Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sunday Search: Tracing Back To Yorktown

My Sons of the American Revolution application begins with a very concise statement which reads:

“I hereby apply for membership in this Society by the right of bloodline decent from John Redcross [my 5th great grandfather] who assisted in establishing American Independence while acting in the capacity of private in the Amherst County (Virginia) Militia in 1781 under Major Cabell, Colonels Gaines and Pope.”

While this is certainly true, and has been verified as such, it only tells a portion of the story about my ancestor.

John Redcross was born in Amherst County, Virginia in 1740 as a member of the Monacan Indian Nation. While there is little known of about his early life we do know that while we know he was one of many Monacan men who served during the Revolutionary War beginning his service in February 1779 as a member of Captain William Long’s Company of the 2nd Virginia State Regiment commanded by Colonel William Brent. He served in this infantry unit likely until the spring of 1780 when most of the regiment was discharged. However, there is the possibility that he remained in the regiment and was reassigned to the Amherst County Militia under Major Cabell as both the 2nd Virginia State Regiment and the Amherst County Militia participated in the Siege of Yorktown and were present at Cornwallis’ surrender.

It is also noted in the book Strangers in Their Midst: The Free Black Population of Amherst County Virginia that “In 1781 he [Rawley Pinn], John Redcross, and Benjamin Evans were part of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry and left Amherst on June 21, 1781 under the command of Maj. William Cabell, Jr. Between Amherst and Yorktown, they joined the troops of the Marquis de Lafayette, and all participated in the siege at Yorktown.” It is fascinating to think about this unique band of brothers, bound together by heritage, by race, and patriotism, fighting for the freedom that their families would be deprived of for almost another two hundred years.

While the link to his previous service is something that still comes with a few questions, and despite the lack of acknowledgement in the history books, what is certain is the role that he played at Yorktown as his name can be found written in the hand of Colonel Daniel Gaines in his list of “Militia ordered into service from Amherst County… March to join the army commanded by the Honorable Major General Marquis de Lafayette, June 21, 1781” as well as the list of soldiers from Amherst County who served at the Siege of Yorktown published in the Lynchburg News on Thursday, May 22, 1884.

Officially discharged on April 25, 1783, John Redcross returned to Amherst County where he would continue raising his family until his death in 1800. And while there have been many instances when the family origins have been questioned, namely the registration as “mulatto” and as “free black” in the mid-19th century, the attempted revision of ancestral history by Walter Plecker in the early 20th century, and the ongoing surname associations with the Cherokee, the Redcross name is of Monacan, and therefore Sioux origin. In the aforementioned Strangers in Their Midst: The Free Black Population of Amherst County Virginia, the author writes the following while referencing Peter Houck’s book Indian Island in Amherst County,

“John Redcross (circa 1770-1861) is considered a second founder of the settlement. In 1783, his father (also John) was shown with 11 whites in his household, but Houck believes that the son and namesake “was probably the only pure-blooded Indian man in the original settlement” [page 66]… Redcross has been described as Cherokee, but the evidence does not support that, leading to speculation that he may have been Monacan or at least Siouan. John’s son Paul was said to have looked like his father, “… every inch an Indian… straight as an arrow, long haired, with high cheek bones and copper skin.”

This is a particularly interesting passage for my family as it follows three generations from which we are descendants.

While this lineage may have been lost to my family for decades, it is now a living part of who we are and has proven to be a valuable connection to our family’s history and participation in the Revolutionary War. This is a part of our family history that will never again be forgotten. And now, the next time we visit the Monacan Burial Ground on Bear Mountain, we can pay our respects not just to our ancestor but to man who fought for our freedom.