Chapter XXX - The Revolutionary War

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 2 County History
Pages 348-355

Hampshire county was not invaded by the enemy during the war of the revolution. The British were never in a position to invade it, had they so desired. There was too much country between the mountains and the sea. Little could be grained and much might be lost by such an invasion. The fate of Colonel Furguson, who attempted to cross the mountains in North Carolina with a strong British force, was a warning to all others. The story of King's mountain soon became familiar far and near. No record exists in Hampshire, so far as known, of the names or number of the soldiers who went from the county to the war of the revolution, but there were many, as is shown by the history of the old families, nearly all of whom had representatives fighting under Washington, Gates, Greene, or some other general in that long and desperate struggle. The character of the soldiers from Hampshire needs no words of praise. Well might a general exclaim, as Pyrrhus exclaimed, "Had I such soldiers how easily could I conquer the world!" Trained and schooled in the wars with the Indians, the settlers of Hampshire were not afraid of danger. Their loyalty to the cause of liberty was not to be shaken, as may be seen from their indignation when the tory rebellion broke out in Hardy county, and from the promptness with which they helped to suppress it. A full account of that unpleasant affair will be found elsewhere in this book.

General Washington fully appreciated the character of the people on the western frontier when he said, in the most discouraging season of the war, that if driven from the lower country by overwhelming force he would retreat to the mountains and raise the standard of liberty there and hold that rugged country for freedom. No doubt he had Hampshire county, among other mountain regions, in mind when he thus spoke. No country along the ranges of mountains was better known to him than was Hampshire. He had walked over its hills and camped in its villeys before the county was formed, and before he was known to fame. He knew that Hampshire pioneers refused to be driven from their county by the Indians, but held out, at the fort at Romney and on Capon, when all the rest of the country between Winchester and Cumberland had been given up to pillage. These things, no doubt, he called to mind when he seriously considered what he would do if driven from the lower country by overwhelming forces of British.

During the revolution a large number of prisoners of war were confined in the fort at Winchester. They were largely Hessians, who had been imported from Germany by England to fight against the patriots in America. They were savage and merciless on the field of battle so long as they had the advantage, but when they were on the losing side, and more particularly when taken prisoners, they were humble, submissive and contrite. After they had been confined at Winchester for some time, Tarleton, a British officer, undertook a raid against Winchester for the purpose of liberating the prisoners. But the movement was discovered in time, and the prisoners were hurried off to Fort Frederick, in Maryland, twelve miles from Martinsburg. Learning that the prisoners were beyond his reach, Tarleton did not continue his march to Winchester. It is probable that the Hessians were glad that Tarleton did not succeed in setting them at liberty, for they would then have been put back in the army, and they preferred to remain in captivity. They had a better time where they were. They were allowed almost as much liberty as the private citizens in the surrounding country, yet few of them attempted to escape. When, at last, they were set at liberty, they preferred to stay in America, and many of them found their way into Hampshire county and settled. Their descendants are in the county yet, and form a respectable portion of the community.

John Champe. — A few miles south of Romney, near the South branch, is the site of a house which long ago fell into decay, only a few ruins remaining. Connected with these ruins is a story dating back to the revolution. Here lived for thirty years John Champe, one of the bravest soldiers in Washington's army. A mystery hung over his life, but it has long since been cleared away. He came into the South branch valley while the war for independence was in progress; and, since it was known that he had been an officer in the army, enjoying the confidence of Washington, it was a source of speculation why he had left the army and taken up his abode in what was then the remote frontier of Virginia. The true reason was understood by a few, but the truth became generally known only long years after the war, when Washington and many of his soldiers had gone to their last rest. Washington sent Champe into Hampshire county to remove him from the danger of falling into the hands of the British, by whom he would have been hanged had they captured him. The story of his life and of the hazzardous mission which he undertook is as follows:

John Champe was born in Loudoun county, Virginia, about 1756. He enlisted in the continental army in 1776, and was in the command of Major Henry Lee. Champe rose to the rank of sergeant major, and was a great favorite with Lee. He was thus performing the duties of a soldier and officer when peculiar circumstances brought him to the notice of Washington. Benedict Arnold had turned traitor and had lied to the British army at New York. Major Andre had been captured and was held as a spy. Rumors were in circulation to the effect that at least one other American officer of high rank contemplated desertion, and no one knew how far the spirit of treason might extend. It was an hour of uncertainty and danger. Washington felt the gravity of the situation. He sent for Major Henry Lee in whom he. had unbounded confidence, and laid before him a plan for the capture of the arch-traitor Arnold. Could he be taken and executed, his death would satisfy justice and furnish the public example deemed necessary; and the unfortunate Major Andre's life could be spared. To carry out Washington's plan, it was necessary to find a man of cool determination, deliberate purpose, desperate courage, and absolute self-possession under any and all circumstances. He was to desert to the British, and execute a plan for kidnapping Arnold and carrying him into the American lines. Washington asked Lee to find him a man who could do this. Lee selected Champe and brought him to Washington. The young officer was of a silent and morose disposition, of dark complexion, a splendid, horseman, of a frame muscular and powerful, combining' the qualities, both mental and physical, necessary for performing duties difficult and dangerous.

The young officer came to Washington, and heard the plan for Arnold's capture. He did not like to undertake it, not because of the danger, but the thought of desertion, even when feigned, was abhorrent to him. Upon the earnest entreaty of Washington, he finally agreed to go upon the mission. The time was short, for it was necessary to act at once. About eleven o'clock that night he quietly mounted his horse and started for New York by way of Paulus Hook. He hoped to escape unobserved, or at least to have several hours the start of his pursuers. But in this he was disappointed. He had not been gone an hour before a troop of cavalry was in pursuit. When he reached the water's edge, within sight of a British ship, the pursuers were within two hundred yards of him. He left his horse and plunged into the water. The British came to meet him and he was assisted on board, and in a short time reached New York, where he was introduced to Sir Henry Clinton, who at once saw that Champe was a man who could be useful. The news of the desertion had already reached the British commander. Champe had papers on his person which showed him to be an officer; arid it was the policy of the British to give deserting officers the same rank in the British army that they had held in the American army, by this method encouraging others to desert. Benedict Arnold had already been received with favor, and was engaged in raising a body of soldiers, which he called the American Legion, composed of tories and deserters. It was natural that Champe should be sent to Arnold to be given service in the American Legion. This was what he had hoped for; and at the end of a few days he found himself with Benedict Arnold. Arrangements were made for carrying the traitor back to the American lines. Champe had two companions who were ready to assist him. A boat was prepared and was tied at a convenient point. Major Lee was notified, and sent a troop of cavalry to a place agreed upon to be in readiness to carry Arnold away if Champe should succeed in kidnapping him and bringing him in the boat to shore. The plan was to seize Arnold, gag him, carry him by force to the boat and make off. Everything was ready, and the night approached for executing the plan. But at the last hour it was defeated by an Unforeseen occurrence. Arnold was ordered to another point, and Champe, with much disgust, saw his project fall through. It is believed that it would have succeeded had Arnold remained a few hours longer where he was. In the meantime Major Andre had confessed, thus rendering unnecessary a protracted trial, and he had been put to death in accordance with the severe but necessary rules of war which decree that the spy must pay the penalty with his life. Had Arnold been captured, and executed, the life of Andre could not have been spared under the circumstances.

Benedict Arnold and his newly organized troops sailed for the south and landed in Virginia. Champe went with them, and was thus carried far from his friends in New York, and all hope of kidnapping the traitor was past. He therefore prepared to escape back to the American lines. The opportunity to do so came soon after Arnold joined Lord Cornwallis at Petersburg. General Greene was then in the south, as was Major Lee also. Champe returned to Lee, and was by him introduced to General Greene who furnished him with a horse and sent him to General Washington who received him kindly, and gave him his discharge from the army, lest he fall into the hands of the British and be hanged by them. It is highly probable that Washington advised him to go to the South branch valley beyond the reach of the British. It is well known that Washington was acquainted with Hampshire county, and knew the wealth of the country in natural resources; and also knew that no British army would ever penetrate so far into the interior. At any rate, Champe took up his residence on the South branch, on land now belonging to John M. Pancake, near the Haunted Gate, five miles south of Romney.

The subsequent history of Champe is much like that of Simon Kenton, the Kentucky pioneer who was doomed to disappointment and neglect and who died in poverty. When Washington sent Champe upon his perilous mission he promised him, in the name of the United States, that he should be well rewarded. This promise seems never to have been fulfilled. Champe remained at his home on the South branch, but there is no record that he ever owned the land on which he lived. However, Washington never forgot him. About fifteen years afterward, when it seemed that war was about to be declared between the United States and France, and Washington had been called to take command of the American army, he endeavored to find Champe, intending to give him a command in the army. But he was told that Champe had gone to Kentucky, where he had died. But this was incorrect. He still lived in the South branch valley, but it is uncertain whether at the place of his first settlement or further up the river. In 1788 his name occurs on the land books. In that year he entered a claim on a tract of public land on the Alleghany mountains, in Hardy county, but within the present limits of Grant county. It is not believed that he ever lived on this land. For the next twenty-five years nothing is known of his life, except that he married Phoebe Parnard and had a family. About 1815 he moved to Ohio, in company with Isaac Miller of Hampshire county. Mr. Miller settled on a tributary of the Scioto river. Champe remained a short time in Ohio and then went to Kentucky and soon died. His descendents are still living in Ohio and Michigan. His son, Nathaniel Champe, was an officer in the war of 1812 and made an honorable record. About 1858 S. S. Cox of Ohio, presented a petition to congress on behalf of the heirs of John Champe, asking for recognition of the claim of their father. The heirs then resided in Ohio and Michigan. The petition was prepared by A. W. Kercheval of Hampshire county. It was never acted upon.

Early Militia Roll. — The earliest militia roll now obtainable in Hampshire county is in the possession of Lieutenant John Blue, to whom it descended from his grandfather, Captain John Blue. The roll bears date April 28, 1790, and as that was but a short time after the close of the Revolutionary war it is highly probable that the same company was in existence during that war. From the list of names given below it will be seen that many of the names are still common in this county among the best class of citizens: John Blue, captain; Robert Ross, John Ross, Garrett Blue, William Linton, John Pancake, James Spilman, John Reynolds, John Newman, Andrew Humes, George Glaze, Robert Parker, William Hanson, George Newman, William New man, James Dale, Thomas Cornick, Barton Davis, Abraham Blue, John Williams, Joseph Hall, Peter Parker, Jesse Edwards, William Beakeman, Benjamin Belford, John Elos, Benjamin Swick, Isaac Daiton, John Ross, jr., David Laycock, Jacob Blue, William Skidmore, Samuel Davis, Samuel Newman, George Taylor, Ralph Skidmore, John Walker, William Coughran, Joseph Coughran, John Donalson, William Donalson, Robert Walker, Samuel Walker, Robert Buck, Anthony Buck, Jeremiah Sullivan, Patrick Savage, John Wells, William Corbett, Isaac Johnson, Robert Reynolds, Henry Hinds, Samuel Abernathy, James Halls, James Smought, Simon Pancake, Wheeler Meradeth, Thomas Davis, Joseph Williams, James Starr, Samuel Shrout, William Sheets, William Spilman, James Wood, Abraham Skilmon, Peter Swick, Henry Barber, Peter Williams, John Campbell, Feildon Calmers, Benjamin Neale, Isaac Newman.

It will be seen that four men of the name Newman were members of that company. It is believed that they were brothers of Dr. Robert Newman, but proof of it has not been found. Dr. Newman had five brothers who, with himself, took part in St. Clair's battle with the Indians, north of Cincinnati, the year after the date of the above militia roll, that is in 1791, and five of the brothers were killed.

Return to the History of Hampshire County WV Index