Sunday’s Salute #41 ~ Eli Coffey ~ Substitute Soldier Revolutionary War

I just wanted to place this disclaimer here: I understand that some of the events that is written about in this blog are disturbing. However, it is a part of history and it should not be covered up because of this. This blog does not glorify the events nor does it condone them. It is just stating the facts of the little known history of the Revolutionary War.

Eli Coffey, my 1st cousin 5 times removed, was born on March 1, 1763, in Blue Run, Orange County, Virginia. He was one of eleven children born to Reverend James Coffey (1729-1786) and Elizabeth Cleveland (1729-1826). He moved with his parents and siblings to Morgan, Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1778. Here is where he began an unusual stint in the Revolutionary War.

In December of 1780, Eli’s maternal Uncle Thomas Fields, was drafted into the regiment of Captain John Barton. Thomas had a large family and a sick wife, and he asked if he could be excused from serving. His request was denied, but he was told if he found a substitute he would be able to stay home. When Eli heard of his Uncle’s dilemma, he volunteered to be a scout in Thomas’ place. The length of service was only for 3 months. By 1779, George Washington had earned the famous moniker “Father of His Country.” However the Iroquois Indians of the time bestowed on Washington another, not-so-flattering title: Conotocarious, or the “Town Destroyer.” This lesser-known title also had its origins in 1779, when General Washington ordered what at the time was the largest-ever campaign against the Indians in North America. After suffering for nearly two years from Iroquois raids on the Colonies’ northern frontier, Washington and Congress decided to strike back.

Butler’s Rangers

On the afternoon of November 11, 1778, Captain Benjamin Warren had led a group of soldiers out of the small fort at Cherry Valley, New York, and straight into a scene from hell. As the Patriot soldiers walked through the once-thriving farming community, they saw nothing but carnage: a man weeping over the mutilated and scalped bodies of his wife and four children; other corpses with their heads crushed by tomahawks and rifle butts; charred human remains in the smoking ruins of cabins and barns. It was, Warren later wrote, “a shocking sight my eyes never beheld before of savage and brutal barbarity.” The savagery had begun early that morning, when a hundreds-strong force of Loyalist militiamen, Seneca Indians and a few British soldiers had appeared out of the fog and rain. The town and its small garrison were taken completely by surprise, and the raiders—led by Tory Captain Walter Butler and Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant—launched into an orgy of death and destruction. The fort managed to hold out, but the town and its people were defenseless. By the time the attackers withdrew, more than 30 civilians—mostly women and children—and 16 soldiers were dead and nearly 200 people left homeless. The assault soon became known as the “Cherry Valley Massacre,” and it would help convince General George Washington to launch a massive, no-holds-barred retaliatory expedition.

Captain John Barton led one of the regiments that retaliated against the British and their Indian allies. Eli’s job was to scout the countryside for the villages where these Indians were living. It is not known if he ever participated in the fighting between the two factions, or if he only pointed the way to the villages. The Indians who stood with the British generally fought alongside American and Canadian Loyalists. The most infamous band of Loyalists to utilize Indian allies was Butler’s Rangers—a partisan regiment formed in 1777 under Lt. Col. John Butler, a Tory from the Mohawk Valley. While focusing their activities on the New York and Pennsylvania settlements, Butler’s irregulars ranged as far out as Virginia and Michigan. They were extremely effective and, at times, brutal. The 1778 Wyoming and Cherry Valley massacres—the bloodiest of many border fights—were largely the work of Butler’s Rangers, together with “Cornplanter”, a Dutch-Seneca war chief and Brant’s Mohawks and Indians from other tribes. Again, it is not known if Eli actually participated in any of these events or if he just scouted out the targets of them.

Eli completed his service and returned home to North Carolina. Within a few months his older brother Ambrose was drafted to go against the Cherokees, but he was severely near-sighted. Once again Eli volunteered to serve, this time for his brother. He enlisted as a horseman. He entered the service in Wilkes County, North Carolina under Lieutenant Isbell of Wilkes. Colonel Miller of Rutherford, Colonel Joseph McDowell and General Charles McDowell of Burke rendezvoused with Isbell at Pleasant Garden, Burke County, North Carolina. They crossed the Mountain at the head of Swannanoa River, and marched forward crossing the French Broad River, the Big and Little Pigeon Rivers, and Tuckaseegee entering an Indian town called Tuckaseegee and they took the town. They then crossed the Tennessee River and headwaters of the Hiwassee River, passing through the various parts of the Cherokee Nation. They burnt down other Indian villages along the way including the Overhill Towns, the Valley towns and the Shoemake Towns and then returned home and the entire regiment was discharged at the expiration of the three months, the term for which he had entered.

Eli married Hannah Allen (1765-1845) in 1790, and they had 3 sons. Eli bought 50 acres of land in Burke County and began farming. They moved to Wayne County, Kentucky, about 1815 where he then purchased 21 acres. In 1828, they once again moved, this time to Mc Minn County, Tennessee, near his older brother Rice’s farm. Eli died on September 5, 1847, at the age of 84.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on 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.

4 thoughts on “Sunday’s Salute #41 ~ Eli Coffey ~ Substitute Soldier Revolutionary War

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s