Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Providence, Morgan, and Cowpens

Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan, United States Commander of "Morgan's Flying Army" - Wikipedia

On a typical January day in 1781, an event that was anything but typical shook the halls of history, forever changing the nation we now call America.

"The Troops I had the Honor to command have been so fortunate as to obtain a compleat Victory over a Detachment from the British Army commanded by Lt. Colonel Tarlton."  - Gen. Daniel Morgan in a letter to Gen. Nathanael Greene 19 January 1781, two days post battle 

The un-beatable army was beaten in battle, the civilian bested the professional, and the lost Revolution in the South was won.  The battle of Cowpens, 17 January 1781, saw the only double envelopment (1) in history in North America...ever. (2)  The elite light infantry and cavalry unit of Gen. Lord Cornwallis' British Army, led by the brutal and notorious Banister Tarleton, was destroyed.  Completely.  Tarleton was beaten in battle, surrounded, and decimated by an army mostly composed of backwoodsmen, farmers, and militia volunteers.   The "Flying Army," (light infantry that could move faster than an army with a baggage train) had at it's core an elite but small cavalry unit, and some highly experienced Continentals from Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia.  Around these, General Daniel Morgan built a force that broke the back of Tory resistance in the South, forced Cornwallis to the defensive, and turned arrogance into despair in the Court of St. James.  The Battle of Cowpens set in motion a series of events that led to the eventual surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, VA just nine months later in October of 1781. 
Cowpens was the beginning of the end for "His Britannic Majesty," King George III
Our question:  How could a farmer turned general with a rag-tag force of ill equipped and un-trained men destroy an elite army of the world's best?  How?!  The answer: A Providential battle plan executed by a man of courage, determination, and sheer grit.  Failure was not an option for Daniel Morgan, the "Old Wagoneer" as his men knew him.  

Morgan was one of those rare men who come along only once in a great while.  He truly gave "the last full measure" of himself in the cause of American liberty.  Growing up in Pennsylvania, young Daniel, as far as anyone knows, lacked any kind of formal education.  In his late teens he had an argument with his ironworker father, left for the Shenandoah, and settled in what is now Winchester, VA.  A big man, he had a reputation as living a confrontational life and was known to "tip the jug."  He was not known as much of a religious man until the 1790's when...for reasons unknown...became a Presbyterian.  Morgan gained vast military experience as a frontier fighter in the French and Indian War.  During that war, he was struct by an English officers flat of his sword, and promptly struck the officer, knocking him out cold.  After being court marshaled for the offence, Morgan took 500 lashes as punishment.  Most men did not live through such, but Daniel Morgan was not "most men." Years later, in 1777,  he sealed British Gen. Burgoyne's fate at Saratoga, NY by cutting off his last route of retreat which led to the surrender of the entire English Army on the field.  Suffering from many debilitating physical conditions, Morgan retired from the army and returned to his home in Winchester, VA in the Shenandoah Valley.  On 16 August 1780, American General Horatio Gates was horrifically defeated at Camden, SC by Cornwallis  Washington quickly replaced Gates with his most trusted major field commander, General Nathanael Greene.

Greene immediately ordered the ailing Morgan out of his sickbed to command his newly formed "Flying Army." (3)  The entire war was at stake, Green could not afford to have anyone but the best in charge of his most elite corps.  That very best he now had in Morgan.

Morgan's adversary was "Bloody Ban Tarleton."  Having lost his fortune, the young Bannister Tarleton came to America to fight the colonials and to win back his fame, fortune, and honor.  He gained his awful nick name for the slaughter of a company of Virginians who were trying to surrender at the Battle of the Waxhaw's near Charlotte earlier in 1780. (4) This murderous tactic became known as "Tarleton's Quarter."  It is not known whether or not the slaughter was ordered or not by Tarleton but the incident fired up anti-British sentiment in the Carolinas.  Tarleton was specifically tasked by Cornwallis to chase down Morgan and destroy his army as he was threatening Cornwallis' western flank.  That flank was indeed vulnerable.  Earlier on 7 October 1780 at Kings Mountain the entire Tory militia army of Major Patrick Ferguson was totally destroyed by an American backwoodsman army led by a number of elected officers.

Providence smiled on Daniel Morgan.  The day before the battle saw his army rested, fed, dry, and warm.  "Bloody Ban" enjoyed none of these blessings.  Pushing his men to the extreme, he finally caught up to Morgan early in the morning of 17 January 1781.  His men were beyond exhaustion having not eaten for 24 hours.  They had marched all night and had not slept.   In addition, Providence smiled on Daniel Morgan's army in that they were defending ground that they all were very familiar with, ground that the enemy had never seen.

All these blessings, though Providential indeed, were not the key to the American victory.  The key was the battle plan!  Morgan was an amateur soldier, he had no "commission," he never attended any kind of military academy, and was essentially self-educated.  Where in the world could he have discovered such a brilliant battle plan?  Where indeed!?  Two likely sources come to mind.  Either Morgan somehow has access to a highly rare account of the ancient Battle of Cannae in ca. 0217 B.C. where a double envelopment took place. (5)  Or...he had access to an account of a much earlier double envelopment detailed in the Bible, specifically Joshua Chapter 8.  Which was more likely?  Certainly the latter.  It is likely Morgan had a Bible at the ready as part of this personal baggage.  Not well known today, the Bible was generally the only book found on the frontier.  As such, it was the reading text book of record.  Everyone who learned to read, learned by reading the Bible.  As a result, everyone who could read and write was very familiar with the Bible, its books, its history, etc.  Even agnostics, atheists, and skeptics read and were familiar with the Bible.  Even if Morgan did not have a personal Bible or not, there were likely a number of Bible carrying Presbyterian ministers under his command as the militia units elected their officers.  Presbyterians often elected either their minister or one of their elders should that congregation have no minister to lead their local unit.  Militias in the Carolinas were predominantly Scotch-Irish Presbyterians.  Up to 70% of the population in the Carolina Upcountry were Scotch-Irish Presbyterian in 1781.  Even years later, the Revolution in the Carolina's was known as the "Presbyterian Rebellion." (6)
My thesis is this: Daniel Morgan very likely found his battle plan in the pages of Scripture.  
Frontier farmers, such as Daniel Morgan, did not just sit around thinking of world class battle plans while leisurely rocking on the front porch!  However, much more than today, the Daniel Morgan's of the American Frontier DID read their Bibles, even if for liesure.  Though not a book on military maneuvers, there is found within the pages of Scripture a detailed description of a DOUBLE ENVELOPMENT.  It is my contention that at some point prior to 16 January 1781, Gen. Daniel Morgan likely picked up a Bible, turned to Joshua 8, and took copious notes, in writing, mentally, or otherwise.  Joshua's battle plan for the 2nd Battle of Ai was re-enacted perfectly at Cowpens!  Though my thesis might sound hard to believe, I ask you, "Where ELSE could have Daniel Morgan read of such a brilliant battle plan, especially on the frontier being chased by "Bloody Ban"?    Don't just take my word for it, read Joshua 8 for yourself as you review the action of 17 January 1781 at Cowpens.  We will examine the action of Second Ai (7) first, the action of Cowpens second, and then compare the two to support our thesis.

The Battle of Second Ai - A Double Envelopment - "The Plan" [Joshua 8.3 - 8] - After regrouping after the disaster of First Ai, Joshua puts in place an entirely new and different battle plan, utilizing past failures that will drive a future victory.  It was "rope-a-dope" long before "rope-a-dope."  What follows here in this section is what might be described as a "military paraphrase."  

As Joshua 8 opens, the date is sometime during ca. 1400 B.C.  Before describing the action, our passage lays out the battle plan in summary.  Israel has an army of 30,000 men opposing a combined Ai / Bethel force of 12,000.  From a military standpoint, Ai and Bethel had the advantage.  They held the high ground behind the walls of a fortified city.  They had the advantage of advanced iron weapons and the training and discipline of a professional military force.  Israel, though more numerous, were attacking from a weak downhill position, likely had few advanced iron weapons, and had very little formal training.  Low expectations of Israel on the part of Ai / Bethel led to overconfidence while giving Israel the element of surprise.  Ai / Bethel expected a conventional response from, what turned out to be, a very un-conventional Israelite force.  Ai lays between the Dead Sea on the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.  Ai's ally, Bethel, is found just north of Ai.  Just destroyed Jericho lays about 8 miles to the west.  There is a plain between Jericho and Ai where Joshua plans to encounter the Ai / Bethel combined force.

Joshua plans to divide his army.  A portion of the army will approach Ai at night from the east and hide behind a ravine that is there west of the city.  We will refer to this army as "Army Group West" or simply "AGW."  As they remain at the ready, Joshua and the rest of the army then will approach Ai from the east as they did before at First Ai.  We will refer to this army as "Army Group East" or simply "AGE."  As AGW lays hidden, AGE will move toward Ai in the open as they did before.  Also, as they did before, Israel will turn and retreat east back towards Jericho.  This feigned retreat is planned to draw the entire enemy force out of Ai in an all out attempt to destroy Israel en-masse.  As all of Ai runs out of the city to pursue the "retreating" Israeli's,  AGW will rise up in ambush, attack Ai from the west, and put the city to the torch.  This action will cut off any retreat of the enemy force from the action on the plain east of Ai.  The enemy will be pushed by AWG and pulled by AGE into an Israeli pocket (8) and then systematically destroyed.

The Battle of Second Ai - A Double Envelopment - "The Execution" - [Joshua 8.9 - 25] As the action unfolds, Joshua, the People, and the Elders mustered the entire army and approached Ai from the east with the entire force.  Approaching the city, they wheeled right, encamping on the north side of Ai.  A ravine ran between the city and the encampment, concealing their presence.  Joshua then split his army.  The Israeli Army Group East [IAGE] remained in position while 5,000 men were detached, forming Israeli Army Group West [IAGW].  IAGW wheeled right and marched southwest, taking up an ambush position west of Ai unseen.  Joshua spent the night in the camp with his men.  At dawn, the king of Ai saw the IAGE encamped north of the city, between Bethel and Ai. Not knowing of the presence of IAGW in ambush position west of the city, the king and all of his soldiers ran out of the city, moving southeast onto the plain where they formed up in order to meet IAGE which was wheeling southeast to present herself due east across from the array of the Ai / Bethel Joint Force [ABJF].  Once the array presentation of both sides were on the plain of battle, the entire ABJF charged the entire IAGE en masse.  As the plan dictated, IAGE feigns defeat, turns and retreats quickly across the plain to the east.  Sensing a rout, all the people of both Ai and Bethel were called out of Ai and joined the pursuit of IAGE on the plain, now fleeing towards the eastern wilderness.  This action left Ai totally undefended against the still undiscovered IAGW.  Joshua now signals IAGW by his outstretched javelin to come out of hiding and ambush the now undefended city.  Immediately IAGW springs into action enters, captures, and puts the city to the torch.  As the smoke from the burning city billows to the sky, IAGE wheels around and attacks the now disheartened ABJF on the plain.  The attack moves due west from due east.  The now destroyed city of Ai, still burning, cuts off any hope of retreat by the ABJF.  The totally victorious IAGW now splits and moves east around both the north and the south of Ai attacking the rear of the ABJF.  The IAGW left circles around the north of the city, attacking the ABJF left rear.  The IAGW right circles around the south of the city, attacking the ABJF right rear.  With elements of both IAGW and IAGE now enveloping the entire ABJF, the enemy was forced into the Israeli pocket and systematically destroyed.  The double envelopment of the Battle of 2nd Ai was complete.  The entire ABJF was totally struck down.  There were no survivors, save the king of Ai who was captured.  He was summarily hanged afterward.  Enemy losses numbered 12,000.

The Battle of Cowpens, 17 January 1781 - A Double Envelopment - "The Plan" - Prior to the battle, the British Light Infantry under the command of Bannister Tarleton thought Morgan was planning an attack to the southwest at the strategic fortified town of Ninety Six.  When Tarleton discovered such was not the case, he drove his force quickly northeast in an effort to catch Morgan and destroy him with his superior force.  To his later chagrin, Tarleton discovered that "superior force" is defined much differently in the Carolina Back Country!  Morgan knew he could not elude Tarleton much longer and would have to turn and fight...somewhere.  Morgan also knew that he would have to find a way to persuade his men to hold and fight to the end, regardless.  Being a man of both strategy and empathy, he chose to fight at the Cowpens.  Empathetic to his men, the Cowpens was very familiar to his men who previously drove their herds to the Cowpens before going down to the coast for sale and slaughter.  As cattle are want to wander, the Cowpens deterred them as the Broad River was to the rear of the area and wetlands were found on either side.  As a result, cattle could be driven into the enclave with no way to wander off.  Easily sealed at the fourth side by the encamped farmers, it was perfect for its purpose...cowpens.  Men are far more likely to fight for what is theirs inherently than they will fight on strange ground.  This played well for the empathetic Daniel Morgan.  

As general in command, Morgan had a strategic side as well.  Having previously surveyed the ground, Morgan chose the Cowpens as a place to either fight and win, or fight and die.  It suited his purposes well.  With his men knowing that there was no retreat from the Cowpens field, he knew his men would hold and fight.  With the Broad River at their back and wetlands to their left and right, "hold and win" was the only option.  It was, as it were, a peninsula with water on three sides and the British on the fourth.  With all his scattered forces all knowing the Cowpens precise location, gathering his force was quick and easy.  Since he chose the battlefield he had a number of days for his men to rest, to eat, to prepare and wait.  Tarleton, on the other hand, was driving his men to the point of exhaustion and starvation.  By the time he approached the battlefield in the early morning hours of 17 January 1781, his men had marched all night and had not eaten for a day.  We don't know when Morgan formulated his battleplan but it most certainly was in place the night of 16 January 1781.  All night long he spent with his men, moving from encampment to encampment informing, encouraging, and rehearsing the double envelopment plan.  Morgan would entrap Tarleton in what would become known in future mechanized wars as a "pincer movement." (9)

We contend here in this article that Morgan's plan was nearly identical in nearly every way to Joshua's battleplan as detailed in Joshua 8.

Here's Morgan's plan:   


(1) A "double envelopment" is when two separate wings of the same army surround their opponent from two sides, cut off all routes to retreat, and then destroy the enemy from the outside in.
(2) The Cowpens battlefield is just southeast of Gaffney, SC, just northwest of Spartanburg, SC, and  about an hour south of Charlotte.  It's name is it's function.  It was literally a pen for cows where the upstate farmers would gather their cattle before driving them to market.  Cowpens was a large open meadow backing up to the Broad River (6 miles) and flanked by wetlands on two sides.  In other words, one way in and one way out.  The site was specifically chosen by Morgan for it had no path of retreat, his men had to fight or die.  Today, the site is magnificently preserved as the "Cowpens National Battlefield Park."  EVERY American should visit at least once in their life, for as went Cowpens, so went America.
(3) Today we would call "a flying army," "light infantry."  After Cowpens, Cornwallis burned all his baggage and turned his entire army into "light infantry" so he could chase and catch the elusive Greene.
(4) Present at the Battle of the Waxhaw's was teenager Andrew Jackson.  Captured during the battle, young Jackson was struck on the head by a British officer for refusing to polish his boots.  Jackson's hatred of the British later drove him to lead the American army at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, some 34 years later.
(5) In ca. 0217 B.C., Hannibal famously double enveloped an entire Roman army of approximately 85,000 men at the Battle of Cannae.  Peter Geerkens observed on 14 December 2018 on the blog "The History Stack Exchange": "In both this battle (Cowpens) and Cannae, Morgan and Hannibal leverage the very weakness of their main battle line into a tactical advantage that sets up the double envelopment."
(6) Robert Gardiner famously examines this phenomenon in his dissertation from Marquette.
(7) The battle of First Ai was a defeat for Israel who, after losing some 30 plus men, turned and ran as the enemy pursued.  See Joshua 7 for more detail.  This is an example of how the disobedience of just one soldier can become a great detriment to an entire army.
(8) "Pockets" can also be known as "salients."  A pocket occurs when one army is surrounded on four sides. A salient is a three sided and incomplete pocket.  Not all salients result in defeat and become pockets.  In May of 1864, at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Grant attempted to surround and envelop Lee in what became known as the "mule shoe salient," thus known by the fact that Lee's line looked like a mule shoe.  The battle lasted 22 hours and was fought in a driving rain.  Though surrounded on three sides, Lee successfully defended the salient, escaped being enveloped,  and lived to fight another day.
(9) For more information on "pincer movements," see:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

1837 James Gaston Pension Application

In 1832 the Congress of the United States passed legislation giving pensions to living veterans of the War for Independence.  In order to qualify, a veteran had to appear before a probate judge in his county of residence with witnesses and assert in writing the facts of his service.  I found James Gaston's pension application that he made in 1837.  Ironically, or not, he made the application on the anniversary, 6 August 1837, of the Battle of Hanging Rock (6 August 1780) in which he was taken prisoner and three of his brothers, Ebenezer, Robert, and David, were killed.  Another brother, Joseph, was severely wounded at Hanging Rock and nearly died.  A good portion of his face was blown away and the wound never healed. The family farm was 2 miles east of the battlefield.  James was 76 years old at the time of the application.  James Gaston is my 4th Great Grandfather.  He was one of nine sons of John "Justice" and Esther Waugh Gaston, "Patriots of the Revolution."  James Gaston fathered  Thomas Gaston who fathered James Monroe Gaston who fathered Lloyd Ulysses Gaston who fathered Nellie Elizabeth Gaston.  Nellie married Russell H. McCullough Sr., my grandfather.  Their son, Russell H. McCullough, Jr. was my father.  Here is the transcription:

Declaration by James Gaston in Order to Obtain the Benefit of the Act of Congress of the
7th of June 1832

State of Illinois
County of Wayne

On the sixth day of August in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty Seven: Personally appeared in open court before the Probate Judge for the County of Wayne and State aforesaid James Gaston a resident of the county and state aforesaid aged seventy six years who being first duly sworn according to law doth make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the provisions by the Act of Congress passed June the 7th 1832.

That he Entered the service of the United States in the latter part of the summer of 1778 as a draughted (drafted) man served in the regiment commanded by Col. Joseph Carhaw in the company commanded by Capt. John Marshall [? ?] was Charles Robinson.  Gen. Benjamin Lincoln was the commanding general.  Was in the Battle of Hanging Rock (SC) and was taken prisoner there, and was confined in the Camden Jail (SC) two months and nineteen days when he was paroled and returned home.  When he was paroled he left John Adair, John Moor, and Alexander Brown in jail.  On his arriving at home he found his Father's Farm and everything there destroyed.  (He then) threw his parole in the fire and turned out volunteer in the company of Capt. William Ingram with whom he served until Christmas when he joined (?) company of Capt. William Nesbit (spl?)  for three months, where he served until the first week of May in 1781.  He has mentioned no written discharge.  He was born in the Sate of Pennsylvania, Lancaster County, the 24th of July 1761.  His father moved from Pennsylvania when he was about six years old to the State of South Carolina.  Settled 28 miles north of Camden, two miles east of the Hanging Rock where he (James) resided nearly 40 years.  From there he moved to Christian County, Kentucky in the year 1805.  (He) lived there two years.  He moved to Illinois where he has resided up to the present time.  That Alexander Clark, John Clark, Vaughn Stuart, and (Marby (?) Staton are persons residing in his present neighborhood who will testify to character for veracity on his behalf of his services as a Soldier of the Revolution.  (Signed and attested, etc.)

19th Century lithograph of what James Gaston called "The Hanging Rock"  It is here where the wounded were brought for shade and care during and after the battle, 6 August 1780

James Gaston's resting place in Wayne County, Illinois.  Image courtesy of "Find a Grave"

Jefferson Lives!

15 February 2018 - Charlotte, NC - President Thomas Jefferson made an appearance this evening at the ballroom of the Hilton Inn Executive Park. Or so it seemed to many!
President Jefferson (Bill Barker) Right with several Mecklenburg County SAR Patriots.  Image courtesy of: Mecklenburg County SAR

In celebration of Presidents Day 2018, the Mecklenburg Chapter NC Sons of the American Revolution hosted historian and actor, Bill Barker, who professionally protrays President Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Barker has for a number of years represented the person, rhetoric, and philosophy of our 3rd president for Colonial Williamsburg. His dedication to research, history, and communication is unparalled. One must wonder if Bill can even be "himself" any more as he is so engrossed in his time traveling version of Thomas Jefferson!

The event was sold out and very much anticipated by all who attended. After a very fine dinner and period musical entertainment, Mr. Jefferson rose to speak. If one were there for mere entertainment they got far more than anticipated! Mr. Barker...I'm sorry... President Thomas Jefferson was portrayed precisely to ca. 1807. He spoke in a most pleasing post colonial Virginia accent, playing the part brilliantly and convinceingly.

Had he stopped at such precision, the evening would have been well worth it. However, the President waxed eloquent regarding three essentials close to his heart that he wished to convey to those of us "in the future." They were; the value of good manners, the ability to freely experess one's opinions, and the necessity of a good education. All threee were tied to the success of the Repubic.

The President began speaking of the value of good manners by recalling his mentor who stressed the value of such by practicing them. Professor Smalls of the College of William and Mary, said Mr. Jefferson, was treated with respect from the students as he respectfully treated them. When all practice good manners, the body politic functions at a much higher level. Compromise benefiting all parties is greatly enhanced when people of good manners rhetorically clash. The President contends that when good manners are present, compromises benefiting everyone will be not only possible, but likely.

Not only are good manners important to the preservation of the Republic but the free exercise of opinions in the public square. That all opinions have a right to expression without censure is essential to good government. Once any opinion is censured, all opinions are subject to censure. The President strongly stated that all opinions have a right to be expressed especially those regarding religion, press, and self governance.

Finally, the President asserted the necessity of a good education. Otherwise, good manners and expression of all opinions will suffer nulification. Without education one would be ignorant of what good manners even are. Without education one would be unable to even form opinions, and if said opinions would be formed, one could not articulate them. Parental involvent and self-disipline are essential to a good education according to President Jefferson. He spoke lovingly of his father whose greatest gift to him was the provision of a good education. But, as the President pointed out, he was partly formally educated and partly self educated, a process that is always ongoing until one's departure from this life. Mr. Jefferson studied at the College of William and Mary but for only two years. Afterward he came under the tutilege of George Wythe who prepared him to sit for his law license. For his entire life, the President has continued to self educate himself and is dedicating much of his time, energy, and resources to the establishment of the University of Virginia in near by Charlottesville.

And so, the Presidents discourse ended. Afterward he gracioulsly accepted questions from the audience. One in particutlar had to do with the question of slavery and how he (President Jefferson) could own slaves personally while advocating that "all men are created equal." Here is where Mr. Barker's standing as a historian shown brightly. The President spent quite a few minutues reviewing all the various efforts he put forth over his lifetime to bring the practice to a close. Citing not only the history, but the historical context in which said history was being communicated, the President asserted that he was a "gradualist." In regards to these matters, preserving the union until such a time that the practice could end peacefully and without civil war was always his priority. In regards to slavery, voter role expansion, and female sufferage, the President stated a number of times that it is his hope that future generations, using the Constitution, will expand American Liberty over time for an ever growing number of people.

The evening ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation for Bill Barker. Or, was it for President Jefferson? As I was there, I would have to say both.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

10 Things You Might Not Know About Surry County, Virginia

Chippokes Plantationn Farm, June 2016.  Photo by Russ McCullough

My good friend Jack and I recently spent a day in Surry County, VA exploring it's rich history and culture.

Here are 10 things we discovered:
  1. There's a free ferry to Surry County from Jamestown just across the James River.
  2. Surry County was part of James City County until 1652.
  3. Surry County was originally considered part of Jamestown as Jamestown was designed to replicate London on the Thames which runs through the middle of the city.
  4. A large portion of Surry County was given by Chief Powhatan to his son-in-law, John Rolfe, who married his daughter, Pocahontas.
  5. Surry County was once the economic engine of the New World producing both corn and tobacco. As such, Surry County was home to many of the wealthiest families in America in the mid 17th century.
  6. Capt. John Smith built a fort in Surry County on Gray's Creek to defend the colony against possible Spanish attacks.
  7. Surry County was front and center in America's first revolution, "Bacon's Rebellion," in 1676.
  8. The oldest still standing brick home in America is in Surry County.  It is also the only remaining example of "Jacobean" architecture in America,  Popularly known as "Bacon's Castle," the Arthur Allen House also has the oldest existing English formal garden in America.
  9. The oldest continuously working farm in America is in Surry County.  "Chippokes" was land-granted in 1619 and has been farmed ever since.
  10. Surry County is home to Edwards Ham, "perhaps" the only remaining American owned pork producer in Virginia since the Chinese bought Smithfield and it's family of companies in 2013.
Visit Surry County soon!  You won't be disappointed!

For more information:

Chippokes Plantation garden June 2016  Photo by Russ McCullough

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Jamestown - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to History

Restored Remains of the 1639 Jamestown Church of England
Bell Tower.  Photo by Russ McCullough, June 2016

 "Emphasizing the worship of God and moral behavior over any particular religious view minimized conflicts.  Faith became a private matter at Jamestown."
So reads a National Park Service display board at modern day Jamestown in a museum pictured on your left.  One would assume that the colonists were tolerant of all religions, had no particular religious convictions, were synchronistic in their world view and that religion played no major role in our Founding.  
One would be wrong.
Above, you are looking at a picture of structural remains of the very first brick church building built in English speaking America.  It replaced previous temporary church buildings built both inside and out of the original fort.  One can still see the excavated site of the first temporary church building(s) at the site.
Religious conviction did play an important part in the establishment of the Jamestown colony.  Anglicanism was the singular driving force that made it possible.  It was the most important aspect, by far, of life in early Virginia.  To deny such is to deny history.  With this display, the National Park Service is in historical denial.
Faith in early Virginia was neither pragmatic or private.  It was, instead, convicted and very public.  How can we see this through the fog of 409 years?  Of course we can read extant letters, documents and diaries.  We can better understand their priorities by way of how they invested their time, treasure and resources.  In other words, what did they construct?  In the years between 1607 - 1639 time, treasure and resources were in short supply.  The one thing that stands out is the emphasis they placed on their church buildings.  In short is was obsessive and nothing mattered more.  Here's what history and archaeology tell us about the Jamestown colony and their convicted dedication to their church buildings:

  1. Right off the boat, as it were, the colonists in 1607 immediately built a church building.  Capt. John Smith records that it was a rail structure with sails from the three ships (Susan Constant, Godspeed & Discovery) used as a roof.  An altar was constructed of a wooden plank set between the trunks of two trees.  The very first Anglican parish in America was organized this same year, James City Parish.
  2. Also that same year a more permanent church building was constructed inside the triangular shaped fort.  
  3. In 1608 the original permanent church building burned and a replica was erected in it's place.
  4. In 1617 the new deputy governor of the colony, Capt. Samuel Argall, constructed the first permanent church building outside the walls of the original fort.  Jamestown had expanded outside of those walls and a newer and larger structure was needed.  (Capt. Argall, by the way, mandated that it was a crime to neglect worship on Sundays and on holidays.  He was a man that very much supported piety and even a parish [Argall's Gift] was named for him in 1618.)  The original cobble stone foundation of his church building is extant and visible under glass in today's memorial church.  The Memorial Chapel was built in 1907 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the settlement.  Argall's building was of timber construction.  What is not known is whether it was a "frame" structure or of the traditional Jamestown "wattle and daub" design, the latter being a sort of mud-stucco exterior wall design.  Regardless, this is the church building in which the very first representative legislative assembly in America met on 30 July 1619.
  5. As the colony continued to grow, the Church of England organized parishes so that no one would have to ride more than 6 miles to attend Sunday worship.  Many parishes were formed underlying the premise that faith was the singular most important factor of life in early Virginia.(1)  Jamestown, being the capital of Virginia at the time, needed a yet larger and more permanent church building worthy of it's setting.  In 1639 work began on the first all brick church building in Virginia. The work was completed about 1644.  During Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 the building suffered major fire damage and had to undergo extensive repairs.  In 1699 the capital was moved 8 miles further inland to Middle Plantation, known later as Williamsburg.   The 1639 church continued to serve James City Parish until 1750 when the building was abandoned for a new structure 3 miles away for by then Jamestown had long ceased being a town.
Not only does the history and the archaeology of Jamestown continually point to it's faith based foundations, the role of convicted faith in the colony begins before they sailed from England! Here's what the London Council advised the colonists before their departure in 1606:
"Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper and achieve good success is to  make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your country and your own, and to serve and fear God the Giver of all goodness, for every plantation which our Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out." - Advise of the London Council for Virginia to the Colony, 1606
No fewer than 5 Scripture references are made here in the above statement.  No projects of the Jamestown colony took more time, energy and treasure than did the building and maintenance of the church buildings of the Anglican Faith.  Parishes were formed regardless of perilous circumstances.  Leaders from John Smith to Samuel Argall spent great efforts and energy to protect, defend and promote their faith.  Faith was anything but pragmatic and private as our modern day curators of this sacred place would have us believe.  So deep were their convictions and so passionate was their faith that Anglicanism remained the state religion by law and statute until the end of the War for Independence 169 years later.  

Right, wrong or indifferent, the Jamestown Founders emphasized, taught and mandated the Anglican religion exclusively.  They believed what they believed and lived out their beliefs to the best of their abilities.  Their faith was not manipulated pragmatically to generate a "favorable outcome" from among the people.  Other faiths and other forms of Protestantism were not tolerated.  According to the laws of the colony those who possessed Roman Catholic beads and trinkets were considered spies of Spain!  No, faith was not a "private matter" at was very public indeed.  Were these settlers flawed?  Yes they were.  Are we flawed?  Yes we are.  Do we share the same flaws?  No we don't.  Were they better people than us?  No they were not.  Are we better people than they?  No we are not.  They were and we are flawed and fallen.

Historians and curators must never judge the past by the standards of the present.   


(1) James City Parish, James City County - 1607; Kecoughtan Parish, Elizabeth City County - 1610; Charles City Parish, Charles City County - 1613; West and Shirley Parish, Charles City County - 1613; Smith's 100 Parish, Charles City County - 1617;  Argall's Gift Parish, James City County - 1618; Weyanoke Parish, Charles City County - 1618 were the earliest parishes established.  Eight more would be established by 1635.  Parishes continued to be established even during war, starvation and pestilence.  Source:  "Parishes of Virginia."

All pictures taken by Russ McCullough in June, 2016 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Day in Surry County

History has a sense of humor.  Surry County, Virginia, is a place forgotten to time though it was once the most important place in all of British was where the money was made. THIS is the kind of place the Traveling Patriot seeks out.  A place full of forgotten history.  A now nearly desolate place with a glittering past.

In the mid 17th century, Surry County, Virginia, was the economic engine of the American Colonies.  Her rich soil produced the very best in highly sought after "sweet" tobacco.  Whatever fields were not growing tobacco grew tall and prolific producing corn to feed the growing population.  Surry County is right across the James River from the then capital of Virginia, Jamestown.  My good friend, Jack, and I spent a day recently in Surry County soaking the history that surrounds this very special place.  Jack's ancestor, William Spencer, came over on the Susan Constant in 1607 and eventually received a land grant in Surry County. Another one of his Surry County ancestors was the Hart family who owned property along Gray's Creek.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take Interstate 64 East from Richmond to Williamsburg, VA.  Take the Colonial Parkway West exit to the ferry ramp.  The trip over the James takes about 15 minutes or so and the views are spectacular!  By the way, the ferry ride is FREE!  Surry County is an easy day trip from Richmond, Norfolk or Raleigh-Durham.  Any further away, plan on spending a night over.  Go on Monday - Wednesday to get the best value.  Williamsburg is very close by and is best for motel space.  (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)  All photos are by: Russ McCullough unless otherwise noted.  (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)

The ferry lands you in a little place called Scotland, VA.  You are now in Surry County!  There are a number of places to see and experience in Surry County.  These are the ones we enjoyed the most and you will too!

SMITH'S FORT PLANTATION EARTHWORKS - Smith's Fort Plantation was by far the most compelling of all the historical sights we visited for two reasons.  One, it is the most ancient of historical sights in Surry County.  Needing a fall back defensive position from potential attacks from either the Spanish or the Powhatan's, Capt. John Smith threw up earthworks on the banks of Gray's Creek, a tributary of the James in 1608.  The site is on a steep bluff and very defendable. The earthworks are still visible and one can literally stand on the same ground that John Smith did.  The views are spectacular and the trees are very large and ancient by 21st century standards.

With the then navigable Gray's Creek in the background one can still see the rise in the ground of the works thrown up by Smith and his men.  (See photo left)  Beyond the earthworks is a very steep cliff of about 30 feet.  The site was abandoned when Smith returned to England the next year in 1609..

Secondly, this site is compelling because it is part of the dowry land grant of Chief Powhatan to his son-in-law John Rolfe who married his very famous daughter, Pocahontas.  We now know that the couple never actually lived on the site but they most certainly benefited from the tobacco and corn grown there for them as they traveled back to England.  Pocahontas died in 1617 on her way back to Virginia with her husband John and young son two year old Thomas.   John returned to Jamestown where he died in 1622. Pocahontas is buried in England. Thomas eventually made his was to Virginia and inherited his parents land on June 10,1654.   We now know this land as James Fort Plantation. (1)  Access this site from the Jacob Faulcon House located on this same property.  You can walk or drive.  Should you drive, keep in mind that the dirt road is poorly maintained and  is often muddy.  To see the only the earthworks is free but there is a charge to see the main structure, the Jacob Faulcon House.

SMITH'S FORT PLANTATION - JACOB FAULCON HOUSE - Built between 1751 - 1765, it was thought for years to have been inhabited by the Rolfe family in the 17th century.  (See photo left)
Recently, new technology has proven the structure dates a 100 years beyond what was first believed.  James Faulcon was a merchant. He sold goods to the various households in Surry County.  His home was the retail store of his day.  The downstairs was where he displayed his wares.  The family lived very Spartan like upstairs.This home has been completely restored and is available for guided tours.  For more information, see the website:

The tour of this home was by far the best of our trip and one of the best tours I have ever experienced anywhere.  The reason?  Our tour guide was a very learned and historically energetic man by the name of Doug Reynolds.  Make SURE he is your tour guide, ask for him by name.  By the time you finish the tour you will pinch yourself to make sure it's not 1770!  Doug will introduce you, not just to the property, not just to the history but the very real people who once lived here...both free and slave.  Downstairs you will see something intriguing,  At first glance it may appear to be just any run-of-the-mill touristy gift shop,  It is more of a museum / retail store.  There are a few "touristy" items but for the most part what is for sale is material directly related to this very place.  There is much primary and secondary research material here for sale.  Doug loves to take questions so don't hold back!  Smith's Fort Plantation is money well spent.

EDWARDS HAMS, SURRY, VA. - There are few restaurants of any kind in Surry County BUT the one's that are there are fantastic!  For lunch we stopped by a very special local favorite, Edwards Hams.  (Edwards photos courtesy of YELP)   Highly recommended by everyone we met (including Doug), the food was exceptional.  The shaded front porch dining, the incredible sweet and spicy chow-chow and delectible Virginia ham made an experience out of lunch! Edwards suffered a devastating fire back in January and are slowly coming back on line.
Edwards has a very large on-line order business and one can enjoy world class ham by just clicking on a mouse. I can assure you that the next time I'm in the area I will most assuredly be stopping by again!  In addition to lunch, Edwards has a very nice selection of food related gifts, cookbooks and sundries.  The staff is attentive and friendly.  Food prep is to order and you may have a few minutes to wait but it will be worth it!  For more info, check out their website at:  One other thing, Edwards is American owned and operated.  At a time when the largest Virginia based ham provider has been sold to the Chinese, patronage of Edwards is downright American!

BACON'S CASTLE - By far the most visited of all Surry County historical sites is Bacon's Castle.  It was also our most disappointing site to visit despite the fact that it should be one of the premier historical site presentations in all of America.  (Public domain photo via Bing Images)
The tour was lackluster, elementary and very touristy.  Our tour guide seemed bored and in a hurry to get our group through the house.  The vibrant history associated with the site was left to last and was far from informative.  Worst of all was the very disappointing gift shop.  It lacked serious books, maps and other source material.  What was there was embarrassingly politically correct.  On display were a number of fictional and quasi "historical" books focusing on nearly everything but the very important history that took place there in 1676.  Having said this, any visit here is worthwhile because of the homes architectural significance.  Technically, the "Arthur Allen House" built in 1665, Bacon's Castle is the oldest remaining all brick home in Virginia.  More significantly, Bacon's Castle is the only remaining "Jacobean" style home left in America.  If you're into architecture, by all means go.  If you're into history, go...but do your own research first.  For more info, here's their website:

CHIPPOKES PLANTATION - Located inside Chippokes Plantation State Park, Chippokes Plantation is another "must see" historical attraction to experience in Surry County.  A rarity in America, Chippokes Plantation has been a continuously working farm since the land was first granted in 1619...nearly 400 years!  In that year, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Captain William Powell was granted nearly 1,500 acres of rich farm land just across the James River from Jamestown.  Sadly, Captain Powell was killed in a firefight with the Chickahominy Indians in 1623.  His son, George Powell inherited the land from his father.
(Photo left: a view of the James River from the Chippokes property.)  A natural for both farming and trade Chippokes Plantation has had an economic impact ever since.  The Powell family eventually sold the land in 1837 to Alert Carroll Jones of Isle of Wight County for $12,000.00.  He resided in an older structure on the property known as the "River House" for 16 years until he completed his new mansion house in 1854.
Jones - Wilson Mansion House.  Photo by Virginia State
Parks staff Beautiful grounds at Chippokes Uploaded by
Albert Herring, via Wikipedia Commons
It is said that the plantation survived the Civil War because Jones sold his home made brandy to soldiers of both sides.  Jones died in 1882  and the property passed from one relative to another until his sister, Isabella Cuthbert.  On September 24, 1918, she sold the property at public auction for $47,000.00 to Victor W. and Evelyn Stewart of Wilson, NC.  The Stewart's restored the Jones mansion house and added a modern bed and bath addition in 1955.  Mr. Stewart passed away in 1965.  In 1967, Mrs. Stewart, not wanting the property to be subdivided by relatives, donated the entire property to the Commonwealth of Virginia for perpetual use as a museum, a park and a working farm.  She passed away in 1969.  Both Victor and Evelyn are buried in the lovely garden on the property.  Like we found at the James Faulcon House with Doug Reynolds, we found another enthusiastic and informed historian at the Jones - Stewart House at Chippokes.  Her name is Gloria LaBoone.  Her mother was a personal friend of the late Evelyn Stewart.  She has a true love for this home, it's history, gardens and preservation.  Make SURE she is your tour guide!  You will be mesmerized.  (Ask her about the mirror placement in the home and why there is a portrait of Pres. Lincoln in the foyer)  Also, make sure you go to the garage and see Mr. Stewart's 1941 Packard.  You will appreciate Chippokes. There is a modest admission cost.  For more information, check out their website:

SURRY SEAFOOD COMPANY - The last stop of our day was Surry Seafood Company.
We enjoyed a fine meal and a view second to none.  SSC is brand new and is likely the finest dining establishment in all of Surry County.  Jack's ancestors, the Hart's, had a land grant on Gray's Creek and "may" have owned this track of land at one time.  SSC is located on the banks of Gray's Creek and as you can see, the view is spectacular!  I enjoyed a fine plate of fried clams and oysters.  The sweet tea was good, done "southern style."  Prices were reasonable, the staff friendly and the clientele quiet.  Should you want to take your boat, there is a new boat ramp next door to the restaurant.  Check out their website:

The Traveling Patriot enjoyed this trip to Surry County, Virginia. You will as well.  You will experience some of the oldest history in America, experience rare sights and reconnect with America's exceptional past.  Visit Monday - Wednesday for the best value and choice in lodging and food.  If you have time and opportunity, visit other compelling places across the James in America's "Historic Triangle."

  1. Boddie, John Bennett. Colonial Surry. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1974. Web., March 12, 2013. (Via Wikipedia)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hugh Gaston - American Patriot

Ruins of Ballywallin Presbyterian Church, County Antrim, Ulster Plantation, ca. 1748 – Image Courtesy Ballywallin Presbyterian Church

Five generations ago, Hugh Gaston risked it all…and paid it all.  He fled home, hearth, church and family risking everything for the freedom of reading, teaching and living the precepts of the Holy Scriptures.  After attending an annual conference of ministers in 1766 he disappeared for nearly four months.  Suddenly he reappeared in South Carolina, sought out his brother, John “Justice” Gaston of Chester County and set out for the back country to begin a new ministry.  He preached just one or two sermons, then fell ill with the measles.  He was dead within a month of his arrival.  He is buried next to his brother and sister in law in Burnt Meeting House Cemetery just an hour’s drive south of Charlotte, NC.  John wrote a letter home to his widow, Mary Gaston, and children telling of Hugh’s tragic demise.  Hugh’s family stayed in Ulster and never came to America, but Hugh’s book DID come! 

These freedoms that Hugh risked everything for had eluded the Gaston family for generations.  Long before Hugh was born the Gaston family searched for the truth of the gospel with the Huguenots of France.  Roman Catholicism was the state religion there in the 16th century.  The Gaston’s, under persecution from Rome, fled France for Scotland where they associated themselves with the Reformed Presbyterianism of John Knox.  Here too, they faced persecution, not from Rome but from London.  The English, having subdued Scotland, were determined to force the Scots back into Romanism under Queen Mary and then into Anglicanism under Elizabeth I and James VI.   Scotland was under the boot of the tyrannical English, land was scarce and times were hard.  After several generations, the family sought a better life across the Irish Sea in what was then called Ulster Plantation, now known as Northern Ireland.  Here they found more, better and cheaper land. However, they did not find the religious freedom that they so desperately longed for.

Ulster Plantation was designed by the English as an enclave where both Scots and English would settle Irish Catholic lands and eventually cause the Irish to give up their resistance to English rule.  The plan backfired and the repercussions of this 400 year old plan are still resounding today in the streets of Northern Ireland.  The Gaston’s faced the hatred of the displaced Irish Catholics and the persecution of the English Anglicans.  It was literally a “stress sandwich.”  However, early in the 18th century, these displaced Ulster Scots began immigrating to a new land that promised it all – freedom of religion, free land and unbridled prosperity in a land “flowing with milk and honey,” AMERICA.  John and Esther Waugh Gaston along with two small daughters came to Pennsylvania before 1740.  By 1754, the expanding family found their way south through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, through the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, ending up in the rolling piedmont hills of upstate South Carolina.  John became the top law officer on the frontier, the so-called “Kings Justice.”  He also became the most successful surveyor of land in all the upstate.  Here they would prosper in freedom and liberty.  John and Esther would eventually have 13 children, all of which lived to adulthood, a blessing unheard of in that day and time.  The only thing they lacked in the upstate were trained preachers for all the Scot – Irish, as we are called here in America.  Hugh Gaston was not only a trained minister, he was the most brilliant Presbyterian scholar of his age.  No amateur, Hugh was trained at the University of Glasgow as was his physician brother, Alexander.  No wonder John was so excited to greet his brother on his way to Chester from Charleston when he arrived in 1766.

Hugh Gaston was a dangerous man to the English, perhaps the most dangerous man in all of Scotland and Ireland.  Why?  Hugh had in 1763 published a book, a book that threatened every Catholic and every Anglican in Ulster.  It was book that, for the first time, provided the common man the tools needed for deep Bible study.  Now the Ulster ploughman could within a very short period of time, know more Bible than any Catholic or Anglican “clergyman.”  It was simple, yet brilliant.  The book was a combination systematic theology, concordance and topical Bible.  It became a bombshell!  The name of the book?  A Scripture Account of the Faith and Practice of Christians.   Detailed knowledge of the Scriptures not only spoke of salvation, they shed the light of truth on all other aspects of life.  Scot-Irishmen learned self-reliance, self-government, morality, virtue and courage.  They also learned that the rights of man descended, not from the king, but from God Himself!  They then began to “proclaim Liberty throughout the land!”

The publication of this book apparently cost Hugh everything.  By 1766 he found himself broke and disgraced.  Because he so soon died upon arriving in the new world, he left no information as the exact circumstances of his sudden departure.  One thing is for sure.  This book cost Hugh everything.  He lost his family.  He lost his position.  He lost his wealth.  He lost his life.  He lost these things so that anyone could study the Bible for themselves.

Hugh Gaston gave everything so that others could take that journey as well.  He was a man of great passion and love for the truth.  Though Hugh was an “American” for less than six weeks, few others made such an impact.  His book was republished numerous times for nearly 100 years after his death.  Countless thousands of everyday people learned to read and study the Bible for themselves, no longer having to rely on government preachers to tell them how to live and believe. Every man, woman and child became his own priest before God.   Gaston’s Collections as the book came to be known, taught its readers to become truly free, truly responsible and truly patriotic.

Now, one year shy of 250 years, the passion of Hugh Gaston has been replaced by passivity.  “Christians” today have grown passive, lazy and unconcerned with the study, the teaching and the living of the Scriptures.  Bibles sit unopened on the shelf or travel without use in the back seats of automobiles.  People today are passive towards the claims of Holy Scripture and are ashamed of what it says.  What Hugh Gaston died for in 1766, people in 2015 could not care less about.  How about you?  Are you passionate or passive?

Hugh Gaston is my great uncle, five times removed.  John Gaston is my great grandfather five times removed.  John and Esther gave four sons in death during the War for Independence.  They also gave up their home, their possessions and their freedom.  Three of their sons died on the same day at the Battle of Hanging Rock, 6 August 1780.  Ebenezer, Robert and Dave Gaston gave their all just a few miles from the family farm on Fishing Creek.  In fact, all nine of John and Esther’s sons served the cause of liberty.  Hugh and John’s brother, Dr. Alexander Gaston, was murdered by the British in Newbern, NC in the presence of his wife and young son.  At 80 years of age, John Gaston died in his sleep, still being pursued by the English.  He had two loaded pistols under his pillow and a loaded musket at this bedside as he passed into eternity.  The year was 1782.  Esther joined him in death seven years later in 1789.  On their tombstone is one simple inscription – “Patriots of the Revolution.”

The Gaston’s learned that “freedom isn’t free” from reading, studying and living the precepts of Holy Scripture.  Hugh Gaston left a legacy of light and truth that still burns bright today.

-          Russ McCullough – Mint Hill, NC – 21 May 2015