By Pete Zamplas –
Independence Day today reflects roots of our freedoms ignited by the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago, a celebration extra special to descendants and re-enactors of Revolutionary War heroes.
The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia. The war officially ended by treaty Sept. 3, 1783, two years after British Cdr. Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Va.
There are at least 15 known residents of what would become Henderson County (liberated from Buncombe County in 1838) who fought for autonomy from England. A dozen are commemorated on the Revolutionary War memorial, on the Historic Courthouse lawn in Downtown Hendersonville.
Typically, Patriots received land for serving honorably in the war, making them among earliest settlers and biggest landowners. Matthew Maybin (1756-1840) settled after the war by Pacolet River in S.C., then Green River Cove. His grave has monuments both as a Revolutionary soldier and for his family.
His fifth-generation farmer descendant in the Green River community, Theron Maybin, told The Tribune he is proud how Matthew was “dedicated in serving his country.” He fought in many battles in the Carolinas from 1775 to 1782, often re-enlisting for more duty.
Matthew Maybin reportedly killed 20 British soldiers soon after escaping from capture, Theron said. Matthew was huge for his day, listed on his grave as 6-foot-4 to 6-6 which is a foot taller than the typical 5-6 soldier then.
Theron is a burly 6-3. He is Henderson County Soil and Water Conservation District board vice-chairman. His maternal ancestor William Henry Capps Jr. (1761-1847) was also tall. Capps served at times with Matthew Maybin, often under Col. James Lisle. By 1809, documents indicate Matthew could not walk after dislocating a joint of the hip and thigh, possibly during the war.
First, in late 1775 he was part of the Snow Campaign in the Province of South Carolina, such as attacking Fort Granby by the Congaree River. This was the first major campaign in the South, historical accounts note. It disrupted recruiting centers of colonial Tories loyal to King George. Fighting ended with Tories deserting, or retreating toward Cherokee land at the Saluda River.
Many area battles were against well-armed Cherokee warriors aligned with the British, according to the 1996 book entitled Revolutionary Pensioners of 1840. The author, archivist Alexia Jones Helsley, is the daughter of local historian George Jones. Maybin and others guarded Rabon Creek (now Laurens Co., S.C.) frontier, in summer 1776, against Cherokee who had murdered mountaineers. His militia went on the offensive that autumn, attacking Cherokee villages and a fort by Franklin Courthouse. He then helped guard Georgian frontier for a year, until summer 1778. For much of 1780, Maybin helped guarded provision at Fort Congaree until the British took that trading post.
Facing forced service in the British army, Maybin and Col. Lisles and other Patriots fled, according to Helsley’s book. They hooked up with Patriot Gen. Sumter, and found safety in Catawba Nation in N.C.
Patriots reportedly beat over twice as many Brits on Aug. 6, 1780 in Lancaster County, S.C. After two defeats and retreat to Charlotte, Maybin drove cattle at Fort Lacy in the winter of 1780 until Col. Liles returned from Virginia. Then he and other militiamen joined Continental Army Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan, at the Pacolet River. They turned the war around with several victories, outfoxing the Brits at Cowpens, S.C. near here in mid-January, 1781. In Maybin’s final tour, ending in September, 1782 he fought Cherokee in what is now Rutherfordton.
Maybin’s war pension was $80 a year, pension records indicate. Theron Maybin said documents show Matthew bought land in 1800 for a mere nickel an acre.
Many re-enactors have military ancestors. Henderson County residents who have long reenacted include Robbie Gilbert, Ron Norman and Don Hendrix. “Captain” Norman has led the First Maryland Continental Line, based in Hendersonville. It includes Hendrix.
Gilbert, a refrigeration technician, is captain of the similarly-sized (about 20 regulars) N.C. Militia based in Old Fort. The group seeks more volunteers, to renovate the fort. He acts out a Scottish character from N.C.. He has reenacted for 30 years. His son Ian Gilbert, 25, also reenacts.
On the Fourth at Old Fort, “I’ll fire an English Coehorn mortar,” Robbie Gilbert said. The mortar were incendiary. He said in artillery drills, “it just goes pop. The ball flies out slowly. When it hits, it explodes.”
Gilbert handled artillery as an extra in the film “Last of the Mohicans,” shot largely in Chimney Rock Park. He played a soldier on both sides of a fort invasion. First as a Frenchman “I’m loading a 15-inch mortar. You can see my face,” he said. “Then I’m also in the British mortar crew, that’s taken out … I blew myself up.”
Reenactment is vivid and multi-sensory, Gilbert said. “History has a taste, a feel, a smell. You can smell the white powder, tar, Linseed oil, the horses, the hay, the wood fire and food cooked. You can touch much of this. The beauty is you can taste the food, even the black powder flying as it gets into the mouth. It’s in your face.” He said, “we’re doing this out of our love for history.”
Gilbert hopes to chronicle Revolutionary history in a book. He is “putting a puzzle together” from diaries, family histories, pension records and other sources. The 1982 Edneyville High graduate has Revolutionary ancestors. Second Lt. Daniel Gilbert Sr. and son Daniel Jr. were with militia attached to the Continental Army in the South, ending at Yorktown. Daniel Sr. was seasoned from the French and Indian War. “The Bedford (County, Va.) Boys, as I call them, were a rifle regiment,” Robbie said. They stood their ground, more than militiamen who “shot then ran away.”
In mid-March he was in a reenactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, which was in 1781. His ancestors fought in it. “While the Continental line made a tactical retreat, the Bedford Boys held off the entire British Army.” Daniel Gilbert Sr. used a land grant to buy land mere miles from the historic Cowpens battlefield.
Revolutionary War re-enactors will be in D.C. today, Thursday, July 4, in Washington Crossing Historic Park. There will be readings of the Declaration of Independence.
That document and the Constitution ring loudly today, in an era of overly-reaching federal control and taxation, Gilbert said. “Our Founding Fathers knew too well the nature of man. They had an uncanny ability to see what could happen, if government was out of control. They wrote the Constitution, to protect people from out-of-control government.”
This July 4 in Hendersonville, the Historic Courthouse lawn off Main, between First and Second Avenues, is scene of the Fourth of July Celebration on the Plaza. The sponsor is the Henderson County Heritage Museum (694-1619), in the courthouse. Its new exhibit is on local railroad history.
Museum Executive Director Bette Carter said there will be a free ice cream social today, with Hot Dog World hot dogs sold as a museum fundraiser. The ceremony should start 11:45 to noon, following the Independence Day Parade down Main Street that starts at 11 a.m.
Fireworks start at dark tonight, at about 9:30 p.m. such as at Asheville’s Pack Square. In Hendersonville, they are best viewed from Downtown and by the corner of Greenville and Spartanburg highways. You are apt to be able to view the fireworks if you can see a large red balloon launched the morning of the Fourth. A viewing map is via www.hendersoncountync.org/recreation/july4.html.