Fincastle Sounded Tocsin of Freedom
Virginia Resolutions Predate Declaration of Independence; Lead Mines’ Part in Victories of Colonists
By Frank Cunningham
Forgotten by all but history professors who stroll among the ivy-covered buildings of the college campus, and perhaps, the students in these halls of learning who for the moment of examination, forgetting football scores, telephone numbers, and liquor prices, turn to figures that are milestones in American history, are two interesting phases of the stormy times when Colonial”hot heads” roared in defiance toward King George and his legions of smartly-drilled “red coats.”
Yes, practically forgotten. That is, until December 14 when the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a marker near Wytheville, Va., as a memorial to the inspiring part the Fincastle resolutions and the New River territory, Lead Mines played in getting whatever freedom Americans now enjoy.
Located on the highway across the river from Austinville, the marker conjures up thoughts of the older days when the Revolutionists under George Washington were putting over a “New Deal” of their own manufacture, and the flag with the snake and “Dont Tread on Me” emblazoned on it, was the Blue Eagle of its day.
Perhaps we had better delve into history so that the true story and significance of the recently placed marker becomes known. As the Fincastle resolutions are chronologically first, we will begin with them. But first a
word about the geographical situation.
In 1654 Colonel Abraham Wood received permission to trade with the “Western Indians.” After a hard and torturous trip from Eastern Virginia he made his way westward until he was the first white man to see the New River Valley and sail down the New River. Just what happened to the adventurous colonel we do not know. He may have “married the beautiful Indian princess and lived happily ever after.” But whatever he did we know he blazed the way the wilderness of the “far western frontier.”
On January 20, 1775, many a year after the bold colonel ventured into New River territory, and almost 260 years ago, the freemen of Fincastle County assembled with much gusto at Lead Mines, which was the seat of the court.
Fincastle County had been created in 1772 and embraced the New River territory. It was a large county covering what is now Southwestern Virginia and all of Kentucky. Fearless people had followed the footsteps of the adventurer, Colonel Wood. Among them were Daniel Boone and John Sevier, still remembered pioneers, the latter for four years ruling the State of Franklin and afterwards was Governor of Tennessee. In all of the giant county, the most important gathering place was Lead Mines.
On this probably cold day of January with the winds whistling down from the snow-covered mountains, there was drafted a resolution that was a forerunner of the famous declaration of July Fourth, 1776, by the Congress at Philadelphia. A resolution that “beat to the line” the Declaration of Independence in upholding open revolt against the Crown.
Colonel William Christian was named chairman of a council of 13 representatives elected by the freemen. This council was to see that the resolves of the Continental Congress were borne out.
Fighting men these colonists who had wrestled the land from the savage Indians. Who had lost wives, children and sweethearts, as the red-skinned natives hacked cruelly and with blood-stained tomahawks. And the words fused in the Fincastle resolutions were a challenge to tyranny that should never be forgotten.
The initial paragraphs of the resolutions paid a tribute to the pioneers’ leaders. Looking at this list of men we read:
‘To the Honourable Peyton Randolph, Esquire, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry Jr., Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison and Edward Pendleton, Esquires, the delegates from the colonies who offended the Continental Congress at Philadelphia …
Such a galaxy of names these are; these men in the vanguard of Revolutionary heroes.
The address then stated that because of the remote situation of Fincastle County, and the prolonged but successful efforts by the people to “chastise these cruel and savage people for their murders and depredations
they have committed on us” the colonists had not been able to thank earlier the delegates for their efforts in reconciling the mother country and the colonies. The resolutions commented, “Your steady, pacific and uniform work immortalize you in the annals of your country.” How true that statement turned out to be.
Not wanting to “break the news” too suddenly, the resolutions continued in a spirit of friendliness to the mother country. The frontiersmen were a people whose hearts overflowed with duty and love “to our lawful sovereign, George Ill, whose illustrious house for several successive reigns have been the guardians of the civil and religious rights of the British subjects.”
Then the paper drew nearer the burning point. Neither the Atlantic, the natives and savages, nor the almost impassable mountains, said the colonists, had stopped them in their quest for “a hope of enjoying these rights and liberties granted to Virginians, and denied them in our native country, and of transmitting them inviolate to our posterity, but even in this remote section the hand of enmity and unconstitutional power has proceeded to strip us of that liberty and property with which God, nature and the right of humanity has visited us. We cannot think of submitting our liberty or property to the venal British Parliament, or the will of a greedy ministry.”
Soon after this came the statement of free spirit that, in revealing the spirit of the colonists, set the powder for the “shot heard round the world.”
Here are the words of the almost forgotten Fincastle resolutions that make it a document that should remain, even as the Declaration of Independence, in the memory of the American people:
“But if no specific measures shall be proposed or adopted by Great Britain and our enemies shall attempt to dragoon us out of the inestimable privileges, which we are entitled to as subjects, and to reduce us to a state of slavery, we declare that we are deliberately determined never to surrender them to any power upon earth but at the expense of our lives. ‘These are real though unpolished sentiments of liberty and in them we are resolved to live or die.”
Such was the message that rang out of the mountains of Western Virginia. A message that first hurled the gauntlet to the British King.
The 13 men who framed the resolutions have long been lost in the haze of memory except to those Americans who are descended from the New River pioneers. But a glance at the names of those patriots is interesting. These are the men who put liberty on a higher plane than life.
Reverent Charles Cummings, Colonel William Preston, Colonel William Christian, Major William Ingles, Captain Walter Crockett, Captain John Montgomery, Captain William Campbell, Captain Arthur Campbell, Captain Thomas
Madison, Captain James McGavock, Captain Evan Shelby, Captain Stephen Trigg, Lieutenant William Edmondson. The clerk was David Campbell.
As the scene of the Fincastle resolutions, Lead Mines had an auspicious start, but during the Revolutionary War, it was to play a more active role than ever before.
Because the mines were a source of ammunition for the “rebel” cause, the scheming Tories planned to seize them and cut off the Colonials’ ammunition supply. For the simple reason that the revolutionists also realized the mines importance, the ammunition base was heavily guarded and a fort constructed there. Although many a plot was hatched by the loyalists as candle light shimmered through the night, none of the schemes to seize lead Mines proved successful.
Many of the war leaders mentioned the vital part the New River mines played in the winning of the Revolutionary War, but Thomas Jefferson especially realized the tremendous necessity of the ammunition supply source to the warring men of the Colonies.
lead Mines furnished not only bullets with which to stop the English, but men, too.
As a result of lord Cornwallis’ march into Upper North Carolina in 1781, Virginia was greatly alarmed and General Nathaniel Greene, second only to Washington as a military leader, wrote letters to Governor Jefferson, and to various commanders of detached bodies of troops in Virginia, asking help. Among these commanders were Preston, Sevier, Shelby and Campbell.
On February 10, 1781 Colonel William Preston ordered the militia of Montgomery County (Fincastle County in October, 1776, was broken up into Kentucky, Washington and Montgomery Counties) to assemble at lead Mines. Some 300 men gathered and they were led by Major Joseph Cloyd and Colonel Preston.
The frontiersmen joined lee’s legion and fought their first battle with the wily Tarleton March 2, 1781 . This battle was noted by General Greene in a dispatch to Washington: “Colonel lee with a detachment of riflemen attacked the advance of the British army under Tarleton and killed and wounded 30 of them.
In a later engagement the New River men were not as lucky and the British soldiers made them flee for their lives. Colonel Preston, in this engagement, lost his horse which escaped through the British lines. Because he was a rather large man, Preston was unable to keep up with the rapidly retreating militiamen. Major Cloyd, who was better at footwork than Preston, offered the colonel his horse. And the colonel, realizing the predicament he was in, took the major’s offer.
Another group of frontier fighters, this detachment under the command of Colonel William Campbell, joined Greene, and the New River militia were united.
These soldiers fought until the battle of Guilford Courthouse. There the Americans met defeat, but Tarleton paid them atribute in his book “Southern Campaigns,” saying, “that in the battle of Guilford Courthouse he held the right of the British army and that his soldiers were badly hurt by the backwoodsmen from Virginia who stood behind a fence until the British infantry with their bayonets climbed over the fence.”
After this battle the other foe, the Indians, had again started warfare against the western frontiersmen and were turning their warpath into a horrible stream of blood. As a result, the militia from the New River mines district returned to fight off the enemy which threatened to destroy their homes torn from the wilderness by unceasing toil.
But the fighters of New River had not finished their work in the revolution. Many of them took part in the battle of Yorktown as members of Trigg’s Battalion of Artillery.
Thus lead Mines and New River started its important part in the fight for American freedom with the volleys of verbal shots fired in the Fincastle resolutions and ended its revolutionary role as the cannon fire ceased at Yorktown.
Now these incidents in the birth of the republic are commemorated in the marker on the highway. A massive boulder of Mt. Airy granite will stand at a picturesque curve in the road and overlooks historic New River.
Many prominent officers of the D. A. R. were present at the unveiling sponsored by the Stuart and Wilderness chapters. Mrs. William B. Rorrer and Mrs. W. Towson Moore, chapter regents, and descendants of the pioneers, acted as hostesses. Mrs. Rorrer is a descendant of one of the signers of the Fincastle resolutions.
The pioneers of the western frontier were honored by Judge Preston W. Campbell, chief justice of the court of appeals of Virginia, who spoke on “The Signers of the Fincastle Resolutions,” and Judge W. M. Wilson, lexington, Ky., noted historian, jurist, and member of the Sons of the American Revolution, whose subject was “West Fincastle, Now Kentucky.”
Presiding over the ceremonies was Mrs. F. B. Kegley, State historian of the D. A. R., and she was assisted by Mrs. James M. Kelly, past State historian of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Eight young girls acted as ushers at the Wytheville Theatre where, because of weather conditions, the exercises, except for the unveiling, were held. These girls were from the Fort Chiswell and Captain May Burton chapters, Children of the American Revolution.
Miss Betty Moore, 9-year-old daughter of Mrs. W. Towson Moore, and Billy Rorrer, 9-year-old son of Mrs. William B. Rorrer, pulled the ribbons that unveiled the historically interesting memorial. A memorial that will look down the New River and watch the phantoms of the pioneers, of cocky Colonel Abraham Wood, mayhaps, gliding through the night air on the first white man’s trip into New River Valley.
So have you learned in brief the story of the gallant Fincastle resolutions and Lead Mines. Let us hope that when the touring motorist first sees the marker overlooking the river he will not take a careless glance at the memorial to one of the boldest acts in the fight for the Colonist’s rights and say to his wife, “Let’s not stop here. It’s probably just another place where George Washington slept.”
The Fincastle Resolutions
ln obedience to the resolves of the Continental Congress, a meeting of the Freeholders of Fincastle County, in Virginia, was held on the 20th day ofJanuary, 1715, who after approving ofthe Association framed by that august body in behalf of the Colonies, and subscribing thereto, proceeded to the election of a Committee to see the same carried punctually into execution, when the following gentlemen were nominated: The Reverend Charles Cummings, Colonel William Preston, Colonel William Christian, Captain Stephen Trigg, Major Arthur Campbell, Major William Ingles, Captain Walter Crockett, Captain John Montgomery, Captain James McGavock, Captain William Rusself, Captain Evan Shelby and Lieutenant William Edmondson. After the election the committee made choice of Colonel William Christian for their chairman and appoint~d Mr. David Campbell to be clerk.
It was also ordered by the meeting that an address expressing the thanks and congratulations of the people of Fincastle County be prepared and sent to the citizens who had representeo Virginia at the recent session of the Continental Congress. The address was promptly written and addressed as follows.
To the Honorable Peyton Randolph, Esquire, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Junior, Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton, Esquires, the Delegates from this Colony who attended the Continental Congress at Philadelphia.
Gentlemen, – Had it not been for our remote situation and the Indian War which we were lately engaged in to chastise those cruel and savage people for the many murders and depredations they have committed against us, now happily terminated under the auspices of our present worthy Governor, His Excellecy, the right Honorable Earl of Dumnore, we should before this time have made known to you our thankfulness for the very important services you have rendered to your country, in conjunction with the Worthy Delegates from the other Provinces. Your nobel efforts for reconciling the mother country and the Colonies, on rational and constitutional principles, and your pacifick, steady and uniform conduct in that arduous work entitle you to the esteem of all British America, and shall, in every instance, strictly and invariably adhere thereto.
We assure you, gentlemen, and all our countrymen, that we are a people whose hearts overflow with love and duty to our lawful Sovereign, George the Third, whose illqstrious House for several successive reigns have been both the guardians of the civil and religious rights and liberties ofBritish subjects, as settled at the glorious revolution; that we are willing to risk our lives in the service of his Majesty for the support of the Protestant religion and the rights and liberties of his subjects, as they have been established by the compact, law and ancient charters. We are heartily grieved at the differences which now subsist between the parent state and the Colonies and most ardently wish to see harmony restored on an equitable basis and by the most lenient measures that can be devised by the heart of man. Many of us and our forefathers left our native land, considering it as a kingdom subjected to inordinate power and greatly abridged of its liberties; we crossed the Atlantic and explored this uncultivated wilderness bordering on many nations of savages and surrounded by mountains almost inaccessible to any but those very savages, who have incessantly been committing barbarities and depredations on us since our first seating the country. These fatigue and dangers we patiently encountered, supported by the pleasing hope of enjoying those rights and liberties which had been granted to Virginians, and were denied in our native country, and of transmitting them inviolate to our posterity; but even to these remote regions the hand of unlimited and unconstitutional power hath pursued us, to strip us ofthat liberty and property with which God, nature and the rights of humanity have vested us. We are ready and willing to contribute all our power for the support of his Majesty’s government, if applied to constitutionally, and when the grants are made by our own Representatives, but cannot think of submitting our liberty or property to the power of the venal British Parliament, or to the will of a corrupt Ministry. We by no means desire to shake off our duty or allegiance to our lawful sovereign, but, on the contrary, shall ever glory in being loyal subjects of a Protestant prince, descended from such illustrious progenitors, so long as we can enjoy the free exercise of our religion as Protestants, and our liberties and properties as British subjects.
But if no pacfick measures shall be proposed or adopted by Great Britain and our enemies will attempt to dragoon us out of these inestimatable privileges, which we are entitled to as subjects, and to reduce us to a state of slavery, we declare that we are deliberately and resolutely determined never to surrender them to any power upon earth but at the expense of our lives.
These are our real, though unpolished, sentiments of liberty and loyalty, and in them we are resolved to live or die.
We are, gentlemen, with the most perfect esteem and regard, your most obedient servants.