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John Dean Rock

There is a large boulder near Mount Pleasant NY that is known as John Dean Rock. John Dean happens to be the 2nd cousin four times removed of the wife of my daughter-in-law’s second great grand uncle… and he was a Revolutionary War hero.

The rock which bears his name served as a hiding place and refuge which Dean used to surprise British soldiers who would march along Saw Mill River Road. His exploits are recounted at length within the pages of “Souvenir of the Revolutionary Soldiers’ Monument Dedication, at Tarrytown, N.Y. October 19th, 1894” It describes him as follows: “It will be unnecessary for us to promise that John Dean was a man of stout, vigorous frame, and iron will, indomitable courage, and great impulse, for these traits were exhibited in every act of his life.”

In one of his many war stories, he tells of the time he bested a Tory in a battle fought on horseback. Though his opponent tried to shoot him many times during the fight, Dean managed to wound him with his sword and knock him from his steed. While the Tory lay on the ground bleeding and expecting to die, Dean helped him onto his horse and took him to a nearby home where he dressed the wounds he caused, thus saving his enemy’s life. They met years later, after the war, and expressed that neither held any blame towards the other. They shook hands and parted ways. The Tory’s name was Basly.

Perhaps Dean’s most historic accomplishment was his involvement with the capture of Major John Andre, the notorious British spy who had been sent by Benedict Arnold with detailed plans of West Point hidden in his boot. Dean had been given the responsibility to post men to guard the roads leading to Tarrytown. Andre was apprehended by a trio of soldiers that Dean had positioned. They immediately brought their prisoner to him and he took lead during the march to deliver Andre to his superior officers.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Swamp Fox

I remember being fascinated by the story of “The Swamp Fox” after watching a Disney mini-series based upon his life. I even did a report on him for a grade school history project. Little did I know back then that I had a relative that served under him during the Revolutionary War.

Francis Marion (aka the Swamp Fox) was a military officer who was perhaps best known for his ability to marshal volunteer militia men into fighting units. Unlike the regular Continental Army, Marion’s Men (as his “troops” were known) were not paid, provided their own horses, arms, and often food.

Marion rarely engaged his men in prolonged battles, preferring instead to launch surprise attacks followed by sudden withdrawals, escaping into the swamp paths of which he was so well familiar.

He is considered one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare and maneuver warfare. He is credited in the lineage of U.S. Army Rangers and the 75th Ranger Regiment. It is said that Mel Gibson’s film “The Patriot” was inspired by Marion’s life.

James Trousdale, the grandfather of my 3rd great grand-aunt, served as a Captain under Marion’s command. He was wounded at the siege of Charleston and again at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He and his men were also with George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown for the surrender of Cornwallis.

For his service, Trousdale was granted 640 acres of land in Sumner County Tennessee which later became the site for the town of Gallatin. His son, William, became governor of Tennessee.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Battle of Kings Mountain

The year was 1780. American patriots were still reeling from the siege of Charleston in May, followed by a defeat at the Battle of Camden a few months later. British general Cornwallis was on the march through the Carolinas. To protect his flank, he commanded Major Patrick Ferguson to move into North Carolina while, at the same time, recruit men that would fight with his loyalist militia. Ferguson did not count on the response he received from the Overmountain Men.

These were the hale and hearty residents of the Carolina backcountry and Appalachian mountain range who, upon hearing the threats of Ferguson who was “ordering” them to cross the mountain and take the oath of allegiance to the King or else be destroyed with fire and sword, faced the challenge head on. 

The plan was simple, attack Ferguson’s fortified position which was located on a rocky hilltop called King’s Mountain a few miles from the South Carolina border. With the instructions not to wait for word of command but rather let each man be his own officer; to shout like hell and fight like devils, the Americans assaulted the hill from all sides. The battle lasted 65 minutes and ended when Ferguson was killed and his men surrendered.

Colonel William Campbell commanded the Washington County militia from Virginia and one of his company leaders was Capt. William Bowen. Bowen was taken ill before the battle and the command of his company fell upon his brother, Lt. Rees Bowen.  Rees, a champion prize fighter described as a “giant in size and strength,” was the 6th great grandfather of my niece’s husband. He was said to have had an aversion to the patriot practice of firing from behind trees and rocks. “Never shall it be said that I sought safety by hiding my person or dodging from a Briton or a Tory who opposed me in the field.” It may have led to his death as he became a casualty of that battle, taking a rifle ball to the chest.

Thomas Jefferson, commenting on the victory, called it “the turn of the tide of success.” Theodore Roosevelt said this “brilliant victory was the turning point for the American Revolution.” President Herbert Hoover ranked the importance of the battle aside Lexington, Bunker Hill, Trenton and Yorktown.

The Battle of King’s Mountain was one of the few major battles of the Revolution fought entirely by fellow countrymen. Loyalists vs patriots. No formal British troops were involved except for Ferguson himself.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Tinker, Tailor, Indian Spy

Manassah Coyle, born 1756 in Ireland, came to America at a young age and settled in colonial Pennsylvania. As a teen, he began offering his services to help the cause for American Independence. 

After substituting in Capt. Samuel Patton’s company and later Capt. William Houston’s company for short intervals, he headed west and was attached to Capt. William Perry’s command as an Indian spy and scout. In 1781 he volunteered to go down the Ohio River as part of Col. Lochry’s company in Gen. Clark’s expedition against the Indians. On the 24th of August, 1781, having reached the mouth of the Big Miami on the Ohio, they were attacked by a large body of Indians led by Joseph Brant, a Mohawk military leader. 

In Coyle’s later statements, he believes that every one of his party were killed or made prisoner. It became known as Lochry’s Massacre and was such a decisive defeat that it led to the cancellation of Gen Clark’s campaign. As for Coyle, he was captured and taken through the wilderness to Detroit. Once there, he and other prisoners were turned over to the British who stationed them on an island in the St. Lawrence River just above Montreal.

Coyle escaped but was quickly recaptured and taken to a prison in Montreal. Four months later, he escaped again and this time successfully avoided recapture. Traveling through the wilderness for about 300 miles, surviving on nothing but roots and berries, he came across inhabitants who informed him that he was approximately another 900 miles from his home in Westmoreland County Pennsylvania. He made that journey, avoiding both British and Indian fighters, to arrive home in December of 1782. He married, had children and eventually became my 5th great-grandfather.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

An American Icon

It is always fun to discover an ancestor that has some historical relevancy or has achieved some degree of fame but who knew that sitting on one of the branches of our family tree was a bonafide American icon? This Independence Day, I wanted to pay tribute to Col. Thomas Fitch, my son’s fifth great-grand-uncle.

The way one story goes, as a captain during the French and Indian war, Thomas Fitch assembled his new company of recruits outside of his family homestead in Norwalk, Connecticut. Upon seeing this motley crew of men dressed in unmatched and often threadbare clothing from their homes, Thomas’ sister Elizabeth remarked that they needed something that would help unify their appearance… to make it look like they were at least associated with each other. She presented each soldier with a chicken feather to wear in his hat.

As Fitch’s troops marched into West Albany in their forlorn clothes and feather-adorned caps, British surgeon, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, who fancied himself a poet and musician, decided to mock this ragtag outfit in verse – dubbing them Yankee Doodles and Macaronies… macaroni being a word used in British society of the 1700s to describe a ornately dressed gentleman of high fashion. The insult being that the pathetic looking Americans were trying to “stick a feather in their cap” and pass themselves off as being well-dressed.

As it was put to song, this attempt at derision and mockery backfired on the British as the Americans adopted it as their own and even added verses to it that mocked the English troops and glorified George Washington. By 1781, the song had gone from insult to a source of national pride.

Thomas Fitch left the army at the close of the war to retire to a plot of land given to him by his father, the colonial governor of Connecticut. The house that was built for him was known as the Yankee Doodle House.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

There are a number of people who have found their way onto our family tree through marriage. As we trace their lines, we discover segments of history that have not only helped to shape our family but also our nation.

Mark Snow was a farmer from Virginia who happens to be the 5th great grandfather of the man who married one of my nieces. And without Snow, and others like him, the Revolutionary War may have turned out quite differently.

Snow served under Captain Jacobus Early as part of Col. Charles Lynch’s regiment in the Virginia Militia. Once France entered the war in 1778 on the side of the Americans, the British army began focusing on obtaining victories in the south so as to gain a foothold from which they might launch an offensive to the north. In March of 1781, when Lt Gen. Cornwallis and his 2100 men marched upon Guilford Courthouse near Greensboro NC, Mark Snow and 4500 other soldiers were there to meet him.

After a battle that lasted nearly two hours, the colonial troops withdrew, giving the British a dubious victory. Dubious because due to the Americans’ early withdrawal, their troops were left largely intact while Cornwallis’ army suffered casualties of 25% or more, decimating their effectiveness. As British statesman Charles James Fox commented when asked about the battle, “Another such victory would ruin the British army.” 

Afterwards, Cornwallis abandoned his efforts to gain a foothold in North Carolina, marched his troops into Virginia to refit and replenish but to no avail. In October of the following year, after the Battle of Yorktown, he surrendered to George Washington.

Snow later married Elizabeth Torrence and relocated to Gwinnett County, Georgia where his name was drawn as part of a land grant lottery made available to Revolutionary War veterans who had given service for 3 years or more. He died, in Georgia, in 1843 at the age of 79.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.