April 24, 2004
Bethany Baptist Church Cemetery, Reece City, Alabama
I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you on behalf of the Littlefield family to the SAR of Alabama for honoring our Private William Littlefield for his service in the Revolutionary War.
William Littlefield II was my great-great-grandfather and it is my pleasure to recreate a portion of his life as a way to pay homage for his service and all those who fought with him in the wars for freedom. Today we are a free country because in part for what they did so long ago.
Credit is due the many historians as well as the family researchers who have shared personal stories of the war in South Carolina. Never have I been so thankful that the Government required people to fill out long laborious questionnaires. Without this written testament and the accompanying words “Invalid” stamped onto the application we might never have known the true story of our ancestor.
Go back with me to the 10th day of December in 1832. A rickety horse-drawn wagon pulls up to the door of the Carroll County Court House in Huntingdon, Tennessee. The driver, most likely a grandson sent to deposit his grandfather to the courthouse, reigns in the horse and watches as the aged William Littlefield pulls himself down from the seat, balancing his body with his cane before taking a step. The seventy-six-year-old man hobbles up the steps and with a fair amount of energy pulls open the door.
No sooner had he entered the small courthouse, William Littlefield announces boldly, “I’m here to claim the pension they said I could have.”
The court clerk, accustomed to this type of directness by the old soldiers, takes a paper from the cabinet and dips his pen in the inkpot and begins to direct the questions to the man seated on the bench.
Thus begins the questionnaire. “When were you were born?
William Littlefield gives thought to what he will say, and goes on to tell the man the details of his life. The clerk begins to write just the words needed for the file, leaving much of the conversation to rest within the mind of this old man. Most likely the events of his life came before him as he sat before the clerk.
He was born on a Sunday, the 16th day of May in the year 1756 in the province of Maryland, the county of Frederick. His father, by the same name of William, had come from England, carrying a Bailey’s Dictionary with him. [I have held in my hands that old dictionary that is still in the Littlefield family.]
By 1752 and maybe sooner, his father William Littlefield (I) had taken as his wife Rebeckah Lee, the daughter of James and Mary Lee, and lived on land her father had named “Chestnut Ridge.”
His parents, William and Rebeckah Littlefield had eight children. The oldest and heir to the family land was John. Then came Nancy Ann, Absolom, William II and Solomon, Mary, Lucy and Rebecca.
His father, William Littlefield, had acquired his first 100 acres of land in 1752 and by the time he sold out in August of 1772 to remove his family to South Carolina, he had owned almost 1800 acres of prime tobacco land in Frederick Co. Maryland. It was situated in heavily forested countryside along the waters of the Great Seneca Creek that flowed into the mighty Potomac River a few miles away.
William waits for the clerk to catch up with the words he has given then goes on to speak. “At near 17 years of age I removed with my father’s family to South Carolina, settling on the waters of Sugar Creek, a branch of water flowing from the waters of Fair Forest Creek, in Union County.”
We now know William (II) had lived through two Kings, George II and George III, President’s George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams. And Andrew Jackson was sitting President as William sat before the clerk requesting his pension.
William was born the year after the French and Indian War had started, he fought in the Revolutionary War and lived through the War of 1812, as well as other no name skirmishes.
Names like Benjamin Franklin were spoken often by his generations. Franklin had published The Poor Richard’s Almanack and it was still selling more than 10,000 copies a year by 1832. Franklin had also published the first political cartoon in a newspaper, portraying a snake cut into sections to represent the colonies. The caption read, “Join or Die.” But possibly the most exciting story William would have remembered as a child was when Franklin flew his kite into the lighting, demonstrating the effects of lighting to create electricity.
As a young child in the colonies, William had set near the fire listening to his father talk of the latest news brought from the docks to the nearest tavern. The news most always was about another unfair taxation leveled by the British parliament. They had survived the Sugar Tax. But the Stamp Tax had ignited the colonists’ anger more than any other tax. It had resulted in the forming of the Sons of Liberty to march against the King’s authority.
Before the family moved to South Carolina, Blackbeard, the most notorious pirate of them all, was captured and hanged, furnishing stories to thrill every child’s story time.
Drama theaters opened in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The first street light was installed in Pennsylvania.
Many newspapers as well as 15 magazines were now being published.
A Medical School was opened that promised to teach men how to cure diseases outside of blood letting, and a mental hospital had opened in the colonies.
The Alamo had been built in Texas as a Franciscan Mission.
The Blue Law had been put into effect making it a crime to travel on a Sunday unless you were going to church.
The Great Awakening brought revival to the colonies.
Mail service to cities along the coastline had been opened and Benjamin Franklin had become the new Post Master General.
The Stagecoach line carried travelers between the cities.
But when the family moved to South Carolina all the advancements were put aside or forgotten. By choice the upper part of the state just did not worry about what might be happening in other parts of the colonies.
Even the threat of more British taxation was given little consideration. Their fresh land provided good crops, and their churches worked diligently to keep the evil ways out.
The Cherokee Indians had given up their fighting since Chief Chulock-Culla and Governor Glenn of South Carolina sat down to sign a treaty for their land. The land of what would become Spartanburg and Union Counties were now only hunting grounds for the tribes.
Very few people in the up country traveled the 175 miles to Charles Town, as it was called in 1775, unless they had business with the courthouse. The residents of the low country, the so
called Rice Kings, were considered to have more riches than even the richest state of Maryland. In fact, the people of Charles Town considered themselves too progressive to bother with the lowly ignorant upper counties before the British came to their shores.
So what would bring the war to the Littlefield family?
Charles Town, probably more than any other city outside of Boston, worried about how the conflicts would affect their shipping trade. The seriousness of the rumors of conflict going on in Boston became evident when the words spoken by the Virginian, Patrick Henry, hit their ears. His immortal speech, “Give me Liberty or give me death,” gave new meaning to their fear.
On 19th of April their fears were soon to be realized. An event would set the entire colonial world at war. It happened at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts.
Many years after the attack the famous writer, Nathanial Hawthorne wrote about the beginning of the war in his story titled Old Manse.
In 1775 the Manse, meaning parsonage, was the home to Rev. William Emerson, grandfather of the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
[Last summer I stood at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts and wondered how such a tranquil place could be the spot where war began. I watched a man dressed in colonial attire gather the people together beside the slow moving waters. His intentions were to recreate the town meeting like the one that caused the colonists to split on the issues of allegiance—PATRIOT or TORY. I listened to the opposing sides discuss their views for a time then followed others to the old Manse located beside the waterway to hear the tour guide explain the important events that had taken place that day in April 1775.]
Hawthorne, in his writings, tells how the minister upon hearing the sound of troops marching around the bend in the road, called his family to the upstairs window to watch as they crossed over the bridge. They witnessed the first man fall. Years later all windows in the Manse were replaced … all windows except one. That single wavy glassed window in the old manse still hangs as a testament to the sight viewed from that very window—ushering in war by one shot, the famous—SHOT HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD. By day’s end the British had suffered 273 casualties, the colonists 93.
One month after that day at the old North Bridge, Continental Congress began preparing a draft for the Declaration of Independence, and names like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were tripped daily from the lips of those standing on the street corners in Charles Town, South Carolina.
A new concern emerged in the thinking of those in the low country. What if the British gained access to the old Indian trading paths crisscrossing the upper country going to the Blue Ridge Mountains and from Georgia to Virginia, thus threatening South Carolina’s shorelines from within.
By November 1775 not only those living in the low country felt the fear of war knocking on the doors. The Littlefield family as well as the aunts and uncles and cousins who had moved from Maryland with them, now sought out the news echoing through the hills.
A short distance away on Fair Forest Creek there lived a known British loyalist by the name of Col. Thomas Fletchall. Fletchall, an obese man with large land holdings, held much power over his countrymen. He set out to strong-arm the neighboring families to join the ranks of the King. It would cause sons to fight against fathers, and brothers against brothers. Even those sitting on the same church pew the Sunday before were not saved from the division.
By March 1776, the South Carolina ruling body in Charles Town had for all purposes seceded from the British Empire. The residents knew it was just a matter of time before the British fleet would attack.
While Charles Town fretted about their shore, the loyalist Col. Thomas Fletchall wasted no time engaging the Indians to fight for the King. Almost immediately the pillaging began upon the landowners in the up country and all in the name of support for the King. But the destruction was also fueled by the desire for revenge against the Governor for the underhanded land treaty agreement in the 1750’s.
In July 1776, William had just turned 20 years of age. Word came that he had been drafted to serve in a regiment lead by Captain Plummer with Col. John Thomas and Lt. Col. William Wofford mapping out the direction. Under the daily command of Lt. Reny Belew, they were marched up the mountain to Fort Prince some distance from Spartanburg on the North Tyger River. Here they were needed to fight against the Indians who were jeopardizing the old fort and the families that had sought refuge within the walls. But after one month they were sent home.
In October of the same year of 1776, William was again called up. And again it was Capt. PLUMMER that led the troops. This time they marched to EARL’S FORT built on the border of the North and South Carolina on the South Pacolet River. Again after one month they were released when fresh troops arrived.
It was almost two years later, in 1778, that William was needed yet again. By now William had married the daughter of Hannah and Philip Bryant. There must have been some concern over fighting for the cause of the colonists. After all, his wife’s mother was herself the daughter of a said-to-be-rich Tory, the old William Wofford. But this did not stop William from joining the ranks under the command of Capt. Thomas Blassingame, and Col John Thomas who had rendezvoused with Lt. Col. Benjamin Farr’s men over into Georgia. This time they were to fight the Creek Indians at Fort Philips. They marched on to Oconee River, still rousting out the Creek Indians in order to protect the settlers. After two months they were sent home.
By 1781 war had taken its toll on the people of South Carolina. General Nathanael Green and Col. Thomas Brandon were now names on the mind of every Patriot.
It must have been no surprise to William when in April 1781 he would again be drafted to meet the troops some three years after his last service. Unlike the other times when he was called up to fight the Indians, this time it was to do battle with the British and Tory fighters. His troop was marched half way through to the lower part of the state to the Edisto River at Orangeburgh, South Carolina. Once there, his regiment, under the command of Col. Benjamin Roebuck and Capt. George Roebuck, joined the regiments under the command of Colonels Benjamin, Hammond and Beard.
William, shaken from his thought of his life passing before him, now became aware of the sound of the clerk tapping his fingers on the table. A new gentleness had come over him. Knowing his life had been laid out on the paper in front of him had that effect.
The clerk had obviously been waiting for more information. Had the old man forgotten about the rest of the war? The deep scars on his forehead were obviously made by a sword. Had they been caused by a bloody injury at the end of his service and he could not bear to remember? The clerk looked into the face of the tired old soldier sitting across from him.
William, exhausted, finished his record by simply stating, “My service ended May of 1781.”
And when asked, William was forced to admit that there was no documented evidence of his claim and he knew of no person whose testimony he could procure to vouch for his service. He relinquished all other claims whatever to other pensions or annuity except for present application before him that day.
The clerk looked again at what he had written, then slid the papers across the table for a signature. William picked up the pen and readied his hand for writing—making several circular motions above the words. Then with a new boldness presses the pen to the paper, carefully writing his own name with big letters.
It is a name seen many times in other dated documents giving us knowledge that he indeed signed his own name that day.
The document is signed by the clerk Edward Given.
Ephraim Park and Walter Thedford, both residents of Carroll County, Tennessee signed a statement of hearing this applicant had fought in the war.
A long sigh preceded William’s reaching for his cane and his slow walk to the door. As he reached for the door knob, he stopped and turned back to the clerk. “I stayed in South Carolina for the rest of my GOOD life.”
The date of December 24, 1832 on the pension papers signifies his papers had been filed and one last note was written under the signatures stating it was their opinion that William Littlefield was indeed a soldier as stated.
Justice of Peace Thomas Hamilton, Blount and Henry Wright signed off on the petition. He was given pay for six months of service amounting to $50.00.
But that is not the end of the story. Sometime later a letter was received at the courthouse refuting the information.
Was it old grudges being fulfilled? Perhaps mistaken identities? After all he did have three other brothers unaccounted for in the service. Whatever it was, it must have caused distress to the old man.
Letters from a William Smith, and John and Jethro O’Shields and sworn before Samuel Smith in South Carolina tried to persuade the courts that our William was seen walking with the Tories during the war. And now they had come to protect the Government against fraud. [And as our young people would say today, “Yeah, right!”]
I do know that in the heat of the battles in South Carolina a Colonel by the name of Banastre TARLETON, a well know Tory, was using terror to make the colonists join up with the British even if they opposed the British side. Many a colonist father or mother was forced to send their sons to line up with the Tories and loyalist for the safety of their families left behind.
In William Littlefield’s defense, William Lancaster of Union South Carolina came to testify on the 22nd day of September 1835 to the courts that he knew our William to be a man who fought in the war. He recalled he had many scars on his forehead and had seen the pensioner just last April now living in Carroll Co, Western Tennessee. After that, the courts upheld his right to a pension.
Family records tell us William II was most likely a school teacher during his lifetime. I do know that in all occasions when his name is found on documents he is the William that always writes his own name, unlike other William Littlefields in the area at the same time.
William Littlefield II married twice. The first wife was Rebecca Hannah Bryant, daughter of Philip and Hannah Wofford Bryant, in Union County South Carolina. The 1790 Census tells us they were the parents of five sons but no daughters.
Philip married Martha Nance
Jehue married Catherine Gilbert
William III married Bilsy Gilbert
Little to nothing is known to prove the names of these last two sons. Four daughters were also born to the first wife after 1790:
Rhoda married Henry Gilbert,
Hannah married Obadiah Gilbert
Nancy married George Gilbert
Mary married Thomas Burgess
William sold his homeplace in 1807 and moved the family to the Boiling Springs area of Spartanburg County. There he joined the Boiling Springs Baptist Church and later became a deacon in May 1815.
By 1823 his first wife had died and he married second to a much younger Sarah Turner, daughter of Henry and Frances Turner. They had two children:
Rebecca born 1824 and married David Burgess
Luther Rice born December 25, 1826 and married Artemesia Woolverton.
The fragile old court records show he wrote “removed from South Carolina on January 12, 1831 to move to Carroll County, Western Tennessee.”
William’s second wife, Sarah, died shortly after they arrived in Tennessee leaving two small children motherless.
In 1835, after the last pension report cleared William of being a Tory he moved with his small children to Alabama to be close to his daughters, Rhoda Gilbert and Hannah Gilbert in Rainbow City. Hannah had married Obadiah Gilbert who ran a Ferry across the Coosa River. There, William joined the Old Harmony Baptist Church.
William’s youngest son, eleven-year-old Luther Rice must have walked with his old father on the hot day of October 15, 1836. It was a story told by Luther Rice to his own son years later and put to paper by this James Littlefield in 1932. It tells us William II had walked many miles on a hot day in October to visit a family member. That night he became very ill with indigestion (probably what we would call a heart attack today) and he died that night. They chose to bury him at the new Bethany Baptist Church Cemetery located across the road from his daughter, Mary Burgess’s house. His son Jehue also lived just down the road from this cemetery.
Two entries in the minutes of the Old Harmony Baptist Church give our only glimpse into the last few months of his life. First, he joined the Church in May of 1836. And the last entry gives testament into the gentle personality of our ancestor when the clerk wrote “Our aged and beloved brother William Littlefield departed this life October 15, 1836.”
Little did our ancestor, old William Littlefield II, know the extent of his reach. Today you will find his descendants in every state of the union. Possibly the descendant of most note was his great-grandson. A successful cattleman, George Washington Littlefield left his mark on Austin, Texas in the late 1800s. You will find the name LITTLEFIELD engraved on the tops of tall buildings on the downtown streets as well as on the campus of the University of Texas where you will see the Littlefield Library, the Littlefield Mansion, and the Littlefield Fountain—all named after the descendant of our William Littlefield II that we have honored this day.
It was the late, dear Mr. Porter Gilliland that first told me about the idea of placing a marker on his and my ancestor’s grave. And now that dream has been fulfilled. I just wish Porter could have been here to participate in the honor.
As a descendant of this long line of Littlefields, I would again like to thank Jerry Jones, Ken Jaggears and the local Etowah Chapter SAR and the entire Alabama SAR for their tireless effort in making this marker setting happen on Saturday, the 24th of April, 2004.
Many thanks to Ann Littlefield Coleman for this educational and inspirational speech.—gg
Last updated July 15, 2005.
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