Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Revolutionary War Ancestors: George Richards

As a prominent Virginia Colonial family, George Richards (1727-1818) was with Washington at Braddock’s Defeat (1755), and with his sons in the Revolutionary War (1776). -- Historical Marker at the Site of Richards Cemetery, Florida

There are a number of difficulties with this inscription.  Even the Richards plantation cannot be placed in Virginia. According to an online message board post,
Mrs. Susan Bennett Wester, then of Hokes Bluff, Alabama wrote up the history of her ancestors. The following is given as this history in her own words: "My great-grandfather, George Richards and his brother James, came from Nansemond County, Va., before the Revolutionary war and settled at the Richards homestead, about five miles Northeast from Louisburg. The place was then Bute County, and under British rule; after 1779 it was in Franklin County and under colonial rule; later still it was and now is within the jurisdiction of the United States Government. Thus it will be seen that George Richards lived in two different counties and under three different governments and yet lived in the same house all the time. All I know of my Richards ancestors, I learned from my grandmother, who died 1844, when I was twelve years old..."
It is important to note that this is entirely consistent with other records, such as his will.  I had hoped that either the plantation or its cemetery would be indicated by a North Carolina historical marker, but such is not the case.
As for George Richards being a Revolutionary War soldier, that is also almost certainly untrue.  Contrary to what is claimed on some Internet sites, his obituary did not state that he was himself a Revolutionary War soldier, but only that six of his sons were.  (Thomas Cupples Richards, from whom I am descended, was born in 1774, so he had no part in that war.)  Furthermore, if George Richards had been in the Continental Army, his experience and social position would undoubtedly have made him an officer -- his son James was an army captain.  There are many men who answered to the name of "George Richards" and participated in the Revolutionary War -- for example, a naval chaplain from Rhode Island, whose literary accomplishments include a (mediocre) poem about the Declaration of Independence, an "Indian spy" from Virginia (who seemed to be a very promising lead, given that "my" George Richards had a son, Stephen, who was an important Indian translator in early Florida), the unrelated George Richards Minot, but most importantly, his own son, George Richards, Jr.  However, there are no good matches to the place and rank where "my" George Richards should have been expected, which is among the officers from North Carolina.

There is a wonderful extended family story from the descendants of Micajah "Cage" Davis about his adventures during the Revolutionary War with a "Capt. George Richards", and how Cage came to marry Capt. Richards's sister Martha "Patty" (or "Patsy") Richards as a reward for obtaining some cattle for the starving troops at the Battle of Cowpens.  The story includes the note
This account is in conflict with the tree that describes Capt. Geo. Richards as Patty’s father, who was a known Revolutionary War soldier born in England and it would also be unlikely that a brother would betroth his sister.
I suspect that this story somewhat exaggerates Cage's role in starting the Battle of Cowpens, but it certainly does confuse George Richards, Sr., George Richards, Jr., and James Richards.  The captain who had his hand cut off in a duel was James Richards.  George Richards, Jr., was about the same age as Cage, and since they were both privates from the same part of North Carolina (though not, it seems, in the same companies), they may well have been friends.  It is likely that when Cage's descendants heard him talk about a "Captain Richards" and about "George Richards", his friend and eventual brother-in-law, the two became confused, particularly since James Richards died in 1781, unsurprisingly not long after losing his hand and six years before Cage married Patty.

A great deal can be learned from George's will, which I give here in full.  
In the name of God, amen. 
I, George Richards of the county and state aforesaid, being of sound mind and memory, do think proper to make this my last will and testament in manner and form following: 
Item 1st: I give and bequeath unto each of my sons: Joshua Richards, Stephen Richards, and George Richards, the sum of one dollar each.
Item 2nd: I give & bequeath to my Daughter, Patsy Davis, one bead and furniture her choice, one bound tea table, her choice of my chests, my loom, & all the thereunto belonging and also one third part of all my personal property of whatsoever nature or kind it may consist in, with the exception of my Negro woman, Hicksey, to her, and her heirs, assigns for ever. 
Item 3rd: I give & bequeath unto my son, Thomas C. Richards and unto my Grandsons, John & Jeter Hog, sons of my Deceased daughter, Jane Hog, the remaining two thirds of all my personal estate of whatsoever nature and kind it may consist in except the aforesaid Negro woman, Hicksey, that is to say, I give to Thomas C. Richards the one half of the two thirds of my estate hereby given to him, his heirs and assigns for ever. The other half to be divided between John & Jeter Hog on their arrived at lawful age and in the event that of them should dye before they arrive at lawful age, it is my will and desire that the survivors share the whole estate,hereby intended to be divided between them, to then, their heirs, and offspring for ever. 
Item 4th: It is my will and desire that my Negro woman, Hicksey, Who has been a faithful and dutiful slave, be liberated and set free and I hereby request and enjoin it on my Executor after named to use all lawful means in their power to have her emancipation and set free, but should my desire to have the said Negro woman, Hicksey, set free prove abortive, it is my will & desire that my son, Joshua Richards shall have the said Negro woman, Hicksey not doubting, but he will endeavor to comply with my will or maintain my said Negro woman, Hicksey on easy terms and not on the of real bondage and that he will act towards her the part of a friend more than that of a master. 
I hereby nominate and appoint my friends, Amus Jones, John Perry (_____) and _______ Gordon executors to this, my last will & testament. Whereof I have hereunto set my hand this 17th June, A.D. 1818. 
Witness Present, 
Nath Hunt 
John Thomas 
George Richards seal (his mark) 
There are a number of hints that make me think I would not have liked George Richards, Sr.  For one thing, there is this from DAR records:
Patty Richards married Micajah Davis in 1784, despite not having the approval of her father. George was a wealthy man and wanted a more affluent husband for Patty. 
The year is off, but that is no reason to suspect the thrust of the statement. It is backed up by this:
In 1784 Micajah married Patty Richards. Her father being a wealthy man, opposed the match on the grounds that young Davis was a poor man- -though he owned a good plantation- - and was so enraged that he never gave her anything until his death, at which time she received the old homestead and several negroes, besides other property...
Allowances must be made for the age and the culture of the day, and whatever breach may have opened due to the marriage was clearly closed by the time of his death, as his will is generous to Patty; but he still comes across as a bit of an arrogant jerk.

One other factor bothers me more than it would most people.  George Richards was a Freemason, and Masonry requires oaths that can only be made flippantly by disregarding God as a reality, but which if taken seriously make Masonry a distinct religion.

Finally, not only did George Richards own several slaves (the 1800 census shows him with 13), but the obsession in his will with his "Negro woman, Hicksey, Who has been a faithful and dutiful slave" has a distinctly creepy feel to it, one that brings to mind the "relationship" between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  If George were really so solicitous for Hicksey's freedom, I see no reason he could not have freed her during his lifetime, but he no more did that than Jefferson gave Sally Hemings her freedom.  


  1. I am a descendent of George Richards . My great grandfather was Joseph Wesley Richards . I have done extensive research on George Richards and his offspring as a DAR member and they are no verifiable information, documents, land grants, oaths etc . that George nor all six of his sons were in the Revolutionary War. Nor are they any verifiable information that George Richards was at the Battle of Braddocks Crossing in Pennsylvania with George Washington. I do not know who arranged to have a Florida Historical Marker in Altha Florida regarding George Richards and his Sons but the information on the marker is incorrect . They are much misinformation floating around the internet regarding the George Richards our ancestor. Our George is getting way more credit then he deserves. Betty Gilbert Davis.

  2. I agree about the misinformation. I suspect that Niles' Weekly Register does correctly print the obituary of George Richards. At any rate, my point was not to count how many sons of his fought in the Revolutionary War, but merely to shoot down the idea of him having been in the Continental Army himself. As for Braddock's Defeat, I have also looked in vain for any reference to him having been there earlier than the obituary. Count me as a skeptical agnostic on that question.

    As for untrustworthy information on the Internet, you're preachin' to the choir, lady! I try to make corrections when I think I have good reason to believe that the information is wrong. Here's the thing, though: a lot of this misinformation comes from garbled family traditions and very sloppy attempts to reconstruct lost information, sometimes in a flattering way (such as George Richards' supposed military history as recorded in his obituary) and sometimes in a salacious way.