The James Talbot Story


Virgil Talbot


(In 1983, Virgil Talbot completed a major work entitled, The Talbots: Centuries of Service.Although Virgil Talbot did not copyright the work, it is important to understand that the work that follows is his. We have made no changes except for a few spelling corrections. The serious Talbot scholar will wish to obtain the complete work, available on microfilm from the LDS Church. The call # is 1035574)


A Talbot and a Smith

James Talbot was four years old when his mother died in 1736. His step—mother, Jane Clayton Talbot, no doubt had considerable influence upon him. As we have seen, Matthew and Jane Talbot named their first-born, Isham. It is interesting that James was to name his first-born, Isham M. Talbot. We do not know what Isham M. Talbot’s middle name was but we do know one of his sons was given the middle name of Moile (Moyle). It is in these later generations that the name crops up in the family genealogy.

As with his father, his brothers and some of his sons later, James became a member of the Bedford County Militia. He was a lieutenant in 1755, taking the oath of allegiance to the King of England. He served in the French and Indian Wars and was listed as a wagon master when he died in 1777. Like other Talbots, he became a landowner. In 1757 he secured 190 acres on Seneca Creek in Bedford County from his brother Charles. In 1765 he evidently purchased 1,000 acres from Michael Cash in the same area. This may have been where he lived when, in early 1759, he married Elizabeth Smith of Gloucester County, VA.

Their first child was Isham M. Talbot, probably born on 3 Dec 1759. Nancy may have been next, for on 26 Aug 1779 she married Rowland Horsley. James Smith Talbot was born 24 May 1763. We do not know the birth dates of John, Martha and Sarah, except we believe Sarah was the youngest since she was under the guardianship of her Uncle John Talbot several years after her father’s death. We would say she was quite young when James died. We do know Williston was born on 18 Nov 1770. Thus when her husband died in 1779, Elizabeth Smith Talbot was left with seven children under twenty-one.

James’ death must have come suddenly for he left no will. His brother, John was named administrator of the estate. John had served in a similar capacity with his brother, Charles, in their father’s affairs when he died in 1758. Robert Baber was one of the committee to take inventory and oversee the administration of the estate. Others were John Quarles, James Addams and John Anthony. The latter was the father of John Talbot’s first wife.

James had a considerable amount of property for that period of time. He must have held property in Bedford and Campbell counties. There were at least seven slaves: Peter, Sue, Rose, Jane, Gloster, Barnabas and Humphrey. James Smith Talbot received Humphrey in the settlement. There were twenty head of cattle, two horses, 26 head of hogs and some sheep. Listed in the inventory were such items as: four beds, four axes, some books, one flax wheel, some Indian corn, a Dutch oven with hooks, looking glass, sugar box, steelyards (cotton scales], cow hides and a rifle gun.

James Smith Talbot may have been too young to remember the stirring speeches that came out of the House of Burgesses during the time of his Uncle’s service there, but from that rebellious governing body care three men, who in later years, were described as the penman (Jefferson]; the sword (Washington); and the tongue (Patrick Henry]. By the time James Smith Talbot entered the teens, the winds of revolution were growing strong. Soon he would be marching off to war.


The Smiths of Purton


But if revolution was the cry of some in the House of Burgesses in 1774, it was not so in 1657. England was the Mother Country and when mother spoke, the child listened. Even children rebel and so did Colonial Virginia. When the governor ordered the House of Burgesses dissolved Speaker John Smith voiced the refusal of the members to accept the governor’s orders. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon compelled John Smith to take an oath supporting Bacon’s Rebellion, protesting the policies of Gov. William Berkeley.

John Smith of Purton, Speaker of the House of Burgesses, was James Smith Talbot’s great great grandfather. Purton was an evolutionized version of Powhatan. This was the home of the Powhatan tribe of Indians. Their chief was Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas, the Indian maiden who, according to legend, saved the great Captain John Smith’s life. The Smiths of Purton were not descended from Capt. John Smith, but they may have been of some kin,

John Smith of Purton was the son of the emigrant, Thomas Smith. They were of the Smiths from Walsham, Suffolk and Buckingham Counties and Norfolk, England. A descendant of John Smith, through James Smith Talbot’s lineage, now lives in Norfolk, England. Dr. L, Talbot Hood, grandson of Dr. Isham Strother Talbot, bears the family names of his maternal and paternal ancestors.

It is not recorded when John Smith was born. We know that he married Anne Bernard in 1653. She was the daughter of Richard Bernard and Ann Corderoy, Richard Bernard died in 1650, leaving a widow who was to acquire several thousand acres of land granted by Sir William Berkeley. It is possible that the Purton estate came from some of Anne Bernard’s holdings. In 1662, John and Anne Bernard Smith had a son, named John also. This John Smith (II) was instrumental, along with Col. Lawrence Washington and others, in the creation of William and Mary College. The land upon which the college stands was owned by him. He is named as one of the college founders.

On 17 Feb 1680 he married Mary Warner, daughter of Col. Augustine Warner and Mildred Reade. Mary had two sisters, Mildred and Elizabeth. Mildred, the oldest, married Col. Lawrence Washington and became the grandmother of George Washington. Elizabeth Warner married her cousin, Councilor John Lewis and was the ancestress of Merriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame.

Through their mother, Mildred Reade Warner, the three sisters were lineal descendants of King Edward II of England and Phillip of Hainaut, great granddaughter of Philip II of France. Through Edward II, the Warner sisters were descended from Rollo, the Norman leader and ancestor of William the Conqueror and of the Talbots    

On 1 Jun 1695 “at a quarter past two in ye morning, it being a Saturday,” Phillip Smith was born to John and Mary Smith. Perhaps named for his distant French ancestor, Phillip was vestryman of Petsworth Parish and inherited “Fleet’s Bay” estate in Northumberland County. On 19 Feb 1711 he married Mary Mathews, daughter of Baldwin Mathews, grandson of Gov. Samuel Mathews. Their third child was Elizabeth. Elizabeth Smith perpetuated her name in her son, James Smith Talbot He in turn named his son, Thornton Smith Talbot, Thornton’s son, George, named his son, Thornton Smith Talbot (II). For generations the Smith name was a part of the proud heritage of the Talbot Family.




A Boy Goes to War


When James Smith Talbot was drafted on 10 Jun 1780, to serve in the State Troops of Virginia, he may have been the youngest of his family to serve. He had just turned seventeen the previous month. Already he had a brother, Isham M. serving somewhere, perhaps at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown, for there are sources stating such. If so he would have been just eighteen for these battles were fought in Pennsylvania in 1777. As we have noted, all of James Smith Talbot’s uncles were serving in some capacity. Uncle John, while a colonel in the militia, was probably more involved in the affairs of government. Uncle Isham was a lieutenant in the Fifth Regiment of the Virginia Lines. His Uncle Charles died in July of 1779 and Uncle Matthew was away in the Watauga area over the mountains.

James’ cousin, Williston, son of Charles, was a lieutenant in commissary and Cousin Haile, Matthew (II)’s son, qualified for captain in 1780. There may have been as many as three of his cousins in the Battle of Kings Mountain October 1780. Already a tradition of military service in the new nation was being established as young James Smith Talbot marched toward Hillsboro, NC. Placed in the company of Thomas Leftwich, in the regiment of Joseph Spencer, commanded by Brig. Geri. Edward Stevens, the boy, like many others, was untrained, as he marched into battle.

By 14 Aug 1780 they were meeting with the troops under command of Gen. Horatio Gates at Rugeley's Mill. General Horatio Gates was the godson of Horace (Horatio) Walpole, 4th Earl of Oxford and British novelist. General Gates was a contradictory man. At times he appeared willing and able; at others he was wavering and indecisive. Unfortunately, for himself and for his troops, the latter was true during the coming battle.

Gates had some three thousand men, out numbering his foe by fifty per cent. Of that number only some nine hundred Maryland and Delaware troops were seasoned veterans. General Stevens had seven hundred Virginia militia. The men were hungry so a full ration of meat and corn meal was ordered, General Stevens had brought along a store of molasses from Virginia. Being short on rum, the usual stimu1ant and heart warmer, the men were given a gill (pint) of molasses. The men ate voraciously of half-cooked meat and half-baked bread. They mixed the molasses in corn meal mush.

The result was disaster. To say they suffered from upset stomach was putting it mildly and there was no soothing relief offered by today’s television commercials. According to the report of Col. Otho Holland Williams, Deputy Adjutant General with Gates, the men were breaking ranks all night as they marched toward Camden, SC.

Camden was twelve miles from Rugeley’s Mill. Located on the Wateree River, it was one of the oldest inland communities in South Carolina, being settled in 1758 by the Irish Quakers. Originally known as Pine Tree Hill, the name was later changed to Camden in 1791 in honor of Charles Pratt, 1st Earl of Camden, an outspoken opponent of the British government in its policies toward the colonies.

About 10:00 p.m. on the night of 15 Aug 1780 the Americans were ordered to march. Sick and weakened by frequent trips to the brush, they marched for four weary hours. Suddenly, the night was shattered by gunfire. The forward units of the Americans had met the British under the command of Gen, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquis Cornwallis.

The 42 Year old Cornwallis was educated at Eton and Cambridge, He had met General George Washington in battle.: and had known both victory and defeat. It was the strategy of the British command was to blockade the South and force the Americans to give up their foolish idea of independence. The plan had started in good fashion. Charleston was captured on 12 May 1780. Cornwallis continued his plan of conquest but was hampered by repeated attacks by American patriot forces. It was these guerrilla raids that led to Cornwallis ordering Col. Patrick Ferguson to tame the patriot opposition in the Carolinas.

For now, however, the British were in command. The stage was set for James Smith Talbot and the other raw recruits to receive their baptism of fire and for General Horatio Gates to see his military ruined. Gates saw the coming battle as an opportunity to make a forceful move against Cornwallis and thus liberate the South.

For some thirty minutes the Americans fought the British in the darkness. Casualties were suffered by both sides. Sensing what he was up against, Gates called a council of his general officers. Most of them were of the opinion they should retreat, but none spoke up. Finally, the brave, but headstrong, Gen. Stevens declared it was too late to retreat. Their only course of action was to fight.

The battle took place in an open forest of pines. The polished, experienced Redcoats were too much for the untrained militia. They had never seen the enemy before. They had little, if any training. When Gen. Stevens ordered them to use their bayonets, they knew not how. The only use they had made of them was to roast their last ration of beef on.

It is said that discretion is the better part of valor. The Americans at Camden may have never heard the statement, but they knew it was time to get out of there. It was a full, unorganized retreat. Gen. Gates took possession of the “fastest horse in the army,” and hightailed it out of there, not stopping until he was in Charlotte, some sixty miles away. He went to bed, his neck saved, but his career ruined and ridiculed. In New York, Rivington’s Royal Gazette published a “reward” for a “missing army,” signed by “Horatio Gates, late Commander-in-chief of the Southern Army.”

One month later, on 25 Sep 1780, the settlers of the Watauga area over the mountains in what is now East Tennessee, met at Sycamore Shoals, near Matthew Talbot’s Mill. Col. Patrick Ferguson had upset the men when he warned the patriot settlers to cease their attacks on the British Army or suffer the consequences. He would have been better off to left the mountain people alone. They didn’t take too kindly to orders from their own American government, much less the British. They decided to teach Ferguson a lesson.

While the settlers at Sycamore Shoals organized into an army, the mill at Matthew Talbot’s was busy grinding corn for use by the soldiers. On their first day’s march toward South Carolina, the men ate their mid-day meal at Talbot’s Mill.We are not sure how many of Matthew’s sons marched with the men. It is believed Thomas was wounded at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Matthew’s son, Matthew (IV) may have went along. Perhaps another son. It is known that all of Matthew (II)‘s sons, except Clayton and Edmund, served in the war. They were too young.

Kings Mountain was named for a nearby settler and not in honor of royalty. It is in South Carolina, near the northern border. It is not a mountain so much as a ridge or hill.  Col. Ferguson stationed his men on top of the ridge and confidently waited. He underestimated the Americans. In one hour of hard fighting the Americans killed or captured the entire British Force.  Ironically, it was American against American at Kings Mountain. And it was the beginning of the end of the war. 

A Rifleman at Guilford

     In November, after Camden, James Smith Talbot was discharged from service. He remained a civilian until the last of February 1981. Then he volunteered as a rifleman in Col. Charles Lynch’s rifle regiment for an “indefinate period.” Charles Lynch had served in the House of Burgesses with John Talbot, the two representing Bedford County. They were delegates to the 1775 and 1776 Virginia Conventions. Lynch was an intense patriot and some sources credit him with the origin of the term “Lynch Law,” which grew out of his extra-legal actions in putting down Tory opposition in Bedford County. Others credit the term to his brother, John, the founder of Lynchburg.

On 8 Mar 1781, Lynch’s riflemen were assigned to the command of General Nathaniel Greene. Greene was recognized as an able general. Raised as a Quaker, he organized a local militia group in Rhode Island. Denied officer status, he served as a private. Greene had shown his capacity as a leader by the time Gates was defeated at Camden, George Washington appointed him commander of the Southern forces. Greene and his opponent were much alike. Both he and Cornwallis were reluctant for war, but both responded quickly when their nations called. They were both relative young men and suffered an almost identical disability—--a bad eye.

Ever since he took command, Greene had been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the British. He had avoided outright confrontation, mindful of the mistakes that Gates had made. He was determined to not make the same ones and to attack when he was ready. And so he retreated northward, drawing the British supply lines farther away from the Charleston port. As he retreated, he picked up strength as small bands of militia joined him. From the north help would come in Charles Lynch’s riflemen, as well as other troops from Virginia. Greene would wait until the time and place were right.

To the west of Guilford Courthouse flowed the Yadkin River, crossing north to south, much of North Carolina. Some fifty to sixty miles south and west the Yadkin flowed through old Rowan County. Far to the south it would become the Pee Dee, but here it was the Yadkin and joining it was the South Yadkin which arrived at its junction with the main stream from the northwest.

Some fifteen miles upriver from the Forks of the Yadkin, was Renshaw’s Ford on the South Yadkin. So named for the many Renshaws who lived in the vicinity, the crossing was much used by traffic which could travel all the way to Philadelphia. Not too far from the crossing lived Elijah and Ann Renshaw. About fifteen miles northward on Dutchman’s Creek lived the Wests.

On 2 Feb 1781, Gen. Cornwallis and his troops crossed at Renshaw’s Ford, heading northward across what is now Davie County. They marched through Mocksville, crossed Dutchman’s Creek. Like much of the country they had marched in, this was a divided land. Patriot and Tory forces skirmished. Neighbor was against neighbor.

Into this land had come the explorer, John Lederer in the mid 17th century. He reported finding a “mile-square” townsite occupied by Indians, some ten miles south of Renshaw’s Ford. Men had travelled the pathways for centuries before they became roadways that now echoed with the tramping feet of British soldiers. Nameless Indian tribes had roamed this land thousands of years earlier. Then it was claimed by the Cherokees and others tribes as their hunting grounds.Into the area came the Wests, Renshaws, Boones, and others, settling on tracts of land long before any records were kept to verify their presence.Daniel Boone had come here with his parents in the first half of the 18th century.Here he met and married Rebecca Bryan.

     There was a lot of Tory sentiment here. Jonathan West leaned toward the British. Samuel Bryan, uncle to Rebecca Bryan Boone, was a strong Tory. When he attempted to lead a local militia into the British camp, he was challenged by one Richmond Pearson. The two men agreed to a fistfight with the winner taking command of the militia. Pearson won and thereafter the “Fork Company” militia was for liberty.

Greene retreated and Cornwallis chased after him. Across the Dan River to Dick’s Ferry Greene went. There he was strengthened by the addition of Lynch’s riflemen and other Virginia troops. It was time to fight. 

     Guilford Courthouse stood in a cleared field some five miles northwest of present-day Greensboro. The ground rose slightly from the surrounding woods. To the west lay another clearing. It may be from almost the beginning of his cat and mouse game, Greene picked this spot to fight the British. He placed his first line in the field west of the Courthouse. Young James Smith Talbot and his fellow riflemen in Lynch’s company, were placed on the right flank in the woods.

     At about half past one in the afternoon of 15 Mar 1781, the battle began. By nightfall it was over. In his two-volume The War of the Revolution, Christopher Ward devotes several pages to the battle at Guilford Courthouse. He has high praise for Col. Lynch’s riflemen. In the end the Americans retreated from the field of battle, but it was not the rout of Camden. It was orderly with deadly fire from the riflemen among the trees decimating the British troops. Cornwallis received credit for victory but it was a hollow one. As Charles James Fox, a member of Britain’s Parliament anti-war group, put it: “Another such victory would ruin the British Army.”

     Darkness came early on that fateful day. The guns were silent but the cries of the wounded shattered the stillness. And the rains came. Cold, wet rain fell in torrents. As Christopher Ward put it, it “was a sad place.” On the Nathaniel Greene monument in the Guilford Courthouse Military Park are these words, written by Charles Alphonso Smith, educator, friend and biographer of 0. Henry, and a native of Greensboro:


In the maneuvering that preceded it, in the strategy that compelledit, in the heroism that signalized it, and in the results that flowed from it, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse is second to no battle fought on American soil. Over the brave men who fell here their comrades marched to ultimate victory at Yorktown, and the cause of constitutional self-government to assured triumph at Philadelphia. To officer and private, to Continental soldier and volunteer militiaman, honor and award are alike due. They need neither defense nor eulogy, but only just recognition.”


     Private James Smith Talbot of the Virginia rifleman received his “just recognition” when, in 1982, his name was entered on the roster of those who fought at Guilford Courthouse.

In Rowan County on Dutchman’s Creek, four-year-old Thomas West was probably sleeping as the rain pattered on the roof of his father’s cabin, unmindful of the battle just fought, And near Renshaw’s Ford, Elijah and Ann Renshaw may have worried the torrents of rain would bring floods to the South Yadkin. Two years later they would welcome the birth of a daughter, Mary. On 11 Jul 1804 Mary Renshaw would become the bride of Thomas West. They would move slowly westward until they reached Washington County, AR in 1830. Thomas West and James Smith Talbot never met, but their descendants would for in 1961, in Washington County, Avis May West Kirk, great great granddaughter of Thomas and Mary Renshaw West, became my wife. 

On to Yorktown

After Guilford, Private Talbot was discharged. On 1 Aug 1881 he volunteered for a second time, this tour of duty to be for six weeks. He was placed in Capt. Alexander Cummings’ company, Col. John Holcomb’s regiment and attached to the command of General Marquis de Lafayette. A French nobleman, Lafayette came to America to assist the patriots whom he admired. He gained the admiration and respect of George Washington and became a member of the General’s staff. In 1777 Lafayette was given the rank of major general.

After his six weeks tour of duty was up, James Smith Talbot volunteered for a third time and was placed in Capt. Charles Calloway’s company, Col. William Calloway’s regiment. Meeting at New London in his home county of Bedford, Private Talbot and others marched to Yorktown. They were assigned to Gen. George Washington's command. Thus a private and a general served at Yorktown, a few miles from Gloucester County, home of their common ancestor. We don’t know if James Smith Talbot knew of his kin to Washington but we suspect he did. In his diary he refers to the “Great Washington,” and he was to name his first son, James Washington Talbot.

Yorktown was located on a bluff on the south side of the York River, opposite Gloucester Point. In September 1781, Gen. Cornwallis made preparations to defend the town. But Cornwallis was getting into a “pudding bag” as Gen. George Weedon put it in a letter to Gen. Greene. By 28 Sep 1781, American and French forces were moving into place. A week later, the siege was in effect. Cornwallis held out until 17 Oct 1781, when he asked for an armistice to work out terms of surrender.

By the 19th it was all over. To the tune of “The World Turned Upside Down,” the British troops surrendered. Clothed in spick-and-span new uniforms, they were a contrast to the ragged Americans, some in tattered raiments of uniforms, many wearing whatever they could find. The war would linger for two more years, but for all practical purposes it was over.

What of James Smith Talbot? In his application for a pension in 1852, given before a Justice of the Peace in Buchanan County, MO, he gives this account of his last day in service:

“He (Talbot) remained in said company, in the army under Gen. Washington at the siege of Yorktown until after the surrender of Yorktown on the 19th day of October 1781, and was then and there regularly and honorably discharged from said service, that he received said discharge from the Captain of his said company, Captain Charles Calloway, on the evening of the same day of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown on the parade ground for the purpose of taking care of his wounded brother, wounded in said siege.”

(See also James Smith Talbot’s Revolutionary Diary in Appendix.)


Who was the wounded brother at Yorktown? In 1850, W. T. Houghland made a statement in Carroll County, KY that he became acquainted with Isham Talbot in New Orleans in 1812 and that Isham told him he came to Kentucky and left his brother James in the service and that he, Isham, returned to Virginia to get his brother later. In July 1853, James’ brother, Williston, stated that he had three brothers in the Revolution. The only two he names, however are James and Isham. If, in fact Isham did leave James in the Army and went to Kentucky, then the wounded brother was John. It is believed John died in 1784. Other than that, we know little about him. As for Private James Smith Talbot, the war was over. A veteran of three battles, he was just eighteen. It was time to look westward.



Bits of History /

                                                “Omaha City,N.T.

                                                 Nebraska Territory]

                                                 Jan. 3rd 1865


T. S. Talbot, esq. (Thornton S. Talbot)

Dear Sir: .. .You wish my views of your selling out your affects and moving west, I think if you can sell your property and get out of that country (Missouri], it would be the best for all of you. You think of going to the Pacific Coast, I do not believe that it will be safe to cross the plains next summer on account of Indians. From present indication it is the general belief that all the Indians west will combine by spring in a war against the whites. If so there will be nothing safe on the plains. You can come to this country (Nebraska) The prospects for a living here as good as it is in your country, if not better. At least I would rather (take] my chances here then in Missouri for a living at this time, And whenever we can cross the plains with safety I am willing to go with you. I would advise you to sell your land and come out of that God forsaken country as soon as possible...

Truly yours, E, M. Rauch”


“E. M. Rauch was a brother of Emanuel H. Rauch, Thornton’s son-in—law.]

                                                   *     *     *


“Rec’d of Judge T. Talbert (Talbot), twelve sacks of flour (12 sacks) to be sold and accounted for at four dollars (4) per sack--­Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation

               April 16, 1871John W. Stapler”