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Capt. Samuel Johnson

Biography of a Soldier of the American Revolution

Submitted by Larry Cockerham

Having worked on my family history for several years and having looked at many Internet websites for information concerning various ancestors, I note a scarcity of information about my sixth great grandfather Samuel Johnson of Wilkes County, North Carolina. His life span (1757-1834) covered a most important part of our country’s history. Samuel, along with his cousins and neighbors, fought and nearly gave his life, in the defense of his homeland against disgruntled Native Americans and the marauding British Army. I was first introduced to Samuel through the genealogical studies of cousin Mary Lynn Johnson Richards who spent decades unveiling our family tree. Mary and many others used their bloodlines to Capt. Samuel as an entry to the Daughters of the American Revolution, and yes, others joined the SAR.

Samuel’s story began with his birth in Fauquier County, near Richmond, Virginia in 1757, the sixth child of Jeffrey Johnson III 1722-1788 and Rachel Walker d. 1816. Rachel was the daughter of George Walker and Frances Hardwick. This Johnson line has been traced and documented back through Jeffrey Johnson I who died in 1726 in King George County, Virginia and who was living in Greater Wiccocomicoe Parish, Northumberland County, with his father John Johnson in 1663.

Like most colonial families, the Johnsons vied for land grants and toiled the soil and reaped the bounty of the forests in the fertile Virginia valleys as they worked their way south into western North Carolina. Jeffery Johnson III, Samuel’s father, brought his family into Wilkes County about 1771 when he received land grants on the Yadkin River. With the help of slave labor, notably two gentlemen referred to in Jeffrey III’s will as Harry and Ned, the Johnson family, working long and hard, became quite prosperous.

On the 1830 federal census for Wilkes County, Samuel and family were listed as owning ten slaves. Though he fought for his own freedom and that of his countrymen, he wasn’t quite ready to change the system that held black men in bondage. From all accounts of his deeds, there is no reason to suspect that there wasn’t considerable respect shared by all occupants of the Johnson plantation. There was work to be done by all from which all could benefit.

Young Samuel worked the family’s farm near Roaring River until he reached manhood and made the acquaintance of William Lenoir and joined the militia as a gentleman soldier.

Sam was well documented as having participated in several raids against the Cherokees under the command of Lenoir and also that of Ben Cleveland. In 1779 he, according to Lyman Draper, “commanded a mounted company against Tories in the Fayetteville region” and “served on Cleveland’s New River expedition in early 1780”.

The few years after the colonies made their declaration of independence in 1776 saw the massive struggle build in intensity, first in the north and then spreading to both South and North Carolina in the later part of the decade. An army led by Major Ferguson had for several months brutally killed settlers and pillaged farms in South Carolina. Mountain militia leaders McDowell, Shelby, Sevier, Campbell and Cleveland assembled a force to meet this threat. Samuel Johnson and others from the upper Yadkin Valley quickly rode to join this band of mountain men numbering about fifteen hundred citizen soldiers.

The energy of this little army was focused on what was to become known as Kings Mountain, the rocky precipice where Major Ferguson unwisely “defied God Almighty and all the rebels out of Hell to overcome him” as per Lyman Draper’s Kings Mountain and It’s Men. In their haste to encounter the encamped Ferguson, mounted soldiers were separated from those on foot. Thus the mounted Samuel was made part of the attacking force and though he had reached the rank of Captain in the militia, he served as a Lieutenant in this campaign and battle.

According to Draper’s account, Samuel was in the company of Lt. Joel Lewis and as the group made their ascent on the mountain. Samuel was shot through his abdomen, with “three bullet holes in one skirt of his coat and four in the other”. He reportedly continued to urge his troops forward after he fell from his wounds. The story holds that Samuel asked to be carried to view the body of the fallen Ferguson after the battle and that Col. Cleveland and two other soldiers honored his request. That glimpse of the battle was taken from a pension application filed several years later by his son Lewis Johnson.

Being severely wounded and unable to mount his horse, Samuel was placed on a horse-drawn litter where he could be transported back to Wilkes County and given the chance for survival. As he drew nearer his home, family legend holds that he became so weak that he was left at the home of Reverend Ambrose Hamon, a local Baptist minister. There he was nursed by young Mary Hamon who brought back his strength and apparently sparked considerable emotional interest in the young fallen warrior. They were married 25 Jun 1782.

One of their sons, Ambrose Johnson, filed a declaration as administrator of his mother’s estate in 1854 in which he stated that Col. Cleveland presented his battle sword to Samuel as a token of his esteem. Being a working man, Samuel used the sword as a tool on his plantation and unfortunately broke the blade in half. Ambrose stated that he saw his father retool the blade and reinsert it into the handle guard.

Samuel continued to serve in the militia after Kings Mountain. There is an account of an incident in which he was summoned from church at the Roaring River Meeting House one Sunday by a messenger telling of Tory depredations west of the Blue Ridge. Samuel summoned several of his men from the church and they immediately rode off leaving Mary and the other wives to go home by themselves. Apparently these activities were quite common until the end of the war.

Samuel and Mary were the parents of Robert who married Celia Bourne; Nancy who married Jesse Gambill; Chloe who married William Gambill; Polly who married Leander Johnson; Samuel Brumfield who married Susanne Alexander; Ambrose who married Lucinda Franklin; Mary who married William Bourne Jr; Lewis who married Nancy Elmira Martin; Col. John Simpson who married Nancy Adeline Holbrook; and Rachel who married William M. Forrester.

Samuel watched his large family grow and prosper as he continued to work his farm. After a long and productive life he passed to his Maker on 15 Sep 1834 at his home near Roaring River.