7. Thomas McIntire, Revolutionary Hero

For more on the McIntire family and its ancestral connections to the Bachiler, Brown, Dungan, Holbrook, Large, Swift, Weaver, and Wing families, see The Omnibus Ancestry, available through Lulu.com.


When I moved to Alabama with my family in 2000, little did I know that I had a family member who played a role in the history of Mississippi, our immediate neighbor to the west. His name was Thomas McIntire, and he was my ancestor through my grandmother Opal Cecile Speece Bowers (McIntire > Speece > Bowers > Boles) [1]. I came across references to his Mississippi service about three years ago, during a routine search of web sources.

One would never have predicted future heroism from Thomas’ humble beginnings. He married in 1773, two years before the start of the Revolution, to Mary Bailey. His Virginia land stradding the border between Berkeley and Frederick counties was bounded by landmarks named Beargarden Ridge and Sleepy Creek, evoking the slow pace of life in the country. About a year later he built a grist mill, presumably to make meal from the corn that he and his neighbors grew [1].

What enticed Thomas to enlist in the American army in January 1776, and in Pennsylvania, is partially a matter of speculation. His father Charles had settled on land in Harrison county, (now West) Virginia, in 1773 [1]. The location was part of the frontier that experienced increasing tension with the Indians in 1774. While widespread Indian raids would not occur until 1777 [17], the perceived danger provoked a family decision to gather at a relatively safer point to the east [14]. The choice appears to have fallen on what would later be Fayette county, in southwestern Pennsylvania, part of territory Virginia claimed at the time and called Yohogania county.  Thus on 9 January 1778, Thomas sold a part ownership of Berkeley county land by power of attorney, and was then termed a resident of Yohogania county [15]. The person given a power of attorney was Dennis Springer, a known resident of Fayette county [16]; furthermore, in 1783, Charles’ widow Elender was living in what would become Fayette county [1].

It may that in Thomas’ eyes, the time to enlist had simply come. The Revolutionary War was over 8 months old, and Congress had authorized frontier enlistments the previous June [2]. Toward the end of 1775 there was a major, well-publicized action in progress against Quebec, the disastrous outcome of which would not be known until 10 days after Thomas’ enlistment on 8 January 1776 [3]. Then again, maybe it was simply an adventurous birthday present to himself, for he would turn 32 years of age the very next day, January 9th [1].

Thomas McIntire’s Early Service

Thomas enlisted as an ensign in the 3rd Pennsylvania Battalion of the Continental Army. He was quickly promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, and in November was in action at Ft. Washington [1]. The fort, at the northwestern corner of the present-day borough of Manhattan, New York, was the last remaining position of the American army following their defeat in the British campaign for New York. Gen. Washington issued a discretionary order to abandon it, but Col. Robert Magaw elected to defend it. The fort fell quickly when attacked on three sides, with 59 Americans killed, 96 wounded, and nearly 3000 captured [4]. Thomas McIntire was among the wounded and captured [1].

He spent the next 9 months in captivity, and was fortunate to be among the mere 30% of prisoners who survived. The rest died of starvation, exposure, or disease. It is likely that his status as an ensign resulted in better treatment than the enlisted men, with many officers given parole and allowed to roam the city [5]. He was exchanged in August 1777, meaning that he and other American officers were traded for imprisoned British officers [1].

The U.S.S. Rattletrap

Returning to western Pennsylvania, Thomas found that there was no vacancy for an ensign in his regiment [6], his previous 2nd Lt. rank apparently being an unrecognized field promotion. Instead he there became 1st Lt. of an “independent” company [1]. This designation was perhaps intentionally left vague for reasons of national security. For with this appointment, Thomas entered the pages of American history: His service was in connection with a secret raid down the Mississippi River, authorized directly by the Continental Congress under the command of Capt. James Willing [1].

The expedition had been envisioned by Col. George Morgan, of Ft. Pitt (later Pittsburgh), and endorsed by Gen. Benedict Arnold who suggested a force of 1500 men. In subsequent Congressional debate, Robert Morris of Pennsylvania emphasized the proceeds that would come from the seizure of British military provisions, as well as the benefits of an establishment of trade with Spanish New Orleans. In the end, a committee authorized recruitment of only 24 men, and the mission was trimmed back from attacking Mobile and Pensacola to delivering dispatches to Louisiana [7]. Or at least that is what the larger Congress was told; in fact Willing was secretly charged with seizing British property and selling it if possible [12, 13].

By Christmas 1777, Capt. Willing was in command of the armed boat U.S.S. Rattletrap and a force of 30 men. One of them was Lt. Thomas McIntire [7]. The boat is said to have been a galley with around ten oars and a stern sweep, armed with two swivel guns, much like that illustrated by artist Charles H. Waterhouse in “Willing’s Marine Expedition, February 1778” [12]. The Rattletrap was underway on the Ohio River by January 11th. Although spies became almost immediately aware of the expedition, the English thought it would turn north at the Mississippi River and attack Fort Kaskaskia in the southern part of what is now Illinois. More accurate intelligence reached British West Florida in February, but was discounted. Winter seemed an unlikely time for invasion [7].

WaterhouseBy the time the force reached the Yazoo River above Walnut Hills (now Vicksburg, Mississippi), it had swelled to about 100 men. On 18 February 1778, Lt. McIntire commanded an advance party in canoes that captured four British Indian agents at Walnut Hills, and two prominent Tories at Natchez, Mississippi. On the way to Natchez, the party captured a small boat. Repeating an epithet that Alexander McIntosh, one of its occupants, had reportedly used to refer to Willing, McIntire sardonically told him that the “damned scoundrel James Willing is come once more to pay you a Visit”. Natchez pledged neutrality on 21 February, an agreement assisted by rumors spread by the Americans that a force of 2000 men was on the way. Success bred success; nearly 100 more men joined the expedition [7].

The force proceeded southward, looting and sometimes burning Tory properties. McIntire continued downriver. On 23 February, aided by fog, he and his party captured the 16-gun English vessel Rebecca at Manchac, Louisiana [7, 8], which embarrassingly had been sent upriver to stop the Americans [12]. They then joined the main force which was granted asylum in New Orleans by Spanish Gov. Bernardo de Galvez. The Governor permitted the auction of captured Tory property, netting $62,000, as well as the purchase of supplies, and provided public buildings as barracks. Other British ships, their cargoes, and Tory property including slaves were captured while the American force was there. One Engish trading brig, the Neptune, was captured by a mixed party of American, French, and Spanish boatmen led by McIntire and another Lieutenant [12].

On 14 March, the British positioned the ship Sylph near New Orleans. Its captain, John Fergusson, sent a message to Galvez protesting the Governor’s warm reception of the Americans. When that wasn’t answered promptly he sent a second, adding a new complaint. He had received an insult from “a person who is a Rebel”, a certain Lt. McIntire:

… [Lt. McIntire] placed himself opposite to His Majesty’s Ship under my Command and made use of several threats, and provoking speeches, which I forbare to resent, out of respect to your Nation. [7]

Galvez was reportedly highly amused by McIntire’s actions. For his part McIntire was lucky: It was only for fear of a provoking a confrontation with Spain that Fergusson hadn’t taken action against him. Instead the captain demanded that the “Rebel” be handed over for punishment. Galvez politely declined, stating that since the offense was in words the punishment should be as well [7].

The Sylph was soon joined by a second British ship, the Hound, increasing tensions in Spanish New Orleans. Conditions north of the city deteriorated for the Americans, as the British reasserted control over the east bank of the Mississippi [7].

In August 1778 most of the American force left under Spanish safe conduct, marching through Louisiana to Fort Kaskaskia. However, Capt. Willing, Lt. McIntire, and a few others remained behind. On 15 November, despite the presence of British ships patrolling the waterways out of New Orleans, they escaped the city aboard a sloop bound for Philadelphia. Unfortunately this was captured by a British privateer off Delaware. Willing was carried to Long Island, New York, where he was imprisoned for some time before being exchanged [7, 12].

And what of Thomas McIntire? Incredibly, after Willings’ departure he and a companion retook the sloop and ran it aground on the eastern shore of Maryland, making good their escape. After writing a memorial on his service to the Board of War in Philadelphia, McIntire was promptly promoted to Captain [1].

Subsequent Service

Beginning in March 1779, Capt. Thomas McIntire commanded an independent company assigned to Fort Pitt. He served with that company in Col. Daniel Brodhead’s Expedition in August and September of that year, proceeding up the Allegheny River into New York, destroying Seneca Indian villages and crops and thus bringing some relief to Pennsylvania settlers from Indian raids [1]. McIntire personally delivered Brodhead’s dispatch on the expedition to George Washington at West Point, New York [11]. For their services, Brodhead and his officers received the thanks of the Continental Congress and Gen. Washington specifically [1].

Late in September 1779, Capt. McIntire and his company were equipped as light dragoons. In July of the following year he was again in action. Wyandot Indians had conducted a raid near Fort McIntosh (now Beaver, Pennsylvania), killing four reapers and capturing a fifth.  As Brodhead subsequently reported to Washington:

Captain [Thomas] McIntyre ambushed Indians on their return, sunk two canoes, killed a number of Indians [later revealed from Indian informants to be 18 or 19, with others missing], took much plunder, and retook prisoner. [11]

To this, Gen. Washington replied in August 1780:

I am pleased to hear of the success of the parties under Captains Brady and McIntire to whom you will be pleased to express my thanks for their conduct. These affairs tho’ apparently small have considerable influence upon Indians. [11]

Underlining the problem of obtaining long-term peace on the frontier, in 1791 Thomas McIntire’s brother John and John’s wife Rachel were killed by Indians in Harrison county, (West) Virginia [14].

Aftermath

Thomas McIntire was “deranged” in January 1782, a military term indicating that he was decommissioned because of downsizing. He was variously taxed in Berkeley or Frederick county in the 1780s, but also acquired land in Harrison county, (West) Virginia [1]. In the 1st Congress of the United States, meeting 1789-1791, “Thomas McIntyre” was among those Revolutionary officers whose names were brought forward for commutation pay. The bill was tabled, but it was revived and passed both the House and Senate in the 2nd Congress [9].

There has been much debate over the impact of the Willing raid in which he played so prominent a role. The expedition had short-term negative consequences in turning many Mississippi inhabitants against the United States. However, it also revealed the military vulnerability of British West Florida [10]. Arguably in the long run it benefitted the nation by contributing to Gov. Galvez’ decision to seize Natchez and Pensacola in 1779-1781. With Spain having entered the war as a French (and thus U.S.) ally in 1779, a loss for Britain was a gain for the United States. No doubt Thomas McIntire experienced some small sense of satisfaction when a portion of West Florida was annexed into the nation’s Mississippi Territory in 1812.

A year later Thomas wrote a letter to his children in McIntire.1813.letterOhio [1]:

November ye 18th – 1813 respeted suns and daughters I take this opertunety to rite to you to aquant you that I am in resenable health at present as good as I can expet for old age …

… in generl is all well we have had a very bad Season for crops that caused corn to be very indefrent …

The slow pace of life in the country had long since reasserted itself. Thomas McIntire, Revolutionary Hero, died seven years later, at the age of 76 [1].

For more on the McIntire family and its ancestral connections to the Bachiler, Brown, Dungan, Holbrook, Large, Swift, Weaver, and Wing families, see The Omnibus Ancestry, available through Lulu.com.


Notes:

[1] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry, available through Lulu.com.

[2] Information retrieved from http://www.san.beck.org/13-5-WarofIndependence.html (2015).

[3] Burnett, E.C. (1921). Letters of Members of the Continental Congress. Washington, DC: The Carnegie Institution, vol. 1.

[4] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fort_Washington (2015).

[5] Information retrieved from http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/2002_summer_fall/pows.htm (2015).

[6] Hannings. B. (2008). Chronology of the American Revolution. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

[7] Haynes, R.V. (1976). The Natchez District and the American Revolution. University Press of Mississippi.

[8] Information retrieved from http://www.vaiden.net/mississippi_highlights.html (2012).

[9] Ancestry.com. U.S. House of Representative Private Claims, Vol. 2 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.

[10] Haynes, R.V. (2000). Mississippi under British rule – British West Florida. Online article posted at http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/66/mississippi-under-british-rule-british-west-florida.

[11] Kellogg, L.P. (1917). Frontier Retreat on the Upper Ohio 1779-1781. Madison, Wisc: State Historical Society of Wisc.

[12] Smith, C.R. (1975). Marines in the Revolution. Washington, DC: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

[13] La. Historical Quarterly, v. 15, pp. 5-36 (1932).

[14] Taylor, J.M., & Salisbury, L.M. (1981). Charles McIntire of Colonial Virginia. Sarasota, FL: private print, p. 14.

[15] Shuck, L.G. (1999). Berkeley Co, [W]Va Deeds and Will Abstracts. Apollo, PA: Closson Press.

[16] Irwin, R.B. (1987). A Springer Family History. Decorah, Iowa: Anundsen Publishing Co.

[17] Haymond, H. (1910). History of Harrison County, West Virginia. Morgantown, WVa: Acme Publishing Co.

Painting attribution: Charles H. Waterhouse, Willing’s Marine Expedition, February 1778. Artwork commissioned for and appearing in the government-press, uncopyrighted Marines in the Revolution (author Charles R. Smith; Washington, DC: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1975), and thus believed to be in the public domain.

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