When you think about those who rose to the occasion of fighting for our countries freedom we tend to think of that patriot as a morally upstanding person. You can envision all the heroic deeds that they did were for unselfish reasons. You may also believe that the person was raised in an honorable home, being taught right from wrong. Well, this is the life of my 1st cousin 6x removed, Colonel Benjamin Cleveland who was none of these things. His life was so diverse I decided to have this first part of the blog be about his life before the Revolutionary War. Part 2 will cover all he did during the War and Part 3 will cover his post-war exploits.
Benjamin Cleveland was born May 26, 1738, to John (1695-1778) and Elizabeth (Coffey) (1705-1772) Cleveland. He was raised in Orange County, Virginia, about seven miles from where he was born on the mouth of Blue Run, in Prince William County. Benjamin’s father, John owned six hundred acres of land in Orange County in 1734. Cleveland’s Run was about a mile northeast of Barboursville in Orange County, and it was named for Benjamin’s family
Benjamin and 8 his brothers were considered “a reckless lot” by all who knew them in Orange County and Benjamin was the worse of them all. All of the boys were considered “immoral”. He alone exhibited raw courage that few boys his age possessed. Even the drunken rowdies who were bent on destruction could not intimidate him. It is no surprise that he would earn the nickname “Terror of the Tories” during the Revolutionary War. Benjamin grew to be 6 feet tall and weighed close to 300 pounds. He was a man who gave in easily to many debaucheries. This had him in trouble throughout his youth.
You could always find Benjamin playing cards in the local tavern. He never lost a hand because his strategy was to first accuse the other player of cheating, then he would strike the man causing him to fall down and then take all of the money. Not one opponent ever challenged him trying to get the money back because of his size and overbearing presence. He also frequented the racetrack, losing his money betting on the races and he and his brothers never left the track without starting or participating in a fight or two. Although he could be good-natured, he was also considered reckless, hot-tempered, and determined. He also did a lot of carousing and drinking,
Benjamin had no use for school. He did attend long enough to learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. He did, however, have an excellent mind and a natural intellect. He was a quick thinker and had the ability to think through a problem with a positive outcome.
He loved hunting and spent most from his early years roaming the surrounding wilderness securing furs and skins. In 1758 he married Mary Graves (1740-1800) daughter of Joseph (1715-1774) and Sarah (Crank) Graves. She was a great influence on him, trying to steer him in a moral direction. During the early years of his marriage, Benjamin fathered three children. However, only two of them, his sons Absalom and John, were by Mary. A daughter named Jemima was born by another woman. The newlyweds had to settle on Joseph Graves’s plantation because Benjamin’s “habits and pursuits” had prevented his accumulating any property of his own. On the other hand, Benjamin’s father-in-law “had a good living consisting of a tolerably good plantation and plenty of other good property.” During the harvest season, Benjamin invited his neighbors to help on Joseph’s plantation, rewarding them with plenty of liquor and fiddle music. The day’s work usually ended in debauchery.
In 1769, Benjamin moved his family, his father-in-law’s family, and his brother Robert to the newly opened backcountry of North Carolina settling near Mulberry Fields in Wilkes County. He tried his hand at being a farmer, however, he didn’t like it. He moved his family to the northern bank of the Yadkin River and built a new plantation that he called “Round About”. He called it this because the land it was on was a horseshoe-shaped piece of land which was situated in a loop of the Yadkin River that ran “roundabout” his place. He soon focused his attention back to hunting and exploring the wilderness once again collecting pelts and furs. He would then take them to Salem and Salisbury to sell them. He also loved hunting deer at night.
His neighbor was Daniel Boone who was a fellow hunter and horse breaker. He told Benjamin many stories about the Kentucky country and the wonders of the long hunt. In the summer of 1772, along with 4 “long hunters”, he set out to hunt and to explore the Kentucky wilderness. The party was seized and robbed by a band of Cherokees. The Indians took everything, leaving the tattered band to find its way back through miles of wilderness. Cleveland was a fighter and a man of action. Delaying only long enough to regain his strength and to select a party of riflemen, he boldly returned to the Cherokee country, retrieved his horses, and returned in triumph to the Upper Yadkin, his reputation as an Indian fighter solidly established.
Upon returning from the hunt Benjamin began making friends and influencing people through his new vocation of surviving. Although he had in the past was by trade a house carpenter and builder, he discovered that surveyors were in great demand in North Carolina as people moved in and claimed the land. He also served as a tax collector for the part of Surry County that eventually became Wilkes County. Because of his connections with the residents due to his surveying, he was chosen to serve as the areas’ first representative in the legislature in 1778 and then the State Senate in 1779.
Part 2 of this blog will continue next Sunday with Benjamin’s astounding feats, both heroic and disgusting, during the Revolutionary War.
I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.