After the war, Jesse Evans remained in the portion of Montgomery County that in 1790 would become Wythe County. Over the next several decades, he would acquire substantial wealth and would play a large part in the public life of that area.
The initial seeds of his wealth remain a mystery. In later life, he said that when discharged from George Rogers Clark’s regiment, he “had a hat full of continental money” but the “whole of it would not buy him a breakfast.” (Note 1.) Nevertheless, by the time that Evans’s personal property was assessed in 1782, he already owned five slaves, eight horses, and 20 head of cattle. (Note 2.)
For much of the 1780s, Evans and his family were living near (or perhaps with) George Breckenridge, Elizabeth’s father, in the valley of Cove Creek. By 1784, Evans had obtained a Virginia land grant for 75 acres a little west and up the creek from the Breckenridge land. (Note 3.) He had initiated this acquisition in 1782 by purchasing rights from Samuel Irvin (Ervin) and having the property surveyed in October of that year. (Note 4.)
By the late 1780s, the Evans family was also using and probably occupying the land between his 1784 grant and the Breckenridge property, although Jesse Evans didn’t acquire title to the in-between parcel until July 14, 1795. (Note 5.) His use of that parcel by 1790 is reflected in his father-in-law’s will, which was both written and recorded that year. The will gave to his daughter “Elizabeth Evans fifteen or eighteen acres,” which was described as being “within said Evans fence.” (Note 6.) The boundary of the small irregularly shaped parcel willed to her remains visible today in land ownership patterns and is shown on the accompanying map.
By the time Evans’s personal property was assessed on June 16, 1787, his holdings had increased to include the following. (Note 7.)
- 6 blacks above 16
- 5 blacks under 16
- 7 horses, mares, colts & mules
- 36 cattle
For 1782, the first year after the war, Montgomery County selected Jesse Evans and Robert Sayers as its two representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates. (Note 8.) Evans was just 23.
At that time, the legislature met twice a year. Journal entries are not available for the session that began in May 1782, and some statewide events seem to have delayed the beginning of the fall session scheduled to begin on October 21. As shown on the accompanying excerpt of the House of Delegates journal, an insufficient number of members were present at the outset to take up business. (Note 9.)
On the next page of the journal, which recorded business on October 24, each of the non-attending members—including Jesse Evans—was listed by name. He would be listed as absent eight more times that session and may not have attended until mid-November. (Note 10.)
Evans’s name does not appear further in the House of Delegates journal for 1782, and he didn’t serve again as a representative for Montgomery County. But another record of his legislative service in 1782 does appear elsewhere and confirms that legislators had met in Richmond that spring.
On June 10, 1782, the two Montgomery delegates, Robert Sayers and Jesse Evans, along with Washington County delegate David Campbell and Senator William Christian, made a written recommendation of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Crockett to command a force that had been proposed to protect the frontier of the two counties. (Note 11.)
It is reasonable to assume that this is the same Joseph Crockett described in Part I Note 9 who was the Revolutionary War commander of a company that included Sayers and a Joseph Evans—possibly Jesse Evans’s brother. (Note 12.)
A Flurry of Lawsuits
Even before the war had ended, Evans had started to become engaged in numerous lawsuits, usually as the plaintiff. The surviving records shed little light on the nature of most of these cases except that many were for debts owed to him. Perhaps he was in the habit of making loans and was not shy about going to court when the loans were not repaid. If the debts were due to goods or services he provided, that is not reflected in the records.
Shown here is a note from George Ervin documenting an unpaid debt that was the basis for a lawsuit in 1784. (The witness signature is that of Evans’s brother-in-law, John Breckenridge.) Also shown is the reverse side of the document containing Evans’s acknowledgement of payment received after the lawsuit was filed. (Note 13.)
By the time Evans reached his forties, he would no longer be in court with such frequency. His litigation history in Montgomery County as a young man suggests there must have been some underlying circumstance at play, whether that might have been the particular nature of his business activities at the time or simply his temperament.
Following is a list of Montgomery County lawsuits he filed, with approximate dates. (Note 14.)
- 1778 against William Emmons (Common law suit folder 256);
- 1778 against William McElroy (Muckebray) (Common law suit folder 253);
- 1784 against George Ervin (Common law suit folder 266);
- 1785 against William Perry (or Peery or Peary) (Common law suit folder 253);
- 1785 against William Pauley (Common law suit folder 256);
- 1785 against Alexander Moore (More) (Common law suit folder 259);
- 1785 against James Mayfield (Common law suit folder 254);
- 1785 against John Peary (Order Book 1, p. 208);
- 1785 against George Peary (Order Book 1, p. 217);
- 1787 against Robert Casby (Casbey) and Michael Least (Common law suit folder 253);
- 1787 against William Wyatt (Common law suit folder 254);
- 1789 against John Thompson (Thomson) Sayers (Common law suit folders 253, 256, 841);
- 1791 against John Hutsell (Common law suit folder 841; Chancery suit folder 19).
There is typically little of substance in the order book about these cases even when they are mentioned in that record of the court’s proceedings. An exception is the entry shown here. This entry in Evans’s suit against William Wyatt recorded that the defendant admitted the debt and judgment was entered for the plaintiff. (Note 15.)
One exception to the rule that these cases were simply about debts owed is the rather remarkable matter involving John Thompson Sayers. Sayers was a prominent figure in the area and brother of Robert Sayers. (Note 16.) In the suit, Evans’s complaint was that John Thompson Sayers had defamed him by calling him a “hog thief.” (Note 17.) Here is the text of the petition, in full.
Washington County to wit
Jesse Evans of the County aforesd. complains of John Thompson Sawyers [sic] of same County in custody &c of a plea of trespass on the case for that whereas the sd. Plaintiff is & always has been accounted & esteemed among his neighbours & acquaintances to be of good name, fame, character & reputation, and never was suspected of theft or any such crimes, yet the Defendant not ignorant of the premises but intending maliciously to deprive the Plaintiff of his good name, character & reputation did on the 1st Day of February 1786 publish & proclaim of the Plaintiff these false & scandalous words following, to wit, that the plaintiff was a Hog Thief & he could make it appear in open court.
By means of the speaking & publishing of which false & scandalous words the Plaintiff was brought into infamy & disgrace & subjected to the penalties of the law. Whereupon the Plaintiff has sustained damages to the value of one thousand pounds & therefore he sues.
Madison for Pltf.
The heading “Washington County” is incorrect, as well as the statements that both Jesse and Sayers are residents of that county. The suit was filed and heard in Montgomery County, of course, and other documents in the file leave no doubt but that the parties lived there. The references to Washington County are perplexing. The attorney named Madison who authored the petition is likely Rowland Madison, who was admitted to practice law in Washington County in 1799. (Note 18.)
Case file documents suggest that hogs had disappeared from a nearby Crockett farm and that Evans was observed at about that time to have more hogs than before. Apparently at Evans’s request, depositions were taken in North Carolina from Walter and Mary Beaty to show that he had purchased hogs from them in December 1785. The case file also indicates that Sarah Creeger (Krieger) and Mary Beard were subpoenaed to appear at trial on September 3, 1788, to testify on behalf of Sayers.
Evans won the case and was awarded 22 pounds in damages, plus 830 pounds of tobacco for his costs. The court executed on the judgment against the defendant’s property in November 1788, and, upon a failure to recover the amount owing, Robert Sayers provided a bond to Evans to pay what remained due. (Note 19.) The reverse side of the bond document shows that Evans assigned it to Hugh Montgomery and further history of the obligation that Robert Sayers had taken on.
Another anomaly in Evans’s litigation history in Montgomery County is a suit filed about 1787 in which he was the defendant, sued by George Breckenridge—perhaps his own father-in-law. (Note 20.) This would be somewhat peculiar in that Breckenridge would be leaving property to his daughter (and therefore indirectly to Evans) within several years anyway, and so the judgment he obtained for 20 pounds seems pointless. Just as peculiar is that Evans didn’t simply pay the judgment against him but instead let the court proceed with an execution process against his property, as shown in the accompanying document.
Being a party to so much litigation did not impede Evans from serving in public office, or at least from taking office. On September 4, 1787, he took an oath to serve as deputy sheriff for the county. (Note 21.)
But that service did not last very long. On the following April 4, the court recorded that “Jesse Evans by consent is discontinued from acting as Deputy Sheriff any longer.” (Note 22.)
Evans undoubtedly had rejoined the county militia after the Revolutionary War and continued to serve through the 1780s. The county’s records reflect that on June 5, 1787, he was recommended for appointment to be a captain in the militia. (Note 23.) That appointment wasn’t made, however, because on September 3, 1789, the county court repeated its recommendation to the governor that he be promoted to captain. (Note 24.)
Ordered that Jesse Evans be recommended to his Excellency the Governor as a proper person to serve as a Capt. of the militia in this county to take rank from his first recommendation.
Whether he actually was promoted to that particular post isn’t known. But he wouldn’t be serving in any public capacity in Montgomery County much longer, in any event, because his home became part of newly created Wythe County in 1790. He would undertake an astonishing variety of public positions and other activities while he lived in Wythe County during its first 25 years.
Copyright 2012-2014 Gregory Hancks
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