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Wheeler’s Reminiscences – Surry County, North Carolina

[The following is taken from, John H. Wheeler’s¬†Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians, published by Columbus Printing Works, Columbus, Ohio, 1884. Mr. Wheeler, born in Hertford County, North Carolina August 2nd 1802, died in Washington, D.C. December 7th, 1882. He received his A.M. from the University of North Carolina in 1826. He was appointed Treasurer of North Carolina in 1845. Appointed U.S. Envoy to Nicaragua in 1853.]

In 1775 this was a frontier County and was considered to extend with the territorial limits of North Carolina to the Mississippi. Its early inhabitants were the devoted friends of American liberty. In that year (1775) her heroic men formed a Committee of Safety; its journal has been preserved, as also are names worthy of record. Benjamin Cleveland was the chairman, William Lenoir its Secretary, Joseph Winston, Jessie Walton, John Hamlin, Samuel Freeman, Benjamin Herndon, Charles Lynch, John Armstrong, James Hampton, Richard Goode, George Lash, David Martin, Charles Waddle, and others, were its members. Their resolutions breathe a determined resistance to oppression and formed a government simple and effective for the protection of the citizen.

Benjamin Cleveland, the chairman of this committee, was on e of the most active and resolute heroes of the Revolution and worthily his name preserved in one of the most beautiful counties of the State. He devoted himself to the cause of liberty. He was in the Provincial Congress wich met at Hillsboro, August 21, 1775 and he was appointed an Ensign in the 2nd Continental Regiment, raised by the State, commanded by Robert Howe. His name does not appear in the rolls of this regiment, which service was long and active, but we have abundant proof that Colonel Cleveland as an active, resolute and useful officer, and a terror to the Tories. On one occasion two men, (Jones and Cecil), abandoned and atrocious characters, were brought before him. Cleveland, after consulting some of the leading men of the community, hanged them. For this act he was indicted in the Superior Court of the district at Salisbury for murder, but on a petition to the Legislature he was pardoned.

Soon after this event he was taken prisoner by some Tories at the Old Fields, on New River, to which place he had gone alone on private business. They took him some distance into a secluded portion of the country, and first required him to give them passes to protect them from the Whigs. He knew when this was accomplished they would kill him. He was some time in writing the passes, as he was but an ordinary pensman, and he was in no particular hurry. While thus engaged, his brother Captain Robert Cleveland, with a party of men, knowing the peril ot his brother, pursued and fired upon them. They inconveniently fled; and so Colonel Cleveland’s life was saved. Several months after this, one of these same Tories, Riddle, his son and another man, were captured and brought before Cleveland. He hanged all three of them at the Mulberry Field Meeting House, where the town of Wilkesboro now stands. Such resolutions and promptness was called for by the daring and desperate conduct of the Tories.

He was, although daring and rash, a most useful officer. He commanded the left wing of the Americans at the battle of Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780, and was engaged in the battle of Guilford Court House. When Wilkes County was taken from Surry (1777) he was one of the first members elected to the Legislature; and in 1779 was elected to the Senate. He had an impediment in his speech, which prevented any effort at oratory; but he was as brave as he was patriotic. For sometime he was the surveyor of Wilkes County.

It is related of Col. Cleveland that he owned a copy of a very remarkable book, entitled, “The Life and Adventures of Mr. Cromwell, the natural son of Oliver Cromwell,” written by a man who was the son of a great beauty, named Elizabeth Cleveland, a daughter of an officer of the palace of Hampton Court, who had attracted the attention of the King, Charles I, and who, when Oliver Cromwell assumed the reigns of government, won his sympathies; and the author of that book was their offspring. The mother subsequently married a Mr. Bridge and disappeared from further notoriety. This book was published after the author’s death in 1731; a French translation appeared in 1741, and again it was printed in 1760. To this book Col. Benjamin Cleveland attached great store, asserting that through its author he rightfully claimed descent from Oliver Cromwell.

In his work on the Cromwell family, Noble denounces this book as too marvelous to be true, and whilst Noble, Guizot and others, who have written of Cromwell, assert that he most probably had natural children, yet the extraordinary adventures recited in that book make it appear to be a fictitious narrative.

A most singular vanity and quaint conceit! We know that the Clevelands derive their name from a tract in the North Riding of Yorkshire, England, yet called Cleveland. John Cleveland came early to Virginia and settled in Prince William County, on that since celebrated stream, Bull Run. Here Benjamin was born, May 26, 1738; subsequently he removed to Orange County, Va., and there married Miss Mary Graves and in 1769 removed, with his father-in-law and family to North Carolina, settling on Roaring creek, in that part of Rowan afterwards Surry, and later Wilkes County. In 1775 (Sept. 1), he became an ensign in Col. Robert Howe’s regiment. He was in the Cross Creek expedition 1775; in the Cherokee war under Gen. Rutherford, 1776; at Brier Creek in 1778-79. At Ramsour’s Mill, and chased Bryan’s band from the State; he was also in the expedition to New River. The brightest laurels won by Cleveland were gathered on King’s Mountain. Hayne speaks of him thus–

Now by God’s grace. we have them,” cried Cleveland, my noble colonel he,
Resting to pick a Tory off, quite cooly, on his knee;
Now by God’s grace, we have them, the snare is subtly set,
The game is hagged we hold them safe as pheasants In a set.”

He was ever a source of terror to the Tory; his subsequent career was a terrible ordeal and his adventures were most thrilling.

But they were incidents of the time. “Cleveland’s Heroes” or “Cleveland’s Bull Dogs,” welcome names to the patriots, became “Cleveland’s Devils” to the Tories. [*Draper’sKing’s Mountain]

William Lenoir, born 1751, died 1839; Secretary of the Committee of Safety for Surry County, just, alluded to; was born in Brunswick County, Virginia, on April 20, 1751, the youngest of a family on ten children. When he was only eight years old, his father moved to Tarboro, North Carolina. His education was limited, and was obtained by his own personal exertions. When about twenty years of age married Ann Ballard, of Halifax, and in 1775, moved to the County of Surry (since erected into Wilkes County) and settled near Wilkesboro. He was early an active and decided agent favoring the cause of independence. – In a private diary of his, of which I have a in manuscript, he says: “I was a member of the Committee for Surry County, and clerk thereof for about eighteen months, and duly attended its regular meetings. at a distance of fifty miles from home, without reward or fee. I was appointed Justice by the Congress and was one of the first appointed by the General Assembly, and under which I still act.”

He served in the Indian war as a Lieutenant under General Rutherford, in Captain Cleveland’s Company, where he suffered great hardships. After this campaign was over, he was constantly engaged in subduing the Tories, who were daring and dangerous. In the battle of King’s Mountain he was a Captain in Colonel Cleveland’s Regiment, and in this desperate and bloody victory was wounded in the arm and side. He was also at the defeat of Pyles, near Haw River, and in the engagement his horse was killed under him. He raised a company and endeavored to unite with General Greene at the battle of Guilford, but did not succeed. After the war, he returned home, and was an active and useful citizen. He was the oldest magistrate in the County; a Trustee of the University; member of the Senate from 1781 to 1795, and for years Speaker of the Senate. He was a member of the Convention that sat at Hillsboro’ to consider the Constitution of the United States, and took an active part in its discussion.

The latter part of his life was devoted to reading and retirement, and he manifested much anxiety for the destiny of our Republic, that at a day, in the near future, from abuse and corruption, and the wild theories of politicians it would follow the fate of the republics of other days, and so utterly fail.

His character was one of great moral worth and pure patriotism; his friendships were sincere and ardent; his hospitality, open and unbounded. Full of years and full of honors he departed this life May 6, 1839, at his home, Fort Defiance, Wilkes County. He married, as already stated, Ann Ballard, of Halifax The County of Lenoir worthily preserves his name in grateful memory.

The Williams family is one most extensive as well as most talented of our State. Its branches have extended to the West and the Southwest; and where ever they are they have marked their career by enterprise and intellect.

The annexed diagram will explain more fully and the descriptive statement will enable us to know all about the Williams family.

The progenitor of this family was Nathaniel Williams, a native of Hanover County, Virginia. He had four sons and one daughter: I, Robert; II, Betsy; III, John; IV. Nathaniel, and V, Joseph. I, Robert settled in Pittsylvania County, Virginia; a lawyer; married Sarah Lanier; issue: (a) Nathaniel, Judge of the Superior Courts in Tennessee; (b) Polly, wife of Matthew Clay, member of Congress 1797-1813; (c) Lucy,wife of Robert Call; (d) Patsy wife of John Henry; (e) Sarah, wife of James Chalmers, (they lived in Halifax, Virginia, the grand-parents of Gen’l Jas. R. Chalmers of Congress from Mississippi;) (f) Elizabeth; wife of Rev. John Kerr, member of Congress, father of John Kerr, also a member of Congress 1853-1855, and of Mary Mary G. Kerr, wife of Nicholas L. White, (see V. j. Below), and of Martha, wife of Dr. Frank Martin wife of Thomas D. Connally.; of Tennessee; to them was born Rev. John Kerr Connally, ( who married Alice C., a daughter of James Thomas, of Richmond, Va.,) Mary E., wife of James Turner Morehead, son of Governor J. M. Morehead, and Fannie, married C. W. Guerrant, of Rockingham, N. C.; (g) Frances, wife of Gen. Barcilia Graves.

II, Betsy, married to Hicks; III, John married Williamson, settled in North Carolina; issue: (a) Christopher H., member of congress from Tennessee 1837-1843 and 1849-1853; (b) Elizabeth, married to General Azeriah Graves, grand-parents of Judge Thomas Settle. IV, Nathaniel, married and had issue: (a) Robert appointed Governor of Mississippi by President Jefferson; (b) Nathaniel, and (c) Elizabeth, married to Baldwin, of Louisiana. Joseph, the fourth and youngest son of Nathaniel Williams, of Hanover, Virginia, when he came to North Carolina was employed to aid his cousin Joseph in mercantile pursuits. He was in the Revolutionary War, and attained the rank of major; was engaged in several severe skirmishes with the Tories, who were desperate and daring in this section, and to whom Major Williams was especially obnoxious. He made many narrow escapes. He raised ten children-eight sons and two daughters. He was elected Clerk of the Court in Surry County, and continued in that position until his death in 1828. He married Rebecca Lanier, of Granville. Issue: (a) Robert, who, Lanman says, was born in Caswell County; he was highly endowed by nature and of a cultivated mind; the friend of education and of every improvement in the welfare of the State. He was the indefatigable Treasurer of the University, and for years one of its most earnest and faithful trustees; during the war lie resided in Raleigh, and became the Adjutant-General of the State, and to this day the records of that office, as kept by him, are models of accuracy and neatness~; the only perfect copy of all the acts of the General Assembly from 1776 were collected through his labor and industry; he was a Representative in Congress from 1797 to 1803, and in 1805 was appointed Commissioner of Land Titles in Mississippi Territory, and there served for four years ; he then removed to Tennessee and then to Louisiana, where he died ; he was a lawyer by profession ; married Rebecca Smith, of Granville. (b) Joseph, Clerk of Surry Superior Court ; married Susan Taylor; issue: (I) Susan, wife of James R. Dodge, (see page 393,) to them were born (1st) Richard Irwin Dodge, Col. U. S. A.; (2d) Annie, wife of Chalmers L. Glenn, of Rockingham; (3d) Mary H. Dodge, of Winston, Forsythe County, N. C. Col. Richard Irwin Dodge has one son, Frederick P. Dodge, of New York City; Mrs. Chalmers L. Glenn has three children: James D., of Rockingham, in Legislature of 1881-83; an attorney in Stokes County, in Legislature of 1881-83; and EdwardT. B.,of C.F. and Y. V. R. R.

To Joseph and Susan Taylor Williams were also born (II) Rebecca, wife of Frank Dedrick and (III) Midshipman John T. Williams, of Warrenton.

(c) John, the third son of Joseph Williams, moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he commenced the practice of the law aud was very successful. During the Seminole War he raised a troop of volunteers, composed of intelligent and high-toned gentlemen; among them were Hugh L. White, Thomas L. Williams, and others. After a victorious campaign he returned home, where he found a commission appointing him colonel of the 39th Regiment of Infantry, U. S. A. He was ordered to the Creek Nation, and in the engagement of Tohopeka, or the Horse-Shoe, his regiment bore the brunt of the battle. The report of General Jackson on this sanguinary conflict did not, in the opinion of Colonel Williams, do justice to his regiment, and hence the long enmity between them. From 1815 to 1823 he was a Senator in Congress, highly respected for his integrity and ability. In 1825 he was appointed by Mr. Adams, Envoy to the Central American States. He married Melinda, daughter of General James White and sister of Judge Hugh L. White, the candidate against Martin Van Buren for the Presidency of the United States. He was the father of Joseph L. Williams, member of Congress from 1839 to 1843; of Colonel John Williams, of Knoxville, and of Margaret, first wife of Chief Justice Pearson, of North Carolina. He died at Knoxville, August 7, 1837.

(d) William, a successful merchant and farmer, lived at Strawberry Plains, East Tennessee. He married Sarah, daughter of Colonel King, of Virginia; issue: Sarah, married to Rev. Thomas Stringfield.

(e) Lewis, who lived and died in political strife. He was born about 1782, educated at the University, where he graduated in 1808. He entered political life as a member of the House of Commons in 1813, and was re-elected in 1814. He became a Representative in Congress in 1815, and continued a member as long as he lived. Whilst attending Congress he died on February 23,1842. Greatly esteemed for his sterling independence and his integrity, his abilities were such that by common consent he was styled “the Father of the House.” Mr. Adams’ oration on the occasion of his death was a beautiful tribute to his worth, as was also the brilliant effort of Mr. Rayner. He never married.

(f) The twin-brother of Hon. Lewis Williams was Thomas L. Williams, long the Chancellor of Tennessee; he married Polly McClung, a niece of Judge Hugh L. White. The following are their issue: (1st) Rebecca, wife of the son of Gov. Shelby, of Kentucky ; (2d) Melimla, wife of Chief Justice Napton, of Missouri ; (3d) Margaret, wife of Hon. John G. Miller, Member of Congress from Missouri, and afterward of H. W. Douglas, of Nashville, Tennessee, and (4th) of Mrs. Dr. J. Walker Percy, of Huntsville, Alabama.

(g) Rebecca, married Colonel John H. Wimbish, of Virginia; issue: Rebecca, wife of Dr. Pleasant Henderson, and afterward of Hon. Roger Q. Mills, Member of Congress from Texas.

(h) Dr. Alexander, who married Catherine Dixon, only daughter of Colonel William Dixon, first Postmaster 1782) of Greenville.

(i) Fannie, married Colonel John P. Erwin, of Nashville, Tennessee.

(j) Nicholas Lanier, the last and youngest son of Joseph Williams, is now in his 79th year; resides at Panther Creek, enjoying a green old age, and preserving the respect and regard of all who know him. He was a member of the Council of State and also a Trustee of the University. He married Mary G. Kerr; issue: (1st) Bettie, wife of John A. Lillington; (2d) Joseph, a Trustee of University, 1875, married M. Lou, daughter of Tyre Glenn, of Yadkin County; issue: Glenn and Mary; (3d) Lewis, who lives in the old homestead in Yadkin; married Sarah A., daughter of Colonel Wm. G. Smith, of Anson County; issue: Mary G., Eliza Helms, William Smith, Lena Pearl, and Lanier Williams.

Jesse Franklin, born 1760, died 1824, the son of Bernard and Mary Franklin, the third of seven sons, was born in Orange County, Virginia, March 24, 1760. His education was limited. His father removed to Surry County just previous to the commencement of the war. The Tories were so troublesome, plundering the Whig families of everything valuable, that a fort was built near Wilkesboro, in which they secured themselves and families when actively engaged away from home. Troops were raised to suppress these outrages, when Jesse joined Colonel Cleveland, his maternal uncle, to disperse them. Of Colonel Cleveland as a partisan leader and his severity toward the Tories we have already written. Franklin was in the battle of King’s Mountain as Adjutant of Colonel Cleveland’s battalion, and displayed great courage. When the enemy was co commanding officer, after the fall of Ferguson, delivered the sword of that soldier to Franklin saying; ”You deserve it, sir!” This was preserved for a long time in the family as an heirloom. He was also at the battle of Guilford Court House. He performed some further unimportant military services, in partisan warfare against the Tories, who formed a large part of the population in this section. After the war most of these Tories left this part of the State.

After discharging a soldier’s duty in the field, Mr. Franklin then became useful as a representative of the people. He entered the House of Commons as a member from Surry in 1793, re-elected 1794, and in 1795 he became a Member of the 4th Congress. In 1797 he was again elected to the Legislature, and in 1799 he was elected a Senator in Congress, and served until 1805. In 1804 he was chosen President of the Senate. It is worthy here to remark that at this date the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House (Nathaniel Macon) were both of the delegation from North Carolina. Proud days for the old North State!

In 1805 and 1806 he was elected Senator of the State Legislature; and in 1807 he was again returned to the Senate of the United States, and there served until March 4, 1813. Governor James Turner, of Warren, was his colleague in the Senate. His course in this highest legislative body of the world was marked by profound sagacity and elevated patriotism. The high appreciation of his abilities and his integrity is shown by his election as President of the Senate and his appointment as leading member on the most responsible committees. He was placed on the committee on the celebrated ordinance of 1787; also on the case of Smith, of Ohio, implicated in the treason of Burr, and in other important positions.

He was a warm advocate of Mr. Madison and of his war measures; and as violently opposed to all monopolies and banks. At the close of his term he declined a re-election, hoping to spend the balance of his days in repose and retirement; but he accepted the appointment, at the special request of General Jackson, of commissioner to treat with the Chickasaw Indians on the Bluff, where Memphis now stands.

In 1820 he was elected by the Legislature to succeed Governor John Branch; and, after this duty, he retired from the toils and excitements of public life; and in 1824 his long, eventful and useful career was terminated. He was dignified and commanding in person, clear and decided in his opinions, and displayed great sagacity and common sense in all his actions.

Meshach Franklin, the brother of Governor Jesse Franklin, was distinguished statesman and politician in Surry County. He entered public life as a member of the House of Commons in 1800, and was elected a Member of the 10th Congress (1807) and served till 1815; afterward became a member of the State Senate in 1825-29. He died in December, 1841.

Jesse Franklin Graves, one of the Judges of the Superior Court, a native of Surry County, is the grandson of Governor Franklin, whose sketch we have just given. He was born August 31, 1829. He read law under Judge Pearson, and was a member of Governor Ellis’ council. He served in the Legislature in 1876-1877, but has wisely preferred the quiet practice of the law to the varying fortunes of politics.