A Gift for General Washington

Food & Lifestyle

July 16, 2015
by Jeff Dacus Also by this Author


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In a letter to Patrick Henry recounting the events of the Battle of Monmouth, George Washington included information about losses on both sides and the death of a young Virginia officer: “…Capt. Fauntleroy of the 5th was unfortunately killed by a random Cannon Ball.”[1] What was the connection between the commander in chief and the junior officer that merited a brief but personal note?

Washington had an early relationship with the Fauntleroy family. The Fauntleroys’ owned land along the lower Rappahannock River not far from Washington’s birthplace and down river from his child hood home at Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg. Washington as a young man made an unsuccessful attempt at courtship with one of William Fauntleroy’s daughters as evidenced by his plaintive letter to the father:

Sir:                                                                                                      May 20th, 1752

I shou’d have been down long before this but my business in Frederick detain’d me somewhat longer than I expected and immediately upon my return from thence I was taken with a Violent Pleuresie which has reduced me very low but purpose as soon as I recover my strtength on Miss Betcy, in hopes of a revocation of the former, cruel sentence, and see if I can meet with (any alter)ation in my favour. I have inclos’d a letter to her which I shou’d be much obligd to you for the dilivery of it. I have nothing to add but my best respects to your good Lady and Family and that I am Sir Yr most Obediient Hble Servt

G. Washington[2]

The “Betcy” of the letter was Elizabeth Fauntleroy. She was thought by some to be the “lowland beauty” Washington referred to in a youthful musing.[3] She did not change her ambivalent feelings toward the young Virginian and later married Bowler Cocke of Henrico County.

Betcy’s father, William Fauntleroy of Naylor’s Hole, served in the House of Burgesses, was a justice of the peace and member of the local militia. His first wife, Elizabeth, died not long after Betcy’s birth and he married Margeret Murdoch in 1737. They had eleven children. The tenth, born in 1758, was named Henry.

By the time of Henry’s birth, Washington’s life had taken a different path as he spent less time along the Rappahannock and instead took up near residence on his brother Lawrence’s plantation on the Potomac, the plantation he would one day own as Mt. Vernon. He may have continued to have interactions with the Fauntleroys, perhaps in Williamsburg during general court, visiting his mother in Fredericksburg or at his property on Ferry Farm, but Washington’s life increasingly centered on the Potomac area and to the west. The Fauntleroys are mentioned only in passing in Washington’s correspondence and it’s quite possible that Washington never met Henry until the Revolutionary War.

In the fall of 1777, Henry Fauntleroy was a captain in the Continental Army. He was one of many officers sent back to their home states to recruit soldiers for the upcoming campaign the following spring. While in Virginia, he met with his brother in law, Thomas Turner III, who asked Henry to forward a gift to George Washington upon his return to the army. Turner, who lived at Smith’s Mount in King George County, wanted Henry to present a set of matching pistols to the commander in chief.

Henry Fauntleroy arrived in Valley Forge in the spring of 1778 and joined the 5th Virginia Regiment as the commander of the 10th company. His brother Robert served as an ensign in the same regiment. In presenting the recruits from Virginia and mail from home, Henry also gave the pistols to General Washington.

The pistols were a matching pair made by Richard Wilson and John Hawkins of London in 1748. The weapons were fourteen inches long, .67 caliber, with brass barrels and English walnut stocks. Silver ornamentation included images of a lion and unicorn, symbols of Great Britain, and ornate butt plates. A truly beautiful set of pistols.[4] Under a cover page marked “pr favr Capt. Fauntleroy” the accompanying letter explained the gift:

May it please your Excellency,                                                           March 22d 1778

Altho’ I have not the honour of being personally acquainted with your Excellency, nevertheless I am far from being a stranger to your distinguished merit, both in private and publick life; your indefatigable zeal, and unwearied attention to the true Interest of your native Country, since the commencement of these differences, must excite the warmest sense of gratitude in the breast of every American that is not callous to the rights of humanity; That it may please the supreme Disposer of human Events, to crown you with success in this important struggle, & speedily put an end to the distressing Scenes of this unnatural War, is the fervent wish of your, Excellency’s respectful and Obedient h’ble Servt

Thos Turner.

P.S. I have transmitted to your Excellency a pair of pistols &c. &c. your acceptance of which will confer a singular obligation on


Although there is no record of Washington and Fauntleroy’s meeting, Washington was obviously impressed with the gift. He wrote his nephew George Lewis:

Dear George:                                                                           Valley Forge, May 3, 1778

I should be glad if you would let the inclosed go by a safe hand, as it is to thank Mr. Turner for an elegant pair of pistols and furniture which he obligingly made me a present of. I do not know where to direct him, but believe he lives somewhere on Rappahannock, either near Leeds or above it. He is the son of Harry Turner, and I think married the sister of Captain Fauntleroy. I would not have the letter miscarry.[6]

The ‘inclosed’ was a letter of thanks to Turner:

Sir,                                                                                                       April 25th 1778

Altho’ I am not much accustomed to accept presents, I cannot refuse one offered in such polite terms as accompanied the Pistols & furniture you were so obliging as to send me by Captain Fauntleroy. They are very elegant, & deserve my best thanks, which are offered with much sincerity. The favourable Sentiments you are pleased to entertain of me, & the obliging and flattering manner in which they are expressed add to the obligation & I am Sir Yr Most Obedt & Most H: Ser.


Washington had several sets of pistols and it is not known if he carried this set in a particular campaign, but the fate of Captain Fauntleroy is a bit easier to follow.

The Continental Army followed the British as they evacuated Philadelphia in June of 1778. Washington sought an engagement with the British and fought the desired battle at Monmouth Courthouse on June 28. The seesaw of battle during a hot, muggy day drained the life out of the troops and many thirsty soldiers sought water wherever they could find it. During the afternoon, Henry Fauntleroy found himself at a water hole on the Perrine Farm. Soldiers were crowding around, trying to stay in the shade and get a drink of water without being killed in the exchange of gunfire between American artillery on the ridge and the British artillery near the Parsonage Farm.

He was on horseback, at a well near a farmhouse; waiving his turn while the fainting soldiers, consumed by thirst arising from their exertions on the hottest day supposed to have occurred in America, were rushing with frantic cries to the well imploring for water. The captain, with the point of his sword resting on his boot, his arm leaning on the pommel, continued to waive his turn, when a cannon shot, bounding down the lane that led to the farm house, struck the unfortunate officer near the hip and hurled him to the ground a lifeless corpse.[8]

Fauntleroy died on his 22nd birthday and was buried in the cemetery at the Old Tennent Meeting House close by where he fell. The inscription on his tombstone reads in part:

Killed by a Cannonball

At the Battle of Monmouth

After Henry Fauntleroy’s death, the Fauntleroys disappear completely from Washington’s correspondence. The Continental general moved into broader and larger circles, encompassing a Nation, leaving the life of a simple Virginia planter behind. The Fauntleroys, a family he might have been linked to by marital bonds, exits from his life with the death of a brave young officer memorialized by a fine pair of pistols.


[1] David. R. Hoth, ed., The Papers of George Washington; Revolutionary War Series, 16, July-September 1778 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006).

[2] W.W. Abbot, ed. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series 1, 1748-1755 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 49.

[3] Letter to Robin, an entry in Washington’s personal journal written sometime in 1749 or 1750, Ibid, 40-41.

[4] The pistols are believed to be those now on display at the West Point Museum, http://www.usma.edu/museum/SitePages/American%20Wars.aspx accessed March 31, 2015.

[5] George Washington from Thomas Turner, The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 14, March-April 1778 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004), 277-278.

[6] Theodore J. Crackel, ed. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 15, May-June 1778 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006), 25.

[7] Papers of George Washington, 14:639-640.

[8] George Washington Parke Custis. Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington by his adopted son George Washington Parke Custis with A Memoir of the Author by his daughter and Illustrative and Explanatory Notes by Benson Lossing (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1860), 221-222. Although Custis is not always a reliable source, having written many years after events that he seldom witnessed himself, the location of the road, farmhouse and well seem to match a location on the Perrine Farm.

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