Claypool's Rebellion

A History Of The Valley Of Virginia
By Samuel Kercheval

In 1781 Cornwallis entered Virginia at the head of a large army, and in the month of June a party of tories raised the British standard on Lost river, then in the county of Hampshire (now Hardy.) John Claypole, a Scotsman by birth, and his two sons, were at the head of the insurrection (Moses Russell, Esq., informed the author, that it was reported and believed at the time that Claypole's two sons went to North Carolina, and had an interview with Lord Cornwallis, who appointed and commissioned them both captains in the British service, and sent the commission of colonel to their father.). Claypole had the address to draw over to his party a considerable majority of the people on Lost river, and a number on the South fork of the Wappatomaka. They first manifested symptoms of rebellion by refusing to pay their taxes and refusing to furnish their quota of men to serve in the militia. The sheriffs, or collectors of the revenue, complained to Col. Vanmeter, of the county of Hampshire, that they were resisted in their attempts to discharge their official duties, when the colonel ordered a captain and thirty men to their aid. The insurgents armed themselves, and determined to resist. Among them was John Brake, a German of considerable wealth, who resided about fifteen miles above Moorefield, on the South fork of the river, and whose house became the place of rendezvous for the insurgents. When the sheriff went up with the militia posse, fifty men appeared in arms. The posse and tories unexpectedly met in the public road. Thirty-five of the latter broke and ran about one hundred yards, and then formed, while fifteen stood firm. The captain of the guard called out for a parley, when a free conversation took place, in which this dangerous proceeding on the part of the tories was pointed out, with the terrible consequences which must inevitably follow. It is said that had a pistol been fired, a dreadful scene of carnage would have ensued (lsaac Vanmeter, Esq., then about eighteen years of age, was one of the posse, and related these facts to the author.). The two parties, however, parted without bloodshed. But instead of the tory party retiring to their respective homes and attending to their domestic duties, the spirit of insurrection increased. They began to organize, appointed officers, and made John Claypole their commander-in-chief, with the intention of marching off in a body to Cornwallis, in the event of his advancing into the valley or near it.

Several expresses were sent to Col. Smith, requesting the aid of the militia, in the counties immediately adjoining, to quell this rebellion. He addressed letters to the commanding officers of Berkeley and Shenandoah, beat up for volunteers in Frederick, and in a few days an army of four hundred rank and file were well mounted and equipped. Gen. Morgan, who, after the defeat of Tarlton and some other military services, had obtained leave of absence from the army, and was now reposing on his farm (Saratoga) in Frederick, and whose name was a host in itself, was solicited to take the command, with which he readily complied. About the 18th or 20th of June the army marched from Winchester, and in two days arrived in the neighborhood of this tory section of Hardy county. They halted at Claypole's house (Claypole's former residence is now owned by Mr. Miller, and is about forty-five-or fifty miles south-west of Winchester, on Lost river in Hardy county.), and took him prisoner. Several young men fled; among them William Baker. As he ran across Claypole's meadow he was hailed and ordered to surrender; but disregarding the command, Capt. Abraham Byrd, of Shenandoah county, an excellent marksman, raised his rifle, fired, and wounded him in the leg (The spot was pointed out to the author, by Mr. Miller, where Byrd stood when he fired at Baker, and where Baker fell. The distance is about four hundred yards.). He fell, and several of Morgan's party went to him to see the result. The ball had penetrated just above the heel, ranged up the leg, and shivered the bones. As the poor fellow begged for mercy, he vvas taken to the house, and his wound dressed by the surgeon of the regiment. He recovered, and is still living. They took from Claypole provisions for themselves and horses, Col. Smith (who was second in command,) giving him a certificate for their value.

From Claypole's the army moved up Lost river, and some young men in the advance took a man named Matthias Wilkins prisoner, placed a. rope round his neck, and threatened to hang him. Col. Smith rode up, saw what was going on, and ordered them instantly to desist. Thev also caught a man named John Payne, and branded him on the posteriors with a red hot spade, telling him they would make him a freemason. Claypole solemnly promised to be of good behavior, gave bail and was set at liberty.

The army thence crossed the South Branch mountain. On or near the summit they saw a small cabin, which had probably been erected by some hunters. Gen. Morgan ordered it to be surrounded, observing, "It is probable some of the tories are now in it." As the men approached the cabin, ten or a dozen fellows ran out and fled. An elderly man, named Mace, and two of his sons, were among them. Old Mace finding himself pretty closely pursued, surrendered. One of the pursuers was Capt. William Snickers, an aid-de-camp of Morgan, who being mounted on a fine horse, was soon alongside of him. One of Mace's sons looking round at this instant, and seeing Snickers aiming a blow with a drawn sword at his father, drew up his rifle and fired at him. The ball passed through the crest of his horse's neck; he fell, and threw the rider over his head. Snickers was at first thought by his friends to be killed; and in the excitement of the moment, an Irishman, half drunk, who had been with Morgan for some time as a waiter, and had seen much tory blood shed in the Carolinas, ran up to the prisoner (Mace) with a cocked pistol in his hand, and shot the poor man, who fell, and instantly expired. Capt. Snickers soon recovered from the bruises received in his fall, as did his horse also from the wound in his neck.

The army proceeded on to pay their respects to Mr. John Brake, an old German, who had a fine farm with extensive meadows, a mill, large distillery, and many fat hogs and cattle. He was an exception, in his political course, to his countrymen, as they were almost to a man, true whigs, and friends to their country. Brake, as before observed, had joined the tory band, and his house was their place of rendezvous, where they feasted on the best he had. All this appearing unquestionable, Morgan marched his army to his residence, there halted, and spent two days and nights with his reluctant host. His troops lived on the best his fine farm, mill and distillery afforded, feasting on his pigs, fatted calves, young beeves, lambs, poultry, &c., while their horses, fared no less luxuriously upon his fine unmown meadows, oat fields, &c. As Brake had entertained and feasted the tories, Morgan concluded that he should feast them in turn.

The third day, in the morning, the army moved on down the river, passed by Moorefield, and returned to Winchester, where it was disbanded, after a service of only about eight or ten days. Thus was this tory insurrection crushed in the bud. The party themselves became ashamed of their conduct, and in some degree to atone for it, and wipe off the stain, several of the young men volunteered their services and marched to aid in the capture of Cornwallis.

Claypool's Rebellion: Primary Documents