Henry Willis (c1740-aft1785)/Military records

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The ProblemEdit

Henry Willis is believed to have participated in Lord Dunmore's War. He is sometimes shown as on the roster of miaden Springs and Glade Hollow Forts in southwest Virginia. He is sometimes idnetified as a participant at the Battle of Point Pleasant under Captain Daniel Smith during Dunmore's War. Some presentations on the net show him as a Sargeant, and others as a private.

There are several web sites related to Dunmore's War, as well as on some personal genealogies that have been posted on the net, which can be pointed to as support for Henry's participation in Dunmore's War. Examples of web pages where such information is found include:

Soldiers at the Battle of Point Pleasant, which appears to be a contribution to the archives of the Rockbridge County, Virginia GenWeb site by Rena Worthen, and apparently based, at least in part on the work of a well known genealogist for Rockbridge County, Angela Ruley.
Soldiers at the Battle of Point Pleasant, which appears to be a contribution to the Mason County WV GenWeb, by Suzie Crump.

The above web pages are probably commonly used as a source by various genealogists for their information about ancestors service during Dunmore's War. They are, howver, tertiary sources at best, and neither places their information in the context of a primary source, or a reliable secondary source. One site acknowledges the assistance of Angela Ruley, a well known genealogist whose work is respected by many. In this case the information may have come originally from Angela, but we do not known that, nor do we know whether it comes to this site unfiltered, or modified by another hand. The absence of source information makes it difficult to verify or validate such information. To deal with this we need to examine other sources in an effort to validate what is said about Henry Willis' service record.


While we don't know what sources were used to provide the information presented in the two web pages cited above, we can point to other sources which provide information about military service during Dunmore's War. In this regard, the Draper Manuscript Collection is of particular importance. This source is a compendium of primary source documents collected in the mid 1800's by antiquarian and historian Lyman Draper, and housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Draper MSC contains a considerable number of documents related to Dunmore's War, some of which do in fact mention Henry Willis' service. The Draper MSC is very voluminous, but is available through microfilm editions. In addition abstracts of the documents contained in the Draper MSC have been prepared by later authors. Given the complexities of the Draper MSC, these secondary sources serve well as surrogates for the primary source material contained in the Draper MSC.

There are four well known secondary sources that provide information from the Draper MSC concerning Dunmore's War that are of interest for those looking for military service records dealing with people from Southwest Virginia (e.g, Henry Willis):

Thwaites and Kellogg, 1905 (hereafter, T&K) Documentary History of Dunmore's War, a collection of documents compiled from the Draper Manuscript Collection
Summers, 1902 History of Southwest Virginia, pp. 141-160, includes a summary of some of the troops from Fincastle Co, who were at Point Pleasant.
Lewis, 1909 History of the Battle of Point Plesant., p120 deals with personnel who served in Dunmore's War, but are not thought to have been at Point Pleasant.
Summers, 1929 Annals of Southwest Virginia, pp. 1379-1425 provides a compendium of information about milita from Southwest Virginia who participated in the Revolutionary War in general, and Dunmore's War (which he considers part of the Revolution) in particular.

Each of these secondary sources has its own advantages and disadvantages. T&K is particularly valuable because they provide a verbatim transcript of specific sources (letters and other official documents) pertaining to Dunmore's War. They provide limited contextual infrmation about these sources. Summers, 1902 and 1929 provides considerably more context about the Fincastle Troops, and is a readily available work, but the transcriptions they provide do not indicate the specific original source, leaving his treatment of sources as the nondescript "Court Records of ... Counties", and "fifteen bound books of letters...collected by the author over the last 25 years". He specifically mentions the work "Dunmore's War by Thwaites", by which he probably means T&K and other source documents; but in few cases does he indicate the specific source where specific bits of information were obtained, nor does he point back to the original record contained in the Draper MSC

Did Henry Willis serve at Glade Hollow or Maiden Springs Fort?Edit

T&K provide a list of men who were serving under Captain Daniel Smith in Southwest Viriginia on 13 August 1774. Their list is bsed on a combination of two records in the Draper MSC, specifically 5XXa and 6XX106. The list is broken up into four parts: those serving at 1) Elk Garden Fort, 2) Glade Hollow Fort, 3) Maiden Springs Fort, and 4) the Upper Station (Big Crab Orchard Fort). Additional information about some of the men's service is also provided, including in some cases dates of enlistment and disharge. These lists should probably be considered definitive (or at least the best that can be provided) in so far as they show who served at these forts under Captain Smith. They correspond well with the lists for these forts provided on the two websites purporting to show those who participted in the battle of Point Pleasant. They also correspond well to the data provided by Summers 1929, except that Summers has combined the Maiden Springs and Glade Hollow rosters into a single list. (See Henry Willis (c1740-aft1785)/Comparison of Rosters).

The list provided by T&K shows Henry Willis serving at Maiden Springs. No additional data about his service is indicated. The overall list is dated 13 August 1774, though some entries indicate that a number of persons were added to the roster after this date. T&K do not show Henry serving at Glade Hollow. The only indication so far found of service at that location is the table from Summers, 1929. As discussed at Henry Willis (c1740-aft1785)/Comparison of Rosters it appears that the Glade Hollow roster by Summers is a combination of the listings used by T&K to generate rosters for Glade Hollow and Maiden Springs. Why Summers would have done that is not clear. He apparently made use of the information in T&K, and does not seem to have utilized the Draper MSC directly. It seems likely that his presentation is in error, and probably arose from a misinterpretation of the lists in T&K. Direct examination of the Drapers MSC collection may reveal the basis for this. Given the weakness of Summers approach to citations, it is possible that another record exists that would show Henry Willis at Glade Hollow, and that he failed to cite that record. Under the current circumstances, however, there seems little reason to believe that Henry served at Glade Hollow, and that his service was confined to Maiden Springs

Was Henry a Sargeant?Edit

Did Henry Serve at Point Pleasant?Edit

The "Documentary History of Dunmore's War" is the chief and by far the most reliable source from which to obtain rosters of the companies engaged in the battle of Point Pleasant, and we print therefrom all of those which participated in that struggle. In addition to these, that work contains rolls or lists of men engaged in defending the frontier in 1774. These included the companies of Captains Daniel Smith, page 396; Robert Doak, p. 399; men in Michael Woods' Muster District, p. 396; Thomas Burk's Muster District, p. 398; and the Garrisons at Elk Garden Fort, p. 401; at Glade Hollow Fort, p. 402; at Maiden Spring Station, and Upper Station, p. 403; and a list of scouts on p. 404. Not one of these organizations was in the battle of Point Pleasant, as is shown by the regimental and battalion organizations on pages 413, 4.14, 415, 416, 417, 418, cf the said work. (Lewis, 1909)

From the above we see that Lewis concluded that a number of units remained behind in Southwest Virginia, defending the frontier. From the letters of the Expedition leaders we can see that this was a matter of considerable concern, with substantial fears that individual groups of Indians might attack the frontier settlements even while the majority were gathering on the Ohio. Captain William Russell wrote Col William Preston the following on the 16th of August:

I have long expected to have been releived, by Men at our Forts, that the Volunteers might march to the appointed place of Rendevous...and I think it absolutely necessary to have two captains to command on Clinch, that ought to be ranging, besides those in the Forts, as constant guards, to the inhabitants. (T&K:156)

Nine days later Col. William Preston wrote to Major Arthur Campbell:

I ordered Capt. Thompson with sixty men to guard the lower settlements on the Clinch....and as the upper settlements are still uncovered, I would have you appoint Capt. Daniel Smith to that service...The men are to be disposed of along that frontier as was agreed on..

on 9 September 1774 Maj. Campbell wrote to Col Preston:

I have sent out orders, to this and the two next companies on Holston for all the men that has arms or any ammunition to assemble tomorrow in order to patrol a few days in the Rich Valley, and some of the best hands to go over to see what is become of Capt. Smith; as he is very weak at his own station, having only 8 men the last account...The forts at Glade Hollow, ELk Garden, and Maiden Spring has their compliments compleat [sic].

Was Henry Willis a SargeantEdit

Here is the roster as given at the Mason County site:

At the Maiden Springs Station
Robert Brown, Sergeant Henry Willis Joseph Cravens, Sergeant James M'Clehany (McElhenny) James Cravens, John Jameson, James Rogers, Thomas Brumly, Anddw Lammy, Samuel Fowler John Flintham, James Douglas, John Newland, Samuel Paxton, Phillip Dutton, John Cravens, Rees Bowen, David Ward, Robert Cravens

The Rockbridge site gives the data as

At the Maiden Springs Station
Robert Brown, Sergeant Henry Willis Joseph Cravens, Sergeant James M'Clehany (McElhenny) James Cravens John Jameson James Rogers Thomas Brumly Anddw Lammy Samuel Fowler John Flintham James Douglas John Newland Samuel Paxton Phillip Dutton John Cravens Rees Bowen David Ward Robert Cravens

In both cases Henry Willis is shown as a Sargeant. Note however, that the punctuation in both listings is erratic, and neither indicate the ultimate source of information.

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