|This is looking towards the area these Loyalist Ancestors lived. Taken from the Tower on Big Walker Mountain.|
It seems not everyone embraced the cause of liberty from England. Many in the area of New River were “disaffected” citizens and maintained that the King of England still had authority. There is a theory that many of these disaffected citizens had been on the frontier for many years and had assimilated with Native Americans by intermarriage. They were also concerned that the treaties under which they lived would be altered and their grants or claims rewritten by a new colonial government putting France in control of the frontier.
In searching lands transactions later, some would have those fears realized after the Revolutionary War. Many after the war would have property confiscated, leave or lose their lands because of stiff penalties leaving them to try to purchase their lands back.
England was promising to honor surveys long since held up in land disputes for those on the frontier and also to negotiate with the Natives (pay them for squatters) while at the same time move the line of the frontier back to the Falls of the James River (Proclamation of 1763) preventing further encroachment into Native American territory unless under new treaties. This was one of the main reasons many of the Cherokee and other Native tribes sided with the British.
Whatever their reasons, many citizens in our area became enemies of the state and of the American Colonial government and to the American Cause.
The first test of loyalty to the American Cause, at least for some on the New River frontier, probably came in 1777, when all males over sixteen were required to take the Oath to the state. The County courts were required to keep lists of those who had taken the oath, and those who had refused. Those who refused to sign the oath were to be disarmed. In addition, they would lose their right to hold office, vote, serve on juries, or acquire lands. Their taxes would be doubled.
As the Loyalist or Tory problem continued, penalties were increased and under a new act of treason, the penalty was death without benefit of clergy, and forfeiture of property. In this case treason meant actually waging war against the Americans or aiding the enemy. Those “maintaining the authority of the King” were subject to fine and imprisonment, and it was the duty of the county lieutenant to see that the Loyalists were arrested and disarmed. (Virginia Hening, Statutes, IX, 281-283)
There were those that took the Oath but William Preston, in our area of Virginia made it clear when he wrote to William Fleming in December 1777 that there was a problem with the men of Captain Thomas Burke’s militia company. Preston noted that Burke and almost his entire company minus four or five, or “nearly forty of my neighbors have positively refused the Oath of Allegiance to the States” (Virginia Papers, Draper Mass., 2 ZZ.43)
Preston went on to state he had tried to reason with them. He intended the following week to order them to be disarmed and had given them another week to come by and take the oath. Preston was concerned because the punishments seem not to have much of an affect on those that refused. He wrote, “all such will stand out until their property or Persons can be more affected than what the Law subjects them to. The present punishment is really a matter of diversion to them. They bring no suits, they never elect (vote), they don’t attend court, they can dispose of their arms, (trap and hunt without them), and they don’t want to purchase land: by these means they entirely evade the force of Law to which I sincerely wish some amendments could be made to stop this growing Evil.”
Such was the alarm of how many who would not take the oath, the courts tried to make examples early. My grandfather, Jacob Kettering (Jacob Kitts) the miller was bound over on suspicion of being an enemy of the state in September 1777. He declared himself as such, and also admitted refusing paper currency. He appeared before a local jury of citizens and neighbors who returned their verdict in these words; “We the jury fine the said Kettering in the sum of Two hundred and fifty pounds, and to lie in Prison one year.” (Summers, Annals, pp. 684,-686)
Because the newly organized county of Montgomery had not yet built a prison, the court decided to send Kettering to the prison in Staunton, in Augusta County, where he was to remain until January 6, 1779. They also were afraid to keep Kettering so near his friends.
But this example and others did nothing to stop the tide and the Tory problems continued. In April 1779, James McGavock reported to William Preston the action that had been taken against the Tories and the companies they belonged to, (These Tories were considered Continental Soldiers and militia under previous orders on the frontier) John Henderson, Nathaniel Britain, and Philip Lambert of Montgomery’s Company were admitted to bail; Joseph McFarland, John Etter, John Stephenson, and Joseph Erwin of Captain Stephen’s Company admitted to bail; Duncan Gullion, and Nicholas Wyrick of the same Company were “put in irons”.
The day after Gullion and Wyrick were put into irons, they confessed that it was a John Griffith who lived on the South Fork of the Holston River who was the person who had enlisted them for the King, and he had administered the oath of allegiance to the King. John Griffith was brought into court but the testimony of Gullion and Wyrick were not believed and he was admitted to bail.
Later it was found that Gullion and Wyrick were speaking the truth and it was indeed John Griffith who stirred up agitation and had raised an army for the King to March on Ramsour’s Mill in North Carolina. He did it by telling all who would listen that every bystander should be alarmed and expect themselves in great danger. “Rumors that the County was sold to the French were prevalent, and the feeling was that they may as well fight under the King as to be subjects of France.” (Preston Papers, Archives, Virginia State Library)
It also helped that the Tories promised their followers twenty shillings six pence Sterling per day and 450 acres of land clear of quitrents for twenty-one years. The Gullions, Wyricks and Ketterings were kin and close neighbors, the family members can be found on court records for each other along with the Kitts. (Ketterings)
According to the records many were afraid of Duncan Gullion and Nicholas Wyrick. Duncan Gullion had even threatened to scalp William Preston and James McGavock. Gullion declared he would join with the Indians, and threatened to proceed to kill and destroy all before them. Duncan Gullion’s sentence for treason was to be further heard in Williamsburg, but on the 140 mile trip to the public prison in Williamsburg, Gullion escaped. This caused great alarm and guards were posted at McGavocks and Preston’s home. He was never caught but did eventually take the Oath. They also sold Gullion's horse to pay for the trip to Williamsburg. After the war he argued that he should be refunded the price of his horse because he never made it to Williamsburg.
Nicholas Wyrick at the age of 56, was fined 500 pounds and was sentenced to eighteen months in Prison. This occurred on May 5th 1779. It is believed he served some of his time locally. On November 2, 1779 the court of Montgomery County ordered that it be made public to all citizens of the county “all who came under the Denomination of Tories and are now or have been accused of offences against the Commonwealth be acquitted provided they appear before any Justice of the Peace of the County and enter into Bond and Security for their good behavior.” Particularly mentioned were John Davies and Nicholas Wyrick who were to be admitted to the same privilege. (Montgomery Co. Order Book 3, pg 81)
“ There is no doubt that the Montgomery County settlements were much affected by the presence of the Loyalists in their community. For three years, the leaders such as Preston and McGavock, lived among them and suffered much harassment. The average citizens never knew when to expect trouble from his neighbor, but as Colonel Campbell foresaw, after the defeat of Ramsour’s Mills in North Carolina, Toryism on the New River came to an end, and all that remained to be done was round up the stragglers, obtain confessions, and process the suspects through the courts.
John Griffith, called Colonel Griffith by the insurgents, was the admitted leader of the group along the New River, but he escaped the full impact of the law because of the reputation of two of his companions, Gullion and Wyrick.
David Campbell, writing in 1843 about the Tory activities on the Holston reported that Griffith was one of the most intelligent and influential of the Tories and received his commission from the British authorities. He raised a large company and joined the British somewhere in the Carolinas, but not meeting with the reception he had expected Griffith resigned and returned to his family. He was obliged to keep himself concealed for some time, and what became of his company is not known for certain, but it was believed that most deserted and returned to the Virginia Mountains.” (Early Adventures on the Western Waters, Vol 1. Mary B. Kegley; F. B. Kegley pages 137-152.)
Note: My companion, Eddie Atwell today is a descendant of Duncan Gullion, where I am a descendant of Nicholas Wyrick and Jacob Kitts. I would love to hear your comments or stories of others who were Loyalists in Southwest Virginia or on the Frontier. It appears mine were not the only ones.
Copyright 2007-2016 Denise A. Smith