Randolph Lawson, Veteran of the American Revolution and Southern Appalachian Farmer

Like many early Americans, the story of Randolph Lawson’s full life is very unclear for the historian of today. It is not known precisely when and where he was born, precisely who his parents were, and precisely who his children were. Although he was a veteran of the American War for Independence, fighting in the southern colonies against the British, his precise actions during the war are lost to time.

Randolph Lawson was born, perhaps, in November 1752 in Cumberland, North Carolina. Other sources put his birth in 1757 or as late as 1765. But in a court appearance in 1835 he told the court he was 82, having been “born in Cumberland Co, NC in the fall or winter of 1752.” His father, perhaps, was Bartholomew Lawson and his mother was Susannah Simpkins. Bartholomew Lawson possibly died in Cumberland County, North Carolina, in 1765 or in Lundenberg Virginia in August, 1782.

Randolph’s siblings included his older sister Elizabeth, who married George Rogers, a younger sister Susan, who was born in 1755 and married Moses Carrick (1750-June 17, 1826); Moses Carrick lived in Pennsylvania during the War for Independence; he was a corporal in the continental army; he moved to Kentucky and died in Tennessee.

Another of Randolph’s siblings was John, who was two years older than him. John was born in 1750 in Cumberland County, North Carolina and died January 4, 1838, at Morgan County Tennessee. John was a Revolutionary War veteran like Randolph. Randolph was present at his older brother John’s wedding to their cousin Anna Lawson in January 1775. They were married in Stokes County, in north central North Carolina, at the home of John Heart by a minister named Newman.

Other siblings included veteran of the Revolutionary War Morman I., born 1751. Morman also served in the War of 1812 as a corporal. Another brother, William, was a Second Lieutenant in the Virginia Continental troops during the Revolutionary War. Elisha, another brother, was born about 1753; he died in 1834. Brother Jacob was born in 1761, and died in 1832 in Hawkins Co, Tennessee. Brother Peter Lawson was born in 1758 and died in 1834.

When the War for Independence broke out, many of the Lawsons participated on the Patriot side. Randolph served in 1780 and 1781 in battles in North Carolina and South Carolina. In court testimony fifty-five years later, Randolph recalled that he enlisted as a militia soldier in July 1780 under a Captain Coke (or Cox) under the command of a Colonel Knowles. “They then marched toward Camden,” he remembered, “near which place they met Gen. [Horatio] Gates by whom they were then commanded and soon after were engaged with Lord Rawdon in the Battle of Camden, sometime in Aug 1780. This applicant was not actually engaged in the battle being detached as a guard of the baggage in which the Americans scattered and appeared by the conduct of the Militia.” The battle was a horrible loss for the patriots. The record continues: “They did not get together to effect any thing again during this term of 3 months. He did not receive any discharge from this tour of 3 months and there was nothing more of any interest or possible during this tour of service. He again entered service as a volunteer for a tour of six months sometime in Jan. or Feb. 1780 under Capt. Duck. He thinks under the same Col. [Knowles]. He does not recollect where they rendezvou[s]ed but when organized, they marched on toward Guilford Court House where they Met Gen. [Nathaniel] Green, who commanded them and where they had an engagement with Lord Cornwallis and were again defeated. This applicant was not again actually engaged being young was again on detached duty as a guard of the baggage. After the battle, General Green marched on toward Camden, where he attacked Lord Rawdon, sometime in April, but this applicant under the command of this same field officers and he thinks commanded by General [Charles Henry] Lee was sent on a different expedit[i]on, in which, however, he had no engagement, that he recollects, nor does he recollect for anything further being done or transpiring of interest during this term of six months. He was discharged however, 2 weeks before the expiration of this tour of six months, having served 5 months and 2 weeks, making in all eight months and 2 weeks. He received a written discharge from this last tour of six months.”

As an old man living in Tennessee and Kentucky, Randolph was attempting to secure a pension for his revolutionary war service, which required proof that he has served six months. In another court record from May 1842, Lawson, “a resident citizen now of Clinton Co., KY, age 90, said that he volunteered under Capt. Gholston, as he yet believes his name to be, he thinks it was in June 1780, for 3 months under Capt. Gholston, or Gordin, is not positive as to the name, but knows the Capt. under which applicant’s father served one tour in the same war, was Gordin but his captain ‘s name was Gholston. He then lived in Cumberland Co., NC and was attached to army command by Gen. Gates.”

His memory being clearly problematic, he was assisted by various old comrades who appeared on his behalf. One, John Parley, “a resident citizen of Wayne Co., KY; states that he was personally acquainted with the soldier in the state of NC and knows that he was a private soldier in the Revolutionary War at the time of the Gates defeat but was not retained in service at that time, the length of the time for which he was engaged, afterwards, he was a volunteer private in the other tours one of which was under Capt. Gholston, attached to Gen. Green’s army, for 3 months and in scouting a company for about 3 months.”

It appears based on these records that Randolph served as a soldier protecting the baggage and as a scout. Why one record indicates that he protected the baggage due to his young age doesn’t make sense, as he would have been 28-29 years old at the time.

Another old comrade appeared on his behalf: the “Affidavit of Thomas Phillips, resident of Campbell Co., TN, who states that he and the soldier were both residents of Cumberland Co., NC and well recollects that in the year 1780, and knows that he now lives in the south edge of KY and volunteered under Capt. Cox, and was in the Revolution and hence it was sometime before Gates’s defeat and that shortly after the defeat he returned home and knows that in the later part of the season of the fore part of 1781, he again went into service under Capt. Gholston in Col. Alston’s regiment and was . . .  army and was back at Camden or scouting expeditions for sometime and then returned home to Cumberland Co., NC – affiant being now age 75 and not far from the age of Applicant. Affiant has been acquainted with the Lawson family for many years, from his first recollection, having married an own cousin to the applicant for pension, Randolph Lawson. Signed – Thomas Phillip.”

Another affidavit by Willis Cole “states, he was personally acquainted with Randolph Lawson, who is now of KY when the said Lawson resided in NC and knows he was in the Revolutionary War, sometime under Gen. Gates. Then in 1781, served under Capt. Golston, attached to Gen. Green’s army and was engaged for 3 months in actual service of his affiant’s certain knowledge. Although he did not belong to said company and again in the Summer of 1781, was again in service. Afterwards believes he served 3 different campaigns, the 2 last was under Gen. Green and affiant believes and has no doubt that in the 2 campaigns that Randolph Lawson served full six months in the Revolutionary War, called out by the Capt. Authority that an emboided corp and in his acquaintance with Lawson after the war, he frequently heard Lawson state that he served 3 tours of 3 months each, but has not seen him for many years, until lately. This affidavit was made in Fentress Co., TN.”

The testimony was deemed inconclusive, and Randolph never received a pension.

Randolph married Susannah Cross on 13 June 1791 in Patrick County, Virginia. Randolph and Susannah were reputedly the first couple to be married in Patrick County, a newly formed county in mountainous southern Virginia.

The marriage contract reads:

“Know all men by these presents that we Randolph Lawson and Jacob Lawson of Patrick County are held and firmly bound unto the Govourner of the state of Virginia and his Successors for the time being in the sum of Fifty Pounds to which payment well owed Truly to be made we do bind ourselves our . . . firmly by these sealed with our seals and dated this 13th day of June 1791.”

“Whereas this is a marriage depending & by Gods permission . . . intended between the above bound Randolph Lawson & Susanah Cross. The bond action of the above Obligation is such that of these is no lawful cause to Obstruct the said Marriage. Thus the above Obligation to be read else to remain in full force . . . . Signed sealed and delivered in the Presents of Sam Shaples. Randolph Lawson his mark. Jacob Lawson his mark.”

The bondsman was Jacob Lawson, Randolph’s brother. The bond was an early American institution by which the man declared his intent to marry and was so serious that if any objection came forward before the nuptials he would forfeit the bond money.

Over the course of their marriage Randolph and Susannah had eleven sons and thirteen daughters. One of those sons (probably) was Maxwell Lawson, a farmer of Tennessee and Arkansas.

The young couple after their marriage moved to Montgomery County, Virginia, living there until 1797. Here they had their first child, Elizabeth “Millie”, born June 10, 1786. She would marry Joseph Phillips and would die in Scott County, Tennessee in 1838. Their second child, Lakey Kattie, was born in 1792; she married Thomas Chambers and died in 1838 in Scott, Tennessee. Lakey’s twin sister Lucretia “Lucy” married Blackburn Thompson and moved to Wesley Arkansas along with some of her siblings. Other children: Elisha was born in 1793 and died in 1870; Sophia was born in 1794 and died in 1880; Mary Louis was born in 1797 and died in 1870. Randolph and Susannah relocated to Hawkins County, in eastern Tennessee. They bought one hundred acres in the Puncheon Camp Valley, on Clinch River. Puncheon Camp is in northeast Tennessee about forty miles south of the Cumberland Gap. This was near Hawkins and Campbell counties, Tennessee. Here, daughter Maggie was born in 1800. She would die young in 1812 in Campbell County. Also at Puncheon Camp their son Maxwell was born, on May 5, 1802. Possibly Maxwell had a twin brother, Randolph, who died in 1870. Here also, Randolph, Sr, became embroiled in some sort of religious conflict at the Big Springs Baptist Church. The church records for October 2, 1802 state: “The report from Rob Camp and thought not proper that Randolph Lawson’s name should be made record til he cleared himself of a charge against him.” What were these charges? Often people who broke one of the commandments had to face their accusers. Sometimes the drunk and disorderly did as well. However, the church records for December 2, 1802 state: “Released Randolph Lawson from the charges lodged against him.”

Two weeks later, on December 18, 1802, Randolph received a grant of 500 acres from the State of North Carolina. The record reads: “Know that we have granted unto Randolph Lawson Five hundred Acres of land in our Eastern District on Poor Valley and waters of Holston River.” North Carolina granted land in the claimed territory of what is today eastern Tennessee to veterans at the end of the war in the 1780s. Whether this was the case respecting the land grant to Randolph Lawson almost twenty years later is unknown. This land was located in the Eastern District of Poor Valley Creek on the Holston River in Hawkins County, TN.

It was around this time, according to Randolph’s 1838 court testimony, while living in Hawkins County, that “his house was burned and all papers destroyed.”

This tragic event must have precipitated the move to Campbell County, perhaps in 1803. The family stayed in Campbell County for twenty years. Here, their son Thomas Andrew was born in 1803. He lived in Campbell County but eventually moved to Erath County Texas, where he died in Feb. 1891. He was married to Nancy Jeffers. Also in Campbell County their daughter Clary (Clarissa) was born in 1812. She married William Jeffries, and died in 1897 in Barry County, Missouri. Son Madison Addison was born in 1814 and would die in 1870. Their last child Milton was born in 1820.

A Tennessee land record still exists that indicates that Randolph’s brother William granted him one acre of land in 1811:

“The State of Tennessee To all to whom these presents shall come greetings that in of an entry made in the office of the surveyor of the fourth district of number 758 dated the 15th day of November, 1810 founded on a certificate of number 28 issued by the register of East Tennessee to Micajah Cross for four hundred acres of land dated the fifth day of January, 1810 fifty acres of which are assigned by Cross to William Lawson and one acre by William Lawson to Randolph Lawson. There is granted by the said state of Tennessee unto the said Randolph Lawson and his heirs a certain tract a parcel of land containing one acre lying in the county of Anderson in the district of Hamilton on Paint Creek waters of the New River beginning at a hickory and buck on the south side of the buck thence north forty four east sixteen poles to a white oak north forty six west poles to a dogwood south forty four west sixteen poles to a spruce pine then south forty six east ten poles to the beginning of survey September 16th, 1811 with the and appurtenances to have and to hold the said tract or parcel of land with its appurtenances to the said Randolph Lawson and his heirs forever. In witness whereof Willie Blount, Governor of the State of Tennessee hath here unto set his hand and caused the oath of the said state to be affixed at Nashville in the day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirteen.”

Another Tennessee land record reads:

“State of Tennessee Campbell County Scale 100 poles [16.5 feet] to the inch By virtue of an entry no. 189 dated the 12th day of Aug, 1824, I have surveyed for Randolph Lawson twelve acres land including a part of his improvement where he now lives on Paint Rock Creek in said county beginning on a weeping willow tree standing yard and running thence north 180 east 40 poles to a stake in his old line in his field north 54° east 6 poles to a maple and sweet gum South 46° east 41 poles to a stake South 18° west 47 poles to a stake thence North 46~ west 46 poles to the beginning as represented by the plat-surveyed 30th August, 1824.”

And another:

“I do certify that by virtue of an entry made in the entry taker office of Campbell county, Tennessee No,301 dated January 27, 1826 I have surveyed for Randolph Lawson twenty five acres of land in said county on the waters of Paint Rock Creek beginning at a white oak near the top of a ridge running east 64 poles to a chestnut thence north 64 poles to a stake and beginning as represented in the annex plat surveyed the 4th day of September, 1805. Henry Thompson-scc Mark Richardson __ Robert Jeffers-scc Surveyor cc 25 acres-scale 80 poles inch.”

The land purchased on Paint Rock Creek is in the vicinity of the modern town of Huntsville, Tennessee.

In the 1830 federal census for Campbell County, Randolph’s family was listed as: one free white male, age 15-19, one free white male, age 60-69, one free white female, age 10-14, one free white female, age 15-19, one free white female, age 40-49. He lived next door to his son Thomas Lawson, who had six people living in his family. This census was in error, as Randolph was 78 in 1830 and Susannah was 65. The young male was perhaps Milton. The teenage female was perhaps Clarissa. The young teenage female, perhaps a relative.

Two doors down was Robert Lawson, two people living there, and next door to Robert was Blackburn and Lucretia Lawson Thompson, with ten people in their family. Down the way was Samuel Lawson, two people in his family. Thirty lots away was Maxwell and Anna Lawson, with seven people in their family. There was also son Elisha Lawson nearby.

In the 1840 federal census, Clinton Kentucky, the Randolph and Susanna Lawson household had one free white male, 20-29, one free white male 80-89, two free white females, 5-9, one free white female, 30-39, and one free white female, 60-69. Their next-door neighbor was son Elisha with a family of seven. The census taker made an error in Susannah’s age; she was 75. The young male was perhaps Milton. The two young females were perhaps grandchildren.

In his 1838 court testimony Randolph claimed that he left Campbell County, Tennessee, “in the fall of 1832. Two men had been talking to him about securing a pension, but having sold out and was preparing the move to Illinois, with his children he knew anything of the matter and had no chance to stay and attend to the business, he decided to move on have his business attended to where he settled. Accordingly, moved to Johnson Co., IL, and there became sickly and having no old acquaintance nor no chance of proving service and after having lived there sometime and concluded to move back and accordingly started back, but on his way concluded to settled in Clinton Co., KY, immediately on the Fentress Co. line in TN, about 60 miles from Campbell on the settlement where he started from and from his extreme old age and bodily infirmity is unable to attend court or attend to business from home and having no acquaintance in Fentress Co., it is most convenient to have his business transacted in Fentress Co., TN.”

Randolph died March 1848 in Albany, Clinton, Kentucky, near the border of Tennessee, where he was buried. Susanna had preceded him in death by four years, in 1844.

Tennessee land sale to Randolph Lawson, 1832

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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