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Monday, October 31, 2011

Readers, I Need Your Help!

Hello Readers, I know that you are “out” there and appreciate your interest!  Since I began this blog on June 30, I have posted 30 previous entries and, as of this date, have had 698 “hits.”  I am amazed at and thankful for the number of readers.  I also understand that some “hits” may have been accidental or from some who realized the blog did not address their interests and did not return as readers. 
I have had only two comments thus far, one of which was received yesterday, October 30.  Please let me hear from you.  You may wish to make a correction, add additional information, or suggest a topic for a post.  In addition, any reflective or personal thoughts will be greatly appreciated.  You may even want to tell me that I am too wordy and long-winded!
I understand that you may not feel comfortable commenting in a public forum.  However, comments are not posted publicly until I read and publish them.  If you prefer that I not publish your comment you may indicate that in the comment box.  Also, your name will not be provided in your comment unless you are a registered follower or include your name with your comment.
Many of you have my personal e-mail address, and may comment using that medium if you prefer.
Again, I DO look forward to hearing from you and thank you so much for your interest in and support of my endeavor to share the information that I am learning about my West ancestors.  Most likely, my ancestors are many of your ancestors, too!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wilkes and the Wars: The Civil War (1861-1865)

Oh, the horrors of war!
Only one generation, 78 years, separated the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  The war began when Fort Sumter in South Carolina was attacked by the Confederate Army and President Lincoln called for a volunteer army to recapture this site.  Since I am also descended from the Land family through my 2nd great grandmother, Nancy Land, wife of Alexander Balus West, I find it most interesting that Anne Sumter (1735-1790), sister of the Revolutionary War General Thomas Sumter, was my 5th great grandmother.  Anne Sumter was married to Thomas Land (1734-1832).  Fort Sumter was named for her brother, a founding father of South Carolina who was often called “the Fighting Gamecock of South Carolina.”
What was the attitude of the residents of Wilkes County toward secession?  According to Bass, Earp, and Pea in Images of America, Wilkes County, even though over 1000 men from Wilkes County fought in the Civil War, the county overwhelmingly opposed secession.  Bass, Earp, and Peña indicated that most of these soldiers did not own slaves but fought for their honor, for their families, or because they were required to fight.[i]  Peña, in her collaboration with Laurie B. Hayes in Wilkes County, A Brief History, indicated that Wilkes Countians were independent thinkers.  Before the Revolutionary War, many residents felt underrepresented and distrustful of government; they believed that the Federal government favored the eastern counties and did not serve their needs.  By 1861 the tenants of freedom and independence offered under the idea of states’ rights were appealing to those supporting secession.  On the other hand, other residents wished to preserve the Union.[ii]
After the attack on Fort Sumter, bloody battles ensued mostly throughout the South in the Confederate states.  North Carolina was not among the first group of states to secede from the Union.  Delegates at the first secession convention narrowly defeated the motion to secede.  Soon after April 15 the second secession convention in North Carolina voted to secede from the Union. Therefore, on May 20, 1861, North Carolina seceded from the Union.
By the end of the war 620,000 men were killed.  This number represented 10% of all Northern men between the ages of 20 and 45 and 30% of all Southern men between the ages of 18 and 40.[iii]  Recent preliminary research indicates that of these casualties approximately 33,000 to 35,000 men fighting in North Carolina regiments, some of whom were from other states, were killed in the war while fighting for the Confederacy.[iv]  Also, we must be mindful that the war often pitted North Carolinians against North Carolinians.  Hence, about 8,000 (3,156 white, 5,035 black) North Carolinians fought for the Union.[v] 
With the use of railroads, telegraph, steamships, and mass-produced weapons, the Civil War is often referred to as the first industrial war.  For the first time, the war saw the use of trench warfare around Petersburg, Virginia, and the strategy of total warfare such as that carried out by Sherman as he marched through Georgia.  These same strategies and resources were employed in World War I in Europe.
Back in Wilkes, the county’s most notable Civil War leader was James B. Gordon.  Brigadier General Gordon was born at Oakland, east of the Reddies River on the Yadkin River.  He received his early education in Wilkes in the common schools and academies and his graduate degree from Emory and Henry College.  He was involved not only in the mercantile business but also was very active in local politics. In 1850 he was elected to the General Assembly.  Being one of the first to join the Confederate Army, he served in many battles throughout the war.  During the retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox, the Confederates found that the bridge at Sailor’s Creek had been burned.  Gordon’s Regiment held the enemy at bay while the Confederate Army continued its retreat.  Again, at Hagerstown he held back Union forces saving the Confederate trains.  He received a mortal wound on May 12, 1864, and died six days later.  A historical marker on US421 in North Wilkesboro pays tribute to him and his service to North Carolina.
What about those other brave men from Wilkes County who volunteered in the Confederate Army?  In April of 1862 the 53rd Regiment of the North Carolina Infantry was organized at Camp Mangum near Raleigh.  Men often enlisted in a company that was recruited in the counties where they lived.  Frequently, companies were combined due to the numbers wounded or killed.  Company K, known as “Wilkes Rangers,” was made up of many volunteers from Wilkes County. 
In November of 1864, the 53rd Regiment had approximately 900 men.  However, by March 1865 fewer than half of those remained.  By April 26, 1865, the 250 remaining men surrendered.  What an enormous loss! 
Alexander Balus West, my 2rd great grandfather, and Thomas Charles “Tommy” Land, my 2nd great grand uncle were two of the men in this 53rd Regiment from Wilkes County.   Alexander Balus served as a private and later a corporal, while Thomas Land was a lieutenant and later a lieutenant colonel.  Alexander Balus West reportedly served under his brother-in-law.  Last, but not least, was my 2nd great grand uncle, Franklin West, the brother of Alexander Balus West.  Franklin was too old to join the regular troops but served on the home front as a private in Captain Adolph Russau’s Company K, 5 North Carolina Senior Reserves (Confederate).  He enlisted on July 7, [1864?] and was discharged during January-February 1865.[vi]
Alexander Balus West enlisted in K Company of the 53rd North Carolina Infantry on April 30, 1862.  On August 1, 1862, he was promoted to the rank of corporal.  For an unknown illness, he was in the hospital at Wilson during the muster roll taken for July-August 1862, returning to duty for the roll taken in September-October 1862.  He was wounded in the foot during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, and was hospitalized either in the Wayside Hospital or the General Hospital No. 9 in Richmond.  These two different names may represent the same site.  He returned to duty for the September-October 1863 muster roll and was present and accounted for through August of 1864.  On September 19, 1864, he was killed in action at Winchester, Virginia.  Because of poor communication and inadequate record-keeping associated with the war, he was initially listed as a prisoner of war but was later confirmed as killed in action.
Also, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, I find it extremely sad that, apparently, his body was never returned to Wilkes County, and his family may not have been aware of his death for quite some time.  Recently, in my research I learned that an event such as this was a common occurrence.   Soldiers killed in action were frequently buried where they fell.  Indeed, from eye-witness descriptions many soldiers who were killed in action during the Third Battle of Winchester were buried where they fell. Throughout all of the Civil War battles, many soldiers were reported as missing in action but actually had been killed in action. A number of others who died shortly after being captured were listed as prisoners of war.  Most often, families discovered the death of their loved ones through lists published in newspapers, word of mouth, or correspondence from fellow soldiers.  Neither the Union nor the Confederate armies provided any official notification of deaths to families.  These deaths were confirmed after the war, if at all.  For decades following the war, many families continued to seek answers from the Federal government concerning the fate of their loved ones who had been prisoners of war in Union camps.[vii]
At the outbreak of the war, Thomas C. Land joined Colonel Sidney Stokes’ company as a private. He served as a corporal in Company B, 1st Regiment, North Carolina State Troops.  He was wounded in the Seven Days Battle around Richmond in June 1862.[viii]  On August 2, 1862, he was appointed 3rd lieutenant of Company K in the 53rd Infantry Regiment, North Carolina Troops.  Land was present through February, 1863.  He was hospitalized at Richmond, Virginia, with “remittent” fever and was furloughed for 30 days on or about August 3, 1863.  During this furlough he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 53rd North Carolina Regiment.  Lt. Col. Thomas Land returned to duty for the September-October 1863 muster roll and was reported present through August 1864.  He was wounded at Winchester, Virginia, on September 19, 1864, the same day that his brother-in-law, Alexander Balus West, was killed.  He returned to duty for the roll in January-February 1865 but resigned from the army on March 11, 1865, because he was “unable to perform the duties of a soldier as a result of wounds received in action.”  His resignation was accepted on April 1, 1865.[ix]  Land is described by John Crouch as a literary person who wrote poems and wrote the ballad, “The Death of Laura Foster,” describing the infamous Tom Dula murder trial of Wilkes County.[x]  One must assume that Thomas Land must have been the one who carried the news of the death of Alexander Balus West, his brother-in-law, to the family in Wilkes County.
The battle at Winchester on September 19, 1864, was known as the Third Battle of Winchester and was also called the Battle of Opequon.  It must have been a horrific battle which began about 1 a.m. on September 19, 1864, and lasted until nightfall of that same day.   The particular leaders in this battle were Union officers Sheridan, Wright, Emory, Grovers, Brige, Dwight, Russell, Duval, Hayes, and Thoburn.  The Confederate officers were Early, Ramseur, Rhodes, Gordon, and Cullen.  The battle took place, apparently, just northeast of Winchester, in woodlots called the First Woods and the Second Woods, in a field called the Middle Field, and on the banks of a stream or marsh known as Red Bud Run.  Union General Philip Sheridan had 39,000 officers and soldiers.  Confederate General Jubal Early had a mere 14,000 men.  In spite of their numbers, the Confederates fought a hard battle but finally had to fall back to positions near Winchester.  By nightfall, the city of Winchester belonged to the Union Army.
In order to capture the horrors of the Third Battle of Winchester, which many historians consider to be the most important conflict of the Shenandoah Valley, I would like to share the following quotation from Garry Adelman’s on-line article:
The Third Battle of Winchester was the bloodiest battle ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley, producing more casualties than the entire 1862 Valley Campaign. Sheridan lost 12 percent of his army with 5,000 of 39,000 soldiers killed, wounded and missing. Early suffered fewer casualties but he lost 25 percent of his army.

The dead and wounded were everywhere. One soldier of the 12th Connecticut recalled, "the Rebel dead lay thickly in the fields beyond, and were piled upon each other in the yard of a large stone mansion [Hackwood] ... A ghastly row of gray-clad corpses lay along a wall, behind which some Rebel brigade had evidently found shelter; and the fields and hillsides as far as Winchester were dotted with the fallen.

The dead were buried where they fell. Many were later moved to the nearby Winchester National Cemetery or the Stonewall Cemetery. Some 8,000 Union and Confederate soldiers from the many battles around Winchester rest in these cemeteries today. The wounded were treated in a variety of field hospitals until better facilities were established. Captain Ira B. Gardner of the 14th Maine, wounded in the arm in the Second Woods, walked back across the Middle Field to a field hospital on Red Bud Run. He soon joined some 300 wounded men at the nearby home of Charles L. Wood where his arm was amputated near the shoulder, wrapped in cloth, placed in a box, and buried in the yard. Thirty years later Gardner returned and was told that Mr. Wood had unearthed his arm and reburied it in the Winchester National Cemetery.[xi]

While such events as the Third Battle of Winchester and many others were occurring throughout the South, how did the war transpire in western North Carolina?  Probably the most horrible campaign seen in Wilkes was that of Union Major General George Stoneman in what is known as “Stoneman’s Raid.”  Stoneman, who was commander of part of the Union army called the “District of East Tennessee,” marched his cavalry throughout western North Carolina.  This raid, which coincided with Sherman’s march through Georgia, continued from late March until May 1865 and is known as one of the longest cavalry raids in history.   Stoneman’s objective was to destroy, not to fight battles, in an effort to bring about an immediate close to the war.  He divided his 5,000 cavalrymen into detachments that marched over 1,000 miles throughout western North Carolina destroying factories, bridges, and railroads.  They secured their food and supplies by pillaging from local residents.
What happened specifically in Wilkes County?  Guerrilla warfare was rampant in the mountains.  During the latter stages of the war, the mountain settlers experienced Union attacks and occupation, the most famous of which was the campaign by Stoneman in which his detachments surrounded much of western Wilkes County.  On March 28, 1865, Stoneman’s army entered North Carolina at Boone on its way to Wilkesboro.  He divided his cavalrymen into two groups.  Maps illustrating the encirclement of much of the area on both sides of the Yadkin River also appear to include those areas of the Stony Creek and Mount Zion communities where the West and Land families lived.  Gillem’s troops moved northeastward paralleling the Yadkin River. He passed through Deep Gap on March 29 and reached Wilkesboro that same day. Their route followed what is presently Highway 268.   As they tried to cross the swollen Yadkin River at Holman’s Ford on March 29, they lost some artillery and ammunition.   The other detachment under Stoneman was taking the southern route on its way to Wilkesboro.  This group left Boone on March 28 following a southeastern route through Blowing Rock and reaching the Yadkin River on March 28.  From there they moved southward to Patterson’s Factory.  At some point along their route, which most likely was at Patterson’s Factory, they found Cub Creek too high to ford.  Therefore, Stonemen and his 25,000 men camped on the upper side of the creek for several days.  They spent this time plundering and burning the surrounding area.  Additionally, they found several moonshine stills, became drunk, and “rode roughshod over the town of Wilkesboro.”[xii]  Stoneman was angered by the actions of his men but was unable to stop them.  He and his men left the area and marched toward Virginia, their ultimate destination.  On this route toward Virginia, they marched through Ferguson and rendezvoused with Gillem at Wilkesboro on March 29.  As they continued their trek, Stoneman’s troops reached Elkin on April 1 and Dobson and Mount Airy on April 2; they entered Virginia on April 3, 1865 ending their rampage in western North Carolina.[xiii] 
Another devastating incident was that conducted by a band of deserters from Stoneman’s forces and some other deserters and robbers.  This event is referred to as “Fort Hamby.”  Fort Hamby was located on the north side of the Yadkin River near the mouth of Lewis Fork and about eight miles west of Wilkesboro.  Originally, Fort Hamby was a log house whose first occupants had been a group of “questionable” women.  The house served as a hide-away and staging point for approximately 18 to 30 deserters who wreaked havoc on residents in Wilkes, Watauga, Caldwell, and Alexander counties.  The renegades were led by a Union deserter named Wade.  Because a system of law and order after the war was lacking, these raids continued until a group of residents “took matters into their own hands.”  After the failure of their first attempt to end the lawlessness of the deserters, residents of the counties that had been ravaged and plundered by these renegades banded together, surrounded, and attacked “the fort” early one morning and set the kitchen on fire.  The fort was burned to the ground, and four captured deserters were court martialed and shot on site “at the stake.”  Wade escaped retreating to the river.  Later, however, he returned to the site where he found four of his followers dead at the stake.  He left and was never found.  A historical marker describing this episode in Wilkes County is located close to the Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.  Today, the actual site of Fort Hamby is under water, but the approximate location serves as a compound named Fort Hamby which is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir and is also the home of the Forest Edge Amphitheater. 
Apparently, the mountains and foothills of western North Carolina were havens for many groups of robbers and Union deserters.  Men of such persuasion were labeled “bushwhackers.”  Since most able-bodied men were serving in their respective armies, women, children, and property were at the mercies of these bushwhackers. The home guards, composed of men who were too old to fight with the regular troops, were of little protection.  The thought of being a mother with small children alone on an isolated mountain farm during these tumultuous times is terrifying.  What strong women they must have been.
Nancy Land West, my 2nd great grandmother, must have been one of those strong women with a strength and determination that I see in many female West-Land descendants today.  Somehow, she endured the guerrilla warfare that was rampant in the mountains.  Even though, she apparently lived in close proximity and had the support of her Land and West families, she was surely quite fearful for herself and her young son. By the time Stoneman and his deserters were ravaging Wilkes County, Nancy West, along with her young son, my great grandfather, Thomas Harvey West, were mourning the death of her husband and his father.  Alexander Balus West was killed in the Third Battle of Winchester about six months earlier.  Also, Nancy Land West must have experienced concern about the injuries that her brother, Thomas C. Land, had sustained in that same battle.  If only she could tell her story!
As I read such horrifying accounts of the guerrilla warfare, the Third Battle of Winchester, Stoneman’s Raid, the deserters of Fort Hamby, and the other “bushwhackers” who combed the mountains of Wilkes County, I can’t help but think of the aching hearts and the fears of those left behind on the home front.  Unless one has had loved ones in a war, one cannot fully understand the fears and sadness these people encountered.  Likewise, those of us who have never experienced a war on our “home front” cannot comprehend what it must have been like.

[i] Bass, Misty, Christy Earp, and Jennifer L. Pea. Images of America, Wilkes County. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2007, p. 106.
[ii] Peña, Jennifer L. and Laurie B. Hayes. Wilkes County, A Brief History.  Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2008, pp. 67-77.
[iii] American Civil War, Wikipedia,
[iv] Howard, Joshua B. “North Carolina Civil War Death Study,”
[v]  “Civil War,” North Carolina’s History Project.  Raleigh, NC:  John Locke Foundation, 2011.
[vi] Franklin West. NC 5 Senior Reserves. pp. 1-3,
[vii] Howard, Joshua B. “North Carolina Civil War Death Study,”
[viii] Crouch, John.  “Historical Sketches of Wilkes County, 1902,” New River Notes,
[ix] Jordan, Weymouth T., Jr. North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865, A Roster, Vol. XIII Infantry, 53rd-56th Regiments.  Raleigh, North Carolina: Division of Archives and History, 1993. p.161.
[x] Crouch, John.  “Historical Sketches of Wilkes County, 1902,” New River Notes,
[xi] Adelman, Garry. “The Third Battle of Winchester,” American’s Civil War Battlefields, Civil War Trust,
[xii] Explore Wilkes, Wilkes County Heritage, Civil War,

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wilkes and the Wars: The Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

In order to understand the various wars, one must understand the political and economic climate that led to conflict which precipitated the wars.
Prior to the separation of the Carolinas in 1712 into the two separate colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina, the Carolina colony had been governed by seven lord proprietors.  After the separation into two separate entities, the British crown maintained political control of the two while the remaining lord proprietor, Lord Granville, retained economic interests in the northern section, North Carolina.  In 1775 a new general assembly was created with officials elected by the people.
By 1770 most of western North Carolina, in what is now the Piedmont, was considered by many historians to be the backcountry.  This area was sparely settled by white men.  By 1767 Orange County was the most populated area.   Hillsborough, the county seat, was known as the “capital of the backwoods.”[i]   Threat to the Indian culture and way of life remained, for the most part, in the distant future.  The Cherokee Indians continued living in their traditional ways with very little interference from the few white settlers scattered among the mountainous region.  Most likely, the population in western North Carolina had changed very little by 1775. 
Political unrest rose throughout the colonies in America.  Britain’s efforts to control the colonies and to levy unjust taxes had raised the fury of settlers in the North Carolina colony and in other colonies as well.  The Stamp Act of 1765 provided the foundation for an unspoken alliance among the colonists which also included North Carolinians.  This alliance was not resolved until national independence was won at the end of the Revolutionary War.  The Regulators’ Movement in Hillsborough in 1771, which has been called a “rehearsal for Revolution,”[ii] was discussed in my previous blog.  This movement reflected the unrest of the settlers in the backcountry of North Carolina. 
Three men noted in the literature as North Carolina Militia leaders from Wilkes County in the Revolutionary War were Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, Captain Robert Cleveland, and Colonel Richard Allen.
Colonel Benjamin Cleveland migrated to Wilkes County from Virginia in 1769 and settled near Mulberry Fields, the site of present-day Wilkesboro.  He initially served in the Surry County Militia prior to the creation of Wilkes County and was named colonel of the Wilkes militia in 1778 after the creation of the county.  He led his soldiers throughout the back country of North Carolina fighting the Tories and developed quite a reputation for his harsh treatment of the Tories.  In fact, the approximately 300 year-old Tory Oak, which stood behind the old Wilkes County Courthouse in Wilkesboro until it finally succumbed in 1992, was the tree where Colonel Benjamin Cleveland “used its spreading limbs to hang at least five Tories.”[iii]  A tree started from an acorn from the original tree currently thrives on the site.  In addition, Colonel Cleveland’s forces participated in the defeat of the British in the Battle of King’s Mountain.
Benjamin Cleveland’s brother, Robert Cleveland, migrated from Virginia to Wilkes County with him and served under him as a captain in the Wilkes Militia in the Revolutionary War.  Robert lived along the banks of the Yadkin River off Parsonville Road and apparently was a neighbor of the legendary Daniel Boone.  His home was also near Rendezvous Mountain where Colonel Benjamin Cleveland rallied his Overmountain Men as they prepared for the march to King’s Mountain.  Robert’s log house, which was built on a land grant about 1779, is considered to be the oldest house in Wilkes County.  In 1987, the deteriorating home was purchased by Old Wilkes Incorporated, disassembled, and reassembled in downtown Wilkesboro where it may be seen today.
Another Wilkes patriot was Richard Allen who migrated from Maryland to Rowan County, North Carolina, in 1770.  The area where he lived in Rowan became part of Surry soon after he moved to Rowan.  He became Wilkes County’s first sheriff after the creation of Wilkes and continued to be active in public service in the county for many years.  In 1780 he served as a colonel of the North Carolina Militia in the Battle of King’s Mountain.
The British commander, Lord Charles Cornwallis, hoped to take his military campaign through North Carolina as he marched to Virginia.  In addition to British troops, he planned to recruited local loyalists for this campaign and appointed Major Patrick Ferguson to recruit the loyalists and lead the campaign. 
Ferguson tried to intimidate the western North Carolina and Tennessee settlers (those west of the Blue Ridge Mountains) by telling them that if they did not “desist from their opposition to the British army, and take protection under his standard, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.”[iv]  Colonel Ferguson's warning “was the result of his frustration over the refusal of most of the Overmountain men (east Tennessean and southwestern Virginians) to take the loyalty oath and to cease providing safe harbours for militiamen from the Carolinas and Georgia (who had eluded him after the August 16th defeat of American General Gates and the American army at the battle of Camden by retreating “overmountain” to the “western waters”).”[v]
Ferguson’s message was delivered to Militia Colonel Isaac Shelby of Sullivan County, North Carolina (now Tennessee) who conferred with Militia Colonel John Sevier of Washington County, North Carolina (now Tennessee).  The two assembled their forces to surprise Ferguson by attacking him in his camp.  Colonel William Campbell, commander of the militia of Washington County, Virginia, accompanied them.  Colonel Charles McDowell and Colonel Andrew Hampton and their militiamen from Burke and Rutherford Counties in North Carolina assembled with them on September 28, 1780. At this time the five militias, consisting of about 1000 men, began their trek across the mountains.  On September 30 Colonel Benjamin Cleveland and Colonel Joseph Winston and their 350 militiamen from Wilkes and Surry Counties, North Carolina, joined them bringing the total to almost 1400 men.  On October 6 these forces were joined by other militias (NC’s William’s; SC’s Hill’s, Lacey’s, Graham’s, and Chronicle’s; and NC’s Hambright’s).  They learned that Ferguson and his forces were “atop” King’s Mountain.  After an all-night march in the rain, the militias reached the site at three o’clock in the afternoon on October 7.  They circled the mountain and charged the enemy.  Within one hour the battle was won by the Patriots and Ferguson lay dead on the field.
How amazing and significant this battle was.   These militiamen (Whigs, Patriots, Rebels) whose ranks included backwoodsmen without orders, without formal training, without uniforms, without adequate ammunitions, and without adequate provisions fought against Ferguson’s American Tories (Loyalist, Royalists) and won.  We must remember that some of those Loyalists were fellow colonists of the Patriots.  Therefore, neighbors and relatives could have fought each other.  I, a Tennessean, am proud that my fellow Tennesseans, along with at least one North Carolina ancestor, fought alongside each other as Patriots in this historic battle.  Historians recognize that the Battle of King’s Mountain was a significant milestone in bringing about the successful conclusion to the Revolutionary War.
An excellent map of the historic trail that the Surry County Militia and those from East Tennessee and western North Carolina followed as they marched to King’s Mountain may be found at the following website: 
The map traces the journey of the militias as the Surry County Militias left Elkin in Surry County and the Overmountain Men left present-day Abingdon, Virginia, and East Tennessee to rendezvous at present-day Morganton, North Carolina.  From there, they continued together to King’s Mountain.
This map illustrates how closely the colonial militias came to the area where Alexander West I and his family, including and his sons Alexander West II and John West, lived, reportedly, in the Lewis Fork section of Wilkes County on the Yadkin River just southeast of Wilkesboro, North Carolina.  This area is near the site of the present-day W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir.  I have been unable to find any other information regarding any battles or raids in the Wilkes County-Stony Fork area. 
During this war, my fifth great grandfather, Alexander West I, and his family appear to be my only West ancestors living in the area.  My fourth great grandfather, John West, was born about 1760 and would have been approximately 15 years old when the Revolutionary War began—too young to have served.  His older brother, Alexander West II, born in 1751, enlisted in the North Carolina Militia from Wilkes County in 1780.  Thirteen years after the war ended John West married Margaret “Peggy” Witherspoon in Wilkes County in 1796.  They moved to South Carolina where their three children were born prior to John’s early death.
In addition to the West family, my Land ancestors, the forbearers of my second great grandmother, Nancy E. Land, were also living in the vicinity during the war.  These distant grandparents, Thomas Land/Anne Sumter, Jonathan Land/Elizabeth Isbell, and William Thomas Land were undoubtedly witnesses to that period of history.  My ancestors, the Swansons and the Witherspoons, were likewise there.  Since I have spent so much time on my West family, my research of these families is somewhat lacking! 
My fourth great grand uncle, Alexander West II, was the son of Alexander West I and brother to my fourth great grandfather, John West.  The military service of Alexander West II in the Battle of King’s Mountain is well documented.  He first volunteered for service from Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1779, in pursuit of the Cherokee Indians with Captain Hargrave’s militia.  He was drafted in 1780 from Burke County, North Carolina.  His last tour of duty was in 1782 with Colonel Cleveland; I assume that he was with Cleveland in the Battle of King’s Mountain.   He received a Revolutionary War Pension in January of 1834 but died in March of that year.  His widow continued to receive his pension until her death.  I have additional information which I will share with any of his descendants.
After the war, settlement across the Appalachian Mountains beckoned those Revolutionary War soldiers who had been promised western land in lieu of currency.  The defeat of the Cherokees and British opened up the land beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains that was forbidden to them prior to the war.
As I research the various wars and their related atrocities and as I connect them with the lives of my ancestors at those periods in our history, I am humbled by the historic events and the actions of our forefathers as they sought fair and equal treatment, independence, safety, and a better way of life.  Their sacrifices were enormous.  They certainly paved the way for a better life for us.   I realize how blessed and fortunate that most of us are to live in a free, safe, and abundant country. 

[i] Mobley, Joe A., editor. The Way We Lived in North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North
  Carolina Press, 2003, pp. 89-90.
[ii] Ibid, p. 94.
[iii] “The Tory Oak,” Explore Wilkes,
[iv] Hammett, C. “The Battle of King’s Mountain, Tennesseans in the Revolutionary War.”
[v] Ibid.

Additional Source:
Ready, Milton. The Tar Heel State, A History of North Carolina. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 2005.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wilkes and the Wars: Indian Raids and the French and Indian War (1754-1763)

As I have been expanding my genealogical research, I have begun to delve into other factors that affected the lives of my ancestors, many of whom, in addition to the Wests, lived in the western mountainous counties of North Carolina. The various wars that occurred during the beginnings of Wilkes and other western North Carolina counties undoubtedly impacted those living in the area.  In a series of blogs, I would like to present my limited knowledge of some of those most heinous times endured by those living in Wilkes and its adjacent counties.  This blog post is devoted to the dangers posed by Indian raids and the French and Indian War.
Without doubt the Indians, mostly Cherokee, who lived in the area, presented a constant danger to the settlers.  In fact, according to John Crouch who wrote his essay in 1902, they were quite numerous in what is now Wilkes County with their capital village being in the location of present-day North Wilkesboro.  Crouch indicated that “hundreds of wigwams” lined the bottoms along the Yadkin and Reddies rivers.  According to Crouch, a type of fort named the “Black House” was erected as a refuge for white settlers who were under attack by the Indians.  Apparently, this “fort” was burned by the Indians and another known as the “Red House” was constructed for the same purpose.[i] 
Unfortunately, since Crouch did not provide a time line for these events, we do not know if they occurred before, during or after the French and Indian War.  Mr. Crouch’s essay, although somewhat biased and based on his personal knowledge and handed-down oral histories, interestingly provides an account of those early days.
The first major “war” that affected the country at that time in history was the French and Indian War that spanned the years between 1754 and 1763.  This war, which is often referenced as the Seven Years War and which may be designated as the “first world war,” was basically a global conflict between Great Britain and France which spread to colonial soil.  It was an extension of the greater war between England and France for control of not only North America but also of other parts of the world.  Trouble began when the French embarked on a mission to connect her domains in Canada with those in Louisiana by taking possession of land in between which was claimed by Great Britain to be within their Virginia Colony.  The French began their campaign by establishing military posts from the Great Lakes to the Ohio Valley.  North Carolina volunteers willingly answered the call from North Carolina Governor Dinwiddie for military assistance in order to protect their land.
The two main enemies of the colonists were the French forces and the various Native American forces who were French allies.  The French had gained the support of Indians tribes such as the Shawnees and others from the north.  At the beginning of the war, the Cherokee and Catawba Indians were allies of the English colonists and fought with them to protect North Carolina. Governor Arthur Dobbs, for whom Fort Dobbs was named, signed a treaty with the Cherokee and Catawba Indians securing them as allies of Great Britain.
During the French and Indian War, North Carolina frontier settlements were in constant risk of invasion by bands of Indians friendly to the French.  Therefore, in 1756 Fort Dobbs was constructed in the Piedmont region near the present city of Statesville to protect those settlements on the western frontier of North Carolina from the Indian allies of the French.
In the ensuing years, the Cherokees became embittered over continued harsh treatment by the whites. During the years of 1754 and 1756, the war cries of the Cherokees echoed up and down the Yadkin River Valley.[ii]  Furthermore, the Cherokees were incensed by the killing of dozens of Cherokee warriors by Virginians in 1759.  In 1761, the Cherokees were defeated under the command of Colonel Hugh Waddell. 
In 1763 the Treaty of Paris brought an end to the French and Indian War. However, the contest for North America continued between the British and the Spanish.  In addition, the Proclamation of 1763 signed by King George II of Great Britain prevented settlers from settling in the French territories west of the Appalachian Mountains.  Likewise, this treaty represented an effort to relieve the encroachment of the settlers into Native American territories.  Can we really believe that our independent-minded, adventurous ancestors obeyed this proclamation?  Of course, not!  In fact, in the 1770s, further settlement by the settlers on Indian land brought about additional warfare between the government and the Cherokee Indians.
Where were my West forefathers during this period of history?  They were not in what is now Wilkes County (created in 1777).  Alexander West I was in the North Carolina county of Orange (created in 1752).  In fact, a John West, Sr., presumably Alexander’s father, sold 100 acres of land in Orange County to Alexander West I during the period of 1752-1768.  Likewise, John West and Alexander West are documented in Orange County in 1754 where John West owned land joining William Mills. William Mills’ property was on the Stoney Creek waters of the Haw River which would have been in the Hillsborough Road area.  Alexander West, who was most likely Alexander West II, and William Mills, Jr. served as chain carriers for the survey of the Mills’ property.  In addition, Alexander West is found in the Orange County census for 1755.  According to his military records, Alexander West II, the son of Alexander West I, was born in 1751 in the area that was to become Orange County.  Recorded, oral family history indicates that John West, my 4th great grandfather and also a son of Alexander West I, was born about 1760 in Orange County. 
Even in Orange and Surry counties, these ancestors were not immune to the warfare in North Carolina.  In fact, in 1768, the Regulators, a group of poorly organized and poorly armed farmers who sought relief from unjust taxes and corruption of local officials, staged a protest in Hillsborough, the county seat of Orange County.  The ensuing battle at Alamance on May 16, 1771, claimed several dozen lives; 200 Regulators were wounded; and 15 Regulator leaders were captured with one being hanged “on the spot.”   The remaining 14 were marched back to Hillsborough.  Of those, 12 were found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed.  Six were pardoned, but the remaining six were publicly hanged.  Some refer to this protest or rebellion as a precursor to the Revolutionary War.[iii]
By 1775 Alexander West I and his son, Alexander West II, are found in the tax records for Surry (created in 1771) and Wilkes (created 1777) counties.  Therefore, we may assume that Alexander and his son emigrated from Orange to Surry about 1775.  Additional documentation indicates that Alexander West [II] was a private from Wilkes County volunteering in service in 1779 [mostly likely, in the militia] in pursuit of Cherokee Indians.
As we examine the way of life during those tumultuous periods of warfare in our country’s history, we must hold in the foremost parts of our minds the hardships, fears, physical atrocities, and deaths that our ancestors endured.

[i] Crouch, John. Historical Sketches of Wilkes County, 1902, published in New River Notes,

[ii]French and Indian War, North Carolina Interactive Video, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources,

[iii]Mobley, Joe A., editor. The Way We Lived in North Carolina. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2003, pp. 99-102.

Additional Sources:
·         French and Indian War,
·         North Carolina in the French and Indian War,