Revolutionary War Historical Article

Sergeant Thomas Summersett
Revolutionary War Hero

by Donald N. Moran

Thomas Summersett was born in Pewsey, County Wiltshire, England on June 15th, 1754. Pewsey, an old Saxon Village, is located about 12 miles north of famed Stonehenge, and 50 miles south of Sulgrave Manor, the Ancestral home of the Washington family. In 1538 Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and 10 years later he granted the Manor of Pewsey to the Duke of Somerset. Although there is a similarity in names, no genealogical connection has been made. The house in which Thomas was born was built in the early 1600's by the Summersett family. It is now protected by the English National Trust and can not be altered in appearance. (In May of 2005 your Editor and his wife, Linda, a descendant of Thomas Summersett visited the house and were the guests of the present owners Robert and Beth Haslam.)

He migrated to the Wilmington District of Bladen County, North Carolina while a young man. As with so many of the early settlers of our country, we know very little regarding his youth. We have deduced that he was an experienced horseman as he joined the cavalry at the start of the war, and had to have at the very least modest resources to be able to afford a good horse.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, the South watched with great interest, but for the most part, Southerners thought it to be a New England affair. But, as time passed and the situation worsened, it became apparent that the war would spread to all the colonies.

On July 4th, 1776 the delegates from North Carolina signed the Declaration of Independence. When word arrived in North Carolina, Thomas took action - - he enlisted. On July 31st, 1776, he was assigned as a Trooper in the Corps of North Carolina Light. Dragoons. On the same day the Dragoons were assigned to the Continental Army, and deployed with the Southern Department.

The primary duty of the Light Dragoons was to deal with the Loyalists, keeping them from causing too many problems. This became a dangerous and full time job.

In 1776 North Carolina was the second most populous colony (behind Virginia), but in spite of this, much of the interior was unsettled. The Dragoons spent many days in the saddle patrolling the back country.

On February 5th, 1777, the North Carolina Dragoons were detached from the Southern Department and assigned to the main Continental Army under the command of General George Washington. Now deployed in the New York and New Jersey area, their duties included scouting, supply wagon escorts, courier assignments, screening the main Army when it was on the move and escorting senior officers when they were reconnoitering the British positions.

In September of 1777 British General Sir William Howe landed a strong force at the Head of the Elk, Maryland, with the objective of his invasion being the capitol of the colonies, Philadelphia. General Washington was determined to stop him and selected Brandywine Creek to make his stand. All available cavalry was used to screen the vulnerable right wing of the main army. Patrols ranged several miles to the west. It was the Dragoons that observed General Howe's flanking movement and reported it to Washington. If the report could be verified Washington had a tactical opportunity before him, General Howe had divided his Army! Washington and the whole of the American Army could fall upon one wing of the British Army and utterly destroy it. Unfortunately, Major General John Sullivan commanding that wing of the American was unable to confirm the flanking movement until it was too late. The British struck and forced the American Army to retreat. All of the cavalry were engaged in several serious skirmishes, but the records do not detail which cavalry units were involved. All we know for sure is that Dragoon Thomas Summersett was a participant.

As General Washington withdrew in the face of a superior British force, the Dragoons, again, acted as a screen, keeping the main army from being surprised. Again, several skirmishes occurred.

General George Washington had suffered a series of defeats, crowned by the loss of Philadelphia on September 26th. But, the situation was far from hopeless. The American forts along the Delaware River were holding out and had successfully blocked General Howe's efforts to resupply his army by sea. Howe had to detach a considerable number of his troops to capture those forts. A second force was garrisoning Philadelphia under General Charles Cornwallis. As a result Howe's main army was greatly reduced in strength. Washington counter attacked on October 4th, at Germantown, Pennsylvania. He had a force of 8,000 Continentals and 3,000 militia. Here again all available cavalry, including the North Carolina Dragoons, with Thomas Summersett, were involved. The morning was chilly and a dense fog was a major factor in causing what otherwise would have been a successful counter attack into another defeat.

The British, although driven back with heavy losses, rallied and then held their ground. Unable to drive them from the field Washington and his army again retreated, across the Pennsylvania mountains to establish winter quarters. The place selected was Valley Forge.

At Valley Forge, Thomas befriended Michael Tullis. After the war, the two homesteaded land in what is now Frankfort, Ohio. Michael's brother, Amos went with them, and his son Moses Tullis married Thomas's daughter Mary. Family tradition recounts their service in the Guard.

Our late Compatriot Jack Tullis, and Linda, wife of the author, are direct descendants of this united family.

During the terrible winter of 1777-1778, the Continental. Army was fortunate with the arrival of Major General, the Baron Friedrich von Steuben. He recognized the unique character of the American Colonist and reorganized the Army taking advantage of the colonist's strengths, and avoiding their weaknesses. The results produced an Army that for the first time could go toe-to-toe or bayonet-to-bayonet with the best of the British Army. Thomas benefited by this training as did every member of the American Army.

By the Spring of 1778, General Howe realized that with the French declaration of war and their possible sending a major force to North America, he did not have sufficient forces to hold both New York City and Philadelphia. Having no choice, he abandoned Philadelphia, marching his main army across New Jersey to New York City.

General Washington decided that he and his newly retrained army could attack the rear guard of the retreating British Army. The bloody battle of Monmouth Court House was fought on June 28th, 1778. The outcome of the battle is still debated by historians, but at the end of the day, the American army held the battleground, the usual measure for declaring a victory. More importantly, the American Army held their own in open country against a large British force.

Within a month of the battle, the Polish Count, Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, who had been named, by Congress, "Commander of Horse" for the entire Continental Army, resigned. From all accounts he was extremely difficult man, and was disliked by most American officers, including George Washington. Unwilling to lose his talents as an officer of cavalry, Congress decided to allow him to raise an independent "Legion" - - which he did.

On July 29th, 1778, at Baltimore, Maryland, the new legion was organized. It consisted of one troop of lancers, two troops of dragoons and two companies of light infantry. Thomas Summersett volunteered for this new Legion. He was probably encouraged to join the Legion when he learned that the Count was supplying all new uniforms and equipment. Some historians estimate that Pulaski spent the equivalent of $50,000 on his Legion.

We do not know which of the troops he was assigned to, but with his experience, undoubtedly one of the Dragoons. After the horrible Indian attack on Cherry Valley, the frontier people were screaming for protection. Pulaski's Legion was posted at Minisink, New York. Pulaski wrote to Congress on November 26th, 1778, that " . . . . he could not find anything to fight, other then bears". On December 19th, 1778, the British launched a successful sea borne invasion of Savannah, Georgia. With a desperate need for cavalry in the south to confront this new threat, Pulaski's Legion was transferred to the Southern Department on February 2nd, 1779. The Legion operated in Major General Benjamin Lincoln's command and served with great valor. They had been engaged in numerous skirmishes suffering many casualties. In one engagement with famed British Major Patrick Ferguson the Legion was badly mauled.

A combined operation of American and French forces besieged British held Savannah. In an attempt to force their way through the outer defenses of the city, Pulaski led a traditional cavalry charge. The charge was stopped by the fortifications and the cavalry suffered tremendous losses, among them the Count himself.

Pulaski's Legion was so badly devastated that it ceased to be a fighting unit. Thomas Summersett survived the charge at Savannah and continued to serve the cause of American Independence. Another foreigner, Armand Charles Tuffin, Marquis de La Rouerie, known, in America as Colonel Armand, like Pulaski, was permitted to organize an independent mounted Legion.

Armand's Legion had been deployed for almost a year when the disastrous charge at Savannah took place. On February 23rd, 1779, the survivors of Pulaski's Legion, including Thomas, were merged with Armand's detachment. Thomas Summersett served in Armand's Legion for the balance of the War, serving at Yorktown, and then in the continued operations against Savannah.

When the war ended, Armand's Legion was disbanded at York, Pennsylvania, on November 15th, 1783. Thomas had seen seven years of hard service. Thomas did not return to his home in North Carolina after the war. We can only conclude that while stationed in Pennsylvania, he met his future wife, Mary Schollenberger. Mary was Pennsylvania born and raised. They were married on November 29th, 1787, and immigrated to Wheeling, West Virginia (then Virginia).

In 1970 your author received a letter from Marie Cole, great-granddaughter of Thomas Summersett. She wrote: " . . . . My father [Thomas Summersett Tullis] was named after his grandfather. He was a Revolutionary War hero and was in the Cav­ alry . . . . He befriended . . . . Michael Tullis, my great uncle, and was introduced to the Tullis family through Michael. Both families ended up in Ohio and that's how my grandmother [Mary Summersett] and grandfather [Moses] met . . . . "

 A few years later, Thomas teamed up with wartime buddy Michael Tullis and homesteaded land in Ross County, Ohio.

The Centennial History of Ross County, Ohio states: Thomas Summersett arrived in Frankfort, Ross County in 1794. This was immediately after General "Mad" Anthony Wayne defeated the Ohio Valley Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (August 20th, 1794) and secured the valley for settlement.

Four years after his arrival, Ross County was officially recognized as a County, and nine years before Ohio became a State. At age 72, on March 21st, 1826, Thomas applied for a pension. It was granted and he received $9.00 a month.

Thomas and Mary Summersett were married for 47 years and had ten children.

Thomas died on March 5th, 1834 at his Frankfort farm, and was buried in the town cemetery. His estate was valued $417.94. Mary, his wife, received a widow's pension of $100.00 annually on March 4th, 1840. She only received a single payment as she passed away on November 28th of the same year, and was buried next to her husband.

A significant tribute to Thomas was paid by his ten children. Each named one of their children Thomas Summersett. He was then a family hero, and still is today.

REFERENCES

“His Pension Records” Held at the National Archives, Wahgington, D.C.

“Tullis Family Records ”Private Collection.

“The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard” by: Carlos F. Godfrey, Ph.D. Originally published: 1904 - publisher: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1972 (DNM Lib.)

“The Writings of George Washington from Original Manuscript Sources” -39 vol. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor - Publisher: United States Government Printing Office. (DNM Lib.)

“TheContinental Army” by: Robert K. Wright, Ph.D.
Publisher: Center of Military History - United States Army - 1983 (DNM Lib.)

“To Major Gibbs With Much Esteem” by: Howard H. Wehmann
ublisher: “Prologue Magazine” - National Archives, Volume 4 (1972)

“George Washington, a Biography” by: Douglas Southall Freeman - 7 Volumes
Publisher: Scribners, New York - 1948 (DNM Lib.)

“The Field Book of the American Revolution” by: Benson J. Lossing -2 volumes
Publisher: Harper, New York -1951 (DNM Lib.)

“Pension Records” - Held at the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

 

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