This weeks’ episode with Bill Paxton is really outstanding. Now, I might be biased, because as it turns out, Bill’s ancestor, Benjamin Sharp shares some historic events and locations with some of my ancestors too.
Bill started his journey in the library in Los Angeles, California, where their genealogist unrolls Bill’s pedigree chart. I sure wish someone would give me one of those with a bow and a few new ancestors to boot!
These pedigree giftings really make me smile. The recipients are always so excited to see their heritage literally open up before them.
Bill already knew quite a bit about his closest few Paxton ancestors, including that one of his ancestors was an officer in the Civil War, so Bill was looking back up the tree to the Revolutionary War era where he found 3 different men, all 4 times great grandfathers, who could well have served. Checking the DAR data base, only the last one, Benjamin Sharp, hit pay dirt.
Bill is off to the DAR headquarters in Washington DC. At the DAR, they produced the 1833 pension application for Benjamin Sharp, written in Warren Co., MO, documenting his Revolutionary War military service beginning in 1775. That’s when my ears perked right up, because the application, in Benjamin’s own handwriting said that he was at Black’s Fort, and at Glade Hollow, and that he was a spy.
For anyone with Appalachian, Western VA or Eastern TN history, both of these locations grab your attention, because these lands were truly forts, on the true edge of the frontier. Very few people were there, and the militia protected them, not from the British so much, but from Indians, most of whom were aligned with the Tories because the English promised the Indians that if they won, the pioneer encroachment on their lands would stop. These fort locations are found today in Russell County, VA.
From there, Benjamin Sharp served in the local militia unit, probably out of Washington County, VA, that rallied to fight in the fall of 1781 at King’s Mountain, a turning point in the Revolutionary War. At least two of my ancestors fought at King’s Mountain as well. Today, on the top of the hill, a monument to the men who fought and gave their lives has been erected. This battle, won by mountaineers known as the Overmountain Men and not professional soldiers has been termed the turning point of the Revolutionary War.
The British commander, Patrick Ferguson, made a grave error in issuing this challenge to the Overmountain men who he held in the greatest contempt.
“If you do not desist your opposition to the British Arms, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.”
Them’s fightin’ words.
Let’s just say that’s not exactly what happened. Ferguson was among the men buried at King’s Mountain, and the British Army lost. Talk about both underestimating and inflaming your opponent.
You can guess where Benjamin is off to next. Yes, King’s Mountain is a historic park today and well worth the visit. A couple of years ago, I walked this trail myself and I can’t even begin to tell you the raw emotions I felt during that journey. I was fortunate to be alone on the walking path – of course that might had something to do with the fact that it was over 100 degrees. The men who fought at King’s Mountain did so in the cold rain – in fact – it was probably the rain that saved them – because rain softens leaves and underbrush and the Ferguson, stationed on top of the hill with the Tories, didn’t realize they were surrounded until it was too late.
At King’s Mountain, Bill discovers a letter from Benjamin Sharp in the book “American Pioneer” detailing the actual battle. Watching Bill read this letter standing on the actual battleground was quite gripping, especially knowing that Benjamin was describing, first hand, something my ancestors experienced too.
Bill wanted to know what happened to Benjamin after the Revolutionary War. Benjamin was only 18 at that time and he had his whole life in front of him. Bill’s next stop is the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
Bill discovers that Benjamin became a surveyor in Lee County, Virginia’s westernmost county which borders on the Cumberland Gap. Many of the men who served in the Revolution on the frontier did settle in this area. On the Lee County tax list of 1804, shown in the episode, I saw two names I recognized.
Benjamin Sharp moved on though, with the movement westward to Missouri. They didn’t say how or why Benjamin moved, but I’m betting it might have been where Revolutionary War bounty land was granted. Many families found themselves pushing the westward frontier due to these grants given as payment for military service.
Bill’s next and last stop is in Warren County where he finds and holds the original will of Benjamin Sharp in his hands. Benjamin lived a very long life and his will holds, well, let’s just say some surprises.
In fact, Bill has been surprised, or maybe shocked is a better word, several times along the way…and not always in a positive light.
This episode closes with Bill visiting his ancestor’s grave, deep in the brambles in the forest on private property that used to be owned by Benjamin Sharp. Bill leaves three small stones….but you’ll have to watch Sunday night to discover why.
This was a truly moving, heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching episode.
Here’s your sneak peek.
Bill Paxton’s episode airs this Sunday, April 19 at 10/9c on TLC.