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About the Participation of the Flower Swift Company in the Revolution

Regarding Flower Swift and his Militia Company

A letter from descendant Grady Loy

Dear Dr. Quinn:

I read with some interest the posts you placed recently on the New River List.

Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 1:22 AM


Subject: [NewRiver] Flower Swift Quaker list – final draft coming

A list member put me on to your posts.

I appreciate anyone who brings clarity to an often muddled area of history as you have. I learned several new things about the subject from reading your work and find nothing that is not correct, or at least to the best of our knowledge, which is a rare treat. I can add some additional information concerning this group that in some cases may be informative.

The controversy of the list. I do not know why Lyman Draper is supposed to have made the comments he did. Elizabeth Arndt recently went to Wisconsin and looked at a list from the Draper collection and on Flower’s list or the cover of it (I can send it by e-mail later were a couple of words I think “Tories? Quakers?” and – well I had just better send it and let you see what you think. Mary Kegley published a series of Militia lists for the Whig side from Montogmery and Washington Counties during the revolution (including as an extra the loyalty oath lists where the Ruddicks declined to sign) and lists with the exact membership of the the “Tory/Quaker” lists are given as standard militia lists that she found stored at Christianburg. Lyman Draper did not make that connection apparently.

Another reason for the designation is apparently that there is a letter to William Crockett who was Flower Swift’s colonel for the first 9 months of his service to the effect that he was to go down the New River and disarm the companies of Swift, Cox and Osbourne (this is listed in abstract on the New River Site) It is one of three letters that Flower Swift either wrote or was mentioned in. The other two are a letter from William Preston’s nephew Colonel Breckenridge I think reporting that around April 1780, Flower Swift had been captured and then was released or escaped from a Tory camp where he had seen red coated British officers among the Tories.

The second letter is approximately late 1781/1782 and is to Colonel William Preston concerning “delinquents” from his company. This was the period after Yorktown had fallen and General Greene was putting all his effort into removing remaining British units from South Carolina. He called the Montgomery (among other) militias to service but Preston noted that he was only able to field 1/7 of his recorded strength. The letter from Swift appears to be an answer to an order to call up as much of the local force as possible so that it could be sent on to aid General Marion and others in South Carolina. (The Montgomery militia had been “disaffected since the battle at the beginning of March 1781 when the Montgomery Militia was in front on a march with some North Carolina Militia and Maryland line to join general Greene at Guilford for that battle. The infamous Colonel Tarleton attacked – I think this was Ramsour’s Mill – and the Montgomery Militia fired off a couple of rounds and began to fall back as was the general Militia Custom. While they were taking the brunt of the attack the Maryland regulars retreated with the wagons carrying the militia’s supplies. The North Carolina Militia was thrown into confusion and Colonel Preston was thrown from his horse. The Montgomery men feeling they had been used as sacrificial lambs to preserve the Maryland Regulars (not far from Greene’s actual feelings on the subject) got angry and began to melt away. At the next camp the assembled captains told Preston he did not have a fighting force and they returned home. Preston shamed and broken, though his superiors did not hold it against him, spent the remainder of the war and his life trying to rebuild his militia.)

I have the text of these two letters and the second may be more interesting for you (if you have not got it already) as it has lists of names of people in service. This is probably the last of the Swift lists.

The letter I do not have, to Walter Crockett, I would love to have in facsimile or text if you have it or know where it is. I do not think it has been properly interpreted yet.

As to why there is so much confusion concerning the Swift lists, I will mention a little background of Flower Swift. He was the grandson of a man (Flower Swift) born into a London Merchant family apparently with interests in Jamaica. For whatever reason he appeared in Maryland in what is now Harford County (there is a high possibility he may have been in Cecil near the Chester Co. border first) marrying (Church of England) the daughter of Mark Whitaker. When Mark Whitaker died Flower and the children of Mark’s first wife relocated to present day Frederick County to the west of Frederick where the family of one of the Whitaker brother’s in law lived. He had gotten land from his wife’s father Thomas Wilson. Swift’s wife died and he married a Wilson also and became a constable of Monacacy hundred (Frederick Co., MD), and was responsible for the upkeep of the road from Frederick to the west, a job that rotated in his family and that his son may have held (these are positions his eponymous grandson emulated in Grayson Co.) Flower according to family legend for what it is worth went back to England in 1742-1744 to collect an inheritance, presumably that of his merchant father, another Flower Swift (his uncle Peter had died in Jamaica ca 1710). He was lost at sea and apparently the land had always belonged to his in-laws. His wife gave some land to his son Thomas as an inheritance and Thomas soon sold this and migrated to present day Randolph County NC at Sandy Creek where he bought some land during the Granville distribution. His next door neighbor and possibly brother in law by a previous wife (we are working on this) was fellow Harford County citizen Herman Husband. Herman had been Church of England but had converted and become Quaker in North Carolina. He is well known as the North Carolina land holder, provincial legislator and regulator leader of 1771. He railed against the harsh taxation policies of the English governor Tryon in the late 1760’s and as a result the Quaker community was split in North Carolina, the majority sticking to more traditional and obedient Quaker values but a vocal minority supporting his cause. He did not want a violent situation, but in addition to his small group of militant Quakers, a large group of Baptists (Thomas Swift was a Baptist) opted for a confrontation. Husbands fled a day or two before the British Governor’s militia struck at Alamance and Thomas Swift (who also did not participate at Alamance) and his family may have aided Husband’s escape. Husband’s children by his earlier wives remained and kept his North Carolina properties but one of the children of his third wife named one of her children Flower and this grandson lived with some other Swift descendants in Illinois many years later.

We do not know how the Alamance Battle and the resulting looting by militia troops against known or suspected Regulators affected the Quakers who moved to Grayson but there may have been a connection.

Captain Flower Swift was about 16 or 17 at the time of Alamace and whether he was one of the mob and had to relocate is not known. His father was able to keep his homestead until he died in 1806 when it passed to his second oldest son Thomas. The looters did some damage but he was unable to obtain state compensation having been judged to have taken the part of the Regulators.

Swift was reasonably literate as the existence of his letter will attest but not at the same level as his superiors William Preston or William Campbell and this is probably because Thomas’ higher education was neglected by the early death of his father and Flower’s frontier upbringing.

He was very suspicious of outsiders and this may have arisen from his experiences during the Regulator era. He was certainly with his family in 1770 but for us the period between 1770 and September 1779 remains a blank. He and his circle were very likely involved in counterfeiting various silver coins during this period – the Bedsauls were blacksmiths and had been since they were up north. There is an old Bedsaul family legend about how they made bells by day and coins by night and moved on when the silver ran out. The early homestead at Iron Mountain may have had a little native silver lying in a surface deposit and they did all move on after the war. Flower must have had some qualities or connections because Preston pulled him seemingly from nowhere to place in command of the expansion company made by dividing the Osborne and Cox companies in what was regarded as the single most dangerous Tory district in Virginia in 1779. Osborne and Cox were both men with proven loyalties and military abilities at least in frontier fighting. So one idea was probably to put the novice between the two senior men so that there would not be too weak a spot in the line [acutally Swift’s company is east of both Cox and Osborne – JQ]. However it is doubtful that even with his attractiveness to the Quakers – Flower Swift was probably married to Mary Bedsaul (We have information on her headstone in Missouri so the name Mary is correct) – that he would have been made captain there without some other reason. But I have no idea at this point.

I would deeply appreciate it if you could send me any references to him as captain or in any capacity prior to September 8, 1779 as I have never been able to find anything about him in Virginia prior to that date.

Back to the topic. Since Swift was very suspicious, it appears likely that he did not date his militia lists or write anything else on them (such as “militia list”) that could later be used against he or his men. Unlike many of the Virginians, Swift had been on the losing side and had seen the leaders of his side hung by the British authorities and his being captured in April 1780 may have deepened this impression. He also had the example of his neighbor and senior Captain Cox who had been captured in an earlier year but who did not get away so easily as Swift did. And if Major Ferguson was making a sortie a little early (though Tarleton does not indicate that Ferguson went into North Carolina before the British victory at Camden in August) Ferguson was known for his “hanging speeches” regarding those in the backcountry that would not submit. Such a thing would also have made an impression on Swift. In any case, he alone of all the commanders I am aware of did not date or label the militia musters and he probably handed them to Preston himself as opposed to using the post.

In summary I think those factors

  1. Swift’s unwillingness to document his lists
  2. The William Crockett Letter
  3. The point you raised about the Ruddicks not signing the loyalty oath all combined to give an impression that Swift might have had a Tory list. But I can tell you as a matter of oral tradition, he was on the Whig side at least from the time he joined Preston.

Another factor that I do not think is well known in circles looking at this area, though Lyman Draper was passingly aware of it, was the fact that in response to Swift’s report through Breckenridge, William Preston became so greatly worried that he wrote Jefferson and asked Jefferson to commandeer William Campbell from Washington County to lead an expedition. Preston was a pretty good judge of men and while Walter Crockett was reliable as home guard leader, both Preston and Crockett felt that Campbell was better to lead an expedition. Campbell had been planning to lead an expedition against certain pro-British Cherokee towns in Tennessee with his brother-in-law and cousin Arthur Campbell and probably Colonel Sevier. Arthur and William did not get along well. Arthur was the Washington Militia Commander and resented William who had married well (Patrick Henry’s daughter) received formal military training in the tidewater (prior to 1779) and frankly was a far better soldier. Arthur and William had an understanding that William could only lead Washington County Militia as part of a mixed force where Washington forces made up less than half. Otherwise Arthur was to command. Arthur had been the intended leader of the summer campaign against the Cherokee. Thomas Jefferson however, instructed William Campbell (can show the letter where he does this) to postpone his campaign and go to Montgomery County with such men as Arthur would spare him and do something about the Tory situation that worried Preston so. William, only too happy to command his own expeditionary force and somewhat enjoying Arthur’s discomfiture at losing his summer expedition, rushed to Montgomery with somewhere between 50 and 100 men (I am guessing here) from Washington. He was put in charge of Crockett’s southern frontline (Swift, Osbourne, Cox) with around 100 men. Whether the Montgomery force was larger (120) or the Washington force was 100 is difficult to say without knowing whether William Neal was a Washington Commander or a Montgomery Commander. The force was rounded out to about 300 men by a couple of companies Preston was able to get from Botetourt County (Still don’t have their names) and such men on the North Carolina border as would join the force for 30-60 days (pension of Henry Blevins NC recruit where Campbell is given as Swift’s commanding officer) Campbell moved south up the New River burning out and disarming Tory settlements as he went. At some point he headed east into North Carolina and marched as far as Guilford where he joined Cleveland and together they attacked and may have eliminated the Tory forces of Captain Fanning. This campaign lasted from mid July – Crockett was in the field with his men when Campbell arrived having done the same the previous year – and lasted until the end of August. Swift is recorded as obtaining supplies for the troops at Wilkes County NC in August 1780.

History then says that Campbell went home and was called by Shelby and others to Watauga shoals where he brought the Washington County Militia. After his arrival Arthur Campbell showed up with 100 or so more men from Washington apparently including Colonel Edmonton. After that there is the King’s Mountain Battle saga that everyone well knows. Crockett was said to have been present at that battle and it is unlikely Preston would have let him go as an observer since no one knew whether they would even meet the enemy much less prevail.

The historical account is based on the account of Shelby who repeatedly sent letters to Campbell asking him to join. Campbell was probably at the Moravian towns with his forces intact when Shelby’s call came. General Gates, having just endured savage defeat at Camden and knowing Cleveland and Campbell to be leading intact bodies of men in not insignificant numbers sent orders to Moravian Town ordering Campbell to submit to his command, turn his militia over to him and march to the Dan River at the Virginia border to resist Cornwallis anticipated northern march. Campbell’s first response to Shelby declining to join him at Watauga mirrors these orders perfectly (One modern historian has sniffed that this just goes to show what a bad strategist Campbell really was. He may have been. His victories were all at the tactical level but this time he was following orders) He had not answered Gates and when Shelby’s second letter came he opted to join Shelby and the others against Ferguson. After the battle Shelby drew up a history of the campaign and the other officers all signed it. The history said that Shelby’s messenger found Campbell at home. Campbell signed it but in a letter to Jefferson later explaining why he went to Kings Mountain (some apparently accused him of overreaching his authority). He refers to Jefferson’s orders of July and states that in his pursuit of Tories he invaded North Carolina as per his orders and did not cease campaigning there until Ferguson was defeated. The reason was that had he laid down his command and returned home, he would not have had the authority to raise a new force and cross into North Carolina. The other flaw in the Shelby account is that Arthur Campbell brought 100-200 or so more men to William Campbell at Watauga Shoals. Had William Campbell ever returned to Abington he would have brought them himself. Additionally if he had 200-300 with him and Arthur brought him 100-200 more, The entire Washington County Militia would have been in the field in South Carolina. The Cherokee raids that year were severe and it is unthinkable that Arthur Campbell would have given away more than half his experienced frontier militia for any reason much less the glory of his hated brother in law.

The fact is that William Campbell’s account is correct – he never left the field, he took the 300 men from Washington, the Chestnut and Upper New River Districts of Montgomery and from Botetourt and went directly to Watauga Shoals. Arthur there brought him what consisted essentially of Colonel Edmonton’s command (three companies?). Additionally, Walter Crockett’s presence at the battle and stories in the Osborne family (albeit with a preposterous sequence of a long hard ride by a messenger to find Osbourne just returned from the summer campaign and hard at work Cincinatus-like at his plow rather unceremoniously lifted from the pages of Livy) and the Reddick family (Swift company) has traditions apparently of being not only at King’s Mountain but following Campbell all the way to Guilford Courthouse. He never wrote a fuller account of what he did because of his untimely death before Yorktown and the only thing he ever did write suggests he was on campaign continuously between the middle of July 1780 and the middle of April 1781.

Whether some or all of the Swift companies participated in the battle is not stated clearly in historical sources beyond the family stories I have mentioned (More pension information might be instructive) however, Campbell did leave Captain William Neal behind with stragglers. These companies -including the Swift company- were mounted horseback and it may be that Campbell left the men on foot (except the fast ones) so that they could make better time tracking Ferguson. The weak and ill from each company were probably given to Neal and all other companies went forward, else there is no reason to only mention his command as having stayed. It is also unlikely that Campbell sent any men back as being unnecessary for the campaign. Before catching up with Ferguson Campbell sent a message to Preston asking for more men and Preston sent Captain Francis who was killed by Tories in a battle as his unit sought to catch up to Campbell.

The month after Kings Mountain Swift and other unidentified Montgomery and Botetort men were left on guard duty in the frontier forts in Powell Valley and other western points to defend against raids. Swift was again listed as being subordinate to Campbell in a pension application where the applicant indicated he had fought Tories and Indians under these commanders. (I only have two pension applications so far from this group – I have mentioned both. If you do not have them I could send copies. Do you have some others? It is amazing what information is in them.) Arthur Campbell again in command of the entire Washtington Force left others in Powell Valley while he led William and the others into Tennessee to carry out the destruction of the Cherokee villages that had been planned for summer. That may have lasted into early February.

Campbell emerges again with a force in late February early March and joins Preston on his March to Guilford Courthouse. Campbell’s force was behind the Montgmery units under Preston’s direct command and did not engage the enemy at Weltzel’s Mill this group, which now included in addition to Botetort Men also Men from Augusta and Rockingham Counties probably present at the request of either Preston or Campbell. This force met and held Colonel Tarleton’s dragoons for an hour or so, long after Light Horse Harry Lee’s cavalry had retreated (a fact that led Campbell to resign in fury ending at last his militia command. Jefferson and I supose Preston saw that he got a General’s commission but I do not know that he ever saw action again) As to whether his Chestnut Creek units were present history so far says nothing outside of the Reddick family story. Flower Swift barely even talked about the war (to judge by the dearth of direct information from any branch of the family – though they were and in many cases remain a taciturn people in regard to family matters) There is an old heirloom that the family always said he wore into war against the British and that his son Thomas in turn did likewise in the war of 1812.

There has been almost no memory of the Montgomery participation in the war outside of some earlier battles against Tories and Captain Francis’ heroic stand – so much so that on New River Notes the comment is made that it is not clear that the Montgmery militia ever saw action. Part of the reason may have been the shame of what happened at Ramsour’s Mill. Another part of the reason may have been that many of the people in militia units were part of that group of people headed to the frontier -Montgomery/Grayson was on the main East West Road to the Cumberland Gap – and people moved on so much that except for the Quakers and a few other old families no one has anything to remember from that period (The Swifts were all moved out by 1813 except for a few of the daughters and most of them were gone by 1825). Whatever happened to make the Montgomery situation confused and obscure, Swift was richly rewarded as soon as the threat of combat had ebbed (Osborne and Cox were rewarded as well but less so and later in spite of their clearly longer and very likely more substantial military contributions). Swift was made the Montgomery County magistrate in 1781 for the area around Grayson and Carroll Counties at the unlikely age of 27-28 (Assuming a 1755 birth date. His father Thomas was born 1727 and appears to have married 1752-53. Flower was probably not more than 25-26 when made captain, 30 at the very most). He was also given the coroner’s job. When Wythe County was created out of southern Montgomery he was the first justice named and again when Grayson was named (At which time Minitree Jones and Enoch Osborne also became magistrates). He was at all times until he left for Knox County Kentucky (to join the Reddicks to whom he was related through his wife) commander of the Grayson militia and may have been commander of the Wythe militia as well (don’t know). The Reddicks reprised the Swift role in Knox county but saw that Swift, whose health was apparently failing, was given a very high rank in the militia leading up to the war of 1812 together with a major’s commission for son Thomas in the riflemen and a tax collector’s job. There were many people who had far more property or education but for 20 years court records suggest the Swift organization ran Grayson County. The only jobs Swift did not take were legislative jobs that required him to leave the county but his associates took these. Whatever was the source of his good fortune (unless he was just a natural at politics) stemmed from something he did while Preston was the chief political authority of that area, and since Swift’s activities were almost entirely military at that point, it was something done together with the militia units and my guess would be it was something in 1780-1781. (Part of the reason that the Swifts left may have been accusations and an acrimonious trial where Sheriff McKenzie was forced to sue Thomas Swift for county funds in Swifts care that disappeared. The case is complex. Thomas had a large number of guarantors with enough money to easily cover the lost funds but somehow Sheriff McKenzie who was primarily liable (meaning guilty or not he had to come up with the funds) was apparently financally ruined. This case appears to have had something to do with an inheritance case that P. Gaines was involved in for about the same amount of money. One suspects that Thomas’ performance was part of some factional dispute occurred and it may be the Swifts either lost or were disheartened and elected to move on. About the time the Swifts left a Daniel Bedsaul was sent to jail for 5 years accused of horse theft. He later got out, moved west and died early leaving an orphan Isaac in Indiana)

I am not writing from home so some dates may be slightly inaccurate. I can provide original sources if you are interested from any of it. At one point I had dated some of the Flower Swift lists more or less and may still have the information. I had worked out that the Swifts, Reddicks, McCoys and Bedsauls were pretty consistently present and I think there was a Samuel Meherin as well. I will read your list again with interest as it appears you have taken things a lot further, particularly with the Quakers.

I apologize that this was a lot of Swift and not so much the others. The spirit of what I write was that where Swift went, his core associates likely went as well and you appear to have begun to work out the structure of the group of families in his unit.

Might I ask you if you could let me know what the references to Captain Swift prior to his obtaining a company on Chestnut Creek were. That would be very valuable to me. Also, have you seen the letter to Colonel Crokett? Do you have the Revolutionary War pensions of any of the group? I would love to see any you have.


Grady E. Loy

Yokohama Japan

J. Quinn:

For another opinion about the participation of Montgomery County in Battles in North Carolina see Jerry Roger’s account at “” Benjamin “The Immigrant” Rogers

He documents the fact that the Montgomery county militia was asked to join the forces descending upon King’s Mountain, but that they did not make it and were diverted to the Battle of Shallow Ford, where one of the Montgomery militia captains, Henry Francis was killed. Jerry’s web site also has several pension applications and other documentation showing that many men from today’s Wythe county (just to the north of the Swift territory) participated in Whitzell’s Mills and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Documentation of this sort for the Osborne, Cox and Swift companies is lacking as far as I know except for men who joined Swift’s company after 1780.