Sunday, August 14, 2005

Braxton Mabry I: The Revolutionary War

Braxton Mabry was born on May 22, 1750 in Brunswick County, Virginia, the son of Joel and Winnifred (Smith) Mabry. We know little of his youth. However, we have his own words as to his service during the Revolutionary War.

In 1838, at the age of 86, Braxton appeared before a judge in order to obtain a pension for his military service. At the time he was infirm and blind, so his words were taken down for him at the Taney County, Missouri court. He testified that he served a total of 15 months as a private and 18 months as a Lieutenant. (note that all quotes below use the spelling in the original document)

First Enlistment

• In February or March 1776 he enlisted in the service of "a minute company under Captain James Mason which was commanded by Col. Marshal". The company was sent to Williamsburg "to defend that place & the American Magazine which was at that place from being destroyed by the British".

• On July 1, 1776 Braxton's unit marched to Yorktown under the command of Col. John Marshal, and command was shifted to Col. John Ruffin.
When we got to Yorktown it was thought proper to leave Two companies there. The Two companies left there were Captain James Mason’s Company of Minutemen & Captain Alexander’s Company of Regulars. These Two companies were left under the command of Col. John Ruffin in which company of minuteman this Declarant was & served. In a few days Gen. Scott marched with the Regulars to the assistance of those who first went to Guin's Island. The canonading was very severe and Lord Dunmore & his army were drove off, we continuing then until between the middle & last of September following as well as my memory serves me & were then discharged.
Excused service

• "In the year 1778 in the month of March I was called in Captain Stephen Coleman’s Company of Militia. I was called for & upon proof that I had served a Tour, I was discharged."

Second Enlistment

• "In March 1779 I was called for again. I then hired a substitute who entered the service under the command of Captain Henry Conway in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, delivered said substitute to the Captain & took my Discharge for nine months."

Third Enlistment

• "In a short time in the Spring or Summer of 1779 I received a commission of First Lieutenant Signed by Thomas Jefferson who was then Governor. Some short time after that orders came to Captain Waters to march to an old stone near Dan river then to hold himself in readiness to march when called for. We accordingly marched to that place. And when the day came at which Captain Waters was to march we marched to Boyd’s Ferry on Dan river. And between sunset & dark the last of September 1780 as well as I recall it we received orders to discharge the men, our time being so near out it was thought needless for us to go any further, which was accordingly done & we returned home."

Fourth Enlistment

•"In March as well as I recollect 1781 an express came for three companies from Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Captains Charles Williams, Charles Hutchinson & William Dicks[sic] commanded the three companies. Williams’ & Hutchinson’s companies were made out men & officers; Capt. Dick’s[sic] company was made out the First Lieutenant & Second Lieutenant of which company made excuses which were received. I then volunteered & took the place of First Lieutenant in said company & marched the men myself."

• After the battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina, Braxton's unit marched from Pittsylvania to Petersburg, then on through Jamestown to Yorktown. According to Braxton's account, he commanded a company along side William Dix.
"We then marched to York & then we joined the army. When we got there Capt. Charles Hutchinson & his ensign deserted & the three companies were thrown into two. This was the fall of 1781 and I think on the seventh of October in that year. I think our hundred pieces of cannon were let loose upon the British at York, a severe cannonading in which I was engaged & on the seventeenth I think the articles of capitulations were concluded & on the nineteenth the british marched out & grounded their arms."
"There were Two companies of us in the Fort I commanded one & Capt. Wm Dicks commanded the other all under the command of Col. Hardiman we were there engaged in laying the foundation for the Cannon & throwing up the breastwork. During the day we were then we were exposed to the British Redoubts & the Americans laing in the Rear of us could not fire that day owing to our situation at the Fort. In a night or Two after that Washington commanded the British Redouts to be stormed which was done, one by Gen. LaFayette & the other by a Col. who as I understood was a Frenchman, as commanders at that time. I was in the rear of Gen. Mulinburg’s command, Gen. of the Regulars." [referring to General Peter Muhlenburg]
After Cornwallis' surrender, the Revolutionary War was over.
"We were placed under the immediate command of Brg. Gen. Edward Stephens, Col. Meriwether was under his command & I acted the whole time a Lieutenant. After this the militia officers of Virginia were all paraded & were divided by lot, some to march with the prisoners & some were to be discharged to go home. It fell to my lot to march with the prisoners."

Unfortunately, Braxton's pension claim was denied because he was unable to furnish any documentation. According to his own testimony, he carried his discharge and commission papers for many years, but left them to the care of his son, who left them in Overton County, Tennessee. This was confirmed by his son James.

While he gave many details of his service, it is worth noting that Braxton himself stated that "his memory is fading & therefore he is unable to call to memory as many circumstances of his services as he formerly could, nor can he recollect the names of as many officers as he once could, nor can he on account of loss of memory remember the precise times of his services except as above specified." Not surprising, when trying to recall events almost 60 years in the past. Of course today it is much easier to dig out information on the events described by Braxton.

Service from Brunswick County: First Enlistment

I haven't been able to substantiate Braxton's description of his service during 1776.

• Sixteen minutemen battalions were established in Virginia beginning in 1775. I haven't found details of any such battalion in Brunswick county.

• The British, under Lord Dunmore, removed the gunpowder from the magazine at Williamsburg in April 1775. It is unclear whether troops were sent to guard the Magazine in 1776 (maybe Braxton was a year off). In the summer of 1776 Lord Dunmore did attack Guin's Island, but I haven't been able to find any details.

• It isn't clear that the names Braxton listed were accurate: There was a James Mason, Captain of the 15th Virginia from November 1776 to February 1778. He was subsequently Lieutenant-Colonel of Virginia Militia. In 1776 there was a Colonel David Mason leading the 15th Virginia Regiment. John Marshall was in the Culpeper minutement in 1775-6, then 1st Lieutenant of the 3rd Virginia (30 July 1776), then Captain-Lieutenant of the 15th Virginia (December 1776). He does not appear to ever have been a Colonel (although later he was famous as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).
The only "General Scott" I have found is Charles Scott, who was not made a general until 1777. In 1776 he was a Colonel of the 5th Virginia Regiment. I haven't found an appropriate Captain Alexander or Col. John Ruffin.

More information from this period is needed to confirm Braxton's account.

Service from Pittsylvania County

By 1779, Braxton was living in Pittsylvania County. In the Pittsylvania County Court Records of June 1780 is the notation:
"Clement M. Daniel is appointed first Lieutenant, Braxton Mabberry, Second Lieutenant, in Captain Stephen Coleman’s Company."
So, it is clear that Braxton was indeed a Lieutenant in 1780.

The men of Pittsylvania County played an important role in the fighting leading up to the battle of Yorktown which led to the ultimate surrender of the British forces by Cornwallis. However, I have found no details of the Pittsylvania troops at Yorktown, nor record that indicates Braxton lead a company there.

All we can say for sure is that Braxton Mabry did serve as a Lieutenant in the fight for independence from the British.

• Transcription ofBraxton Mabry's Pension Application number R6569 published in the White River Valley Historical Quarterly
Revolutionary War in Virginia
Call to Arms in Virginia
The Magazine at Williamsburg
Pittsylvania's Military History
(Incomplete) Roster of Pittsylvania soldiers in the Revolutionary War
Timeline of the Yorktown campaign (with maps)
American Military Units at Yorktown
Map showing the defensive works of Yorktown
Seizure of British Redoubts 9 and 10
Plan of the entrance of the Chesapeake, with the James and York Rivers showing the positions of the British Army, American and French Forces

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