Saturday, October 27, 2007

Uncle Samuel McDowell

Patrick Henry was one of the most influential (and radical) advocates of the American Revolution. He is perhaps best known for the speech he made in the Virginia House of Burgesses on 23 March 1775, urging the legislature to take military action against the encroaching British military force. The House was deeply divided, but was very much leaning toward not committing troops. As Henry stood in Saint John's Church in Richmond, he ended his speech with his most famous words: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" This speech is credited, by some, with single-handedly delivering the Virginia troops to the Revolutionary War.
My 5x great-uncle Samuel McDowell (1735-1817) was one of two delegates from Rockbridge County to the Virginia Conventions of 1775, and was present that day in the House of Burgesses. His life remains a lesson in citizenship and patriotism. Samuel McDowell had been a captain in the French and Indian War, commissioned 16 August 1759. On 21 November 1759, he was installed as County Commissioner and Justice in Augusta County, Virginia. He was a captain of the Rangers Company at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774. At the Battle of Point Pleasant, he served as aide-de-camp to Gen. Isaac Shelby, who later became the first governor of Kentucky. Samuel became a colonel in the Revolutionary War, serving in Gen. Nathanael Greene's campaign in North Carolina, and was with the army that drove Gen. Cornwallis to Wilmington. In 1775, in conjunction with his kinsman Thomas Lewis, son of Augusta County settler John Lewis and brother of Gen. Andrew Lewis, hero of Point Pleasant, Samuel was chosen to represent the freeholders of Augusta County in the convention which met at Richmond, Virginia. He was also a member of the second convention that met at Williamsburg in 1776. As an officer, Samuel McDowell distinguished himself in the Battle of Guilford Court House. In addition, he raised a battalion at his own expense to aid in repelling the invasion of Virginia by Benedict Arnold.
In 1783, uncle Samuel McDowell moved his family to what became Fayette County, Kentucky (but was then still part of Virginia), where he was a surveyor. He was appointed to the first District Court ever held in Kentucky, 3 March 1783, and was President of the convention which was called to frame the constitution for the state of Kentucky on 19 April 1792.
All this, and 13 children, too.

(info: "Rockbridge County, Virginia Notebook", The News-Gazette, Lexington, Virginia)