Saturday, April 18, 2015

Thomas Blakely - another Blakely freedom fighter

(Family Lineage: Thomas 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)
1755 - 1834

Thomas Blakely, born in Cumberland, PA, was a first generation American whose parents were Rachel Orr, an Irish lass, and an Englishman, John William Blakely.  Together, they created 10 new Americans, all of whom were taught to be proud of the land their parents had adopted.

As time went on - and after most of their children had been born - the Blakelys were persuaded to join a band of Scots-Irish Protestants who were planning to travel further into this vast country in the hope of finding a place containing fertile ground for farming with people who shared their beliefs and traditions. Some, like the Blakelys, had lived in America several years, while others had recently migrated from Ulster Province in Ireland. But all shared the same dream for a future grounded in peace and prosperity. 
This group of migrants included, among others, the Adair, Blakely, and Copeland families,  and set out on the same path taken by earlier pioneers from Pennsylvania, into Maryland, through Virginia and into the Carolinas.  Even though the goal was South Carolina,  some of the travelers decided to settle down in Charlotte, North Carolina, (a town  named for the wife of King George III of England).
Rebuilt in 1843 -  Duncan Creek Church

After saying goodbye to their friends, they were on their way again and finally arrived in  Craven County, (later named Laurens County) South Carolina where they settled near the Enoree and Tiger Rivers on Duncan's Creek.  It was here that they built their homes and, in 1752, built Duncan's Creek Presbyterian Church. (In 1778, after an argument over which version of the Psalms should be used during the services, several founding families, including the Blakelys, left and started up other churches in town.). 

Even today, townspeople occasionally call the area “ABC”, their shorthand for the preponderance of  Adair, Blakely and Copeland families who still occupy the area  -  and whose menfolk left their homes 20 years after arriving in order to fight for freedom against their former rulers.

Fortunately for today's researchers, many of the men or their widows were still alive in 1832 to claim pension payments for their services during the Revolution.  77 year old Tom Blakely was one of those who graphically described his battle experiences during his two enlistments. In the application, he spelled his name Thomas “Blackly”, although it was spelled "Blakely” or “Blakelee” by others in the family.

21 year old Thomas began his militia service in the Spring of 1776, when he volunteered to serve under Capt. John Rodgers,  Col. James Williams, and General Andrew Williamson, (a brilliant Scot who was eventually  commissioned as a Brigadier-General in the Continental Army and particularly successful in fighting Indians).  During his first enlistment, Thomas fought against the Cherokee Indians who had aligned themselves with the British forces in the area. patriot_leaders_sc_andrew_williamson.html
His first major battle took place in the village of Tugaloo, a large Cherokee settlement which was a congregating point for the Cherokees in the area that contained about 200 lodge houses.  

The battle, led by General Williamson, resulted in the village being totally destroyed. It was never rebuilt and the only evidence of its existence today is a large Indian mound rising above the waters of Lake Hartwell and an historic marker on Highway 123 at the Georgia-South Carolina border.

Thomas' second major battle, called the "Ring Fight" (perhaps because of "rings of fire" set around Indian villages) took place on August 12, 1776.  At that time, the loyalties of the Cherokee tribes which had spread across the entire southeast territory were split.  Some declared themselves loyal to the British while others declared neutrality.  Those who aligned themselves with the British had launched an intense campaign on the Western colonial settlements.  Andrew Williamson, who was a Major at that time,  gathered a force of 1,100 South Carolina loyal backcountry men and, assisted by Captain Andrew Pickens, conducted a "scorched earth" campaign against the Cherokee villages in western South Carolina.

After participating in those bloody battles, Thomas took some time off  until early in 1779, when he rejoined the militia, this time, reporting to Captain William Milwee and Colonel McCreary, and was joined by his younger brother, William (Honest Bill featured in an earlier post). Although they had probably fought against each other as young boys do, all such antics had to be put aside to fight a common enemy for their very lives. After marching to the Savannah River and making camp across the river from Augusta, the miltia  waited for General Benjamin Lincoln to take command and lead them back across the river into a major battle on June 20th, 1779.

The "Battle of Stono Ferry" was fought near Charleston and began well for the Patriots who engaged the British with small arms and cannon fire for an hour, at which point they advanced to the man-made fortification. Two of the Highlander companies resisted until only 11 men were left standing, but eventually, after British reserves were brought across the bridge, they rallied and won the fight.

Losses on both sides were heavy. The Americans reported 34 killed (one of whom was Andrew Jackson's brother, Hugh), 113 wounded and 155 missing. The British had 26 killed, 93 wounded and 1 missing.  Finally, after analyzing how the tide was turning against the Patriots, Lincoln ordered a retreat and his reputation suffered greatly both then and when he later became known as the "General who lost Charleston" (a devastating loss for the Patriots which could have easily resulted in the British returning to power). This battle ended Thomas' war and he returned home to his family. 

At the pension hearing, he testified that he had been a volunteer for nine months (although he had actually served longer than that, according to official records) and had never received a commission.   His statements were confirmed by William Henderson and Robert McNeese. On August 21, 1833, he was awarded $30 a year (a mighty sum at the time) but only lived long enough to collect $60.