Jesse Evans first appears in historical records in 1774 as a soldier in Dunmore’s War, which was one chapter in the ongoing struggle between the English colonies and the Indians.
In the 1770s, settlers were moving into western parts of Virginia south of the Ohio River (portions of present-day West Virginia and Kentucky). Indian tribes who used territory that spanned the Ohio River contested the settlement. In May 1774, Governor Dunmore of Virginia obtained his legislature’s approval for a militia expedition against the Indians. In September and October of that year, the colony’s forces moved toward the junction of the Great Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. On October 10, a portion of the militia was engaged by the Indians in the Battle of Point Pleasant. The Indians were defeated and retreated north of the Ohio River.
The accounting records of the Virginia colony list the soldiers who served in Dunmore’s War by name, company, duration of service, and amount paid. Jesse Evans served in the Fincastle County company commanded by Captain Walter Crockett and was paid for two periods of service: 38 days and 108 days. (Note 1.) The total of 146 service days roughly corresponds to the period from late May to mid-October, which was the duration of this military episode.
Evans was 15 years old at the time, having been born in the spring of 1759. (Note 2.) By modern standards, he was too young to enlist. Militia service at that age was not unheard of in the eighteenth century, however, although it might have required parental permission.
It isn’t known who Jesse Evans’s parents were or where he had lived prior to the late 1770s when he begins to appear in Virginia county records for the area that eventually became Wythe County.
James S. Evans (1812-1889), a favorite grandson who knew his grandfather for 30 years, wrote in later life that he believed Jesse Evans had been born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, and married in Botetourt County. (Note 3.) That information is inaccurate at least to the extent that Rockbridge County wasn’t formed until 1778, but nevertheless reflects the grandson’s general understanding that Jesse Evans’s origins were in Virginia west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
James S. Evans also wrote that the Evans family had moved from Pennsylvania to the New River area before the Revolutionary War and that his grandfather had a brother named Joseph who served in that war. (Note 4.) The Joseph Evans listed after Jesse Evans in the Dunmore’s War payroll shown above may well be that brother. Other published theories about Jesse Evans’s origins have placed them in Maryland or in South Carolina. (Note 5.)
It may be that the least complicated story is true—that Evans was born on land that would become Wythe County. (Note 6.) By 1753, an Andrew Evans owned 347 acres of land at Blacklick on Reed Creek (a tributary of the New River), just west of present-day Wytheville and adjacent to land patented by Esther Crockett. (Note 7.) During the Revolutionary War, another Evans family (father Samuel and adult sons Joseph and Andrew) lived in Washington County about 30 miles further west. (Note 8.)
The Crockett connection makes it all the more likely that the Jesse Evans who appears on the Dunmore War payroll as part of Walter Crockett’s militia company from Fincastle County is the same person who would later make his name in Montgomery and Wythe Counties. Evans would continue to be associated with Crocketts for many years—with Anthony Crockett during the Revolutionary War and again with Walter Crockett in Wythe County. (Note 9.)
Marriage and Children
The beginnings of the family that Evans himself established can be sketched out with the essential information that is well documented. The fact of his marriage to Elizabeth Breckenridge is recorded by the 1790 will of her father, George Breckenridge. (Note 10.) The earliest documented marriage of one of the couple’s children took place on December 17, 1795, when daughter Ann married James McCampbell in Wythe County, Virginia. (Note 11.)
The names of all of their children (and most of their children’s spouses) are set out in Jesse Evans’s own will near the end of his life. (Note 12.) The couple would have nine children between 1778 and 1794. (Note 13.)
If their daughter Ann married at 16, she was born in 1779, and was likely the eldest child. If Jesse and Elizabeth married the year before, in 1778, he would have been 19 at the time. This is consistent with what Evans’s grandson would later recount—that Jesse Evans married when he was about 19, and he enlisted during the Revolutionary War when he was about 20. (Note 14.)
The Breckenridge family had been living in the Reed Creek watershed by 1774, and perhaps for some years before that. (Note 15.) The accompanying map shows the property on Cove Creek (northeast of present-day Wytheville) that was deeded to George Breckenridge and his son Robert on June 24 of that year.
Absent documentation to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume that Jesse Evans returned to Fincastle County after Dunmore’s War, and it was there that he met and married Elizabeth Breckenridge within several years (if, in fact, he hadn’t known her before). The period in which the couple began their family roughly corresponds to the period when the new American nation was formed—from the beginning of the war for independence through the establishment of the 1781 Articles of Confederation to the adoption of the Constitution in 1787.
In March 1778, as a prelude to Evans’s active service during the Revolutionary War, he was appointed a lieutenant in the Montgomery County militia. (Note 16.) This position, along with his earlier service during Dunmore’s War, undoubtedly enabled him to start out with the rank of captain later that year in the Virginia force commanded by Colonel George Rogers Clark.
As a final word about Evans’s early life, it should be noted that another Jesse Evans lived in the Clinch River valley of Fincastle County in the 1770s. According to a history of Tazewell County published in 1852 by George W.L. Bickley, this other Jesse would have been a few years older. (Note 17.) Whatever the accuracy of Bickley’s account, various details distinguish his subject as a different individual. The full text of his account is included as the page “1852 – Bickley’s Account of Another Jesse Evans.”
Copyright 2012-2014 Gregory Hancks
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