Thursday, July 4, 2013

American Independence Day: The Steep (and Ongoing) Price of Democracy

As the fourth of July approached, an idea occurred to me: it might be interesting to scout through your family tree and see how many direct ancestors you can spot who "gave Revolutionary service." The  phrase "gave Revolutionary service" is one lineage societies use, I understand (I don't belong to any of them, and am speaking from second-hand knowledge): they admit people whose ancestors were Revolutionary soldiers, but also those whose ancestors took the oath of loyalty to the new government during the war, or who provided provisions for Revolutionary troops.

Here's the list I compiled. Mind you, I don't have software in my genealogy program with a category called, "Find Revolutionary Ancestors." So I may have missed a man here or there. These are direct ancestors of mine, grandfathers back in time. 

Women obviously "gave Revolutionary service," too, but their contribution to the American Revolution has frequently been ignored, since it was often a silent one. I don't have the kind of stories a Fox family much intermarried with my Simpson and Pryor ancestors has, of a long-ago female ancestor (a doughty Carroll woman who married a Fox) who manhandled a British soldier when he dared to reach into the churn sitting on her porch in South Carolina and helped himself to butter. She pitched him off the porch for his bad manners, the story says.

I do know from handed-down stories that Mary Hodgkins Posey, wife of Thomas Posey in the list below, ruffled the feathers of the man who had raised her when he found her and her family sedately drinking tea one Sunday in Charles Co., Maryland, during the Revolution. The guardian had thought that folks supporting the Revolution would have given up tea, taxes for which supported the British crown. And I've read stories about a scandal a member of my Godwin family in Virginia caused--Miss Clotilde Godwin--by eloping with a British solider who caught her eye during the Revolution.

But, on the whole, what women thought and did over much of the course of history is simply lost from historical record, since men, and powerful ones at that, kept the records and took women's considerable contributions for granted. For that matter, who really knows in most cases why the men in the list below did what they did during the Revolution, why they took the side that they took? They did have a choice, after all. Many folks simply sat the war out, refusing to take one side or the other. 

In the Carolinas, the Revolution was a civil war, pitting neighbor against neighbor. Dennis Lindsey in the list below: his son Mark, my ancestor, married Mary Jane Dinsmore, whose father David Dinsmore took the Loyalist side and was exiled to Nova Scotia when Charleston fell, splitting his family in two, since his wife and children remained behind in South Carolina. 

I don't have many documents written in the actual words of the men in the list below, to tell me what they thought of their lives and why they behaved as they did. Such as they exist, they're usually wills, which speak only of the disposition of property. Jesse Cherry served in the North Carolina legislature, and I do know from the records of that body how he voted on this or that piece of legislation, but beyond that, I have little to tell me why these men made the decisions they made during the Revolution.

John Lauderdale was the black sheep of his esteemed family, a ne'er-do-well, and I know from South Carolina deed records that his Mauldin in-laws forced him to secure his children's property before he wasted it. Jacob Braselton had two Quaker brothers in North Carolina during the Revolution. One was killed when pro-British folks thrust pitchforks into a haystack in which he was hiding as they scoured the countryside for Revolutionary sympathizers when the battle occurred at Guilford courthouse. John Bryson was among members of his Presbyterian congregation in North Carolina who followed their bellicose pastor into battle at several skirmishes in their vicinity. Family stories say that he and all his brothers were at the battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina at which my Loyalist ancestor, David Dinsmore, was also present. 

Robert Leonard had come to Maryland as a British officer during the French and Indian War, to help secure the western Maryland frontier against the opposition. He apparently cottoned to the colonies and remained in Maryland after that war, choosing the American side during the Revolution and dying in the battle of Camden in South Carolina. His descendants long held onto his British discharge papers, which are now very tattered and in an archive in North Carolina.

Samuel Odle was from a family whose members ignored their Quaker consciences during the war, as did many of Thomas Brooks's Quaker relatives. When his Revolutionary service pay indent was ready to be delivered in South Carolina, William Lindsey helpfully wrote a note (helpful to me as a genealogist) asking that it be delivered into the hands of Dennis Lindsey, naming Dennis as his son. Dennis also served in a South Carolina militia during the war. Both had right nice handwriting.

Richard Harrison filed a pension application helpfully detailing his life history and Revolutionary service, and he and his wife Rachel Dorsey Harrison also kindly tore the page from their family bible providing the birthdates of all their children, and submitted that with the pension application, so that we descendants now have a first-hand record of those names and dates all these years down the road.

And so it goes. Dryasdust history, people fighting battles, people making war, people choosing sides, people sometimes, rarely, imagining new ways of being in the world, which envisage life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone--a cracked imagining that has still not succeeded in convincing many of us of its importance. Or its possibility.

Here are those "gave Revolutionary service" folks I find in my direct ancestral line. A happy Independence Day to American readers of Bilgrimage, and a good day to everyone:

Samuel Batchelor, North Carolina

George Birdwell, Virginia

Jacob Braselton, Maryland/North Carolina

Thomas Brooks, Virginia

John Bryson, North Carolina

Capt. James Carrington, North Carolina

Jesse Cherry, North Carolina

Nathan Godwin, North Carolina

Thomas Graves, Virginia

Benjamin Green, South Carolina

Amos Harris, North Carolina

Richard Harrison, North Carolina

Daniel Holland, North Carolina

James Horton, North Carolina

Capt. Samuel Kerr, South Carolina*

John Lauderdale, Virginia

Sgt. Robert Leonard, Maryland*

Dennis Lindsey, South Carolina

William Lindsey, South Carolina

Nottingham Monk, North Carolina

Corp. Samuel Odle, Virginia

Thomas Posey, Maryland

Richard Pryor,Virginia

Thomas Simms, Virginia

Zachariah Simms, Virginia

Dudley Snead, Georgia**

Thomas Whitlock, Virginia

Thomas Winn, Virginia/South Carolina

* Died in battle.

** I have not absolutely confirmed this person as a direct ancestor, but much circumstantial evidence suggests he is.

The photo is from the Flickr photo stream of Joey Shevelson, by way of Creative Commons.

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