancestors. It is more than probable that I have made mistakes in recording those sketches, but all available information has been obtained, and every statement, according to my view, is as near correct as could as could be ascertained.
The author does not aspire to be an historian. If in collecting and compiling and composing this little book, I shall succeed in "rescuing from the dust of age or the obliterating hand of time" only a few of the names of old time persons that so characterized our county in days gone by, my efforts will not be in vain. It is my desire that the people of Wilkes County may read the pages of this book and thereby prompted to increase their patriotism and take a deeper interest in the history of their own county.
Surely the younger people will take an interest in reading this book If only the youths of North Carolina and Wilkes County could get a foretaste of our history, our records would not be hidden in darkness but our history would be given to the world, that not only ourselves, but all people might know of our achievements and profits thereby. The young people ought to be encouraged to emulate the noble record of our worthy ancestors. We are told by Sallust and Maximus, when looking upon the statues of their illustrious countrymen became violently agitated. He says, "It could not be the inanimate marble which possessed this might power. It was the recollection of noble actions which kindles this generous flame in their bosoms, only to be quenched when they too, by their achievements and virtues, had acquired equal reputation.
Free from. the shackles of parties and sects I have tried to divert myself of all partialities or prejudices, and present Wilkes County and her sons as Cromwell would have Lely to paint his portrait: "True, as it is." Nothing has been omitted from personal views, nor have I neglected to express my views and opinions of any man or events sketched; in this book because of party affiliations or sectarian principles.
Wilkes County was formed from Surry county in 1777, and was named in honor of John Wilkes, a distinguished English statesman and member of Parliament. He was elected by the Ministerial party from Parliament on account of his liberal political views; and as often was returned by the people. He died in 1797.
The county is situated in the north-western part of North Carolina, and is bounded on the north by the Blue Ridge, which separates it from Ashe and Alleghany counties; on the east by Surry and Yadkin counties; on the south by Iredell and Alexander counties, and on the west by Caldwell and Watauga counties. The larger portion of the county lies between two great mountain ranges and the Yadkin river flows between, thus forming a valley of unexcelled fertility and picturesque beauty. Besides the Yadkin there are Mitchell's, Roaring and Reddies rivers and numerous large creeks in the county. These rise in the mountains and flow into the Yadkin, running sometimes through broad and fertile bottom and sometimes leaping over rocks and breaking through ridges, thus affording immense water power and delightful scenery.
Wilkesboro, the capital, is a beautiful town of about 800 population, situated on the south bank of the Yadkin near the center of the county. It was founded in 1778 by John Parks, John Barton, George Morris and John Witherspoon, who were appointed by the General Assembly to select a county seat for Wilkes County. It is about 175 miles north-west of Raleigh.
The committee appointed by the General Assembly to survey the dividing line between Wilkes and Surry made the following report of their work, which is the first paper recorded in the county records:
Wilkes County Line &c.
"A return of the proceedings of the commissioners who were appointed to run the dividing line between the counties of Surry and Wilkes to wit: Beginning on Rowan county line about half a mile below Daniel Rash's at a white oak standing in the head of a branch of Hunting creek thence north crossing Mulberry Field road about half a mile below Hamlin's old store house, thence through Solomon Sparks' plantation, leaving the said Sparks' home in Surry county, thence crossing the Brushy mountain at the head of the north fork of Swan creek, then crossing the Yadkin river a little below Capt. Parks (and through the lower end of Carrol's plantation on the north side of said river thence crossing the south side of said river thence crossing the Big Elkin at the Long Shoals, thence crossing the south fork of Mitchell's river about half a mile above Bigg's road, thence crossing the top of the Poiney Knob to the main ridge of mountains about two miles west of Fisher Peak thence to the Virginia line; being run exactly 26 miles west of Surry court house, agreeable to act of Assembly by:
From the best information the county of Wilkes originally embraced all the territory included in the following boundary lines: Beginning at the white oak mentioned as the starting point in the above report and running west to the Mississippi river, then north with said river to the Virginia line (now the Kentucky line), then east with Virginia line to the north-west corner of Surry County, then south with the Surry county line--as given in the above report--to the beginning. When the county was formed it included all of the counties of Ashe, Alleghany Watauga and Mitchell, and a portion of the counties of Iredell, Alexander, (the line ran a mile or so south of where Taylorsville now stands) Caldwell, Burke and Yancy, and probably others, and also a large portion of Tennessee. In what is now Tennessee there was local governments organized within the borders of Wilkes and later were admitted as counties to the State of Franklin but until Tennessee was organized Wilkes County was the legal division of all the territory included in the borders of the county.
Wilkes is not near so large now. She has given up her territory and other counties have grown out of her. Like a venerable mother she now nestles between the Brushies and the Blue Ridge with her daughters settled around her. We look upon the meadows of her counties beyond at the Blue Ridge, the broad bottoms of the Yadkin in Caldwell, and on beyond the Smokies we see a section well developed and prosperous. Cities have sprung up; railroads have been built, and mines that produce millions of dollars worth of coal, iron, mica, copper, etc., have been developed. They are all the offspring of the mother county. We look upon them today and bid them God speed in their march of progress.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago Wilkes county had never been trod by the feet of Anglo-Saxons. All this vast country was inhabited only by savage Indians and the wild beasts of the forest. How little did the Indian think that in a short time he would be driven from his model hunting ground by the whites,. who would clear away the giant trees of the forest and the dense jungles in the swamps along the banks of the Yadkin and other streams and cultivate the lands that were the home of the deer, elk, bear, wildcat, fox and other wild animals.. But the goodly lands of this section were not intended to be always inhabited by the savages and wild animals. A nobler race of people needed the territory in which to live and build homes and churches and schools.
Tradition tells us that the swamps along the Yadkin were the scene of many hard fought battles between different tribes of Indians before the whites made their appearance in this section there is good evidence to sustain this tradition. Indian war implements, such as arrow flints, tomahawks, etc., have been found in large numbers since the lands have been cleared. Also many Indian skeletons have been found. The jungles along the streams furnishing excellent hiding places for the savages who would conceal themselves and lay in wait for the whites, and so the swamps were also the scene of many fights between the Indian and the whites. The freshets in the spring of 1901 unearthed several skeletons; minnie balls were also found after the freshet.
Just when the first white settlers came to what is now Wilkes county is not known. As early as l740 the crack of the white man's rifle had brought the timid deer to the ground and frightened the other animals of the forest. Governor Rowan wrote that "In the year of l746, I was in the territory from the Saxaphaw (now Haw river) to the mountains, and there was not above one hundred fighting men in all that back country." According to the Colonial Records there were, in l749, only three hundred taxable men in North Carolina west of Haw river.
About the year of 1750 three streams of immigrants began to pour into this section of the state - one from south-eastern Pennsylvania, one from eastern North Carolina and one from South Carolina. But most of the settlers coming within the present borders of Wilkes county came from eastern North Carolina. Among them may be mentioned the Stokes, Greenes, Mitchells, Wellbornes, Browns, and others. Most of these were of English descent.
The Moravians were probably the first whites to explore the upper Yadkin valley, but few, if any, of them became permanent settlers. They came, surveyed some land, made some exploration and returned to the Moravian Settlements about Salem.
Different motives prompted the first settlers to come here. Some come seeking religious freedom which was not accorded them by the provincial government. Others grasped the opportunity to come and take up lands, while others came probable to gratify their desire for a frontier life.
The desire for absolute freedom from British rule was spreading all over the Colony, and in this section, remote from the seat of the provincial government, the inhabitants could exercise more freedom than other settlers who were in closer proximity to the British agents. Thus it was that such men as Col. Cleveland, Gen. Lenoir, and others were ready to make their mark when the struggle came on. They cherished the thought of independence and kept adding fuel to the flame.
The early settlers found certain sections clear of timber. The places where Wilkesboro, and North Wilkesboro now stand were among these sections. The early settlers supposed that the Indians had cleared away the timber, but it is my opinion that the natural state of the land in these sections at that time were barren of trees. There are certain sections in the western part of the state yet where trees will not grow. Among them may be mentioned the Elk Gardens on White Top mountain and several places along the Blue Ridge. There is a small mountain in Trap Hill township called Grassy Knob that used to be barren of trees. Addison Spencer, in a recent letter, said that, "In the year of l854 my-father moved from Randolph to Wilkes county and settled on the Elkin near the foot of the Blue Ridge, between two knobs known as Wellsey and Grassy Knobs, in the McCann neighborhood. The oldest man in that section at that time was James McCann, ancestor of the McCann generation. He was then about 80 years old and was one of the first settlers. I have heard him say that when he was young Grassy Knob had nothing but grass on it, from which it derived its name and that he had soon large herds of deer grazing on it. It is now and was forty-five years ago heavily timbered.
The Cherokee Indians were quite numerous in those days, and where North Wilkesboro now stands seemed to be their capital village. Here the Indians held their annual corn dance, which was their festival of harvest. There they reeled and frenzied and made merry for days and weeks. In the bottoms along Yadkin and Reddies rivers, which were then heavily timbered with stately cedars, were hundreds of Indian wigwams.
On the hill where Gus Finley lived and died was erected by early settlers a kind of fort known as the "Black House." Here the whites when attacked by the Indians, would flee for refuge. They could spy the approaching enemy in every direction and bring him down with their deadly rifles before he could get close enough to do any injury to the whites. This house, or fort, seems to have been burnt by the Indians, but another was built on the same spot. The last one was called the "Red House." How long the "Red House" stood or how it was destroyed is not known. But it is probable that before it was destroyed the savages had been driven from the Valley of the Yadkin and it was not longer needed as a fort for protection from the attacks of the Indians.
The early settlers had to go nearly two hundred miles to Cross Creek to get salt, sugar, iron and other necessities that they could not produce here. The women of those days were more industrious than the bon tons of the elite of society that we have with us today pretending to be wives and mothers. They would work in the fields all day, and at night they had the cotton to seed, flax to spin, carding, weaving, knitting and many other things to do. The meals had to be prepared too but it required only a short time to do that; the principal articles of food were and hominy, and such other articles as could be produced on the plantation. Coffee and tea were rarities. Tea made from spicewood twigs, sassafrass roots and sage leaves and "coffee" made of parched corn or rye was commonly used.
In the spring of the year all the stock was belled and turned loose in the woods to shift for themselves. Troughs were hewn in logs were the stock was salted about twice a week. These troughs were called "salt licks." In those days there was a kind of wild pea vine that grew abundantly in the woods and the stock would graze upon these pea vines and do well until cold weather. These wild pea vines ceased to grow about 50 years ago.
There is quite a contrast in society then and now. In other days the dwellings usually consisted of two log houses--the kitchen and the Big House, and occasionally the "Big House" had "up stairs." The "Big House" was the parlor, sitting room and bed room combined. There was neither organ nor piano, but the fiddle, banjo, flute and fife were the musical instruments in those days. Courting was carried on in those days, you bet, but, but the bon tons of today wouldn't have recognized the style in those days. There were no drives in costly vehicles nor expensive bridal tours. When the distance to be traveled was too far to walk they rode on horseback. Bride and groom or beau and sweetheart would both ride the same horse and hie away over the rough roads as merrily as the mated sparrows fly about their nests. The courting at home was done in the "big house" in the corner by the fire while the old folks were in bed and pretendedly asleep in the backend of the room. Corn shuckings, quiltings, etc., were great social events. At night after the work was complete, the neighborhood fiddler came in and the fun began. Until an hour or two before day both old and young, male and female, would dance and skip and play keeping step with the music all the while. Every body believed in helping his neighbors do their work and in turn his neighbors would help him. The whole community would engage in shucking corn, etc. and keep moving about until every man's work was done, keeping up the frolicks every night. When a man killed a hog or a yearling he would divide with his neighbors who would repay when butchering day came with them.
The principal sports among the men were hunting and horse racing, and in later years, mustering. In those days, there was no tax on grog as they called it, and from all information it was freely used.
It is peculiarly interesting to study the habits and customs of our fore fathers who first inhabited their country; think of them chasing the deer, elk, bear and other game; their conflicts with the Indians; the everyday association with such pioneers as Daniel Boone and Benjamin Cleveland. But the frontier life is a thing of the past; the pioneers have long since passed away, and all that is left is the county which they founded and nurtured in its infancy. Let us honor them by keeping the record of our county spotless and clean.
Lord Granville was one of the eight Lords Proprietors of North Carolina. Ho did not sell his interest in the lands of North Carolina back to the King of England as did the other seven Lords Proprietors. In l752 he granted ten thousand acres -- 8773 acres -- within the present border of Wilkes. Two surveyors were made, known as the upper and lower Moravian surveys. The lower survey included the site of Wilkesboro and extended down the river to the Blair's island, and up the river a mile above North Wilkesboro crossing the river and running on the north side then again crossing the river between the Hackett and Stokes farm, leaving the latter cut of the survey. The line crossed the Wilkesboro and Moravian Fall roads near where R.C. Lowe now lives, and ran out near Oakwoods and back to the beginning. The upper survey included the sections about Moravian Falls and Goshen. The exact lines of either survey can not now be located.
It is said that the Moravians intended to include in their survey the bottoms on the north side of the Yadkin about where North Wilkesboro now stands, but when the surveyors came to the heights on the south side of the river and looked over and saw so many smokes rising from Indian wigwams they concluded it would be best to leave the savages unmolested so they went a mile further up the river before crossing.
It is said that the Moravians were in search of potter's clay, and failing to find it in desired quantities they failed to pay Lord Granville for the land.
Lord Granville afterwards sold the lands of the Moravians had surveyed to a man in Ireland named Cassart. His son, Christian Cassart, sold the lands, by power of attorney, to Hugh Montgomery of Salisbury. Montgomery made a deed of trust to James Kerr, David Nesbit and John Brown, who were to divide the lands to his daughters, Rachel and Rebecca. Rachel married Gov. Montford Stokes and Rebecca married General James Wellborn.
First County Officers
Wilkes county was formed in 1777, but it was not organized until in the spring of the next year. Following this is a list of the first county officers, who took charge of the affairs of the new county on the 2nd day of March, 1778:
A story has it that a beauty in the time of Charles the First named Elizabeth Cleveland, a daughter of an officer of the palace of Hampton Court, attracted the attention of her sovereign, and an amount was the result. When Oliver Cromwell became the rising star of the empire the same charms won his sympathies, and a son was born unto them. The mother retired from public gaze and subsequently married a man named Bridges. When this illegitimate son grew up he took his mother's name and was the reputed author of a book "The Life and Adventures of Mr. Cromwell, Natural Son of Oliver Cromwell," published after his death by consent of his son, first in 1731, a second edition, with a French translation in 174l, and yet another edition in 1760.
Whether or not Benjamin Cleveland descended from this man and from Oliver Cromwell is a matter of conjecture. But whether or not the story is a romance or records a series of facts it is nevertheless true that Colonel Cleveland had a copy of the book and claimed in this way to have descended from the Illustrious Oliver Cromwell. Others of the Cleveland family made the same claim.
The Clevelands derive their name from a tract of country in the north Riding of Yorkshire England, still called Cleveland.
John Cleveland was one of the early migrants to Virginia. He settled on the since famous Bull Run, and his occupation was that of horse joiner. His son, Benjamin Cleveland, the subject of this sketch was born there on the 26th day of May, 1738; and while yet very young his father moved some sixty miles to the south-west, located in a border settlement on Blue Run, some six or eight miles above its junction with the Rapidan near the line of Albemarle.
When little Benjamin was about twelve years old, some drunken rowdie came to Cleveland's home one day when both parents were away from home. The rowdies commenced throwing the steels in the fire when little Ben snatched his father's rifle from the racks and simply said, "gentlemen -do not you see this?" They saw the gun and the determined attitude of the youth, which led them to think discretion the better part of valor, when one of the party said to his follows: "we'd better be off; we don't know what this excited child might do." So little Ben's conduct caused the rowdies to leave.
Young Cleveland did not "fancy" farm life, but like Daniel Boone, he preferred a dog and gun and the forest. He spent much of his time from early youth in the wilderness, securing pelts and furs which found a market. Fire-hunting at that day was a very common and popular mode of entrapping the deer in warm weather, when they repaired to certain localities at night in shallow streams, where they could find food suiting their taste. The torch lights of the hunters would so dazzle the attention of the deer that he would stand in amazement watching the strange light, while the hunter had only to blaze away at its glaring eyes and bring it down.
There was an old Dutchman in that region who had a good stand for fire-hunting, and young Cleveland wanted it himself, One day he peeled some bark off a tree and placed it in the water to resemble a deer. At night he concealed himself nearby where he could watch operations. In due time the Dutchman made his appearance - fired upon the supposed deer without bringing him down; he repeated his shot but still the deer remained unmoved, The Dutchman became alarmed and exclaimed, "It's de duv-vil," and at once abandoned that hunting ground. Young Cleveland chuckled not a little over the success of his stratagem.
At length young Cleveland married Miss Mary Graves, in Orange county whose father was quite wealthy. But his marriage did not reform his wild and reckless habits. He still loved gaming, horse-racing, and the wild frolicking common in frontier life. In company with Joseph Martin - afterwards General Martin - he put in a field of wheat on Pig river, about the year 1767, where he settled some four years before; but they were to indolent to fence it properly. When harvest time came there was something of a crop. As was the custom of that time they invited their friends to join them in cutting the grain; for which occasion some liquor and a fiddler were provided, and a good time was necessary before entering upon the work, which ended in a debauch, and the grain was never harvested.
Tradition tells us that Cleveland took an active part in the French and Indian wars, but the facts are lost to history. No doubt he was initiated into the military service in that border conflict which proved a training school for his Revolutionary career.
In order to break away from reckless habits and old associates, Cleveland, about 1769, removed, with his father-in-law and family, to North Carolina and settled on the waters of Roaring River, then in Rowan, later in Surry, and a few years later Wilkes county. Here Cleveland raised stock and devoted much of his time to hunting, Some time later he located or the noted tract on the north bank of the Yadkin, near Ronda, where Dr. James Hickerson now resides, known as the "Round About," taking its name from the horse-shoe shape of the land, nearly surrounded by the river.
Daniel Boone, on one of his visits from Kentucky, gave such charming description of the "Dark and Bloody Ground" - that land of cane and pea vines, abounding with deer and buffaloes - its wild charm, its rich soil and its teeming game - that Cleveland could not resist the temptation. In the summer of about 1772, in company with Jesse Walton, Jesse Bond, Edward Rice and William Hightower, he set out to visit the hunting grounds of Kentucky. When they had safely passed Cumberland Gap, and entered upon the borders of the famous Kentucky, with cheerful hopes and glowing prospects, they were unexpectedly met and plundered by a band of Cherokees, who relieved them of their guns, horses, peltry, and all that they possessed even to their hats and shoes. An old sorry shot gun was given in turn; with two loads of powder and shot, when they were threateningly ordered to leave the Indian hunting grounds. There was nothing else they could do. On their way home they kept their ammunition as long as possible; with one load they killed a small deer - the other was spent with effect. They were so fortunate as to catch a broken-winged wild goose, and at last had to kill their faithful little hunting dog. In after years Cleveland said that this dog, owing to the circumstances, was the sweetest meat he ever ate. With this scanty supply, and a few berries, they managed to hold out till they reached the settlements, but in a nearly famished condition.
Several months afterwards Cleveland, with a party of chosen men wended his way to the Cherokee towns, determined to recover the horses that had been taken from him and his associates. Cleveland applied to a noted Cherokee chief, known as Big Bear, who told him that the Indians who had his horses would be likely to kill him as soon as they should learn the object of his visit. Big Bear sent an escort with Cleveland to several towns to aid him in recovering his property. He succeeded without much difficulty except in the last place. The Indian having the horse showed fight, raised his tomahawk and Cleveland cocked his rifle, when his friendly escort interrupted, and saved his red brother from a fatal shot by throwing him to the ground, but not before he had hurled his battle-axe at his antagonist, which did no other harm than cutting away the bosom of Cleveland's hunting shirt. Then Cleveland, at the instance of the Indian guide, mounted the horse which was at hand and was riding away when the enraged Indian fired at him wounding the horse in triumph.
Reuben Stringer was a noted woodsman of the upper Yadkin Valley, and was often Cleveland's associate in his hunting adventures. They took an elk hunt together in the month of August, when these animals were in their prime. The elks were large and very wild, and gradually retired before the advancing settlements. A few years before the Revolutionary war they were yet to be found at the foot of the Mountain ranges on the head waters of New river. Pursuing a wounded elk, Cleveland attempting to intercept him at a rocky point of the river, where he expected the elk to cross the stream, found himself surrounded by a large number of rattlesnakes, coiled, hissing, and fearfully sounding their alarm rattles on every hand. From this dangerous dilemma his only deliverance seemed to be an instantaneous plunge into the river, which he made without a moment's hesitation, and thus probably escaped a horrible death.
One day while Stringer was busy in preparing a fire to cook some of their wild meat for a repast, Cleveland spread his blanket on the ground under a large oak and lay down to rest himself and soon fell asleep. In a few moments he suddenly awoke in a startled condition-why, he couldn't tell-and casting his eyes into the treetops above, he saw a large limb directly over him, nearly broken off, hanging only by a slight splinter to the parent tree. He said to his companion, pointing at the limb, "Look Reubin, and see what an ugly thing we have camped under." "It has, indeed, an ugly appearance," replied Reubin, "but since it has apparently hung a great while in that condition, it may likely do so a good while longer. "Ah," said Cleveland, "As long as it has hung there there is a time for it to come down, and I will not be in the way of danger," and gathered up his blanket to spread it in a safer place. As he was passing the fire he heard a crack above the splinter had broken and the limb came tumbling down directly upon the ground where Cleveland but a few moments before had lain. They pulled the limb and found that its prongs had penetrated into the earth to the depth of fourteen inches. Stringer congratulated his comrade on his fortunate awaking and removal, he added, "in one minute. more, you would have been inevitably killed." "Ah Reubin" said Cleveland, "I always told you that no man would die till his appointed time; and when it comes there can be no possible escape."
In l775, when Cleveland's neighbors and friends had occasion to go to Cross Creek to sell their surplus products and buy salt, iron, sugar and other necessaries, they were compelled, before they were permitted to buy or sell, to take the oath of allegiance to the King. When Cleveland heard of those tyrannical acts, and attempts to forestall the politics of the people, he swore roundly that he would like nothing better than to dislodge those Scotch scoundrels at Cross creek. Soon an opportunity was given him. In February 1776, the Highland Tories of that locality raised the British standard, when Capitan Cleveland marched down from the mountains with a party of volunteer riflemen; and tradition has it that he reached the front in time to share in the fight and in the suppression of the revolt. He scoured the country in the region of Wake Forest, captured several outlaws, some of whom he hung to trees in the woods, one of whom was Capt. Jackson, who was executed within half a mile of Ransom Southerland's homestead, whose house and merchandise Jackson had caused to be laid in ashes a few days after the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. "I don't recollect," said Colonel Southerland in the University Magazine for September 1854, "after Cleveland had done with them, to have heard much more of those wretches during the war."
When the British invaded Georgia in 1778 Colonel Cleveland and his regiment from Western N.C. served with distinction under General Rutherford. Returning from this service, in 1779, he was chosen to represent Wilkes county in the State Senate, being the first senator from the county. The year previous he and Elisha Issacs were chosen to represent the county in the House of Representatives, or House of Commons,. as it was then called, as the first representatives of the county. In 1780 Col. Cleveland marched with his regiment against the Tories assembled at Ramsour's Mill, but reached that place too late for service as Colonel Bryan's band was chasing them from the state. He also scoured the New River settlements, checking the Tory uprising in that section, capturing and hanging some of their notorious leaders and outlaws.
Then his King's mountain campaign - the crowning achievement of his life - the wounding of his Brother Larkin Cleveland, while on the way near Lovelady Shoals, near the Catawba river; and then hurrying to "grapple with. the indomitable Ferguson." The great service of Cleveland at this fight will be given in another chapter under the heading, "Battle of King's Mountain." Col. Cleveland had assigned to him one of Ferguson's war horses which lived to an uncommon old age; he also carried home with him a snare-drum which he kept as long as he lived, pointing to it with pride as a trophy of King's Mountain.
James Coyle and John Brown, two notorious Tory plunderers, passed through Lincoln county and robbed the house of Major George Wilfong of everything they could carry away and then made ofi' with a couple of his horses, using the clothesline for halters. Major Wilfong with a party following the culprits, overtaking them near Wilkesboro, recovering the horses, but the ruffians made good their escape. Major Wilfong left the halters made of his clothesline with Cleveland, with which to hang the rascals, should they ever be captured. Not long after, as they were returning to Ninety Six, they were captured by some of Cleveland's scouts and brought to Wilkesboro and Col. Cleveland had them hung with Wilfong's clothes line on the oak tree that is yet standing just north of the court house in Wilkesboro.
On the south fork of New river in the extreme southwestern portion of Ashe county (formerly a part of Wilkes) was a large boundary of land that was clear of timber and heavily set in grass. These lands - called the "Old Fields," and known by that name to this day-belonged to Col. Cleveland, and served as a grazing place for his stock in peaceful days.
In 1781, having occasion to visit his New River plantation, Colonel Cleveland rode there accompanied only by a negro servant, arriving at Jesse Duncan's, his tenant, on Saturday the 14th day of April. Unfortunately for the Colonel, Captain William Riddle, a noted Tory leader, son of Loyalist Riddle, of Surry county, was approaching from the Virginia border with Captain Ross, a Whig captive, together with his servant, now en route for Ninety Six, where, it seems, the British paid a reward for Whig prisoners. Riddle, with his party of six or eight men, a fine old Whig and an associate of Daniel Boone, who was just recovering from a spell of fever. The Tory Captain, probably from Cutbirth's residence regarding solicited information, shamefully abused him and placed him under guard.
Descending the river to the upper end of the Old Fields where Joseph and Timothy Perkins lived - about a mile above Duncan's - both of whom were absent in Tory service, Riddle learned from their women that Cleveland was but a short distance away, at Duncan's with only his servant. Duncan and one or two of the Callaway family there. Every Tory in the country knew full well that Cleveland was probably their worse enemy; how prominently he had figured at King's Mountain, and had given his influences for the Tory executions at Bickerstaff's and caused the summary hanging of Coyle and Brown at Wilkesboro, Riddle thought that such a prisoner would be a valuable prize to offer to his British at Ninety Six, or it would be a crowning honor to the Tory cause to rid the county of probably their worst enemy.
The prospect was too tempting and he at once set about to capture Cleveland. His force was too small to run any great risk, so he concluded to resort to strategy. He resolved to steal Cleveland's horse in the quite of the night, judging that the Colonel would follow their trail the next morning, supposing they had strayed off, when he would ambush him at some suitable place, and thus take "Old Round About," as he was called, unawares and at a disadvantage. The horses were taken at night and a laurel thicket, just above Perkins' house, selected as a fitting place to waylay their expected pursuers. During Saturday, Richard Callaway and his brother-in-law, John Shirley, went down from the neighboring residence of Thomas Callaway to Duncan's to see Col. Cleveland, and appear to have remained there over night.
Discovering that the horses were missing on Sunday morning, immediately pursuit was made. Having a pair of pistols, Colonel Cleveland retained one of them, handing the other to Duncan, while Callaway and Shirley were unarmed. Reaching the Perkins place, one of the Perkins women, knowing of the ambush, secretly desired to save the Colonel from his impending fate; so she detained him as long as she could by conversation evidently fearing personal consequences should she divulge the scheme of his enemies to entrap him. His three associates kept on with Cleveland some little distance behind, Mrs. Perkins still following and retarding him by her inquiries. As those in advance crossed the fence which adjoined the thicket, the Tories fired from their place of concealment, one aiming at Cleveland, who, though some distance in the rear, was yet within range of their guns. But they generally shot wild only one shot, that of Zachariah Wells, who aimed at Callaway, proving effectual, breaking his thigh, when he fell helpless by the fence, and was left for dead. Duncan and Shirley, escaped. Cleveland from his great weight-fully three hundred pounds knew he could not run any great distance, and would only be too prominent a mark for Tory bullets dodged into the house with several Tories at his heels. Now flourishing his pistol rapidly from one to another, they pledged to spare his life and accord his good treatment if he would quietly surrender, which he did.
Wells by this time having reloaded his rifle, made his appearance on the scene, swearing that he would kill Cleveland; and aiming his gun, the Colonel instantly seized Abigail Walters, who was present, and by dint of his great strength, and under a high state of excitement dextrously handled her as a puppet, keeping her between him and his would-be assassin. Wells seemed vexed at this turn in the affair, and hurled his imprecations on the poor woman, threatening if she did not get out of the way that he would blow her through as well. Cleveland got his eye on Captain Riddle, whom he knew, or judged by his appearance to be the leader, appealed to him if such treatment was not contrary to the stipulations of his surrender. Riddle promptly replied that it was and ordered Wells to desist from his murderous intent, saying they would take Cleveland to Ninety-Six and make money out of his capture. The terrified woman, who had been made an unwilling battery, was now released from Cleveland's grasp from a vice; and the whole party with their prisoners and his servant wore speedily mounted and hurried up New River. This stream, so near its source, was quite shallow, and the Tories traveled mostly in its bed to avoid being tracked, in case of pursuit.
After Riddle and his party had called at Cutbirth's on their way down the river, young Daniel Cutbirth and a youth named Walters, who were absent at the time returned, and encouraged by Mrs. Cutbirth, they resolved to take their guns, select a good spot, and Ambuscade Riddle on his return, and perhaps rescue whatever prisoners he might have. But on the return of the Tory party the next day, they made so much noise and gave so many military commands, that led the youthful ambuscaders to conclude that the Tories had received reinforcements, and that it would be rashness for two single-handed youths to undertake to cope with numbers so unequal. So Riddle and his party reached undisturbed and ordered dinner for himself, men, and prisoners. Riddle abused and even kicked one of the Cutbirth's girls who did not willfully aid in preparing the dinner. After dinner they proceeded up New River, mostly along its bed, until they came to the mouth of Elk creek, up which they made their way in the same manner, Col. Cleveland managed to break off overhanging twigs and drop them in the water to float down as a guide to his friends, who he knew would make early pursuit. From the head of the south fork of Elk they ascended up the mountain to what has since been known as Riddle Knob, in what is now Watauga and about 14 miles from Old Fields where he was captured; here they camped for the nights. Early on the morning of Cleveland's capture Joseph Calloway and his brother-in-law, Berry Toney, wanting to see Cleveland on business, called at Duncan's and learned of the missing horses and the search for them; and at that moment they heard the report of the firing at the upper end of the plantation and hastened in that direction, soon meeting Duncan and Shirley in rapid flight, who could only tell that Richard Callaway had fallen and that Cleveland was either killed or taken. It was at once agreed that Duncan, Shirley and Toney should notify the people of the scattered settlements to meet that afternoon at Old Field while Joseph Callaway should go to his father's close by, mount his horse and hasten to Captain Robert Cleveland's on Lewis Fork, a dozen miles distance. His brother, William Callaway started up the river and soon came across Samuel McQueen and Benjamin Greer, who readily joined him and all being good woodsmen, they followed the Tory trail as best they could, till night overtook them some distance above the mouth of Elk Creek and about ten miles from Old Fields, William Callaway suggested that he and McQueen would remain there while Greer should return to pilot up whatever men may have gathered to engage in the pursuit of the Tories.
By night-fall Captain Robert Cleveland and twenty or thirty others, good and tried men, who had served under Col. Cleveland, had gathered at Old Fields, determined to rescue their old commander at every hazzard - even though they had to follow the Tory party to the gates of Ninety-Six. Greer made his appearance in good time and at once they were on the trail of the enemy. They reached William Callaway and McQueen a while before day; and as soon as light began to appear John Baker joined Callaway and McQueen to lead the advance as spies. A little after sunrise, having proceeded four miles, they discovered indications of the enemy's camp on the mountain, but little arrangement was made for the attack; nine men only were in readiness-the others seem to have been some distance behind. Only four or five of these wore ordered to fire on the enemy, the others reserving their shots for a second volley, or any emergency that might happen of these was William Callaway.
Part of the Tories had already breakfasted, while others were engaged preparing their morning meal, Cleveland was seated on a large log while Riddle had Cleveland's own-pistol at him, also Zachariah Wells had his pistol pointed at Cleveland, forcing him to write out passes for the several members of Riddle's party certifying that each was a good Whig-to be used when in tight places, to help out of difficulty by asserting that they were patriots of the truest types. Cleveland's commendations passed unquestioned along the borders of Virginia and the Carolinas. But the Colonel had a strong suspicion that, since his captors were in such haste for the passports, as soon as they were out of his hands his days would be numbered; and thus, naturally but a poor penman, he purposely retarded his task as much as possible, hoping to gain time for the expected relief, apologizing for his blunders and renewing his unwilling efforts. Several of the Tory party were now saddling their horses for an early start, and Cleveland was receiving threats if ho did not hurry up the last passport.
Just at this moment the relief party was silently creeping up; and the next moment several guns were fired and the Whigs rushed up, uttering their loudest yells. Col. Cleveland, comprehending the situation, tumbled off behind the log, lest his friends might accidently shoot him, and exclaiming at the top of his thundering voice, "Hurrah for Brother Bob! That's right, give 'em hell.'" Wells alone was shot as he was scampering away by William Callaway in hot pursuit, and supposed to be mortally wounded; he was left to his fate. The rest fled with the aid of their fresh horses, or such as they could secure at the moment, Riddle and his wife among the number. Cleveland's servant, a pack-horse for Tory plunder, was overjoyed at his sudden liberation. Cleveland and, Ross were thus fortunately rescued; and having gained their purpose the happy whigs returned to their several homes. William Callaway was especially elated that he had shot Wells who had so badly wounded his brother, Richard Callaway, at the skirmish at Old Fields the morning before.
Riddle Captured and Hung
A short time after this occurrence, Captain Riddle ventured to make a night raid into the Yadkin Valley, where, on King's Creek, several miles above Wilkesboro, they surrounded the house where two of Cleveland's noted soldiers, David and John Witherspoon, resided with their parents. The two were taken prisoners and carried to the Tory camp on Watauga river, where both were sentenced to be shot - blindfolded, and men detailed to do the fatal work. It was then proposed, if they would take the oath of allegiance to the King, return to their home and speedily return to their home, return to their home and speedily return with a certain noble animal belonging to David Witherspoon, known as the O'Neal mare, and join the Tory band, their lives would be spared. They gladly accepted the proposition - with such hesitation as they thought best to make.. As soon as they reached home David Witherspoon mounted his fleet-footed mare and hastened to Col. Ben Herndon's several miles down the river, who quickly raised a party and piloted by the Witherspoons, they soon reached the Tory camp, taking it by surprise, capturing three and killing and dispersing others. The young Witherspoons fulfilled their promise of speedily returning to the Tory camp bringing the O'Neal mare, but under somewhat different circumstances from what the Tories expected. The prisoners were Captain Riddle and two of his associates named Reeves and Goss. They were brought to Wilkesboro and tried by court martial and sentenced to be hung. But in order to gain favor with the Whigs or get them in a condition so that they might escape Riddle treated them freely to whiskey. Col. Cleveland informed him that it was useless to be wasting his whiskey as he would be hung directly after breakfast. The three Tories were accordingly hung on the notorious oak that is yet standing in Wilkesboro. Mrs Riddle, wife of the Tory leader, was present, and witnessed the execution of her husband and his comrades.
Col. Cleveland was the Tories' worst enemy in this section. He was determined to break up the Tory bands that infested the frontier. Cleveland and his regiment. were known far and near for their courage. They were known among the Whigs as Cleveland's Heroes, or Cleveland's Bull Dogs, while the Tories denominated them "Cleveland's Devils." Cleveland himself rated each of his well tried followers as equal to five soldiers.
It was not long until one of Cleveland's men captured Zachariah Wells who had not yet recovered from the wounds received at Riddle Knob. He was taken to High's bottom about a mile below Cleveland's Round About residence. Here James Gwyn, a youth of thirteen, with a colored boy, was at work in the field, when Cleveland, who had joined those having the prisoner in charge, took the plow-lines from the horse with which to hang Wells, to a tree on the river bank. Young Gwyn, who knew nothing of the stern realities of war, was shocked at the thought of so summary an execution. Being well acquainted with Col. Cleveland he begged him not to hang the poor fellow, who looked so pitiful and was suffering from his former wound. This excited the Colonel's sympathies, and he said, "Jimmie, my son, he is a bad man; we must hang all such dangerous Tories, and get them out of their misery." Captain Robert Cleveland who at present was cursing the wincing Tory at a vigorous rate. With tears coursing down his cheeks, the Colonel adjusted the rope, regretting the necessity for hanging the trembling culprit - remembering very well the rough treatment he had received at the hands of Wells at the Perkins place at the Old Fields; and firmly convinced that the lives of the patriots of the Yadkin Valley would be safer, and their slumber all the more peaceful, when their suffering country was rid of all such vile desperadoes. Wells soon dangled from a convenient tree and his remains were buried in the sand on the bank of the river.
Other Tories See Trouble
Many other Tories fell into the hands of Cleveland's brave troopers and summary punishment was meted out to them in Cleveland's usual way. Once a Tory leader named Tate and eight others were captured and Cleveland and his men had them near old Richmond, in Surry county. When Cleveland was about to execute the leader, Colonel William Shepherd protested against such summary justice. "Why" said Cleveland, "Tate confessed that he has frequently laid in wait to kill you." "Is that so?" inquired Shepherd, turning to the Tory captain. Tate confessed, and Shepherd yielded to Cleveland's plan and soon Tate dangled from a limb. Tate's associates suffered only imprisonment as other prisoners of war.On another occasion Col. Cleveland visited Col. Shepherd at Richmond where he had two notorious horse-thieves in prison. Cleveland insisted on swinging them to the nearest tree lest they should make their escape and yet further endanger the community - at least one of them, whose crimes rendered him particularly obnoxious to the people. One end of a rope was fastened to his neck when he was mounted on a log and the other end tied to a limb; then the log rolled from under him and he dangled from a limb in plain view of the prison. The other culprit was shown his comrade swinging from the limb and he was given his choice to take his place beside him or cut off both his own ears and leave the country forever. The Tory knew it would not do to meddle with old Round About, so he called for a knife. He was handed a case knife, and after whetting it on a brick he gritted his teeth and sawed off both his ears. He was then liberated and he left with the blood streaming down both cheeks and was never heard of afterwards.
"I'll Show You Perpetual Motion"
John Doss was the faithful overseer of Col. Cleveland's plantation while the Colonel was absent from home during the Tory troubles in 1780-81, Bill Harrison, a noted leader in this region, with the aid of his followers, not only stole Cleveland's stock and destroyed his property, but arrested his overseer, took him to a hill-side, placed him on a log, fastened one end of a grape vine around his neck and the other end was fastened to the prong of a drooping dogwood; then one of the party went up the hill so as to gain sufficient propelling power, then rushed down headlong, butting Doss off the log into eternity. It was not long until Harrison was caught and brought to Cleveland's home. Accompanied by his servant Bill and one or two others Cleveland led Harrison to the same dogwood on which he had hung poor Doss. "I hope you are not going to hang me, Colonel," muttered the trembling wretch. "Why no?" "Because," said the Tory, "you know I am a useful man in the neighborhood - am a good mechanic - have worked for you in peaceful days, and cannot well be spared; besides I have invented perpetual motion and if I am now suddenly cut off, the world will loose the benefit of my discovery. I, too, have heard you curse Fanning and other Loyalists leaders for putting prisoners to death - where are your principles - where is your conscience?" "Where is my conscience," retorted Cleveland; "where are my horses and cattle you have stolen; my barn fences you have. wantonly burned - and where is poor Jack Doss?" "Fore God I will do this deed and justify myself before high Heaven and my country!". Run up the hill, Bill and but him off the log - I'll show him perpetual motion."
The Boys Hang A Tory
On one occasion when Col. Cleveland was away from home, a Tory horse thief was captured and brought and turned over to Cleveland's sons, to await their father's return. The Colonel, not returning as soon as expected, and fearing if they should undertake to keep the prisoner over night he might escape or give them trouble, they appealed to their mother what was best to do under the circumstances. Mrs. Cleveland said to the boys, "What.would your father do in such a case?" The boy. promptly replied, "Hang him." "Well then," said the old lady, "You must hang him," and the thief was accordingly hung at the gate.
The reader must not suppose that Col. Cleveland always deemed it best policy to resort to the severest treatment of Tory thieves brought before him. He was a keen judge of human nature and lost no opportunity nor spared no pains in reforming those who would reform. Once he had a pretty hard case to deal with, "Waste no time, swing him off quick," said Cleveland. "You needn't be in such a D-----d hurry about it." cooly retorted the condemned man. Cleveland, who was toddling along behind was so pleased with the cool retort that he told the boys to let him go. The Tory, touched with sudden generosity, turned to Cleveland and said: "Well old fellow, you've conquered me; I'll ever fight on your side," and proved himself one of Cleveland's sturdy followers.
On another occasion he met an old Whig who had been led astray by the Tories and addressed him in this style: "Well Bob, I reckon you are returning from a Tory trip, are you not?" "Yes, Colonel, I am." "Well. continued the Colonel, "I expect when you become rested you will take another jaunt with them, eh?" "No, Colonel, if I ever go with them again I'll give you leave to make a button of my head for a halter." "Well, Bob, that shall be the bargain." So he gave Bob a stiff drink of grog, in accordance with the fashion of the tines, and a hearty dinner, and started him off home rejoicing on his way and declaring that, after all, old Round About had a warmer heart and a kindlier way with him than any Tory leader he had ever met, and ever after Bob proved himself as true a Whig almost as the Colonel himself.
Besides trying to put down Tory influence the Colonel endeavored to make good citizens as well. Eleven miles above Wilkesboro on the south bank of the Yadkin lived one Bishop, one of a class who tried to shirk the responsibilities of the war, and was wanting in patriotism and energy of character. At heart he was thought to be a Tory. Passing Bishop's on one of his excursions, Cleveland observed that his corn, from neglect, presented a very sorry appearance. He called Bishop out and asked if he had been sick. He. said that he had not. "Have you been fighting for your country then?" "No," said the neutral, "I have not been fighting on either side." "In times like these," remarked Cleveland, "men who are not fighting, and are able to work, must not be allowed to have their crops as foul as yours." The indolent man had to "Thumb the Notch" and receive the lashes as a penalty for his negligence. It is not necessary to say that Bishop's corn was, from that time on, in as good condition as any man's in the country.
His Last Military Service
Cleveland was "all things to all people." His love for the American cause was unbounded. His numerous friends loved and admired him for his bold and fearless simplicity, while his enemies hated him for the same reason that his friends loved him.
But the war was now rapidly drawing to a close. In the autumn of 1781, Col. Cleveland performed his last military service - a three months' tour of duty on the waters of the Little Pedee, in the south-eastern part of the State, under General Rutherford. At this time the British Colonel Craig was confined to Wilmington, while Fanning and other Tory leaders were yet scouring the country, and needed such a force as the mountaineers to successfully cope with them, Cleveland's men routed several of these scattered Tory detachments before returning home.
Moves To South Carolina
At the close of the war Col. Cleveland lost his fine Round About plantation on the Yadkin by a better title, when he turned his attention to the region of the Tugalo, on the western boarder of South Carolina. In 1784 he selected a plantation in the Tugalo valley and moved there the following year. Quite a number of his kinsmen followed him and became his neighbors in the newly settled valley of Tugalo.
In l785 the Cherokee Indians were yet troublesome. They stole some of Cleveland's stock and carried it to the Indian village. Cleveland buckled on his hunting knife and went in person to the Indian town and told them that unless his stock was promptly returned they would pay the penalty -the last one of them - with their lives. The Indians were greatly surprised at his enormous size, and judged that it would take a hundred warriors to cope with him single-handed. The stock was promptly restored.
Hangs Another Horse Thief
Col. Cleveland did not lose his hatred for the Tories in his new home. Henry Dinkins, a Tory of the Revolution, who had taken refuge among the Cherokees, became a notorious horse-thief. Cleveland learned of their approach in the Tugalo valley and he snatched up his rifle and waylaid their trail and captured Dinkins and two negroes associated with him. Dinkins was promptly hung on the spot. So notorious was Dinkins' reputation for evil that the whole country was overjoyed at his sudden execution without waiting to consider whether or not the mode of his exit was in accordance with the niceties of the law.
His Last Days and Death
Col. Cleveland held positions of trust and honor in his new home, but he loved quiet home life best and spent most of his time about his plantation. He continued to increase in weight until he weighed the enormous sum of four hundred and fifty pounds.
For several summers preceding his death he suffered with dropsy in his lower limbs, and during the last year of his life his excessive fat considerably decreased,. and he, at last died while sitting at breakfast, in October, 1806, in the sixty-ninth year of his age. His wife died about six years previous. Ho left two sons and a daughter, whose descendants are numerous and respectable. Our county man, Esq. R. M. Staley is a great-grand-son of Col. Cleveland. Wilkes county has no better citizen and no man a better neighbor than Esq. Staley.
With hardly an education and little improvements in later life, Col. Cleveland, with a vigorous intellect, exerted a commanding influence among the frontier people; and though despotic in his nature and severe on the Tories, his patriotic activity did much to preserve the western portion of North Carolina from British and Tory ascendency. North Carolina deservedly commemorated his services by naming Cleveland county for him.
The remains of this noble hero sleep in the family burial ground in the valley of the Tugalo. No monument - no tombstone - no inscription marks his silent resting place. The spot is marked by several pines that have grown up since his interment - one of thorn, it is said, shoots its tall spire from his grave. There he lies in a sister State with not even a gravestone to mark his resting place, where scattered bands of Cherokees may look upon the pine that rises out of his grave and wonder among themselves, "Is this the goal of ambition - this the climax of glory?"
How strange are the ways of men!
|The first will probated in Wilkes county was probated and
recorded in the year l778, at the December term of the county court.
In the early history of the county wills wore only probated during
the session of the County Court and not before the Clerk at any time
convenient as in now the case.
This will, first on record in the county, starts off like this:
"The Last Will and Testament of John Witherspoon, Dec'd. Dec. Term, 1778.
"November the first in the year of our Lord Christ, 1778. In the name of God, Amen, I John Witherspoon, and of Wilkes County, being weak in body but sound of memory, blessed be God, do this day and in the year of our Lord make and publish this my last will and testament in the following manner, that is to say, first I appoint, _____", etc.
The subscribing witnesses are Thomas Harbin, Alexander Holton and Jno, Robinson.
|The subject of this sketch was one of the early pioneers of this
section. He did much in building the county of Wilkes and the
establishment of law and government in this section of the State .
The name of William Lenoir appears oftener in early records of our
country than the name of any other person. His life, character and
services are recorded in such an able and familiar manner in an
extract from the "Raleigh Register:" of June 22, 1839, that we give
the article here:
This venerable patriot and soldier died at his residence at Fort Defiance, in Wilkes county, on Monday, the 6th of May, 1839, aged eighty-eight years. Perhaps no individual now remains in the state of North Carolina who bore a more distinguished part during our Revolutionary struggle, or who was more closely identified with the early history of our government than the venerable man whose history and public services it is our purpose to sketch.
General Lenoir was born in Brunswick county, Va., on the 20th of May 1751, and was descended from poor but respectable French ancestry. He was the youngest of ten children. When about eight years old his father removed to Tar River, near Tarboro, where he resided until his death which happened shortly after. The opportunities of obtaining even an ordinary English education that day were extremely limited, and General Lenoir received no other than such as his own personal experience permitted him to acquire after his father's death. When about 20 years of age he was married to Ann Ballard of Halifax, N.C., a lady possessing in an eminent degree those domestic and heroic virtues which qualified her for sustaining the privations and hardships of a frontier life, which it was her destiny afterwards to encounter.
In March, 1775 General Lenoir removed with his family to the county of Wilkes (then a portion of Surry), and settled near the place where the village of Wilkesboro now stands. Previous to his leaving Halifax, however, he signed what was then familiarly called, "The Association Paper," which contained a declaration of the sentiments of the people of the colonies in regard to the relations existing between them and the crown of Great Britain, and which their scattered condition rendered it necessary to circulate for signatures in order to ascertain the wishes and determination of the people. Soon after his removal to Surry he was appointed a member of the Committee of Safety for that county and continued to discharge his duties as such, and as clerk to the Committee until their authority was superseded by the adoption of the Constitution of the State. On the commencement of hostilities with Great Britain, General Lenoir very early took a decided and active part. It is well known to all those acquainted with the history of the times that about the beginning of the war of the Revolution the Cherokee Indians were exceedingly annoying and troublesome to the white settlements in the Western part of North Carolina. The Whigs therefore in that section of the country were obliged at the very outset to be constantly on the alert - they were frequently called in to march at a moments warning, in small detachments, in pursuit of marauding bands of Indians, in the hope of chastising them for depredations committed on the settlements - they were also compelled to keep up scouting and ranging parties, and to station guards at the most accessible passes in the mountains. In this service General Lenoir bore a conspicuous part, which was continued until the celebrated expedition of Gen. Rutherford and Gen. Williamson in 1776, put an end to the difficulties with the Cherokees. In this expedition General Lenoir served as a lieutenant under the distinguished Col. Cleveland, who was then a captain, and frequently has he been heard to recount the many hardships and suffering which they had to undergo. They were often entirely destitute of provisions - there was not a tent of any kind in the whole army - very few blankets and these only such as could be spared from their houses for the occasion, and their clothing consisted principally of rude cloth made from hemp, tow, and wild nettle bark - and as a sample of the uniform worn by the General officers, it may be mentioned that General Rutherford's consisted of a tow hunting shirt dyed black and trimmed with white fringe. From the termination of this campaign until the one projected against the British and Tories under Major Ferguson, Gen. Lenoir was almost constantly engaged in capturing and suppressing the Tories, who, at that time, were assuming great confidence and exhibiting much boldness. Indeed, such was the character of the times that the Whigs considered themselves, their families and property in continual and imminent danger. No man ventured from his house without his rifle, and no one unless his character was well known, was permitted to travel without undergoing the strictest examination. Gen. Lenoir has frequently been heard to say that owing to this perilous situation he has often been compelled on retiring at night, to place his rifle on one side of him in bed while his wife occupied the other.
In the expedition to King's Mountain he held the position of captain in Col. Cleveland's regiment, but on ascertaining that it would be impossible for the footmen to reach the desired point in time, it was determined by a council of officers that all who had horses or could procure them should advance forthwith.
Accordingly Gen. Lenoir and his company officers volunteered their services as privates, and proceeded with the horsemen by a severe forced march to the scene of action. In the brilliant achievement on King's Mountain he was wounded severely - in the arm, and also in the side - and a third ball passed through his hair just above where it was tied. He was also at the defeat of the celebrated Tory, Col. Pyles near Haw River, and in this engagement had his horse shot and his sword broken. He also raised a company and marched toward the Dan River, with the hope of joining Gen. Greene, previous to the battle of Guilford, but was unable to effect a junction in time. Many other services of a minor character were performed by him, which it would be tedious to enumerate.
In the militia of the State he was also an active and efficient officer, having passed through different grades from that of an Orderly Sergeant to a Major-General in which latter of office he served for about eighteen years.
In a civil capacity also General Lenoir discharged many high and responsible duties. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace by the convention which met to form the State Constitution, and was appointed by the first General Assembly which met under its authority. He continued to discharge the duties of this office until he died with the exception of a temporary suspension of about two years, whilst he acted as Clerk of County Court of Wilkes. It is therefore more than probable that at the time he died he was the oldest magistrate in the State, or perhaps in the United States. He also filled at different periods the various offices of Register, Surveyor, Commissioner of Affidavits, Chairman of County Court, and Clerk of Superior Court for the county of Wilkes. He was one of the original trustee of the University of NC., and was the first president of the Board. He served many years in both branches of the State Legislature, embracing nearly the whole period of our early legislative history, and during the last five years of his service in the Senate was unanimously chosen Speaker of that body. It was also remarked that he performed the duties of that important station with as much general satisfaction, probably, as was ever given by the presiding officer of any deliberate assembly. He was for several years elected a member of the Council of State, and when convened, was chosen President of the Board. He was also a member of both the State Convention which met for the purpose of considering the Constitution of the United States; and in the discussions of those bodies he took on jealousy the rights of the States. Owing to the difficulties which existed among the States in the adoption of the Federal Constitution, as opinion prevailed that another General Convention would be called to revised and amend it. The Convention of North Carolina, acting upon this supposition, proceeded to elect five delegates to represent the State in the proposed General Convention, of which number General Lenoir was one. It is also in honor of him that the respectable county of Lenoir bears its name.
These, together with many other services of a minor character, though important in themselves, or in furtherance of the due execution of the law, constitute the sum of that portion of the public burdens which have been borne by this venerable man, for many of which he declined to receive any compensation. Those who knew Gen. Lenoir will readily concur in the opinion that it is questionable whether any man ever performed a public duty with a more punctilious regard to the promotion of the public welfare or in more strict accordance with the requirements of the authority under which he acted.
For the last several years of his life he devoted much of his time to reading and reflection on public affairs, and manifested great concern and expressed much apprehension lest, from the signs of the times, our inestimable government, which cost so much blood and treasure, hardship and suffering, was destined, at no distant period, to share the fate of the republics of other days. Indeed, so great were his fears on this subject that it was a source of real disquietude and unhappiness to him.
In private life Gen. Lenoir was no less distinguished for his moral worth and generous hospitality than in public life for his unbending integrity, firmness and patriotism. His mansion was open at all times, not only to a large and extensive circle of friends and acquaintances, but to the stranger and traveler. Although he lived for many years upon a public highway and received and entertained all persons who chose to call upon him, he was never known in a single instance to make a charge or receive compensation for accommodations thus furnished.
In his manners and habits of life he was plain and unostentatious. Steadily acting himself upon principles of temperance and frugality in all things he endeavored both by example and precept to inculcate similar principles upon others. To the poor he was kind and charitable and by his will made liberal provisions for those of his own neighborhood. He had long enjoyed almost uninterrupted health while he was careful to preserve by moderate but almost constant exercise either on horseback or in his workshop, of which he was very fond. As evidence of his physical ability, it may be mentioned that he attended the Superior Court of Ashe county, a distance of more than 100 miles from his residence, traveling the whole distance on horseback, and crossing the Blue Ridge, and also attended the court of his own county, a distance of 214 miles not more than three weeks before his death. During his last illness he suffered much pain, and often expressed a desire that the Supreme Disposer of all things would terminate his sufferings. He often said "Death had no terrors for him - he did not fear to die." His remains were interred in the family burying-ground, which occupies the spot where Fort Defiance was erected during the Revolutionary war.
|Zebulon Baird Vance's grandfather, Zebulon Baird, was a native of Wilkes County. It was after this Wilkes county ancestor that the noted General, Governor, Senator and Statesman was named. Notwithstanding the fact that he lived nearly a century ago and is very little known at his day, Zebulon Baird would be counted as one of the great men of Wilkes County for the reason that he was the grandfather of the most beloved man that ever lived in North Carolina.|
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