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Post My Ancestor George Ashby, Revolutionary Hero
Created by John Eipper on 07/07/19 4:06 AM

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My Ancestor George Ashby, Revolutionary Hero (Timothy Ashby, Spain, 07/07/19 4:06 am)

Appropriately, on July 4th I finished reading Rick Atkinson's magnificently riveting The British are Coming:  The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, the first volume of his new trilogy covering the American Revolution. Atkinson's meticulous details bring the people and events of the 1770s to life like no other history of the Revolution that I have read. I had not previously appreciated the incredible hardships and courage of American soldiers, nor the logistics involved in supplying the two opposing armies.

The British are Coming also gave me a renewed appreciation for my great-great-great-great grandfather, George Ashby. I know quite a lot about George's Revolutionary War service. On June 13, 1776, at the age of 17, he enlisted as a private in the 8th Regiment of Virginia forces at the regiment's HQ in Winchester, Virginia, for a period of two years. George served in the 8th Virginia's rifle company (the other nine companies were armed with smoothbore muskets) and would have brought his personal "Pennsylvania" long rifle, a very expensive piece of equipment in Colonial America. I even have a description of the regimental flag, made of plain, salmon-coloured silk with a broad fringe of the same material. It had a simple white scroll in its centre upon which were sewn the words "VIII Virga Regt."

On 21 January 1777 the regiment was ordered to reinforce General Washington's Continental Army as quickly as possible, arriving in Morristown, New Jersey in the third week of March. The 8th Virginia spent the summer campaigning in New Jersey, skirmishing with Tory Loyalist units and British patrols (and certainly foraging for food given the semi-starved condition of the American forces).

George's monthly pay was 643 dollars in nearly worthless Continental currency, plus a monthly "subsistence" payment of £2 (presumably in Sterling). On 11 September 1777, George Ashby fought in the battle of Brandywine Creek, Pennsylvania, during which the poorly trained American army was badly defeated, suffering nearly a thousand casualties, among them two men from George's company who were wounded and three MIA. Early on the morning of 4 October, the American army attacked the large British encampment at Germantown, PA. The 8th Virginia (now formally in the Continental Line) was part of a brigade of Virginia troops that mistakenly attacked a Pennsylvania division commanded by General "Mad Anthony" Wayne, causing it to break and flee in confusion. In a bizarre twist of fate, the great-grandsons of these same soldiers killed each other at the Battle of Gettysburg 86 years later (the 8th Virginia Regiment, CSA, suffered nearly 90 percent casualties during "Pickett's Charge" on 3 July 1863, among them Private Jim Ashby, MIA/KIA, age 19, who served in a company commanded by his 23-year-old brother, Captain John Ashby). Germantown was another defeat for Washington's Continental Army, and morale was particularly bad in the 8th Virginia as its Lieutenant Colonel, John Markham, was courtmartialed for desertion during the battle.

After Germantown, George Ashby was part of a detachment from the 8th Virginia sent to reinforce Fort Mifflin, built on Mud Island on the Delaware River to prevent British ships from supplying Philadelphia, which had been abandoned to the British in September. Fort Mifflin was described as "having a circumference of 1200 paces defended by 450 men and half-ruined palisades," commanded by Lt. Col. Samuel Smith. George Ashby's name appears on an "Account of Clothing delivered by Lt Col Smith on Ft. Mifflin to the Soldiers under his Command from the 8th Virginia Regiment." George received one coat (probably a blue uniform coat with white facings), one shirt, a pair of shoes and a pair of stockings.  I'm sure that George was very pleased with his new clothes as American solders were described as "ragged scarecrows" and many were barefoot, even when marching in the snow.

The bloody siege of Fort Mifflin lasted from 26 September to 16 November 1777, during which the fort was under constant bombardment from British shore batteries and ships (the latter at point blank range during the latter stage of the battle). The American defenders were so short of ammunition that the young soldiers were offered a "tot of rum" for each British cannon ball that they retrieved. I can wryly imagine my half-drunk, hungry, teenage ancestor dodging incessant enemy fire to retrieve the balls, like some sort of desperate game.

George was wounded in the leg and when the fort was abandoned with the flag flying on the night of 16th November. George was evacuated across the river to Red Bank, New Jersey. Total American casualties were around 250 from a garrison that counted 450 men plus reinforcements. When the Royal Marines entered the ruined fort they were appalled at the damage and at the blood and brains strewn about the interior. One British officer wrote: "They certainly defended it with a spirit they have shewn no where else to an equal degree during the war."

Fortunately (for me) George survived the hell-hole of a makeshift hospital. On his company's muster role for November 1777 (dated 5 December, two weeks before the army marched from its camps outside Philadelphia to winter quarters at Valley Forge), he was listed as "S (sick) Absent." According to family oral history, George was at Valley Forge during the bleak winter of 1777-78, but if this was true then he was not in the camp for the entire winter as the muster role for January 1778 lists him as on furlough. When the Continental Army went into its winter quarters, George's company mustered 42 privates, of whom 22 were "present" and 20 "absent" (the latter presumably including George). By the time the winter ended in April 1778, only 9 privates remained in George's company, and the entire American army numbered only 3,000 men, Over 3,000 had died of malnutrition, smallpox, typhus and pneumonia. George was fortunate to have been furloughed by General Washington just before Christmas 1777, but I wonder at the hardships the young man must have endured to make the 250-mile journey--wounded, starving and in the depths of winter--to his father's farm on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Frederick County, Virginia.

Remarkably, George must have returned to Valley Forge after recovering as he was honourably discharged there on 14 March 1778. It was noted that he was then owed back pay of 643 dollars for five months and 14 days, plus his subsistence payment of "£10, s 16, d 8" (10 pounds, 16 shillings and 8 pence).

George had two wives and nine children, including my great-great-great grandfather James Ashby who left an account of his service at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. George Ashby died in the summer of 1810, reportedly from typhoid fever contracted from a polluted well--sadly ironic considering that he had survived battles, disease and wounding during the Revolution.

JE comments:  The Ashby men didn't sit out a single American war.  My ancestors were either very lucky, or else skilled at shirking.

Tim, there is a sweeping multi-generational novel to be written about your forebears.  Ever thought of tackling the project?  For now, a quick question:  has James Ashby's narrative of Tippecanoe ever been published?

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  • Family Ties: Sandra Hill Connects with Tim Ashby (John Eipper, USA 07/11/19 3:53 AM)
    [JE: I received this query from reader Sandra Hill, a distant cousin of WAISer Tim Ashby.  Sandra gave permission to post]:

    Tim, is your ancestor George Ashby from Quenby Hall in Leceister, England? I am asking because those are the branch of the Ashby families to which I am related, and as I am sure you know so was George Washington. In his Diaries, Washington talks about staying with the Ashby family in Virginia when they were all surveying. Those are my family.

    Your account is so interesting and I was also wondering how you managed to find out all this detailed information which I very much appreciated.

    Thank you for the account.

    JE comments:  No one in WAISworld traces his/her family farther back than Tim Ashby, whose ancestors a fewscore generations ago scuffled at Hastings.  Sandra, did you see this 2018 WAIS post, Great Ashbys of History?  Tim mentions Quenby Chapel.


    Thanks for reaching out, Sandra.

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    • Illustrious Ashbys: Researching My Ancestry (Timothy Ashby, Spain 07/15/19 4:05 AM)
      I much appreciated Sandra Hill's query of July 11th, and give John permission to share my private email address with her so that I can help with her genealogy research.

      To answer Sandra's questions: yes, I am directly descended from the George Ashby and Elizabeth Bennett Ashby who finished the construction of the "new" Quenby Hall (it replaced a medieval manor house) around 1630. Their third (second surviving) son was John Ashby, "merchant of London," who traded with the Americas. He was granted a 5,000 acre estate in (South) Carolina, on the Cooper River, which he named "Quenby Plantation." After several of John Ashby senior's children died young in disease-ridden London, he brought his teenage son John Ashby junior to Carolina. The latter stayed permanently, thus establishing the "Southron" Ashbys in America.

      And yes:  George Washington used the house of Captain Thomas Ashby (son of the above-mentioned John Ashby Jr.) as a base when he surveyed the Shenandoah for Lord Fairfax in 1742.

      Sandra asked how I managed to find out all this detailed information. I was helped by the fact that various 18th- and 19th-century British publications including John Nichols' The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester and various editions of Burke's Landed Gentry, contain detailed genealogies that included the first American generations through the above-mentioned Captain Thomas Ashby. Another primary, and extraordinarily detailed, source is The Ashby Book by the late Lee Fleming Reese, which is in several volumes and included seemingly all descendants of Captain Thomas Ashby down to and including me, my siblings, and other cousins of my generation. The book is out of print but some libraries have copies (and if Sandra visits Virginia she can find a copy in the sitting room of the Ashby Inn in the tiny village of Paris, just below "Ashby´s Gap."

      Although I have always been interested in history, the indoctrination into genealogy came from my paternal great-aunt and my grandfather. There must have been someone in every generation, or every other generation, who imparted information to descendants. While they had a few documents, much of what they told me was oral history, short on details but providing the basis for further research when I was an adult. For example, both knew the following:

      Our family home was a place called Quenby Hall, in England.

      Their great-great grandfather was named George Ashby, he was a soldier in the Revolution (which they were very proud about), and his wife was named Elizabeth Rollins.

      This information was subsequently verified and detailed in depth through archival research.

      I was skeptical about one claim by my great aunt and grandfather, who said "we are French."  Even as I child, I asked how can we come from England and be French? However, I subsequently discovered that, indeed, the Captain Thomas Ashby mentioned above had married firstly a French Huguenot woman named Elizabeth le Jau, who was the mother of his older children, from one of whom (Henry Ashby, who accompanied Washington on his surveys) we are descended. As did many colonial women, poor Elizabeth died in childbirth and Thomas promptly married another woman in Virginia named Rose Berry.

      My great-aunt and grandfather also claimed that one of our ancestors was a knight, but I have not yet been able to verify who this person may have been (and I doubt if they were referring to Safrid, our original ancestor who came across with the Conqueror and fought at Hastings.) One clue could be the family crest, which is a leopard´s head atop a mural coronet, in use from at least the late 15th century. All heraldic symbols had meaning to the families that used them, and an open crown having the upper rim indented to resemble a battlement was "bestowed on one that first mounted the wall of a besieged place and lodged a standard there."  My English relatives told me many years ago of a family legend that an ancestor was first over the walls of a captured Saracen city during the Crusades, and the king (Richard the Lionheart?) granted him the mural coronet on the spot. The story continued that the leopard head (unknown in England) was taken from a Saracen banner.

      I'll continue my genealogical research and hope to fill in more blanks and details.

      JE comments:  It's very cool when your family has a manor or two, as well as a Crest, a Gap...and a multi-volume book!  We Eippers are a humbler folk.  Tim, have you visited the site of Quenby Plantation, South Carolina?  Does the estate remain?

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