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Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

The Story of David Motley Ellington,
An American Patriot

Part I

          David Motley Ellington was born the 15th day of January 1759 in Amelia County, Virginia, one of eleven children of Jeremiah Ellington and his wife, Frances Jones Ellington who was affectionately called “Fanny.” In 1759, the colonists of Virginia were establishing the foundation of their burgeoning country. Virginia was the home to indigenous tribes of Native Americans whose migration to the continent preceded the European migration by hundreds if not thousands of years. The time of migration was so ancient, most Indian oral traditions cited an origination of their people by spiritual creation in the very land they hunted and fished. (DNA testing now proves all Indians of both North and South America are genetically matched to the Siberian tribes who moved into Beringia some 23,000 years ago, after mingling their blood with a group of Australo-Melanese peoples in the ancient mists of time.)

         These natives first accepted the European arrivals and taught them to survive in the new land by the farming of corn, beans, and squash and introduced them to the methods of hunting and fishing that proved most successful. But as the European’s numbers increased and more and more of the Indians’ hunting, fishing, and farming lands were taken over by their thriving tobacco plantations and newly introduced African slaves, territorial issues occurred. Though attempts were made to ameliorate these differences, it soon became clear that the core societal differences of the opposing claimants to the land would prevent any long-lasting peaceful cohabitation. Soon those differences erupted into attempts by the Indian tribes to force the Europeans to leave their lands. These skirmishes provided the men of the colonies with valuable training in methods and tools of combat, knowledge that would serve them well in the years to come. The Virginian colonists thrived in their new land in spite of these attacks, producing more goods than they could consume. Their trade with England provided the old country with the newly harvested tobacco, a commodity that was highly desired – and highly taxed.

         By 1763, the English crown was severely in debt after the French and Indian War and more demands were made upon the colonists to pay ever-increasing taxes on their own goods and to comply with more and more attempts to control and direct the internal affairs of the new colonies. These frictions would eventually lead to the Revolutionary War.

         In 1778, in the county of Amelia in the colony of Virginia, David Motley Ellington enlisted to fight the British in the colonies’ fight to gain independence. He chose to leave his father’s plantation and take up arms for the cause which stirred his desires to live free from the restrictions and rules set down by a distant ruling hand. His decision would lead him to engage in some of the most definitive battles of the Revolution and view, firsthand, the culmination of all the colonists’ struggles to achieve independence.

         Our glimpse into the wartime experiences of David Motley Ellington is gained from a review of the extensive Pension Application package on file in the archives of our nation. It was not until 7 June 1832 that Congress passed an Act that permitted those who gained our independence to seek remuneration for their unpaid services. By that time, most of the patriots were already dead or so aged they required assistance to make application. Such was the case for our David, who had been “afflicted with a long spell of sickness, which has almost deprived him of recollection” as attested to by one of the many who attempted to support his appeal for benefits. Yet, David made application for his pension on 17 March 1834 in the county of Crittenden, Kentucky. Your author has reviewed the package and transcribed the text of the original application (extractons from which appear below this narrative.) From the text of the original application and the attestations appended to his various appeals, a picture of his participation in the Revolutionary War has been gained. For, whether or not the government clerks took the time to review records and justify payment to the many applicants for the monies, it is clear that David Ellington’s claims are supported by those who knew him and the parties involved with him before, during, and after the War.

         My narrative, therefore, shall include phrases directly from great grandfather Ellington’s application with details concerning the battles that have been shared by historians through the centuries since.

States that he Enlisted in the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated, to wit, Enlisted under Captain Pain in the County of Amelia in the State of Virginia, in the year of 1778, and marched under said Captain Pain to the State of Pennsylvania and joined the Fourth Regiment then commanded by Col. Howard,

         Almost immediately after enlisting, Ellington’s Virginia militia was marched to the nearby state of Pennsylvania. The Continental Army was in a state of almost constant disruption due to loss of troops from enemy fire, abandonment of posts, and health issues arising from the severe winter, inadequate nourishment, poor water sources, and exhaustion. Shortly after becoming a part of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment, that regiment was disbanded and the surviving troops folded into a different command. On 3 December 1780, Daniel Morgan returned from retirement and accepted command as Brigadier General in the Southern Campaign. He met with Gen. Nathaniel Greene at Charlotte, North Carolina to establish strategic plans. It was determined that Greene would split his troops into three groups, giving Morgan command of those who would forage for food and supplies for the main body of troops and enemy harassment in the backwoods of South Carolina. Due to the small size of his command, the tactic would be harassment but avoidance of major skirmishes. Ellington was among the sharpshooters from Virginia who would follow Morgan’s command. (It should be noted that there is no record of the “Capt. Pain” referenced in the original application. About this time, in Virginia and the other colonies, a little pamphlet titled Common Sense was being circulated. This was a powerful and well-written document written by Thomas Paine, newly arrived in America in 1774. The name of Thomas Paine was then and is now closely associated with the causes of the colonists that sparked the Revolutionary War. Many enlistees were inspired to do so after either reading the pamphlet or hearing one of the impassioned speeches quoting from it. Perhaps this is why the name of “Capt. Pain” arose in the Pension Application of David Motley Ellington.)

         The 4th Regiment commanded by “Col. Howard” must refer to the 4th Regiment, Maryland, commanded by Col. John Eager Howard, which was present in Pennsylvania at this time. This is another group that fluctuated in size and nomination depending upon the vagaries of war. Ellington’s company would be absorbed by those following Daniel Morgan.

States … that he enlisted under the said Captain Paine for and during the war, and after he was attached to the said fourth Regiment in the State of Pennsylvania he was marched to the State of South Carolina under the command of General Morgain (sic)

         As Gen. Morgan continued the campaign of harassment of enemy troops, Ellington engaged the enemy on December 30, 1780, at Hammond’s Store in Abbeville County, North Carolina. On the following day, Tories and Brits were engaged at Williams’ Plantation in Newberry County. On 3 January 1781, the traitor Benedict Arnold attempted to land the troops aboard his ship at Hood’s Point on the James River in Virginia. This engagement may have been one that helped British General Cornwallis to identify Morgan’s location.

States … to the Cowpens where he had a severe Battle with the Brittish and Tories in which Battle we had a victory;

         Cornwallis had been made aware of Greene splitting his troops into three groups and decided to match the strategy by similarly separating his units. He set Colonel Banastre Tarleton to track down Morgan with the intent of annihilating his diminished unit. When Morgan learned Tarleton was trailing him, he chose to depart from the agreed strategy and, after conferring with his officers who had engaged Tarleton before, determined to directly confront him. Morgan chose his location carefully and mapped out a unique and creative battle tactic which has been described by one military historian as “the only new and creative battle strategy employed by either army.”

Illustration: A famous painting, depicting the convergence of Colonel Washington's cavalry, the Virginia sharpshooters under General Morgan, and the "fleeing" Continental troops, surrounding and soundly defeating the British army under Colonel Tarleton.

         From the website:American Revolution Website is a wonderful description of the Battle of Cowpens: Battle of Cowpens

         "The Battle of Cowpens" January 17, 1781. After Gates had been defeated at Camden, the Continental Congress authorized General Washington to appoint a new commander of the Southern armies. Washington selected General Greene, who had recently resigned as Quartermaster General. Greene headed south. Upon his arrival, Greene split his small army, sending General Morgan to western South Carolina to menace the British troops and attempt to threaten British Post 96. Cornwallis responded by sending Colonel Tarleton, with about 1,000 soldiers, to Post 96. There, he received further orders from Cornwallis to seek out and destroy Morgan's forces. Morgan had 600 Continental soldiers and seasoned Virginia militiamen, together with another 500 untrained militiamen. He decided to remain and fight Tarleton. Morgan placed his soldiers on a gentle but commanding hill, deploying them in three lines. The most reliable soldiers among the Continental troops and Virginia militia were placed just forward of the crest. Below were two lines of militia, the furthest forward being the best sharpshooters. Morgan did not expect that they would be able to stand against a line of British regulars, so he gave them explicit orders that they were to fire three rounds and then run to the place where the horses were being held. Morgan placed 130 mounted men in reserve under Colonel Washington. At 4:00 AM, Tarleton's forces broke camp, and Morgan was duly notified. At 8:00 AM, Tarleton reached American lines. Morgan went up and down the line repeating the famous words: “Don't fire until you see the white of their eyes!” A fierce cry went out from the British forces: Morgan responded loudly, “They give us the British Hallo, boys. Give them the Indian Hallo, by God!” A wild cry went out from the Americans. The sharpshooters took aim and fired. They did their job, firing two or three times and running back to the second line. The British continued to advance and, as the second line began to fire, the British began to run up the hill with bayonets ready. The second line fled. British dragoons then tried to cut down the fleeing Americans. Just then, Washington's cavalry appeared and chased away the British cavalry. Morgan was awaiting the militiamen where the horses were, and he managed to turn them back around toward the battle. Meanwhile, the final line of Continentals was holding off the British. The tactical situation forced them to retreat slightly. Tarleton thought the battle had been won, and he ordered a general charge. As they charged, Morgan ordered the retiring force of Continentals to turn and fire. At the same time, the militiamen were coming up on the left. Once the British were halted in their tracks, the Americans began charging with bayonets. Just then, the militia attacked from the left, and Washington's cavalry attacked from the right. In what would become a classic military victory, one of the most famous of the war, the entire British force was captured. The British had lost 910 men, 110 killed and 800 taken prisoner, as well as all of their supplies. The American lost only 73 people, 12 killed and 61 wounded.”

Illustration: The Battle of Cowpens was a decisive American victory that turned the course of the Revolutionary War in the South. Here Morgan gave the order" "Don't fire until you see the white of their eyes!"

          The story of David Motley Ellington’s service in the Revolutionary War is so lengthy that, in order to pay it due justice, I have chosen to separate the information into two columns. Therefore, next month’s column will continue with the story of his courageous service and will also include information concerning service by the other Ellington family members. Stay tuned!

Researched and compiled by author.

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