Over the last 3 weeks, we have taken a close look at Benjamin Cleveland’s life. All of it, including the good, the bad, and the very ugly. He was honored as a hero in the Revolutionary War, and he was also convicted as a murderer in the same war. He was called the Terror of the Tories and a man with no morals, but he was also called a kindhearted, fair, Patriotic, and loving man. He was a man of many contradictions.
This week we will pick up where we left off, life after the war. After the war, Benjamin returned to his beloved Round About, but he was able to remain there for only four years before he lost his plantation to a “better title.” At that time in North Carolina history, land speculation and claim jumping were rampant in the Yadkin Valley. Anyone who had been away fighting in the war for any length of time could expect to be victimized. Even Benjamin’s good friend, Daniel Boone, encountered these problems.
Benjamin directed his ambitions toward the beautiful land he had seen in the Tugaloo River Valley in South Carolina. In 1785 when he was granted 1050 acres on the Franklin County, GA, side so he began selling off his remaining Wilkes County property. Sometime between 1786 and 1787 he moved his family to their new home in the fork of the Tugaloo River and Chauga Creek in the Pendleton District.
He added to his new farm by buying land from other Revolutionary grantees. Between 1779 and 1793 he acquired, through grants and purchases, nearly seven thousand acres of land on both sides of the Tugaloo River. Some of this land he kept as part of his “estate,” and some he sold. One record, for example, shows him selling 650 acres on Mill Creek of the Chauga River to a blacksmith named Littleberry Toney (November 29, 1790). All the land retained in his estate was eventually passed on to his son Absalom. Over the years this large estate has been bought in small portions by local residents and newcomers to the area.
Benjamin soon became involved in the affairs of his new state and served for many years as a judge of the court of Old Pendleton District along with General Andrew Pickens and Colonel Robert Anderson. As a judge, he continued the philosophy he had perpetuated in warfare. Lacking the formal training of a lawyer, he relied on his own keen sense of right and wrong when issuing a legal decision. In truth, he had tremendous contempt for the technicalities of law and all the resulting delays. When lawyers expounded their legalese before his bench, he often fell asleep, sometimes lapsing into snores that interfered with the litigation until one of his associates could nudge him awake. Consequently, all the long, prosy legal speeches had little effect on the judgments he rendered. Both on the field of battle and in the court of law, he was considered a fast man with a rope as he administered justice promptly and fairly. Any unfortunate horse thief brought before Benjamin received the same treatment as the Tories had, usually hanging.
Several years before his death in 1806, Benjamin became so large in size that he could not mount his favorite saddle horse. Estimates placed his peak weight somewhere between 450 and 500 pounds. His arms could not meet across his body, and he became an object of curiosity to strangers. In his final years, he was able to wear only loose-fitting gowns made of light fabric in the summer and heavier material in winter. He was confined to a special chair that was built especially for him and mounted on rollers. By day he sat in it to direct the operation of his farm; by night he slept in it, for his bulk hindered his breathing whenever he laid down. Benjamin’s special chair became his death chair, too, when he died in it at his breakfast table in October of 1806. He was sixty-nine years old. His wife, Mary, had predeceased him by ten years, and his younger son John had also died a few years before. He was buried in the family cemetery on the grounds of his plantation.
The story of his life would not be complete without the story of his illegitimate daughter. “When young, back in Virginia, Benjamin Cleveland, though married, had an illegitimate daughter [Jemima]. She married a man named Evan Edwards and they moved ‘to the west’ and had several children. They were very poor. Benjamin had a friend who knew where his daughter was living to ask her to come to him and he would help her. After she received the verbal invitation she came from Powell Valley to Tugaloo, where he was then living. The Indians had killed her husband, and she was in dire circumstances. When he discovered that his daughter has indeed come to see him and was nearby, Benjamin wept. When he told his family about his daughter they surprised him when they said they would receive the daughter as one of their own, which they did. She then settled near the Cleveland home. She was quite a remarkable, and respected woman. She then remarried and she did very well for herself.”
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