Sunday, November 1, 2015

Thomas Archer (1752-1818)

Thomas Archer may possibly be an ancestor or related to my Harris family. Some papers that were handed down through the Harris/Borgman line (John A. Borgman married Mary O. Harris) had the names of both Thomas Archer and John Hamilton. Thomas Archer married John's sister.

Since some of the papers were regarding the Revolutionary War and since most of them were concerning Thomas Archer of Guilford Co., North Carolina, I think it is safe to say that this description of an event during the Revolutionary War is regarding this Thomas Archer.

The incident that was related in Interesting Revolutionary Incidents: and Sketches of Character, Chiefly in the "Old North State" by the Rev. E. W. Caruthers took place on February 13, 1781.

"Tarleton says that, " on the road many skirmishes took place between the British and the American light troops;" and it is said by others that they seldom shot at each other except across a turn in the road or when crossing a stream of water, though they were often in sight and sometimes within rifle shot. Occasionally, however, when the British were pressing too closely on them, they found it necessary to skirmish a little; and in such cases, as Williams, was on the retreat, he could generally select his own ground. On one occasion of this kind, according to favorable tradition, having drawn up the whole of his men in a position, he made show of fight, and appeared very determined on making a stout resistance. The British, thinking they had not force enough to encounter him, sent back for two pieces of artillery and a reinforcement of men. In the corps of Williams was a singular genius, by the name of Tom Archer, from the north-west corner of Guilford county, who, with some others, had probably joined them at Martinville, for the occasion. He was not remarkable for strength of intellect, but had some other qualities which admirably fitted him for the ever varying scenes of that arduous and perilous march. Rather above the medium height and well proportioned, bony, muscular and vigorous, he was always in his place and always ready for service. Though constantly on fatigue and exposed every hour to the most imminent dangers, he never complained or became discouraged. Frank and open hearted, with a good share of ready wit, and a good flow of spirits, he was the life of his comrades, and contributed not a little to their patient endurance of the toils and perils of the march. Inflexible in his purpose, when he thought he was right, and enthusiastic in the cause of freedom, rough in his manners, blunt in his language and never caring whether he "murdered the king's English," and made "Irish bulls," all the time or not, he was ever ready to be on the "forlorn hope," or take his turn at any kind of service. If to the above characteristics we add a great catfish mouth, a big stentorian voice, and a bushy head of hair that would hardly thank you for a hat, you have Tom Archer before you as large as life; and probably the reader will think with the writer that, in some situations at least, such a man would be a very desirable friend; but, at all times, a most undesirable enemy; or in other words, that he would, if not wronged or provoked in any way, be as clever a fellow as could be found in his sphere of life, ready to divide his last ration with a comrade or risk his life for a friend, but would "fight his weight in wild cats" before he would suffer any man or any set of men to trample on his rights. Hunting had been his delight from the time he was old enough to "draw a bead;" and, with his fine rifle, which he always carried and always kept in good order, he hardly ever missed his aim at any distance within two hundred yards.

When the artillery was brought up to its position in the road, Archer stepped out into the middle of he road, directly in front of the guns, and hailed them at the top of his big, strong voice, "Hallo, there— Mister, I wish you would take that ugly thing out of the road, or it may cause some trouble yet before all is over;" and then turning his head over his shoulder, said, to an officer standing by, "Captain, may I shoot that cussed rascal? for he has no business there, no how."

"No," said the captain, "not yet—wait till they are ready to apply the match; for we want to detain them as long as we can."

The enemy, of course, if they heard him at all, paid no attention, as they would take him for a drunken fool or some crack-brained mortal; but while the preparations were making—Williams bringing up and marshalling his men, and the British doing the same—Archer stepped to the side of the road and stood there leaning against a tree, resting his gun with the butt on the ground, and in perfect silence, as if in a " brown study," or anticipating the pleasure of the feat which he expected to perform, and keeping his eye steadily fixed on that " ugly thing," in the road. He had full confidence both in the gun and in himself; and having now a good opportunity as he thought, he was anxious to make another trial. Fear, was a word which had no place in his vocabulary, and he was probably never more composed in his life, but waited for leave to shoot, with as much impatience as he ever waited for a fine buck to come along when pursued by the hounds. The time was short—a very few minutes; and when he thought they were nearly ready to apply the match, he stepped out into the middle of the road and hailed them again. "Hallo, there—Mister, I say you had better take that thing out of the road, or I'll be hanged if I don't shoot some of you." Then turning to the officer, said as before, "Captain, may I shoot that cussed rascal now; for tellin' don't do him one bit o' good?"

"Yes," said the captain, "and as quick as you can, for we have no time to lose."

Having got permission, he clapped his rifle up against the side of the tree and taking sure aim with the quickness of an experienced hunter, and at the distance of about two hundred yards, when the gun cracked, a "red coat" fell. Then vaulting into the saddle, they all dashed off at full speed; and being favored by a hollow or a turn in the road, they had just time to get beyond the reach of the grape shot before the "big gun," was fired. By this manoeuvring on the part of Williams the enemy were probably detained an hour or two, which was no small advantage to the retreating army.

The above anecdote I had, some years ago, from what I consider good authority, and the character of Archer is well known in this community. There are many yet living who, when they were young, were well acquainted with him and they all, when asked, gave me the same account. One old gentleman replied to my inquiry with a laugh, that he had just sense enough to be "fool hardy;" but then he went on to give me his character more seriously, which agreed perfectly with that given by many others. He had considerable military spirit and got some office, that of captain, or one of lower grade; but it was found that, with a courage that feared nothing, he lacked discretion."

Another incident regarding this same Archer, I believe, is recorded in a Revolution War pension application by William Gipson. He relates, “That sometime in the summer of 1779, at one WILLIAM BRAZELTON’s in Guilford County, he and his party were in the house, when suddenly two armed men stood at the door. They, seeing the party within, immediately wheeled, and Colonel MOORE knocked down one of the men, who proved to be the notorious HUGH MCPHERSON, a Tory. His party soon took the other one, who proved to be one CAMPBELL and brother to the CAMPBELL taken prisoner and made his escape during the first campaign above related. His party took both of these Tories to Guilford Courthouse, about fifteen miles from the place of capturing them. There, a court-martial was held, composed of the officers of his party, and MCPHERSON was condemned and shot in the presence of this applicant. And CAMPBELL was condemned to be spicketed, that is, he was placed with one foot upon a sharp pin drove in a block, and was turned round by one THOMAS ARCHER, to the best of his recollection, until the pin run through his foot. Then he was turned loose.

This applicant cannot forbear to relate that as cruel as this punishment might seem to be to those who never witnessed the unrelenting cruelties of the Tories of that day, yet he viewed the punishment of those two men with no little satisfaction, as they were then supposed to belong to the identical band who inhumanly inflicted corporal punishment upon his helpless parent, who had committed no other offense than that of earnestly exhorting her sons to be true to the cause of American liberty.

My speculation is that Randolph R. Harris married into the Archer/Hamilton family, possibly marrying a daughter of Thomas Archer since both Archer and Harris came from North Carolina and lived in Dickson Co., Tennessee.

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