Revolutionary War Historical Article

Private Thomas Bevington

by Edgar D. Whitley

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the August 1996 Edition of the Valley Compatriot Newsletter

A Patriot Revolutionary War Ancestor of Lt. Colonel Edgar Whitley [deceased member of the Sons of Liberty Chapter of the SAR] is Thomas Bevington. Here are some of his activities during the War.

Thomas Bevington enlisted directly into the Continental Army on August 24th, 1776, in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. He was 18 years old. He joined the newly formed 8th Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line, which was authorized on July 15th, 1776. It was commanded by Colonel Aeneas Mackay and seven companies were recruited from Westmoreland and one company from Bedford County. The Regiment was originally organized to help protect the frontier from Indian attack. The Regiment assembled at Kittanning and on December 4th, it received orders from Congress to march and join General Washington's forces wherever they were.

The orders were not well received by the men because they understood the Indian dangers of the frontier and did not wish to leave their families and homes unprotected after their departure and they considered marching in mid-winter a hazard itself. Nevertheless, on January 7th, 1777, they marched off. Six weeks later they arrived in Bound Brook, New Jersey where the Regiment spent the rest of the winter.

Although uniforms had been authorized, few were available, hence the men wore what they possessed. The hazards of winter encampment were real, and in February, the Regimental Commander, Colonel Mackay, and his Deputy Commander, Lt. Colonel Wilson, died from non-combat illnesses.

In April, the Regiment suffered losses when it was defeated by a force of British Regulars who surprised them. On June 9th, the strength of the Regiment was assessed by a new command structure. From the original strength of 684 officers and men there were 126 desertions, 36 men captured, 51 dead, 14 missing and 15 discharged.

Private Thomas Bevington obviously was a excellant riflemen, as he was selected to serve in one of three elite detachments placed under Colonel Daniel Morgan. Known today as Morgan's Rifles, to their fellow soldiers they were known as "Long Shirts", as they were issued a long, fringed hunting shirt.

The Army of the Northern Department was very concerned over the number of Indians serving in the British Invasion Army. [The need for] Morgan's Rifles was urgent. All 578 of them were frontiersman, and were needed to prevent the Indians from ambushing the American forces opposing. Morgan's Rifles marched to reinforce Major General Horatio Gates in the forthcoming battle against British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne near Saratoga, New York.

Morgan's men so distinguished themselves in the early days of this campaign that General Gates detached them from the regular organization of his army, placing them directly under his personal command. On the first day of this major action, Co1. Morgan advanced on a small farm, named Freeman's farm, an alternate name for the Battle. They took possession of the buildings and were confronted by a large force of Canadians and Indians commanded by British Major Gordon Forbes. Thirty minutes later, the attacking force was beaten back with severe losses. Seeing the retreat, Morgan's men advanced only to be confronted by a relief column led by General Simon Fraser. It was the famed British 24th Regiment of Foot. Morgan's men were forced back into the woods, but were rallied by Morgan himself and his "turkey whistle", some eighty feet behind the farm. Their fire, which was not only fast, but deadly accurate, inflicted heavy losses on the British. The action grew into a full fledged battle as more and more units arrived to take part. Most of the British officers that were on the field were either dead or wounded. At the end of the day the British losses were 160 dead, 364 wounded and 42 captured. The Americans lost only 63 men.

Bevington's Company Commander, Captain Andrew Van Swearingen was wounded and captured at Freeman's Farm, and taken to British General Simon Fraser for questioning. Refusing to talk, General Fraser threatened him with hanging. Swearingen is reported to have retorted, "You may if you please" His bluff worked. There is no record of a prisoner exchange; however, he was carried on the Regimental rolls until he resigned in 1779.

Gen. Burgoyne surrendered his 4,991 man army (2,139 British, 2,022 Germans and 830 Canadians) after suffering over 1,400 killed, and twice that in wounded.

The 8th Regiment became part of General Anthony Wayne's division and participated at Paoli in September and Germantown in October. In November, the strength of the Regiment present for duty was 18 officers and 143 enlisted men, of which 28 were sick. 139 were on detached service; 77 absent and 59 listed as prisoners of war. By mid-December the unit was at Valley Forge. Colonel Daniel Brodhead commanded the regiment.

The Bevington Family History tells a story that Henry, a brother of Thomas, suffered frostbite at Valley Forge and had a foot amputated. This story has not been confirmed.

On March 8th, 1778, the 8th Regiment was ordered to return to Fort Pitt (present day Pittsburgh). The Regiment thus missed the training instigated by General Friedreich von Steuben. The Regiment was broken into Company size units and dispersed to several areas of Western Pennsylvania. Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh, who was then in command of the Division, required the 8th to build a fort, named after himself, at the mouth of Beaver Creek, where it joins the Ohio River. It is interesting to speculate that Thomas Bevington must have been there helping to build that Fort because, shortly after the war and when married, Thomas settled on a farm a few miles from this fort. Colonel Brodhead was critical of this fort, writing" . . . that it was a very romantic building that was built by hundreds of hands who would rather have fought than wrought. "

The 8th Regiment built other forts but was mainly deployed along the Ohio and West branch of the Susquehanna Rivers to thwart the Indian forays into the region which were encouraged by the British. At this time, Colonel Brodhead replaced General McIntosh and also retained command of the 8th. Brodhead complained that the Indian attacks were almost daily happenings and his forces were dispersed to discourage these forays.

An incident which involved Thomas Bevington with Captain Sam Brady and a third soldier, Benjamin Biggs, is related vividly in the book, "Our Western Border" by Charles McKnight. The three soldiers where in route to Fort Pitt from Fort McIntosh. They discovered fresh Indian signs and then heard a horse approaching. They saw it was a white settler, Albert Gray. They pulled him from his horse and signaled Gray to be silent. After identifying themselves, they proceeded to Gray's homestead, which was afire, They discovered Gray's family was missing and, as no bodies were in evidence, they surmised they were captured by the war party. Familiar with the countryside they anticipated where the Indians would stop for the night. Their assumption was correct. Cautiously they approached the Indian's camp, waiting several hours until the approximately ten Indians were soundly asleep. Gray's family was off to one side of the encampment with another captured women and her children. Each of the four soldiers selected his primary target and stealthily inched forward. Captain Brady gave the agreed signal, a "cluck", and the four soldiers sprang on the sleeping Indians, quickly dispatching them. The balance of the war party scrambled up, only to be likewise dispatched. The location of this encounter became known as "Bloody Spring".

The women and children were all returned to safety at Fort Pitt much to their relief.

 

Captain Samuel Brady had been with an independent militia company which was brought into the 8th Regiment as the 9th company and was part of that force when it was engaged in battles in New York and New Jersey. Sam Brady acquired a reputation of near mythical proportions from his many exploits against the Indians. His jumps across streams when pursued are legendary. One took place near Kent State University in Ohio and is now memorialized by a bronze plaque. A second jump over a stream in Pennsylvania was measured and said to have been 23 feet from bank to bank. Considering these jumps were made carrying a rifle, bullet and powder bag, tomahawk and knife, they were remarkable and exemplify a superior physical prowess.

Sam Brady's father and a brother had been murdered by Indians. Sam sometimes joined forces with other legendary Indian fighters. Two were Peter and Wendell Grove, whose father and brother were also murdered by Indian terrorist bands. Two of Thomas Bevington's children married children of Wendell Grove. For a period of time, Wendell Grove lived near Bevington in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

The 8th Regiment in August, 1779, engaged in "Brodhead's Expedition" which was a burn and torch campaign against the Indian tribes situated near the present day Ohio/Pennsylvania border. A force of 605 soldiers was mustered, many being militia. Going up the Allegheny River, the advance party under Lt. Hardin encountered approximately forty Indians. Both groups were surprised by the encounter. A short fight ensued, but as Colonel Brodhead quickly brought up the rest of his force, the surviving Indians fled. Seven Indians had been killed and three of Brodhead's men wounded. This was the only engagement of the expedition. After penetrating to within a few miles of the New York border, the force headed back south to Fort Pitt and burned deserted Indian Villages and com fields all the way. Brodhead estimated 500 acres of corn were destroyed. This action greatly reduced Indian aggressions in the region.

The 8th Regiment was part of the Continental Line, recruited primarily in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Administration was lax, supervision was loose, and training minimal. Its operations were mostly by detachments and separate companies in the western frontier areas of Pennsylvania. Few, if any, company or small unit muster rolls or records, have been found. Morale was low and discipline deteriorated. Three year enlistments expired and the reenlistment bonus by Virginia exceeded that of Pennsylvania, thereby encouraging many Pennsylvania soldiers to enlist in the Virginia forces. By July, 1780, the strength of the Regiment was 143 enlisted men. The Regiment was no longer a viable unit.

In spite of their reduced strength, the Regiment was required to garrison Fort Pitt and consequently was not present at Morristown when the Pennsylvania Line mutinied on January 1st, 1781. After the mutiny was put down, the Pennsylvania Continental Line was reorganized into only six Regiments. The 8th Regiment was disbanded.

Thomas Bevington sold the farm land he had acquired, which adjoined that of his brother, John, in Washington County and with his wife Elizabeth Johnson purchased land in Ohio Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, near Fort McIntosh, which he helped build. There he farmed and raised nine children.

On May 5th, 1819 Thomas Bevington applied for a pension for his Revolutionary War service which was granted. But, it was cancelled after a few years due to a complaint by a neighbor that he was not "in need" and was financially able.

After some years without a pension it was renewed and remained in effect until he died in 1839. His heirs attempted to get reimbursement for the omitted years but there is no record they were successful.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Pension Record File S-39974 for the 05 May 1819 pension of Thomas Bevington - - National Archives

"The American Revolution - - A Picture Sourcebook" by: John Grafton - - Dover Press - - 1975

 "Brodhead's Trail up to the Allegheny" West Pennsylvania Magazine - - March 1954 - - p19-31

"Burgoyne of Saratoga " by: Gerald Howson - - 1979

 "Daniel Morgan, Ranger of the Revolution" by: North Callahan - - 1961

 "Gentlemen Johnny" by: Showell Styles - - 1962

"Gentlemen Johnny Burgoyne" by: F. J. Hudleston - - 1927

 "The Life of General Daniel Morgan" by: James Graham - - 1856

"The Lost Story of the Brodhead Expedition" New York State Historical Assc. July 1930 - p252-263

"Mad Anthony Wayne" by: Thomas Boyd - - 1929

"Mad Anthony Wayne and the New Nation" by: Glenn Tucker - - 1973

"The Man Who Lost America" by: Paul Lewis - -1973

"Our Western Border" by: Charles McKnight - - 1880

"The Pennsylvania Line, The Regiments, their organization and Operations 1776-1783" by: John B.B. Trussell, Jr. publisher: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission - -1977

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