Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hanging of a Loyalist Named Reeves

The History of Watauga County, North Carolina contains a story of a Reeves who was associated with the Tory band led by Captain William Riddle in the New River area of North Carolina and Virginia. Since the Reeves family of Grayson County, Virginia/Ashe County, North Carolina are closely related to my own Reeves based upon DNA evidence, whenever I happen upon this story, I have to wonder whether this Reeves belongs to my family.

Perkins house where Col. Cleveland was captured.The story goes as follows - Col. Benjamin Cleveland of the Wilkes County Militia was captured on the 22nd of April, 1781, while on a visit to his tenant, Jesse Duncan, at the lower end of the Old Fields by Captain William Riddle's Tories. They had stolen horses from Duncan's barn the night before and led them up the south fork of New River into a laurel thicket just above a house about a mile away. Cleveland was ambushed and captured, then taken up New River to the mouth of Elk Creek, and then to "what has since been known as Riddle's Knob", some fourteen miles from Old Fields and in Watauga County.

There they camped for the night but had been followed by young Daniel Cutbirth and a youth named Walters along with Jesse Duncan, John Shirley, William Calloway, Samuel McQueen and Benjamin Greer. Joseph Calloway mounted a horse and road to notify Benjamin Cleveland's brother, Captain Robert Cleveland, on Lewis' Fork of the Yadkin. Five of these in advance of Robert's party fired on Riddle's gang at the Wolf's Den early the next morning. With the arrival of Capt. Cleveland, one of the Tories was wounded and the rest escaped, including Riddle's wife Happy. There is still a tradition in the neighborhood of the Wolf's Den that Ben Greer killed or wounded Riddle at that place soon after Cleveland's rescue, one version saying that Riddle was only wounded and then taken to Wilkes and hanged.

Wolf's DenSoon after Cleveland's rescue, Riddle and his men made a night raid into the Yadkin Valley, where, on King's Creek, they captured two of Cleveland's soldiers, David and John Witherspoon taking them into the mountain region on the Watauga River in what is now Watauga County, There both were sentenced to be shot, when it was proposed that if they would take the oath of allegiance to the king, go to their home and return with "the O'Neal mare — a noble animal" and join Riddle's band, their lives would be spared. The Witherspoons agreed to this and returned with not only the mare, but with Col. Ben Herndon and a party also, when they captured Riddle, Reeves and Goss, "killing and dispersing the others."

The American Revolution in North Carolina also recounts another version of the rescue of Col. Cleveland as recorded in the 1832 pension statement of Ishmael Titus.

The captured Tories were taken to Wilkesboro, court-martialed and executed on the hill adjoining the village on an oak which was said to still be standing in 1881. Other reports indicate that the oak was behind the Wilkes County Courthouse. There are various stories recorded of those executed but most agree that it was Capt. Riddle, Reeves and Goss with some versions also including either one or two sons of Riddle.

I have yet to find any documentation of the identity of the Reeves individual who was hung with Capt. Riddle at Wilkesboro. If any records of the court martial held at Wilkesboro are extant it might be possible to someday know exactly to which Reeves' family he belongs.

Source: The History of Watauga County, North Carolina by John Preston Author, pub. 1915.

Photos from New River Notes


  1. I have been working on my husbands genealogy- I honestly backed into this!!!!
    I think my husbands family was related to all these people... I saw a CHARITY REEVES in his geology---- and Then I read riddle's sister's name was... CHARITY
    MY HUSBAND's 5th grandfather was hung w WILLIAM RIDDLE
    his name was ZACHARIAH GOSS & his wife was ANN RIDDLE...
    Obviously- some were loyalists and some were patrots- I'm starting to realize they made their decision on what they had to lose! Or how much!

  2. Melissa,
    Thanks for your comment. I imagine the Charity Reeves in your husband's genealogy is descended from George Reeves, Sr. of Grayson County, VA because the name Charity was used numerous times in that family. My Reeves are related to that family based upon matching DNA. I'm glad to know the name of the Goss in this story, now I wish we could identify the Reeves.