Monthly Archives: February 2013

William Dawson, Militia Captain

militia_trainingThere is a transcribed roster of North Carolina Militia units I ran across recently that has an interesting bearing on the Dawson family of Cumberland County. There are four rosters on the sheet and two of them are undated. The dates for the other two are 1755-1760 for Carteret County and 1754-1759 for Currituck County. The two from Cumberland County are the undated ones but I believe one of them has the same date range – approximately 1754 -1760.  This list appears to be from a book but where I found the scanned page it didn’t list the original source.

This roster I am discussing in this post lists the following:

Cumberland County, no date given

Robert Rowan, Colonel (for Robert Palmer, removed)

Thomas Armstrong, Lieut. Colonel.

Thomas Gibson, Major (for James Rutherford, resigned)

Foot:

Hector McNeil, Captain

[Blank] Collins, Captain

William Dawson, Captain

 

This roster jumped out at me because I was already familiar with most of the names from earlier research and especially that of William Dawson. For this post I will go over each name in order, discuss any relevance these people had to the Dawson family, and demonstrate why I believe this roster should also be dated around 1754-1760.

Robert Rowan, Colonel

Robert Rowan was a son of the prominent political figure, Matthew Rowan who was appointed to the Governor’s Council in 1730. From what I could find Robert Rowan was born around 1738 and died in 1798. He arrived in Cross Creek (1) some time before 1756 where his name is found listed first on a Cumberland County petition to the North Carolina General Assembly. Thomas Armstrong was also a signer of the same petition. It is worth noting that Robert Rowan is on record as serving in the French and Indian War so this may be a militia roster from that period of his service (2). If he was indeed born in 1738 he would have been very young for a public official and senior militia officer but given the prominent standing of his family in the Colony it is certainly reasonable that this could be the case.

Thomas Armstrong, Lieutenant Colonel

The Armstrong family is very familiar to me since a Thomas Armstrong and his wife Margaret settled on property adjacent to Geoffrey Dawson’s in 1740. The two families were neighbors and a young William Dawson served as Justice in Cumberland County along with Thomas Armstrong. In 1755 Thomas Armstrong, listed as living on the Cape Fear, was referred to as a Colonel in a statement to the North Carolina General assembly. In the 1755 census of Cumberland County there is a Thomas Armstrong living at the same residence as William Armstrong who I believe was his son. As I mentioned in previous posts Thomas Armstrong was also implicated along with William Dawson in a petition to the Governor for abusing his position as a Justice. Later in 1757 Thomas Armstrong was subsequently dropped as a Justice along with Thomas Gibson (mentioned below) and James Nichols.

Thomas Gibson, Major

Although the 1755 Cumberland County Census only has a Gibson listed by his last name along with another just listed as O’Brien, there is a 1757 deed that names Thomas Gibson and Geraldus O’Bryan as co-owning 100 acres in Cumberland County on the Cape Fear River. These two notes, along with Thomas Gibson losing his seat as a Justice in 1757 suggest this may be the Major Thomas Gibson on the militia roster. Later, in 1769 Thomas Gibson of Cumberland County is found acquiring a series of properties in Anson County. In 1771 one of these purchases joins the property of “Jona. Luellen” who was probably the same Jonathan Llewellyn who lived adjacent to the Dawson’s on the Cape Fear and who was closely tied to the family. Another note about the Gibsons is that William Dawson’s eldest son, Joseph Dawson, married Elizabeth Gibson who was probably the granddaughter or niece of Thomas Gibson (3).

Hector McNeil, Captain

He is listed as one of the Scottish Argyll Colonists who came to North Carolina on the ship Thistle in 1739 and settled along the Cape Fear River. Hector McNeil acquired property on the Cape Fear just a few miles north of Geoffrey Dawson in 1740. Hector McNeil, or “Bluff Hector” as he was known, was the first Sherriff of Cumberland County. His will was probated in 1761 and one of the witnesses to this will was a Thomas Armstrong (4).

[unrecorded] Collins, Captain

This is almost certainly Thomas Collins who is listed on the 1755 census of Cumberland County. Thomas Collins served as a Justice and Clerk of the Court in Cumberland County alongside Thomas Armstrong, Thomas Gibson and William Dawson. He died in Cumberland County in 1778.

William Dawson, Captain

I feel confident this is the same William Dawson I have written about so often in the past. When looked at overall the interconnected nature of these officers in Cumberland County is striking. It is also interesting to note that several of these men died at about the same time. I’ve estimated that Thomas Armstrong died somewhere around 1758 or so and both William Dawson and Hector McNeil are both on record as having died prior to the spring/summer of 1761. Since it appears this roster was for a unit that served in the French and Indian war I wonder if these three officers may have died in during the war sometime around 1760 – 61.

Because it looks like William Dawson of Cumberland was also a militia captain there is another interesting implication from an earlier record that had had previously puzzled me. In the document, Record of the Dawson Family from 1743 to 1900 (5) where the elder William Dawson is omitted, a curious recollection is credited to William Dawson Jr. who served in the American Revolution.

“William Dawson was a Colonel in the Revolutionary War and was frequently engaged in contests with the Indians. On one occasion he had a hand to hand encounter with an Indian whom he killed by cutting his throat. He was a man noted for his courage and powers, there being but few men who could cope with him in feats of strength.”

Now, from William Dawson’s own pension records we know he had held the rank of private during the Revolution and never served as an officer. However, since his father William was a militia captain that may have served in the French and Indian war I wonder if this recollection was actually of the elder William Dawson. It would make sense for the two to be combined since the elder William was forgotten to the family by the time these family stories were written down. There is no way to ever know if this was the case but like so many things, it is certainly possible.

Bringing this back to the elder William Dawson, several important inferences can be drawn from the information described above. First and foremost, William Dawson, Esquire can have militia captain added to his list positions held during his lifetime. The evidence for this is quite strong. Second, given that Robert Rowan is known to have served in the French and Indian War it is likely that William Dawson also served during that conflict. At the very least this merits more investigation on my part. In addition, the year of death of William Dawson, Hector McNeil and Thomas Armstrong makes it possible that one or all three may have died during the war. Lastly, I think the exploits attributed to William Dawson during the American Revolution may have in fact been about his father during the French and Indian War.

None of what I am suggesting above is of absolute certainty but all of it carries with it varying degrees of likelihood and it certainly adds a new dimension to the life of the Dawson family and their community along the Cape Fear during the 1750’s.

 

[Notes]

Note 1: Cross Creek was renamed Fayetteville in 1783.

Note 2: The French and Indian War went from 1754 to 1763 and given the dates of the other rosters these appear to have been units raised during that conflict.

Note 3: The father of Elizabeth Gibson was almost certainly Patrick Gibson (their second son was named Patrick Gibson Dawson). There is a Patrick Gibson serving in the Anson County militia in 1756 and later a Patrick Gibson was involved in an armed border dispute with the North Carolina authorities in 1762 in Anson County along the boundary with South Carolina. In 1766 Patrick Gibson is recorded as purchasing property in the Old Edgefield District of South Carolina. This property was just a few miles from that purchased by Joseph Dawson in 1771 just after his marriage to Elizabeth Gibson. I have suspected for some time that Patrick Gibson was either the eldest son or brother of the Thomas Gibson of Cumberland County mentioned above.

Note 4: This was probably a son of the Thomas Armstrong mentioned above.

Note 5: This is one of the recorded family folklore documents that have some factual errors probably due to it relying on the memories of family stories handed down over several generations that may have been misremembered in certain details.

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