Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hung as a Tory-Colonel Ambrose Mills 1722-1780 #52Ancestors #26

Kings Mountain Death of Ferguson
Ambrose Mills was born in Derbyshire England. He was the son of William Mills and Mary "Marty" Walton. Tradition says that he came as a baby with his family to Maryland. He became a farmer in Virginia where he lived on the banks of the James River.

Ambrose married Mourning Stone about 1745 in Augusta, Virginia. They had several children, one of which was William. The family moved to the area of Wateree, South Carolina at some point. At the time this was wild frontier land.

Mourning and all their children except William were killed at Pine Tree Hill, Camden, South Carolina by Cherokee Indians during the Indian war of 1755-61. William was with his father at the time.

Ambrose married Anne Brown and they had six children who were mentioned in his estate: "Thomas Mills, John Mills, Ambrose Mills, Milly Mills, Polly Twitty, Pamilea Mills, Anna Mills the youngest." About 1765 they settled on the Green River in North Carolina. Ambrose was issued a land grant of 600 acres filed December 16, 1766 in Craven County.

From findagrave.com:
"In 1770, he bought a tract of land containing 640 acres in Old Tryon County from Thomas Reynolds for 100 pounds on both sides of Green River, including the mouth of Walnut Creek. Reynolds had bought the property in 1760 and there was a cabin on it called Powell's cabin.
He established a trading post and a sawmill by a spring. It is said the basin was hewn from solid rock. (Jackson tradition is that it was either Gabriel Sr. or David Sr. who carved the basin for Mills). It was called Mills Spring."

Ambrose was a loyalist, as was his son William. Military actions included actions against the Cherokee Indians in 1776, in ignorance (or defiance) of the alliance between the Cherokees and the British.

From THE JOURNAL OF ALEXANDER CHESNEY:
"In 1778, Ambrose Mills and Colonel David Fanning raised a corps of 500 loyalists for the purpose of joining the royal standard at St. Augustine in East Florida, but this scheme was frustrated by the treachery of a traitor in the camp betraying their plans to the enemy. Colonel Mills and sixteen others were apprehended and taken to Salisbury jail.
One of the first engagements of Colonel Ambrose Mills after his liberation was the action at Baylis Earle's ford on the North Pacolet river, North Carolina, when he surprised and attacked the American camp of Colonel Charles McDowell on the night of 15 July, 1780.
Ambrose Mills  commanded the North Carolina loyal militia in the memorable battle of King's Mountain and was taken prisoner. The subsequent severity of his treatment as a prisoner and his execution has been the subject of hostile criticism. Lord Cornwallis in his protest against his execution describes him as "always a fair and open enemy," a verdict which was endorsed by his opponents. (Correspondence of Lord Cornwallis, Vol. I, p. 67).
The memorable battle of King's Mountain was fought October 7, 1780, between the Americans under the command of Colonels Campbell, Shelby, Cleveland, Sevier, and Williams, and the loyalists commanded by Major Patrick Ferguson, composed of detachments from the King's American regiment, the Queen's Rangers, the New Jersey Volunteers, and South Carolina loyal militia, and :was one of the most desperately fought battles in the Southern Colonies.
...the combatants on both sides fought with unsurpassed courage and determination. The exploit of the Americans deserves all the praise bestowed upon it as one of the finest examples of the application of Washington's disregarded advice to Braddock to seek cover behind trees, and of the splendid marksmanship of the Americans.
...the battle of King's Mountain may be regarded as the turn of the tide in the South, leading to the heartening and the re-organization of the American forces in South Carolina for the final triumph in the war of Independence."

From This Day in History:
"Major Ferguson's Tory force, made up mostly of American Loyalists from South Carolina and elsewhere, was the western wing of General Lord Cornwallis' North Carolina invasion force. One thousand American frontiersmen under Colonel Campbell of Virginia gathered in the backcountry to resist Ferguson's advance. Pursued by the Patriots, Ferguson positioned his Tory force in defense of a rocky, treeless ridge named King's Mountain. The Patriots charged the hillside multiple times, demonstrating lethal marksmanship against the surrounded Loyalists.

Unwilling to surrender to a "band of banditti," Ferguson led a suicidal charge down the mountain and was cut down in a hail of bullets. After his death, some of his men tried to surrender, but they were slaughtered in cold blood by the frontiersmen, who were bitter over British excesses in the Carolinas. The Tories suffered 157 killed, 163 wounded, and 698 captured. Colonel Campbell's force suffered just 28 killed and 60 wounded."

The battle of King's Mountain was a decisive victory for the Patriots. The Loyalists were used to fighting in a line, while the Patriots had learned the best way to fight was to use trees for cover and they were able to shoot as they came up the mountain. The Loyalists had camped at the top of the mountain thinking they could easily defend it..

There are some good youtube videos on the subject. A good one that was shown on A&E can be found with part 1 here and part 2 here.

From King's Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain:
"Under the law as cited by Colonel Shelby, while the tribunal was, no doubt, practically, a court-martial, it was nominally, at least, a civil court, with two presiding justices. There was no difficulty on this point, for most of the North Carolina officers were magistrates at home — Colonel Cleveland, and four or five others, of the Wilkes regiment alone filling that position. The jury was composed of twelve officers — Lieutenant Allaire, in his Diary, denouncing it as " an infamous mock jury." " Under this law," says Shelby, "thirty-six men were tried, and found guilty of breaking open houses, killing the men, turning the women and children out of doors, and burning the houses. The trial was concluded late at night; and the execution of the
law was as summary as the trial."

How much of the evidence, hurriedly adduced, was one-sided and prejudiced, it is not possible at this late day to determine. Colonel Ambrose Mills, the principal person of those condemned, was a man of fair reputation, and must have been regarded chiefly in the light of being a proper and prominent character upon whom to exercise retaliatory measures ; and yet it was necessary to make some specific charge against him — the only one coming down to us, is that related by Silas McBee, one of the King's Mountain men under Colonel Williams, that Mills had, on some former occasion, instigated the Cherokees to desolate the frontier of South Carolina, which was very likely without foundation.
Photo by Holt Felmet, used by permission


Early in the evening, the trials having been brought to a conclusion, a suitable oak was selected, upon a projecting limb of which the executions were to take place. It was by the road side, near the camp, and is yet standing, known in all that region as the Gallows Oak. Torch-lights were procured, the condemned brought out, around whom the troops formed four deep. It was a singular and interesting night scene, the dark old woods illuminated with the wild glare of hundreds of pine-knot torches ; and quite a number of the Loyalist leaders of the Carolinas about to be launched into eternity. The names of the condemned Tories were —
Colonel Ambrose Mills, Captain James Chitwood, Captain Wilson, Captain Walter Gilkey, Captain Grimes, Lieutenant LafFerty, John McFall, John Bibby, and Augustine Hobbs. They were swung off three at a time, and left suspended at the place of execution. According to Lieutenant Allaire's account, they died like soldiers — like martyrs, in their own and friends' estimation. " These brave but unfortunate Loyalists," says Allaire, " with their latest breath expressed their unutterable detestation of the Rebels, and of their base and infamous proceedings ; and, as they were being turned off, extolled their King and the British Government. Mills, Wilson and Chitwood died like Romans."

Legend says that Martha Biggerstaff and a slave buried the nine excecuted men in a common grave on Biggerstaff's farm near Gilbert Town, Rutherford County, NC.

Ambrose's son William also fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain. Lucky for him (and me), he was left for dead. From King's Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain:
"... William Mills, was born on James River, Virginia, November tenth, 1746. He was very popular, and served in 1776 against the Indians. He acted as Major under his father at King's Mountain, where he was badly wounded, and left for dead ; and was subsequently saved from being executed by the interference of leading Whigs who knew his worth and goodness. In after years, he settled in the mountain region of the south-western portion of North Carolina on Clear Creek, in now Cleveland County. Mills' River and Mills' Gap, in that section, were named afler him. He married early in life Eleanor Morris, by whom he had two sons and five daughters. He was a handsome, noble, generous man. He died, in consequence of a fall from his horse on his birthday, November tenth, 1834, at the age of eighty--eight years. He had lived a happy married life of sixty-nine years — his venerable companion surviving him."

I have seen a lot of references to Tory lands being seized by the Patriots. Apparently this didn't happen to Ambrose's land. Ambrose's estate is found in Rutherford Co, NC Wills & Miscellaneous Records 1783 – 1868
P 76.  15 Apr 1797.  Proved April Term 1797.  Whereas Ambrose Mills, decd died intestate in the year 17?? Leaving a widow Anna Mills and seven children to wit:  William Mills, Thomas Mills, John Mills, Ambrose Mills, Milly Mills, Polly Twitty, Pamilea Mills, Anna Mills the youngest.  Col James Miller in the year 1782 administered on the estate.  The said Anna Mills, the widow, intermarriaged with John Carrick in Feb 1790.  Such proceeding have been had and such management with the estate as appeared in the copy annexed and certified.  Richard Lewis Esq & William Mills has been appointed guardian of Ambrose, Milly & Anna Mills, one petition is to require bond and security for the estate and action of debts, in part of the second sale of a negro, a wagon, a note on McCaffenty, horses, cattle.  Bond to be on Admnr James Miller, John Carrick & Anna his wife.  This indenture witnesses that William Mills & John Carrick have agreed to settle their suit in law, and other disputes about the estate of the decd.  The widow to have her dower in the old home place, William Mills to pay court cost, attorney fees.  John Carrick shall not claim any more of the personal estate of the decd than he had or left at the old home place when he went to Cumberland.  Wit:  Waightsill Avery, John McKinney, John Goodbread.  Signed:  William Mills & John Carrick

Legend says that Martha Biggerstaff and a slave cut down the bodies and buried the nine executed men in a common grave. Martha's husband, Captain Aaron Biggerstaff , a Tory, was mortally wounded in the battle.