Saturday, March 1, 2014

William "Honest Bill" Blakely - Soldier of the Revolution and son of John William Blakely

(Family Lineage: William Blakely, son of John William Blakely  1, Margaret Blakely  2, George Copeland  3
Robert Hatten Copeland  4, Charles Mabry Copeland  5, Charles Thomas Copeland  6, Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr. 7)

1760 - 1847

William Blakely Sr 2

"Honest Bill" was 7 years old when he and his family migrated to South Carolina from Pennsylvania.  His father was an Irish immigrant and his mother had been born in England.  He was the 8th of 10 children.

After joining the militia in 1776 at 16 yrs. of age, he was called out to guard the frontier between the Indians and white settlements. Upon his return from this campaign, he remained at home until after the fall of Charleston, when he reported to Captain William Milner in Colonel McCreary's South Carolina Regiment.  

The militia moved to the Georgia line, crossing the Savannah River and marching down to the city of Savannah, where they joined the main army under General Benjamin Lincoln. From there they marched toward Charleston and were engaged in the battle of Stono Ferry, where the rear guard from a British expedition, retreating from an aborted attempt to take Charleston, held off an assault by the poorly trained militia on June 20, 1779 and the Patriots were defeated.

There is a local tradition that after the battle at Stono Ferry, William was discharged with a fever and sent part of the way home in a baggage wagon.  However, he was so weak that he couldn't travel any further and was cared for by a benevolent family until the news of his situation reached home.  When his mother, Rachel, brother-in-law and younger brother found him in very bad shape and too weak to travel, they sewed blankets between two pine poles, connected the poles to two horses and brought him home in a swinging bed. He obviously  recovered his health and was able to fight again, based on his pension application and other historical documents. 

The pictured plaque reads:This cemetery marks the original site of Providence Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, founded September 10, 1836. Buried here is William Blakely, Sr. survivor of Hayes Station Massacre 1781 who, with Samuel Blakely, donated the land for the church and cemetery. The congregation moved to Clinton, South Carolina around 1902.”

The massacre described in the plaque  was an example of the horrible cruelty of the British forces in South Carolina's back country. It took place eight miles southwest of Clinton.  The Tory troops were led by William “Bloody Bill” Cunningham a member of one of the most influential families in the area. He was an officer in the British army and notorious for his cruelty – thus his nickname.

Hayes Station, or  Hayes Inn, was owned by a Colonel Joseph Hayes, and served as a stagecoach stop and gathering place for the local Whig party. As war threatened, this group of men had formed into "The Little River Regiment" and were trained under the leadership of a local planter, Col. James Williams, until his death, at which time Colonel Hayes continued to lead them.  It has been documented that at least "one of  John and Rachel Blakely's sons, 'Honest Bill' Blakely, was actively involved in this particularly bloody event, and was one of the few to survive the massacre". 

Before re-enlisting in 1782, "Honest Bill" had joined his friends and neighbors at the Hayes Station in 1781 for what could have been a planning session or simply a get-together of men who probably thought the war was over and now they would be able to get back to their peaceful pursuits at home. This small community was made up of both Whig and Tory families which intermingled at events such as weddings, dances, funerals, etc.  They may have disagreed about political issues but had been living in close proximity for a number of years and had formed close bonds.

That all changed the night "Bloody Bill Cunningham" led his soldiers in a raid on the inn, which became known as one of the bloodiest massacres during the War.  After burning down some
neighboring homes, "Bloody Bill" had set fire to the thatched roof of Hayes Station.  After being  promised "safe quarter", these patriots had little choice but to surrender, since the smoke was very  heavy and there was nowhere else they could go.  In addition, they had every reason to believe they would be marched safely away as prisoners of war.

Instead, "Bloody Bill" had Col. Hayes and 17 year old Captain Daniel Williams hanged from a fodder pole.  When Daniel's brother, 14 year old Joseph, pleaded for his brother's life, he was "run through" and died.  After the pole on which  they were strung broke, Cunningham went on a rampage, and joined  his men in cutting to pieces both those men and 16 others they had captured..  Only 12 men survived somehow, one of whom was William, who was taken as a prisoner by the Tories, but held for only one night.  

After being released from jail, he fought in a number of battles which were documented in his pension application for service in the Revolution from 1779 through 1782.

On August 21, 2004 at a commemoration ceremony  ( at the site of Hayes Station Massacre in Laurens County, SC.,  Dr. Frank Wyman described what had happened to some of the other men who escaped from the massacre.  One, Thomas Hawkins, moved to Kentucky where he invented the Kentucky Long Rifle.  His idea of standard, interchangeable parts in rifles enabled the American contribution to manufacturing known as the "production line".  Another survivor, John Hewston, Jr., moved to Virginia where his son, Samuel (aka Sam) changed the spelling of his last name to Houston and became famous in The War of Texas Independence".

William didn't marry until after the Revolution.  He and his wife, Nancy Boyd, settled in Craven/Laurens County and raised their family there.