Posted in Ancestor Stories

Revolutionary Man – John “Raccoon” Miller

We all have what I like to call a “gateway ancestor”. You know the one ancestor that as you were researching you realized that you actually like genealogy. For me, that ancestor was John “Raccoon” Miller. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about how my mom got me started in genealogy, but it wasn’t until I started researching John Miller and reading his stories that I became truly hooked. Let me tell you a bit about this revolutionary man.

Who was John “Raccoon” Miller?

John Miller was born in 1747 with the exact location still up for discussion. Some say he was born in South Carolina. Others state that he was born in Holland. Nobody has any proof to back up those claims. I tend to lean to the third opinion. That he was born in Scotland. If you know the history of the Scottish coming to American, you know that North Carolina was a hotbed for Scots to settle. Also, I have found a document placing a John Miller being born in 1747 in Scotland. The only problem is, with such a common name, it is hard to say with 100% confidence that this is him.

Documents for John Miller are a bit scarce until he shows up in Haywood County, North Carolina in 1776. At this point, the American Revolution is in full force and he is serving with the North Carolina militia. However, he does find time in his busy schedule to marry Eve Weidner. Together they have seven children; John, Nancy, Isaac, Lewis, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Jacob. The family will eventually make their way across the mountains and settle in the State of Franklin (modern day East Tennessee).

It’s War Time

When the American Revolution made it’s way to the North Carolina back country, John Miller did not hesitate to join. Enlisting in the North Carolina militia, John was able to encourage others to join the cause due to his standing in the community. He fought bravely in many battles, the most notable being the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Artist painting of The Battle of King’s Mountain

John not only served his county proudly, but he made some useful connections along the way. One of his new friends was future Tennessee governor, John Sevier. John soon found himself as one of Sevier’s trusted companions. So much so, that Sevier made John a Captain in the militia. The two would remain friends after the American Revolution. The would both be instrumental in what would be known as the State of Franklin.

It’s Peace Time

After the war, John would find himself with significant land holdings in both North Carolina and Tennessee, thanks to military land grants. John would hold onto most of the land, allowing it to pass down the generations. However, always being one up for a good story, there is a rumor regarding John and the land he owned in what is now Middlesboro, Kentucky. Supposedly, John was given an offer he just couldn’t refuse and “sold” the town for a bottle of moonshine. I have yet to find any documentation that this actually happened, but I feel like if moonshine is involved it may have been an “under the table” transaction.

One of John Miller’s land deeds

John was also quite the entrepreneur, not just with land but with some unique items. He took it upon himself to buy some silkworms and set them up in his barn. John then proceeded to sell the silk to local merchants to make some extra money. Nobody in the area had ever grown silkworms or even knew what to do with them. But, in true John Miller fashion, he figured it out and turned that silk into gold.

The Legend of John “Raccoon” Miller

Nobody really knows how John Miller was given the name “Raccoon”. The most logical story that has been handed down is that since there was another John Miller in the area, he was given a nickname in order to distinguish between the two. Whatever the reason, the memory of “Raccoon” Miller still lives on in East Tennessee. If you ever find yourself in Maynardville, Tennessee, you will see Raccoon Valley Road which runs though that acreage that belong to John. You will also find a highway maker that shows the location of Miller’s blockhouse.

Highway Marker in Maynardville, TN

John Miller passed away on August 25, 1832 in Maynardville, Union County, Tennessee. He is buried along side his wife, Eve, in Ousley Cemetery in Maynardville.

John and Eve’s headstones in Ousley Cemetery, Maynardville, TN

I think it is safe to say why John Miller caught my attention. He was the first ancestor that I really got to know. Researching John is the reason I joined the Daughter’s of the American Revolution. I guess you could say that even in death, John “Raccoon” Miller is still making his presence known.

My Daughter’s of the American Revolution pin

Make sure to read the stories of my other revolutionary ancestors.

Posted in Ancestor Stories

Revolutionary War Soldier – John Hanna

In case you couldn’t tell, the Revolutionary War is my jam!  I mean, if I could find some magical stones and travel though time, this is without a doubt the era that I would want to land in.  I love hearing the different stories of my ancestors who were alive during this time.  It makes me wonder what part I would have played in this part of history.  Today, I’m digging into my ancestor, John Hanna.

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Who was John Hanna?

John is my 6th Great-Grandfather on my paternal side. This line, according to records I have so far, originated in Ulster, Ireland. John was actually born on a ship in 1756 as his family made their way to America from Ireland.  His parents, James A. Hanna and Anne Johnson had six other children; Elizabeth, James W, William, David, Joseph, and Martha.  The first three children were born in Ireland while the last three were born in Virginia.  I suppose John being born at sea was in true middle child fashion.  The family arrived in Pennsylvania and made their way south where they settled in the Virginia colony.

John’s Revolutionary Experience

John enlisted in the Continental Army in Greenbrier County, Virginia in 1777.  He joined as a private under Captains Samuel Lapsley and Alexander Breckenridge.  He saw quite a bit of action during his time in the army.  He fought at the Battle of Monmouth, the Battle of Point Pleasant, and the Siege of Charleston (South Carolina).  If you’re a Hamilton fan, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Battle of Monmouth.  I’m looking at you, Charles Lee.

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At the Siege of Charleston, John was taken by the British Army as a prisoner of war.  He was held captive for about eighteen months.  Unfortunately, there are no records of where John was held or what the conditions were.  It seems that after his release, John was honorably discharged from the Army by Captain Breckenridge. 

Post-War John

After the war, John settled in Augusta County, West Virginia.  While living there, he met and married Jane Graham.  Jane and her family were also from Ireland.  If history teaches us anything, it seems more than likely that their families were from the same area of Ireland.  They married in 1787 and together had seven children; John, Robert Graham, Jane, Christopher, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Martha.

In 1825, John applied for his Revolutionary War pension.  According to the documents, John considered himself poor and desperate needed the money to support his family.  Both of his daughters, Elizabeth and Martha, were living with him as well as four grandchildren.  John also states that while his occupation is that of a farmer, he is physically unable to do the work.  He lists all of his assets, as well as items that he has sold, to prove to the court that he needs this money.  His pension is approved on July 6, 1825.

One page from John Hanna’s pension application.

John and Jane eventually moved their family to Jackson County, Ohio.  The children would scatter to different states after that.  You have to think that John was proud of this fact.  He had fought for this country and the right for his children to explore it.  John Hanna passed away on April 11, 1845 at the age of 89.  I think it’s safe to say that John lived a long and eventful life!

The headstone of John Hanna. He is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Jackson, Ohio.

Read about more of my revolutionary ancestors…

Posted in Ancestor Stories

Robert Messer: North Carolina Regulator

The big moments in history are often the only moments we talk about.  The Sons of Liberty, George Washingon, and The Battle of Yorktown seem to get the most press when talking about the Revolutionary War.  What about all of the moments that happened before the war even started?  What about the story of the North Carolina Regulators?  Here is the story of my 7thgreat grandfather and North Carolina Regulator, Captain Robert Messer.

Who was Robert Messer?

Captain Robert Messer was born in New Bern, Craven, North Carolina in 1734. History tells us that New Bern was named after the town, Bern, in Switzerland. While I have yet to prove that the Messers came from Switzerland, it is safe to say that they did come from the Germany/Switzerland area. Not much is known about Robert’s family. I have yet to find any information on his parents or if he had any siblings. We do know that Robert married Mary Ann Basket. There are rumors that say Mary was at least part Indian and that her Indian name was “Little Flower”. Now I’m not sure how true this is. Maybe Mary was part Indian or maybe somewhere down the line somebody thought “Little Flower” and Basket went good together.

Robert and Mary Messer had 6 children; Christian Sargent, Joseph E, Tipton, Jarred, Mary Ann, and Solomon. Christian is my 6th great grandfather, and along with Robert plays an important roll in some pre-Revolutionary folklore.

The Regulator Movement

In the early 1770s, the colonists were beginning to become dissatisfied with the British Crown. In North Carolina, this led to the formation of the Regulators. While the Regulators are usually ignored in Revolutionary War history, it is safe to say that the battles involving the Regulators are basically the beginning of the Revolution.

Highway marker in Alamance County, North Carolina

If you are an Outlander fan, who may recognize the story of the Regulators, after all Murtagh was one.  You also know that the series covers the Battle of Alamance and even mentions the notorious Herman Husband.  Husband was one of the most well known Regulator leaders and is often credited for the documents produced by the movement.  Governor Tryon had his sights set on Herman Huband even before the Battle of Alamance occurred.  For the record, I kept waiting for them to mention Robert Messer in one of the Outlander episodes.  Sadly, he didn’t make the cut.

In May of 1771, the Battle of Alamance took place in Orange County, North Carolina. Captain Robert Messer fought along other Regulators against Governor William Tryon and his militia. While the Regulators lacked the supplies and organization that Tryon’s militia had, they were able to hold their own during the early part of the battle. Unfortunately, the battle turned and ended in the favor of Governor Tryon. In the end, Tryon took 13 Regulators prisoner…one of those being Robert Messer.

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In the days after the battle, Tryon killed one of the prisoners to make an “example” of what would happen to someone taking a stand against the Crown. The other 12 were told to take an oath in order to show their allegiance to the Crown. Only six of the Regulators took the oath while the others were on their way to stand trail for treason.

It didn’t take Tryon long to decided that the six remaining Regulators were guilty of treason against the Crown. Judge Richard Henderson handed down the judgment of violating the Riot Act to Robert Messer and the five others. Messer and the other captured Regulators were to be hung for their crime. Like many of Tryon’s acts, this was to be a public hanging with hopes of putting a stop to the Regulator uprising.

Let’s Make a Deal

The most gut-wrenching part of the story would happen next. In hopes of a last minute pardon, Robert Messer’s wife, Mary, and son, Christian (who was around 11 years old at the time), made their was to Orange County. In the minutes before the hanging was to occur, Christian Messer, threw himself at the mercy of Governor Tryon. It is said that Christian begged Tryon to take him instead and allow his father to go home and continue to provide for his family. Legend says that Christian told Tryon he was worried about what would become of his mother Mary if Robert was to be killed.

Article from The Daily Times-News (Burlington, North Carolina) July 23, 1934

Tryon’s assistant, Colonel Fanning, stepped in and convinced Tryon to momentarily pardon Messer. Fanning came up with the deal that if Messer could find Herman Husband and bring him back to Tryon, then Messer could have his freedom.  (Sidenote:  while Herman Husband was at the Battle of Alamance, he did not actually participate in the fighting.  He was a Quaker.).  Messer took the deal and set off to find Husband.  To keep Messer honest, Tryon held Robert’s wife and son as hostage until he returned.

Messer was able to track Husband down just across the border in Virginia.  The only problem was that Messer was one man and had no way of actually bringing Husband back to North Carolina.  Realizing that he had run out of options, Messer made his was back to Tryon empty handed.  Tryon then proceeded to arrest Messer and release his wife and son.  Tryon took no pity on the Messers, and along with the 5 other “traitors” Robert was killed.

Headstone that marks the place of the Regulators hanging in Hillsborough, North Carolina

If you ever find your way to Hillsborough, North Carolina, there is a marker in a field where the hanging took place. This is the one place where I can go and actually feel a connection to my ancestors. It’s strange to stand there and think what was going through Robert’s, Mary’s, and young Christian’s mind. I’m very proud of my ancestors for standing up for what they believed in, regardless of if all the stories are in fact true. Stories like this make spending countless hours in a library well worth it.

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Check out some of my other revolutionary ancestors.

Posted in Ancestor Stories, Revolutionary

Eve Weidner: Revolutionary Woman

Often, when we think about the Revolutionary War, we only think of the men who fought.  We focus on the battles and who won or lost.  We talk about the men who were Generals, the men who enlisted, and all the men in between.  We tend not to talk about the women and how important their role was in winning America’s freedom.

Who was Eve Weidner?

Eve (or Eva) Weidner was born to Ludwig (Lewis) Weidner and Barbary Boyer on January 31st, 1751 in Lincoln County, North Carolina.  While little is known about her mother, Ludwig was of German descent and held his German traditions close to his heart.  Growing up, the Weidner’s were known revolutionaries living in a county full of loyalists.  This more than likely made growing up challenging for Eve.  This is why the Weidner family started moving towards western North Carolina and the Tennessee border.

Like Father, Like Son-In-Law

Records for Eve become a bit scarce until she marries John “Raccoon” Miller on March 1st, 1776 in Haywood County, North Carolina.  The Millers would move on to Hawkins County, Tennessee and eventually settle in Union County, Tennessee.  Once settled, Eve and John would have seven children: John, Nancy, Isaac, Lewis, Jacob, Elizabeth, and Rachel.

If legend is true, John Miller seems to be a lot like Eve’s father, Ludwig.  They were both revolutionaries and participated in battles with local militia.  One of the most notorious stories of Eve is when she was left at home with the children while John was off on one of his excursions.  The story says that the family dogs started barking and going crazy while Eve and the children were inside.  Living in known Indian Territory, Eve immediately had the children hide while she grabbed a shotgun.  Eve then went outside to defend her home against the said Indians.  While not much is known about the actual encounter, I think it’s safe to say that the Indians probably thought twice before messing with Eve again.

Show Me the Money

John passed away in 1832 and had never applied for his Revolutionary War pension.  Well, Eve decided that she would go for it, twenty years after John died.  It seems that Eve was not a woman who would ever take no for an answer.  I will tell you that people thought that a woman her age attempting to get her dead husband’s pension was crazy!  According to the pension documents, Eve was 100 years and 6 days old when she started the application process.  While there is no documentation if Eve ever received John’s pension, I think it is safe to say that whatever Eve put her mind to she succeed.

An example from Eve Weidner’s pension application.

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

Eve passed away on August 12th, 1853 in Union County, Tennessee.  She was 102 years old.  Just a few years ago, a local Daughter’s of the American Revolutionary chapter in Knoxville, Tennessee, recognized Eve for her efforts and support during the Revolutionary War by giving her a new headstone.  It is always nice when women recognize other women!

Eve Weidner’s gravestone.

I feel that it is important that we continue to share the stories of our female revolutionaries.  The Revolutionary War was not just fought on the battle field, but all across the colonies.  These hidden stories need to written to preserve the memories of colonial women.

Posted in Weekend Update

Weekend Update (Weekday Version)

Hello Everybody!

I just wanted to give everyone an update on some exciting things coming this month in case you haven’t already heard!

Baking With My Ancestors

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This new monthly series will feature recipes from around the world as well as their significance to their particular culture. I’ll actually be baking these goodies and sharing the “how-to” so you can enjoy it at home!

The Unknown Heroes of the Revolutionary War

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This monthly series will feature some of the lesser-known folks who either fought in or supported the cause of the Patriots during the Revolutionary War.  I’ll be featuring both men and women (because women were awesome during this time in history!) and how they helped to shape the world we live in!

Summer DNA Basics Class

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In July, I’ll be teaching a class via IGTV or YouTube all about the basics of DNA testing.  I’ll be going over the why you should do it, the science behind it, and how DNA testing can make the world a better place!  Also, there will be a super special giveaway!

New Monthly Newsletter

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Make sure to sign up for the new monthly newsletter!  In the newsletter, you’ll get a sneak peak on upcoming blog features as well as tips & tricks for your own genealogy research.  I’ll also give you an update on what I’m currently researching and the tools I’m using to do so!