Rutherford Countians fought in 1776

As published in the Murfreesboro Post, Mike West, Managing Editor, July 1, 2007

Editor’s note: While we don’t profess that this is a complete list, here are 91 Revolutionary War veterans who collected pensions in Rutherford County.

Contrary to popular opinion, Rutherford County’s history didn’t begin with the Civil War.

In fact, a number of the county’s founding fathers participated in the conflict – the Revolutionary War – that made this community possible. Many of them hailed from the Carolinas or Virginia, but others were from places as far flung as Pennsylvania, Maryland and even Rhode Island.

Probably more than 100 early residents were Revolutionary War veterans who saw action in either the northern or southern campaigns.


Captain William Lytle

The most famous of them, Capt. William Lytle, founded Murfreesborough in 1811.  Originally named Cannonsburgh by the Tennessee General Assembly, the name of the new county seat was changed 33 days later at the request of Lytle, who wished to honor his commanding officer, Col. Hardy Murfree.

Murfree led the successful attack on a British fortification during the Battle of Stony Point in New York on July 15, 1779.  Murfree, Lytle and his brother, Archibald Lytle, were members of the 2nd North Carolina Battalion under the command of Gen. Anthony Wayne.

The British works at Stony Point controlled the Hudson River between New York City and West Point and was manned by 600 Scottish Highlanders.

Wayne, after surveying the stronghold, devised a silent night attack by a party of 40 volunteers, which included Murfree and the Lytle brothers.

Col. Hardy Murfree

Shortly after midnight, the North Carolina troops moved in, and using only bayonets, took the fort in just 30 minutes.  The quick victory was an important one and ended Sir Henry Clinton’s plan to force Gen. George Washington into a decisive battle.  It was the last major battle in the northeastern colonies.

Murfree was wounded during the conflict and Archibald Lytle was taken prisoner.

Because of their contributions to the war effort, Murfree and the Lytles were given land grants by North Carolina in what was considered Indian territory.  Archibald Lytle, a bachelor, willed his land to William Lytle, who ended up in control of some 26,000 acres in what would become Middle Tennessee.

William Lytle’s first attempt to settle on his land was unsuccessful due to Indian raids in the area, but by 1810, he had built his first home on a site near the

Captain William Lytle gravesite is located behind Haynes Brothers Lumber Company at the intersection of N.W. Broad and Old Fort Pkwy. (open to the public)

Captain William Lytle gravesite is located behind Haynes Brothers Lumber Company at the intersection of N.W. Broad and Old Fort Pkwy. (open to the public)

current intersection of Broad Street and Old Fort Parkway adjacent to Haynes Brothers Supply.  His gravesite is still located there and open to the public.

Lytle’s gravestone says: “Sacred to the memory of Capt. William Lytle, an officer of the War of the Revolution.  He was born in Pennsylvania the 17th of February A.D. 1755 and died on this farm 4th September 1829.  Universally beloved for his honesty and fairness in all the relations of life.”

Before the land was granted to Lytle, it had been for millennia, the hunting ground of various Native American tribes.

At the time of the Revolution, the Cherokee opted to align themselves with the British.  Of particular concern to settlers was the mixed band Cherokees, Creeks, disgruntled whites and blacks called the Chickamaugans led by Dragging Canoe.  The Chickamaugans raided white settlements on the Holston, Watauga and Nolichucky Rivers in East Tennessee, and the Cumberland River settlements in Middle Tennessee in the 1780s.

Enoli (Black Fox) was Dragging Canoe’s brother-in-law and chief lieutenant.  Enoli maintained a hunting camp on a huge natural spring, which became known as Black Fox Camp Spring.  Located near Dilton, the spring still exists.  Black Fox Elementary School in Murfreesboro is named in his honor.

At the time, the spring was regarded as the edge of the Cumberland River settlement founded by Gen. James Robertson.  In 1783, troops dispatched by Robertson went as far as Black Fox Camp Springs before returning to Fort Nashborough, which was built in 1779 on the limestone bluffs overlooking the Cumberland River.

Settlers led by Robertson and John Donelson were attempting to claim land “bought” by land speculator Richard Henderson in 1775.  Dragging Canoe disavowed Henderson’s purchase because under Cherokee law cessions of tribal lands required the unanimous consent of the tribe.  He vowed to exact a heavy price on any whites that attempted to settle in the Cumberland River area.

Attacks against Cumberland settlers began in 1780 and continued for the next 14 years.  Dragging Canoe personally led the best known of the raids on April 2, 1781.  During that period Robertson’s brothers, John and Mark, were slain, as were his sons, Peyton and James Jr. Another son, Jonathan, was scalped.

Finally in September 1794, a group of southwest territory militia, commanded by Maj. James Ore crossed Monteagle Mountain and wiped out the principal Chickamauga villages of Nickajack and Running Water.

Ore’s troops camped at Black Fox Camp Springs midway on their mission.

By 1803, there were a sufficient number of settlers to form a new county, Rutherford, named after Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, who was seriously wounded at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina on Aug. 16, 1780.

Camden was a major victory for British forces under Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who routed the Continental troops of Gen. Horatio Gates, who was then replaced by Gen. Nathanael Green.

Many early Rutherford County veterans had participated in the southern campaign of the American Revolution and were specifically at the battles of King’s Mountain and Cowpens.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Dickson served as a major at King’s Mountain with a group of men from Lincoln County, N.C.

King’s Mountain was a very unique battle fought entirely by Americans, Tories and patriots.

The Tory army was under command of Maj. Patrick Ferguson, who was in command of 1,000 loyalist troops.

The 900 patriots were under no central command and were ripe for revenge for incidents like the Battle of Waxhaw, where British Col. Banastre Tarleton ordered his men to kill many of the surrendered Virginia troops.  A scene from the Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot,” is based around Waxhaw.

Ferguson acerbated the ill will by publishing a broadsheet mocking “the backwater men.”

“Gentlemen: Unless you wish to be eat up by an inundation of barbarians, who have begun by murdering an unarmed son before the aged father, and afterwards lopped off his arms, and who by their shocking cruelties and irregularities, give the best proof of their cowardice and want of discipline; I say, if you wish to be pinioned, robbed, and murdered, and see your wives and daughters, in four days, abused by the dregs of mankind—in short, if you wish or deserve to live, and bear the name of men, grasp your arms in a moment and run to camp.

The backwater men have crossed the mountains; McDowell, Hampton, Shelby and Cleveland are at their head, so that you know what you have to depend upon. If you choose to be degraded forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once, and let your women turn their backs upon you, and look out for real men to protect them.”

He had intended the broadside to build support for the crown, but it turned out to be his death warrant.

Ferguson’s scarlet-clad Tory troops proved to be easy prey for patriot troops who used highly-accurate hunting rifles to pick them off the side of the mountain. During the hour long battle, loyalists lost 225 dead and 716 captured.  The patriots lost 28.

Ferguson, who used a silver whistle to issue commands, was shot multiple times and died on the battlefield.  It was said his body was stripped and urinated on by his angry foes in retribution for British atrocities.

Serving at King’s Mountain, didn’t hurt Joseph Dickson’s career.

In the post revolution days, he was elected as court clerk in Lincoln County, N.C., and later to the state senate.  He was appointed to the commission that established the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dickson was elected as a Federalist to the Sixth Congress in 1799.  He moved to Tennessee in 1803.  He presented Rutherford County in the state House of Representatives from 1807 through 1811 and served as speaker of the House his last two years in the General Assembly.  He died at his plantation northeast of Murfreesboro in 1825.

Rhode Island veteran Peter Jennings, who ran a bakery in Murfreesboro, had perhaps even more a unique story to tell.  His home, and bakery, were located at the corner of Vine and Church streets.

Jennings served in Varnum’s Regiment, the 1st Rhode Island, which was an all black volunteer unit organized by Gen. James Mitchell Varnum. The unit saw action in one of the most famous Revolutionary War battles of them all at Bunker Hill.

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