How many members of this family participated in the American Revolutionary War?
By the time the family history reaches the Revolutionary War generations, there are hundreds of potential ancestors to account for. While identifying these family members is not yet complete, there is already plenty to share. So without further delay, you may click here to obtain a PDF spreadsheet detailing the 39 direct ancestors who are known to have contributed to American independence. The spreadsheet includes summary information about military service, pension application numbers, and identifying numbers for both Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution records.
Seven of the eight families are represented, the only exception being the Loebs whose immigrant ancestors did not arrive in the country until the middle of the next century. The list is a mix of those credited with helping the cause, including those who served in either the Continental Army or state militias, those who contributed to civil government, and those who are identified by the Daughters of the American Revolution as having provided “Patriotic” service. These patriotic contributions included providing supplies, money, or other material aid, as well as a few whose only known participation was taking an oath of allegiance to the new country.
There were 21 men who fought for independence during the war, mostly with the provincial militias whose greatest effectiveness was in battling competing Tory militias and otherwise keeping order in their colonies-becoming-states. Some of the militias also excelled at guerilla warfare, epitomized in the legend of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, who harassed the British forces occupying South Carolina. Nelson ancestor George Dickey fought under Marion during the latter part of the war. However, militias were also renowned for hasty and often disorderly retreats when confronted in formation by the bayonets of red-coated British regulars and their Hessian mercenaries. Nonetheless, there were notable militia victories, particularly the dramatic morale-boosting win at Kings Mountain in South Carolina in October 1780, which was significant for several family members. In brief:
As the 1780 British offensive in the southern states unfolded, General Charles Cornwallis occupied South Carolina and began to move toward North Carolina. He dispatched British Major Patrick Ferguson with a force of Loyalist militia to the west to deter the westernmost colonial settlers from supporting the resistance. Ferguson sent a haughty letter to these “Overmountain Men” threatening that if they did not put down their arms, he would “lay waste to their country with fire and sword.” This was not the right audience for that kind of message. These men were mostly independent Scotch-Irish who had settled west of the Appalachian mountains, sometimes in defiance of British law and despite knowing they would have regular confrontations with Native Americans. Plus, they were already upset about the British stirring up those same Native Americans to attack the settlements as part of the effort to suppress the colonial rebellion. Unsurprisingly, instead of surrendering the westerners organized their militia, marched over the mountains, picked up additional soldiers along the way, caught up to Ferguson’s force at Kings Mountain, and killed or captured almost every Tory soldier. Ferguson died in the battle. Both John Blakemore and his son William came from over the mountains and fought at Kings Mountain. William Thompson of the Nelson family joined the force from Rutherford County.
There were also family members in the main Continental Army who fought for much of the war. William Tenery’s role has already been described. His service was matched by that of David McNeely of the Nelson family who was present for the Battles of Brandywine and Guilford Courthouse among others. McNeely also fought in the Seige of Yorktown which concluded with Cornwallis’s surrender and marked the end of major military actions during the war. John Jones of the Paysinger family was at Yorktown too, as part of the Virginia militia. There was a Samuel Holt of Charles City County, Virginia, whose service in the Continental Army was also extensive, but he has not been firmly established as the Samuel Holt of the Nelson family. It is suggestive that the Nelson-family Samuel was also born in Charles City County.
The most highly-placed revolutionary ancestors were both from the Thompson family. William Lyles was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Maryland militia who owned extensive plantations and two mansions, Want Water (presently a ruin) and the nearby Harmony Hall which are both now owned and managed by the National Park Service. George Washington was allegedly a good friend and frequent guest of Lyles.
The other was George Davidson, the grandfather of Martha Davidson Randle, who was appointed first Captain, then Major, in the North Carolina militia. However, his real prominence came when he represented Anson County in the Provincial Congress in 1776, sitting alongside Hezekiah Alexander and William Sharpe in the Halifax Provincial Congress which crafted the Constitution for the State of North Carolina. Davidson went on to represent Anson County in the early North Carolina legislatures. He is sometimes confused with an unrelated George Davidson from Rowan/Iredell County who was a Colonel in the state militia and much more involved on the military side of the war. That point of confusion is notable in some of the Sons of the American Revolution applications and probably some of the Daughters applications too, although website notes indicate the latter organization has since sorted it out.
The youngest family member to serve in the military during the war was Jesse Wallace (Thompson family), who is credited with membership in the Continental Army despite being only 14 years old in 1781 when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. A little older was Robert Browning (Paysinger family) who was just 16 years old when he joined the North Carolina militia. He managed to stay out of battles however, although he just barely missed the Battle of Guilford Courthouse when he was discharged three days prior to take his sick brother home.
There are two women who appear on the list, Ann (Davenport) Graves and her daughter Eleanor (Graves) Kimbrough of the Paysinger family. Both appear in the records of the Daughters of the American Revolution for providing supplies to the rebel forces. No doubt there were many other women family members who participated in ways large and small throughout the war, but most credit went to their husbands who could enlist in the military and hold public offices. For these two women, their husbands died either before or early in the war, so they were heads of their own households and thus obtained deserved recognition (at least from descendants eager to join the DAR!).
Of course, the colonists were bitterly divided over separation from Britain, so there were those who sympathized with the opposition. The progenitor of the Thompson family name was allegedly a British soldier, as previously discussed. William McRee (Paysinger family) somewhat famously bucked his Scotch-Irish brethren and invited Lord Cornwallis to dinner when the British invasion force reached Charlotte, N.C. Later the same evening, rebel militia surrounded his house and trapped the family with a number of Tory and redcoat guests, although Cornwallis had departed. It is unclear from the record what happened to the McRees afterwards, but they apparently reconciled with their neighbors because they continued to live side-by-side after the war and William’s son John (Mary Adaline McRee‘s grandfather) married a daughter of the famed Alexander clan who led the rebellion in Mecklenburg County.
Among other adult males in the family, there were four Quakers who – likely following the Quaker pacifist testament – did not participate in the war. There are 17 other individuals for whom no record of has been found regarding their activities or sympathies. Some surely were just keeping their heads down and hoping to stay uninvolved and out of the line of fire; others might have been open or closeted Tories who kept quiet after independence was won.
There are still 79 blanks on the family tree representing unknown men in the Revolutionary War generations, mostly from the older generation that generally was not involved in combat. Further research will hopefully fill in some of those blanks and uncover additional records from the revolutionary period. I will update the table as information becomes available, so check back in the future. If you have information I have overlooked, or any tips or hints, please let me know in the comments.
Daughters of the American Revolution – Ancestor Search. Plug in the number from the table into the appropriate box to pull up index records. Original applications and other records are available for purchase.
Sons of the American Revolution Patriots and Graves Index. This site must be searched by name rather than number. Scans of some complete applications for membership are available on Ancestry.com, and those applications often useful information about genealogy and military service.
Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements and Rosters. Revolutionary War pension applications often have a wealth of information about military service. This site provides transcriptions of many of those applications for soldiers who participated in the southern colonies/states. Not all veterans submitted such applications.
It is possible to visit many National Park Service and other historic sites connected with this family’s Revolutionary War experience, including:
- Harmony Hall, Maryland
- Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, North Carolina
- Hezekiah Alexander House, North Carolina
- Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania
- Kings Mountain National Military Park, South Carolina
- Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, Tennessee
- Yorktown Battlefield, Virginia