Five Walkers of Sandy River

The conflict in the south is often referred to as a civil war, pitting family members against each other. I haven’t really found too many instances of close family against each other; maybe Edward Lacey or James Habersham are good examples. But it is common to find entire families serving together in the district regiments. There are a number of good examples. The Gaston family sent five sons while their cousins, the McClures sent another three or four into the Patriot ranks. Loyalists also tended to run in families, perhaps the most famous in the south being the Cunninghams from the Ninety-Six District. A lesser known family, but just as dedicated and courageous, were the Walker brothers of Sandy River.

After the fall of Charleston in May 1780, almost all the people in the back country gave parole and made peace with the British. However, there were a few men who refused to submit and remained in the field. Perhaps the earliest active resistance to British occupation came from those who joined with John McClure. The Walkers of Sandy River were among these “early risers,” and the family’s experience provides excellent insight into their motivations and activities.

The Walker family sailed from Ireland to South Carolina in December 1764, landing a few days before Christmas. They had a frightening trip in which the “family bible was lost during a severe gale.” They soon moved into the back country and settled in the Chester District “at the fish dam ford on Broad River.”[1] By the time the British made their attempt to occupy the southern states in 1780, there were five Walker brothers available for service in the Patriot cause. Serving together in the Chester volunteer militia, they were all known to have “done good and important service during the Revolutionary Struggles.”[2]

Alexander Walker was about thirty years old in 1775 when he married Eleanor White who was then in her late teens. Although a firm Whig, Alexander stayed at home with his young family during the early years of the war. The couple settled along the Sandy River and had children in 1776, 1777, and 1779. Even though Alexander does not appear to have done much service prior to the British occupation that came after the fall of Charleston, he was a firm Whig and “was forced, by the Tories, to remove his family from his neighborhood” and take them up to Charlotte “where they were protected” from further harm.[3] Alexander appears to have made a wise decision since “those persons who had taken up arms in defense of their Country were called rebels and their homes were plundered indiscriminately by the Tories at every opportunity.”[4]

Once he had the family safely stashed away in North Carolina, Alexander returned to the field and joined his brothers and the other men riding with John McClure. Almost everyone in the back country had given parole or other oaths of loyalty but the Walker brothers remained true to the cause of liberty and defied the British immediately at the Old Fields and Mobley’s Meeting House.

In August 1780, Alexander was slightly wounded at the Battle of Hanging Rock. Perhaps more memorable was the damage to his hat. During an engagement with the enemy, “he received a ball through his hat” which he maintained as a keepsake. His neighbor later said she “saw the said hat with a hole in it, which was said to have been made by a ball from the enemy’s guns.”[5] Another old family friend would tell the story that, “in camps the soldiers had amused themselves with pleating hat bands of hair” and that Alexander had a band that was “quite broad;” when a British “ball struck said Walker’s hat, cut the brim and struck the hat band,” it knocked him down. But not out. Alexander “immediately jumped to his feet saying Robert I am not killed yet.”[6]

In fact, Alexander made it to the end of the war. He died in 1799, and the pension application for his widow indicated “that he was generally in service until the close of the war and understood that the said Alexander Walker was an officer part of the service in Colonel Lacey’s regiment.”[7]

Just to add confusion to two-hundred-year-old records, there was a second Alexander Walker from Fishing Creek. He also rode with the Chester militia and is assumed to be a cousin to the five Walkers spoken of here. This Alexander (whom we’ll call 2nd) had served with Count Pulaski at Savannah. He originally joined in the Snow Campaign of 1775 at the tender age of fourteen years. Athletic and tall beyond his years, Alexander (2nd) was a hardened veteran when he joined McClure’s charge against the British camp at Hanging Rock. After the war, Alexander (2nd) married Esther Gaston and settled close to his new Father in Law (Old John Gaston) along Fishing Creek. The couple only had one child, whom they named John.[8]

Returning to the five Walkers: Even though younger than his brother, John Walker actually began his service several years earlier while Alexander was busy with his new bride. John was a single man who still lived with his father when the war broke out. His first military service came in the summer of 1775 when he was only twenty. At that time, internal politics turned ugly in the back country with hostilities breaking out between the Tories and Whigs. The Chester militia turned out and John Walker volunteered for service under Col. Edward Lacey “for the purpose of subduing the Tories in that part of the country.”[9]

As the war progressed, John turned out for duty each time it called. He pulled ten months of guard duty at the Orangeburg jail where the Tories were held. He also volunteered for the Florida Campaign and to help defend against Indian raids along the frontier. Once the British returned to Georgia in 1779, John remained with the militia near Augusta over a year before coming home just before the fall of Charleston.

Once Charleston fell, Cornwallis sent his main column up the Santee River toward Camden with a plan to establish occupation in Chester and the surrounding districts. Even before the British got organized, parties of Loyalists spread out across the back country to seek a bit of retribution for the previous four years of Whig domination. John Walker found himself with a problem: “The Tories was so bad in the neighborhood that he lived in that he could not stay at home for fear of being killed by them and for that reason he never went home and [chose] rather to stay in camps and fight them as a volunteer soldier than to stay at home and be put to death by them.”[10]

Faced with little choice in the matter, John got with his four brothers and joined with Capt. John McClure who was the first partisan to rise up and actively resist the Loyalists in Chester district. They defeated Huck at Williamson Plantation in early July and found themselves with enough recruits to challenge some of Cornwallis’s outposts in the area. John next fought at Rocky Mount and then a week later at Hanging Rock where the “battle was fought on Sunday in the month of August the Hottest day that I ever felt it lasted over two hours and I thought I should have died for the want of water.”[11]

They lost Captain McClure at Hanging Rock but the regiment continued on under Col. Edward Lacey. While fighting at Blackstock’s Plantation in November, John had a memorable encounter with one of Tarleton’s charging dragoons. “There was a British Dragoon come at half speed close by where myself, a man by the name of Evans and a man by the name of James Wiley was standing in the engagement. Evans and myself up with our guns and shot two holes through him he fell close by our feet. He was not much more than down before Wiley tore his cap from his head and his spurs from his heels and put them on himself.”[12]

Another of the Walker brothers, Robert Walker, was wounded at King’s Mountain. “During the desperate effort made there, by both parties, of advancing and retreating, was shot through the body, near the heart, by one in his view; and, having his gun loaded at the time, he after this took deliberate aim and shot his opponent dead. He survived, and many heard him and his officer, Colonel E. Lacy, relate this fact.”[13]

The last two Walker brothers who fought in the Chester militia were Charles Walker and Adam Walker. They don’t seem to have left much record of their individual service although both joined with John McClure after the fall of Charleston and served in the crucial summer of 1780. The five brothers came to be known collectively as “the five Walkers and were the terror of the Sandy River Tories among whom they lived.”[14]

 

[1] Pension application of John Walker, W9875, transcribed by Will Graves, http://revwarapps.org/w9875.pdf

[2] John Bishop, affidavit attached to pension application of Alexander Walker, W8979, http://revwarapps.org/w8979.pdf

[3] Adam Walker, affidavit attached to pension application of Alexander Walker.

[4] John Bishop, affidavit attached to pension application of Alexander Walker.

[5] Priscilla Terry, affidavit attached to pension application of Alexander Walker.

[6] Abraham McCullough, affidavit attached to pension application of Alexander Walker.

[7] Robert Wilson, affidavit attached to pension application of Alexander Walker.

[8] Elizabeth F. Ellet, Women of the American Revolution, (USA 1850ed), III:172.

[9] Pension application of John Walker, W9875.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Joseph Gaston, “Gaston Narrative, Historical Magazine 91 (August 1873).

[14] Robert Wilson, affidavit attached to pension application of Alexander Walker.

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4 Comments

  • In your opening you mention not having much evidence of close family fighting close relations in the Southern Theater. In those sources have you ever come across anything on the Simpson brothers William & Reuben who may have been on opposite sides of the battle of Ramsour’s Mill? I have found while researching my ancestor Reuben being a Tory is that a Reuben was commissioned to raise a company for the King’s Service. There’s also a story of William being on a scout for the Whig side and hearing the battle begin rode his horse into the ground to get to the battle to legally kill his brother. I have also found Reuben purchasing land in Greene County Tenn. that adjoined General Rutherford’s land, so I’m unsure how strong of a Tory he was if at all.

    • To be honest, I do not know the answer. However, like you, I would not be convinced that he was a Tory just because he may have been on the opposite side of Ramsour’s Mill. That battle took place at a moment in which the Continental Army had been completely removed from the south and British occupation seemed virtually unopposed. The action at that time was about preventing Loyalist militia formation and organization. Many folks were in a flux. In the SC back country there were very few who didn’t lay down arms in June of 1780. As action progressed and resistance established, they gradually returned to the cause over a period of months. Many men whom we recognize as the finest of patriots laid down their arms during the summer of 1780. Andrew Pickens, Leroy Hammond, and most of the 96 district did not return to the cause for several months. I often speak of the early risers, the men of the Presbyterian Uprising, like the Walker brothers. They were a precious few. The Gaston Narrative mentions John McClure’s idea at Alexander’s Old Fields was not to kill the Loyalists lined up for recruitment. He recognized them as good men that he needed for his own recruitment, which turned out to be a successful idea.

      • Thank you for the information. It can be difficult to dig through old family stories, to get to the truth.

  • Your mentioning of the Battle of King’s Mountain, where Robert Walker was wounded, reminded me of an ancestor who fought in the same battle, but on opposing sides of his family’s acquaintance, Major Patrick Ferguson. My ancestor’s name is Samuel Ferguson, he was an immigrant who was born to an Adam Ferguson, an influential Scottish philosopher. Respecting to his academic fame, Adam Ferguson was an acquaintance of Patrick Ferguson’s family, and it was Adam that wrote the biography honoring Patrick Ferguson. I don’t know if Samuel Ferguson had known Major Patrick back in Scotland. They weren’t family, but they may have been distant relatives. I know of only one instance on my family tree where brothers took up arms for opposing sides, but it was in Massachusetts.

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