Moses Byrd: A Revolutionary War musician

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Illustrative open source image

I’ve been making one discovery after another when it comes to my ancestral kin who were both people of colour and American Revolutionary War veterans. I’ve found records for hundreds of kinsmen who were fpoc within my extensive ancestral extended family who served in many different capacities during the American Revolution.

Moses Byrd, born around 1745, is another interesting discovery. Moses was a musician in Lewis’ Company of the North Carolina Continental Line in Halifax County, North Carolina, in 1776. He seems to have disappeared from active duty in January 1778.

He mustered again in Taylor’s Company for 2-1/2 years in January 1779. [Clark, The State Records of North Carolina, XVI:1012, 1024, XVII: 192]. As a fpoc, he was legally obliged to register in his home county. He was a “Mulatto” taxable in Southampton County in 1802 [PPTL 1792-1806, frames 156, 183, 261, 311, 373, 407, 509, 546, 615]. There is usually a brief physical description fo the free person of colour in question included in the registration records. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find such a description for Moses.

He was taxable in Southampton County from 1782 to 1803: taxable on a horse and 4 cattle from 1782 to 1787, taxable on Asa Byrd [believed to be Moses’s nephew] in 1788, taxable on Thomas Byrd [Moses’s son] in 1795, called a “Mulatto” in 1802 [PPTL 1782-92; frames 508, 544, 634, 655, 705, 755, 812, 869; 1792-1806, frames 156, 183, 261, 311, 373, 407, 509, 546, 615].

He was living in Northampton County, North Carolina, before 2 January 1807 when he made his Northampton County will, proved March 1808 [WB 2:362]. He left most of his estate to his wife, whose name remains unknown.

This is his life, as it’s currently known, in a nutshell.

Musicians in the Revolutionary War

I was curious about the exact nature of his war service. Naturally, I did some digging.  I know he was a musician. However, the records don’t specify what instrument or instruments he played. I did, however, manage to unearth accounts of what army musicians did during the war.

It turns out that Moses was probably a part of the Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corps. 18th Century Army musicians had a dual role.  The first was as a communication channel.  There were no walkie talkies, radios, or quick forms of mass communication on the 18th Century battlefield. Musicians were a practical means of long distance communication. Anyone who lives within a mile of a sports arena today can attest to how far the sounds of drums, fifes (think flutes), and horns can carry!

The second apart of a musician’s service during the was was providing entertainment for the army camps. In other words, morale boosters.

According to the website The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps:

The fife was used because of its high pitched sound and the drum because of its low pitched sound. Both instruments can be heard from great distances and even through the sounds of a battlefield. Fifers and drummers would provide the music for all of the things that soldiers would need to do throughout the day. They would play tunes in the camp, on the battlefield, or for a march…

On the battlefield, musicians had the responsibility of helping keep order in battle and make sure the soldiers functioned well as a unit. Drummers would play beatings telling the soldiers to turn right or left as well as to load and fire their muskets. There was a tune called Cease Fire that fifers and drummers would play to tell the soldiers to stop firing at the end of a battle while a tune called Parley was used to signal to the enemy that a surrender or peace talk was desired.

More information about the service of Army musicians in the American Revolution is available on the same website via http://www.fifeanddrum.army.mil/kids_fife_drum.html

Now that I had a very basic understanding of the service Moses provided during the war, I wanted to find out more about the battles he would have been a part of.  It turns out, he was involved in a quite a few.

Micajah Lewis, Captain of the 1st and 4th North Carolina Regiments

The first half of Moses’s war service was under Capt. Micajah Lewis (yep, another kinsman from my extended family) as part of the 4th North Carolina Regiment. This speaks to an important historical fact where Moses’s genealogy is concerned: he had already left Southampton, Virginia for North Carolina when he joined Maj Lewis’s regiment. Established on 15 April 1776, this means Moses was resident in North Carolina by 1776.

What’s interesting to me is that he was taxable in two states during an over-lapping period between 1790 and 1802: Halifax and Northampton Counties in North Carolina and Southampton County in Virginia. While he would ultimately come to permanently reside in Northampton, North Carolina…he was clearly going back and forth from North Carolina to Virginia.  He is far from being alone. I have swathes of ancestral kin who were fpoc moving back and forth from North Carolina and Virginia before permanently residing in North Carolina. I remain mystified as to why. What was happening in the early decade of the American Republic that caused thousands of fpoc to ping pong between these two states for two to three decades? I digress, but only in the name of genealogy!

The website The American Revolution in North Carolina (http://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_nc_fourth_regiment.html) has an excellent overview about the Regiment and its war activities. In its early stages, the Regiment was moved from place to place. In the Fall of 1778, the 4th NC Regiment was re-organized at Halifax, NC. This fits perfectly with when Moses enlisted. Halifax, NC was one of the ancestral centres for the extensive fpoc Bird/Byrds.

At this point, judging by the battle lists for 1778 in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, it appears that Moses may have been involved in skirmishes in South Carolina and Georgia…but saw no major action.

Capt Lewis, who attained the rank of Major by the time of his death in 1779, would die after being shot either during the course of, or directly after, a battle.  Which battle is unclear.  The website The American Revolution in South Carolina cites he died as a result of being shot at the Battle of Stono Ferry in South Carolina (http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_stono_ferry.html). Some Lewis family history books cite the Battle of King’s Mountain in North Carolina as his final battle (https://books.google.com/books?id=-rn7DAAAQBAJ&pg=PA13&dq=captain+micajah+lewis&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiThK_NluzPAhVKID4KHbztDxwQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=captain%20micajah%20lewis&f=false). His death in 1779 is not in dispute.

Moses would serve at the Battle of Stono Ferry on 20 June 1779.

stono_ferry

Image Courtesy of http://www.carolana.com/

After the death of Capt. Lewis, Moses would go on to serve under Capt. Philip Taylor’s 5th North Carolina Regiment.

Philip Taylor, Captain of the 5th North Carolina Regiments

As part of Capt. Taylor’s regiment, Moses would serve in the Battle of Stono Ferry (1779, http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_stono_ferry.html )

british_map_battle_of_stono_ferry_june_20_1779

British Map Showing Battle of Stono Ferry – 20 June 20 1779. Image Courtesy of http://www.carolana.com/

and,

the Siege of Charleston in South Carolina (1781, http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_siege_of_charleston.html).

After the War

Moses was granted a land patent for his war service. The patent included a 274 acre land warrant granted in 1783 for his service in the American Revolution; evidently the tract of land was never claimed. It was returned to the State in 1821.

Roll #4, Book B-2, pg. 112-113, TN State Library & Archives State of North Carolina, No. 2332,…..granted unto John Gray Blount and Thomas Blount assignees of Moses Byrd a private in the Continental Line of said state 274 acres of land in County of Davidson on the South side of the Harpeth River…..the upper part of Millers Bend?…..James Robertson’s West boundary… dated 20 May 1793. (The rest of the deed is very difficult to make out)

For whatever reason, this land grant doesn’t appear to have been claimed by Moses, or his wife, or his children. I have no record of him or his direct family members having any connection to Davidson County. To-date, they are associated with only two North Carolina Counties: Halifax and Northampton.

This land grant, however, is beginning to paint a picture of how some of my ancestral kin who were either poor whites or free people of colour came by medium-sized tracts of land after the Revolutionary War ended. Land that would have been out of their reach to purchase, was a form of payment and/or reward for services rendered. Even better, some of these land grants are still held by these families to this very day.

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, South Carolina

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