Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Seeking Liberation as the Rights of Man are Advocated

Having recently seen Spielberg's Lincoln, and realizing not all in the North wanted to free slaves, even as the War Between the States drew to a close, I was startled to find a theme from the movie - framing emancipation as a blow to an enemy's ability to wage war - percolating in an earlier American conflict.

My 6x-great grand uncle, Thomas Berry (1757-1839) was brother to the direct ancestor James Berry (c1752-1822), who has been the subject of several of these blog entries. In the Spring of 1779, Thomas Berry was drafted from his home in Mecklenberg County into the Virginia militia. (It was Berry's second enlistment: in 1776 he'd signed on to serve revolutionary forces for six months.) This time under the direct command of Capt. Charles Gray, Berry was placed in Col. Lewis Burrell/Burril's regiment of foot soldiers.
As summer matured, Gray's men were marched 350 miles south to oppose, with force of arms, a British intention to seize Charles Town. They were part of perhaps 1200 patriots ordered to attack Stono Ferry, held at that time by loyalists, German mercenaries, and regular troops under the command of British Lt. Col. John Maitland.

Continental Army opposes British infiltration in South Carolina, 1779

That these Virginia men found themselves west of what is now Charleston, South Carolina, toward the end of open hostilities, seemed surprising. To join American Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, in his attempts to drive the British out of the plantation-rich lowcountry of coastal plains, indicated to me a greater amount of continent-wide military co-operation than I'd imagined. As in the timeframe of the movie, there must have been much fatigue with a war effort at this point in the conflict.

Trying to familiarize myself with Berry's exploits, I discovered another similarity between the two episodes: it was envisioned that the liberation of slaves would disadvantage the enemy.

On June 24, having accomplished his mission of protecting Brigadier-General Augustine Prévost's movement to Savannah, Maitland evacuated his post at Stono Ferry. The subsequent British plunder of some of the richest areas in South Carolina was "significant and disturbing," according to Russell in his circa 2000 work: American Revolution in Southern Colonies. "Some 3000 black slaves were believed to have been taken by the British leaving South Carolina. Many slaves were shipped off to the West Indies and sold. Thousands of other slaves who were left behind suffered terribly under the British. During the retreat of the British Army, many blacks would cling to the sides of the boats. In attempts to prevent danger to their boats, British soldiers were posted with cutlasses and bayonets to keep them at bay. Many blacks had their hands cut off in this way. Hundreds died of disease."

I had already learned, when researching direct ancestor Rev. William Hardesty (1776-1846), that blacks who'd joined the Ethiopian Regmient - formed by Colonial Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunsmore - had been betrayed after giving service in 1775. (Those who had not died from sickness or in the Battle of Great Bridge were left to fend for themselves in New York when Dunsmore fled for England.) Yet discovery of this carnage, four years later, once again drew into stark relief what I thought about revolutionaries' values for the Rights of Man.

Patriots who were willing to sacrifice much for their personal liberty were apparently willing to kill men held in bondage to them ... and seeking that same liberation.

Continues Russel (citing McCrady): "Sadly, other blacks died in the woods and marshes, being unable to return home for fear of a certain death, with disease all around them in a condition of being destiture without food or shelter, under the horrid heat and humidity of the Carolina summer." 

It is likely that Berry was granted land in Kentucky for military service that brought inordinate political and economic opportunity to armed revolutionaries. By 1810, Berry and his father, Thomas Berry, Jr. (1727-1824) had moved their families to Clark County, Kentucky. Each household contained at least five slaves.

22 March 1780 - Thomas Berry obtains warrant for 1000 acres in what is now Kentucky