Chapter 8, Page 73
Invitation to Refugees
families depend on them for substinence"
1774 - 1784
To more completely understand the effect of the American Revolution on the Hall - Overstreet families a study of the conduct of the War in Bedford county is in order. The family members during the period under consideration were concentrated in Bedford county and the area that became Campbell county in 1784.
Since these people were not given to writing memoirs, nor engaged in extensive correspondence with family members in other parts of the colonies or in England, we must draw upon governmental records and other sources.
The county in 1783 showed a population of 5497 whites, and 1653 blacks, less then ten thousand persons. The population must have remained at that level during the war. As far as known blacks did not participate, except as to keep the home activities going and perhaps in certain labor work. The number of white males eligible for military service, age 16 to 45, was not over 2500 persons. From the records it appears that over half that number was at one time or another in military service principally the militia.
Bedford county at the time of the Revolution was still the Virginia frontier, an area of log cabins, primitive farming and home industry. It was a funnel county adjacent to the Blue Ridge pathway that led from the East into the lands of the West and South. The region was filled hostile Indians and during the War this was the greatest menace as the British used the savages for their purposes. Defense was difficult as the region was thinly settled.
In a letter from the Council of Safety to the delegates in the Continental Congress, sent from Lancaster, Penn., and dated Nov. 14, 1777 in which frontier conditions were discussed, it was stated: 'There is likewise room to fear the Savages will extend to Bedford Co. and along the frontier. We shall order out the Militia of Bedford Co. and take such other steps as may be immediately necessary for the relief of those settlements, but we find they are greatly deficient in the articles of arms, and especially ammunition and flints.' A copy of this message was also forwarded to Governor Harrison of Virginia.
In his The Virginia Frontier in History, David Bushnell, Jr., said, 'The winter of 1777-78 was one of the darkest periods in the history of the western frontier of Virginia and Pennsylvania.'
This condition was familiar to the residents of Bedford and neighboring counties. They had been engaged in Indian Wars, alarms and defensive excursions ever since the area was opened to settlement. In fact, the Revolutionary War actually began for them with the Battle of Point Pleasant in October 10, 1774. At that time Capt. Thomas Buford's Company of Volunteers, raised in Bedford county, served with Gen. Andrew Lewis in the battle.++
This Battle, although having some features of less than complimentary nature to the colonials, was waged in the area that area that later became West Virginia (across from Ohio) and was a decisive victory over the Indians. The winning of this battle was a deterring factor to Indian invasions for the next decade. Among those participating from Bedford county was a Thomas Hall and a William Overstreet - possible family members.
However, the threat of the Indians during the Revolutionary War was always present and from time to time during the years 1776-1790 various movements of the Bedford county militia are recorded in which they conducted marches, skirmishes, established fortifications, etc., to the north and west of Bedford county. (see: Halls-Overstreets and Their Kin in the Revolution.)
This type of military activity was disruptive to the economy at home and the official correspondence gives continued evidence about the reluctance of Bedford farmers to leave their crops to go on these Indian-chasing expeditions, (even later to chase the British south of them). After all, they had their families to keep and their taxes to pay. Taxes were levied in kind and in money, both of which were in short supply. As the War lingered on, these complaints followed by non-cooperative acts became serious threats to the support of the war effort.
To understand the problems of the officials in conducting the war effort in the Bedford area as well as in the colonial capitol at Williamsburg, a notion of the state's military forces must be had. As yet, there was no real central government for the newly created Republic; it was somewhat as a voluntary effort of thirteen separate countries to conduct a war against a powerful foreign monarchy. Washington and the Continental Congress operated under the most awkward of conditions.
The Virginia forces in the Revolutionary War served in four general groups:
In all, 12,000 officers and men served from Virginia. The accounting for all the forces except the militia is reasonably accurate for the War, but 'the militia are impossible to chronicle, with any degree of detail. Forces were raised on different occasions. They had varying times of service and were parts of different commands.'
In addition, militia members confused their records for other reasons, as will be related in a Bedford county incident later in this chapter.
Bedford county was strong in manpower. In 1776 they had a militia strength of 1400 men. During the years, 1776-80, thirteen companies were raised in the county. They were usually called for some specific service areas as the War spread through the South.
Virginia Continental Line soldiers enlisted for three years. These were the 'regulars.' The state troops were organized on periods of extended enlistments and their officers responsible to the government at Williamsburg. The were sometimes moved into the Continental Line or mingled with the militia in various engagements. 'In 1777 losses among the Continental Line, Virginia troops serving at Germantown where a whole regiment was captured, were so large that the first regiment of Virginia state troops were joined to the Continental Line to make the state's quota.' Continental Line troops may be thought of as expeditionary forces: the state troops for intra-state action.
The militia, less formally organized and poorly equipped, went even further, stating that the state lines limited their services. Often when enlistment 'tours' were over, they went home even in the midst of action - stating that the time of service was over. The militia could be a nuisance in the conduct of the War - when a win was in sight, they were visible; when defeat loomed, they scattered - exceptions noted, of course!
Eventually, as the war wore on, Virginia became a military state with the government at Williamsburg (later at Richmond) passing laws regulating the militia, organizing military districts, commandeering food and supplies, requiring Oaths of Allegiance and drafting men. At the opening of Cornwallis' campaigns to the South, the situation tightened and civilian activities controlled and curtailed.
As the War approached Yorktown, militia units were gathered up and hustled to the scene. This gave Washington impressive numbers of men, even though as effectives they were questionable. Old John Overstreet, - Continental Line veteran, joined the militia for this final campaign. A good number Halls, Overstreets and their kindred were gathered, pushed and in other ways encouraged to become participants in the last great battle of the war. In later years they could proudly related that they had been at Yorktown, though in some instances by a route not of their own choosing.
The irony of the situation is that after the War, and when Bounty lands and eventually pensions came as Awards to veterans, many of those who had been militiamen, serving only under duress and tampering with the records to cover their desertions, found that they could not prove service. At this point in history, everyone was a hero, although it was exceptionally difficult for many to prove their heroism.
Among the unsung heroes of the Revolution in Virginia are the civilian district officials who dealt with home front problems during this trying period. Not only did they have to work with state officials, they had to contend with Torys, collect taxes, defend the frontier and deal with 'reluctant patriots' at home. They were to account for the available manpower, provide assistance and relief for families of men away in service, obtain supplies for the troops - often from small larders - keep a semblance of law and order in their home precints, obtain Oaths of Allegiance, and, if so inclined, look after personal and property interests of those residents who preferred to remain loyal to the Crown. There was a general break-down of the old order and in general for the rights of others --- even though this fundamentally was the reason for the Revolution!
In 1779 Bedford county became much involved in the War. Prior to that date, activities had been to the North and East in other colonies. Now, it was coming home, to Virginia. Bedford City (then known as New London) the county seat, had become an important center for lead mined in Virginia and for storage of powder manufactured in the area. This meant it had become a target for direct military action. Also, it had become an important staging area for the George Clark expedition to the then Far West, the Illinois country.
From 1780 on, until the surrender at Yorktown things were critical in Virginia. By May, 1780 the entire state of Virginia 'faced a alarming and critical condition of War, with a powerful army in the neighboring states, the Carolinas.' Virginia units, state and militia troops, were ordered out, sent out of the state to assist those further South. Governor Thomas Jefferson moved the Capitol from Williamsburg to Richmond, thinking it to be safe. A sense of alarm swept through the state and stringent acts were put into effect for supplies and men. District commanders were given greater powers and local automory decreased. Levies for men, money and supplies were increased.
Jefferson was wrong, Richmond was not safe. In 1781 the city fell to the British under command of Benedict Arnold. By mid-1781 the War reached Bedford county.
'In July, 1781, Lt. Col. Banestre Tarleton, 1754-1833, of Cornwallis' forces raided into New London, Bedford county, razing the country and destroying supplies. This expedition was gone (from the central command) fifteen days and covered 400 miles.'
In his own report, Tarleton said:
The principal stores had been taken by the Americans to other places ahead of the raid. +++
Prior to the Tarleton raid matters between the citizens and the governing officials had become critical. The campaigns to the South may have been real and threatening to Virginia state officials, but to people living in an isolated area such as Bedford county, the British armies were a long way off and things at hand more important.
From the Calendar of Virginia State Papers as we sort out the Bedford county correspondence over these critical years an interesting yet human story emerges. People did not react during the Revolution like super-patriots, as our history books might lead us to believe, but they reacted just as people do today. Immediate and self-centered interests take precedence over remote and idealistic events. There is no reason to assume that our family ancestors behaved differently, they were part and parcel of the environment in which they lived.
Early in 1781 Col. James Callaway (also Calloway), District Commander, writing to Gov. Thomas Jefferson on his handling of British prisoners brought to Bedford county, "takes this opportunity of informing his Excellency that the last Act of the Assembly of assessing taxes in 'specie only' and passing over luxuries, is causing much murmuring in the county." Col. Callaway is referring to his friends and neighbors and is passing on to the Governor information as to how the common people were accepting recent legislation.
A month later the Colonel writing to the Governor about 400 of the militia, from Bedford, who two months before had been requestion by the state which 'had move to Petersburg and who are now at Portsmouth. (Still in Virginia but a long ways from home.)
"They are clamorous for their discharge, being poor men, whose families are suffering from their absence. Begs that they may be relieved, if possible. Nearly the same number of our men are in service with Gen'l Greene, as a consequence of his appeal to the County, together with the efforts of Col. Lynch. These demands upon the County had interfered with the making up the quota of Regular Troops, required by the Act of the Last Assembly: but he shall take care to retain the exact strength of the draughts (draftees) as soon as they are made." ++++
Col. Callaway is on the spot. - As a prominent local politican, he must keep on the good side of the Governor and local residents at the same time. He is desireous of performing his duties as he is a staunch patriot. Callaway received many honors for his services after the Revolution.
Two weeks later in another report to the Governor, Callaway says: "he has omitted the Draft for the quota of troops for the Continental service (regulars) under the last Act of the Assembly, because of the great no. of Militia now in service from that Co. (Bedford). The effort to do so would have caused a 'General Disturbance.' The absence of the Militia prevent his giving a return of the strength of the County, but this may be estimated at about thirteen hundred men together with a 'quantity of Publick Arms.'
Then Callaway adds:
Callaway's letter continues:
As students of the War will recall, the enemy did head toward Bedford county. After the bad experiences in the Carolinas, Cornwallis came back to Virginia in a move that ended at Yorktown. Bedford City would have been a good strategic capture. Instead he swung his army to the north and east, entering Appomattox county (of Civil War fame!) instead of Bedford.
At this time, a civilian military supply procurer, David Ross, living in Pennsylvania, wrote to Co. Wm Davis at the state capitol as follows: "My brother writes to me from Bedford that a pretty general consternation has seized the people there."
Fortunately, the British troops had veered away from them.
Troubles were not over for the Bedfordians, as the war was to last longer.
In August, 1781 Col. Callaway writes to the same Col. Davis (above), now at Staunton, Va., that: "He has discharged the militia, ordered to the South, etc., but ordered them to hold in readiness to march at a moment's warning."
In a more generous mood, the Col. Writes of his charges (no doubt behaving better because of the nearness of the British) and thanks Col. Davis for his nice compliments about the Bedford Co. Militia, and assures him "if the Enemy ever makes it necessary, they will entitle themselves to credit."
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary troops tagging Cornwallis were in need of supplies. To meet this need, clothing is collected in the county. Here is a portion of the District Commander's report to the area quartermaster:
Perhaps the women of Bedford county were making the most heroic efforts. These garments were hand made. If anyone visualizes these soldiers as handsome in their Continental uniforms, they are mistaken; the men looked more like ragamuffins, in the motley garments, whiskered faces and long hair. *
Do not think for a moment that Col. Callaway was always certain where the enemy was or where he stood with the militia or powers at the state capital. Communications were carried by horseback, foot messengers and were not always reliable. Supply trains went over roads that were mere trails. In their communications, district commanders passed rumors along to keep each other informed. In Dec. 1781 another Continental officer writing from Bedford City speculates whether he was smart to stay in the service, "he had no rich folks nor cloathes …if he continues in the army he goes for broke…or should he get out while getting is good?"
Perhaps the writer was blue about recruiting in Bedford county. He writes, "Lieut. Rankin, who was ordered to this place to recruit has not enlisted anybody, now I am shure will not, as the people would not turn round three times for ten thousand dollars.
There are always two sides to a question. From that of the common citizens, and that of the leaders. Wars have a way of interfering with the normal ways of life. Perhaps the most common reason for the militia's behavior and not serving with alacrity was that of the crops. Writing in May, 1781 Col. Callaway had told Gov. Jefferson that on a call for 200 men, he could raise only 100**: "it was the busy season of the year among the people outlawing any idea of the necessity of turning out, unless the enemy threatens."
A month later, the militiamen were still reluctant to leave their homes. The patient Colonel excuses them by saying, "These men are very poor, and their families depend on them for substinence."
Recruiting and ordering the militia continued under sever penalties inflicted by the state government. But --- the general lack of co-operation in the conduct of the war persisted.
In another of his letters to the Governor, the district commander states the situation very bluntly:
In the midst of this critical period the Commander again write the Governor: (this letter well illustrates problems faced by those conducting the military operations in the Revolutionary.
"He has not been able to field any of the Militia condemned to six months by Court Martial - Those caught have broke jail, or escaped from their guard - They will not serve except by compulsion: and are very troublesome in as much as 'these disaffected and DisObedient wretches who harbor deserters and secret them and are protected by them. Nearly all of the 18 new men have lately deserted and are protected by them.
"He suggests the policy of grants to every man, who will arrest them and deliver them up--- giving them credit for their military service in lieu of bounties. They will soon clear the county of them (the wretches)."
Another letter to the Governor of Virginia stated: *** Captain Leftwich and Capt. Early's Co's from Bedford, after six weeks service, claiming a discharge at the end of that term, to be dated from the Time of Marching from their County, upon refusal, deserted. The pretext for their claims was a Promise from the County Lt. that they should not be compelled to serve longer than six weeks. As the Orderly Seargents belonging to the different Companies, deserted with them and carried off theis Lists, it is impossible to make an accurate Return of their names or numbers. (emphasis: author's) ****
This last communication to the Governor of Virginia is of particular significance to the story of The Grandfathers. Capt. Leftwich was from the area in which a number of the Halls lived. He and his family were neighbors of the Halls, the Leftwich name appears on several family legal papers. ***** As militia groups came from the same neighborhoods, it could well be that a number of the Halls, Overstreets and their kin were in his group. Other than making this statement, there can only be assumptions. None will be made!
At a later period in 1795, when conditions were not so pressing, the whole subject of Militia troubles, which in fairness must be stated didn't exist in Bedford county alone was subject to considerable study by the state government.
An official report stated in part: (under the Title, Mutiniees in various counties with Militia)
"This appearance arises from this circumstance: that Campbell and Bedford, two of the counties in the Brigade (reference to a larger unit of command to which the units were assigned) did proceed to draft their quotas and to be meeting with difficulties, in these two Counties Courts Martial have been held and the few who failed to rendezvous for marching have been heavily fined, as by reports made according to law to my office - from no one of the other counties have reports been received."
Apparently Col. Callaway was eventually able to cope with the situation in Bedford county, although his previous suggestions to the Governor were never put into effect.^
Looking back over a period of two centuries, it is easy to be critical of the conduct of these people living in a remote area of a frontier country. However, they must be judged in terms of the conditions with which they had been confronted.
Bedford county citizens had in reality been at war for a long time. In fact, ever since the settlements of the area began. It was for many years a western outpost. Their perspective of the war cannot be compared with ours in 1976. They were really very poor people.
Revolutionary America had three types of citizens: those that supported the separation: those that were loyal to the mother country: and those who didn't give a damn one way or another. Those that were loyalists were subjected to much pressure, even physical violence and loss of property. Those who could not flee were indeed in a bad predicament. Obviously, they would be reluctant to take up arms, and if they could avoid that, then they were forced to furnish food and supplies.
Yet, as can be noted, Bedford county was well represented in the various battles and campaigns in the South. This can be noted from the District Commander's reports. At the Battle of Guliford Court House they had 400 men. Likewise, they were at Yorktown. A reading of the depositions quoted in the section: Halls and Overstreets and their kin in the Revolution, will tell much about the militia men. They didn't always run and often they served willingly.
In the first flush of enthusiasm, the younger patriots joined up for long terms of service. Older men could not do this because of hardships on their families. There are records of much suffering among wives and children - relief measures had to be taken. Older men were regulated to the militia and a son could substitute for his father. Substitutes were common and often sought.
The militia excursions seemed fruitless to those participating them, although they may have been an important part to the overall strategy. Not only were the men away from home when crops needed tending, but they were subjecting to long, grueling marching under less than ideal conditions. As the war dragged on, the bottom of the manpower barrel was reached. The militia companies now contained the mal-contents, the over-age, the very young, members of Tory families and those physically and mentally unfit. Many factors contributed to the mutinies.
Conditions that developed in the Revolutionary War were repeated in subsequent wars, with about the same pattern of civilian resistance developing in case the conflict lasted for many years. Bedford county probably average out in its participation, no better and likely no worse than other Virginia counties.
In the unwritten histories of families, there is no way to determine the ultimate effects of war. What happened in the Hall - Overstreet families is unknown. We can only judge by the records that survive: in time everyone was on the winning side, the heroes remembered and those who faltered are forgotten. One thing is certain, they developed a strong urge to leave Virginia, the war had opened the West and they headed for it.
This was particularly true of the Hall-Overstreet group. They were no longer Virginians, they were not of the slave economy, they lost their southern heritage and they became a new breed of United States citizens - known as as mid-westerners.
+ William Mead was a wealthy
Quaker land owner. Hezekiah
Hall's, Back Creek land, was
originally held by him.