Sunday, June 8, 2014


What the Veterans Affairs Bureaucrats of her Time Put Rachel Sparks Bicknell through.
"Although her declaration for a pension was made in 1845, six years passed before supporting affidavits could be obtained from people who could remember her and her husband. By this time, Rachel was 94 years old. It was in September 1851 that four individuals were found who could testify on Rachel’s behalf.”

I quote at length from THE SPARKS QUARTERLY, a cautious, scholarly family history. Here I am drastically condensing a detailed account so as to show just how much trouble my Cousin Rachel Sparks Bicknell had in her 80s and her mid-90s as she tried to obtain the Revolutionary War pension due her because her husband, Thomas Bicknell, had been wounded at King’s Mountain (7 October 1780) and carried in a litter (I hope it was lifted by four Tory prisoners told they would be shot if they dropped it) for at least 2 days before being deposited in a house in Burke County, near Morganton. Somehow, Rachel got word of his injury and, although then pregnant, left her little children in Wilkes County and nursed him in Morganton until he died on the last day of 1780.

See THE SPARKS QUARTERLY, June, 1997, Whole No. 178, for an article entitled RACHEL (SPARKS) BICKNELL (1757-CA.1851/55) AND HER BROTHER, GEORGE SPARKS. . . .

"Historians have noted that most of the settlers in the Forks of the Yadkin in the 1750s and 1760s became Loyalists during the American Revolution, as was true of several members of the Sparks family. There developed a "generation gap" within many of these families, as the immigrants' sons tended to join with the rebels, demanding the Colonies' freedom from English rule. . . . Thomas Bicknell, however, was a rebel from the start of the Revolution. In fact, he would give his life for the American cause.

"Our only record of Thomas Bicknell's service in the Revolution is found in Rachel’s own account when, many years later, on December 3, 1845, just nine days prior to her 88th birthday, she made application for a pension based on that service. Not only did she, as a war widow, have to prove that she had been married to a soldier, but, also, to provide information regarding her husband's service. Documents proving Revolutionary War service were often lacking for a widow's pension application, but Rachel was further handicapped because of her long separation from friends and neighbors who had known her in North Carolina; she was living with a daughter in Pickens County, South Carolina, when she made her pension application. (Rachel Bicknell's pension file at the National Archives has the number R-12399; it is filed under "Biecknell.11) The judge writing the declaration that Rachel signed by mark, spelled her name three different ways. The full text of her application follows; punctuation has been added for clarity.

Declaration: In order to obtain the benefit of the third section of the Act of Congress of the 4th July 1836 entittled [sic] An Act granting half pay and Pensions to Certain widows: State of South Carolina District of Pickens

On this third day of December 1845 personally appeared before William D. Steele, Judge of the Court of Ordinary for the District & State aforesaid, Mrs. Rachel Biecknell of the District & State aforesaid, aged eighty eight years the 12th Instant (and who the said Ordinary certifies is unable by body infirmity to attend in Open Court) who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on her oath make the following, Declaration in order to obtain... [a pension]

That she is the widow of Thomas Biecknell who was a private and Lieutenant in the War of the Revolution, that she was married to the said Thomas Biecknell when in her seventeenth year; and she thinks [it was] when she had three children [that] her said husband entered the service under Capt Richard Allen, who was afterwards, Colonel; that they then resided in Wilkes County, North Carolina, and her said husband there entered the service the first time, and was not much at home until the close of the War; that he was at one time a Volunteer & at other times drafted, and was a considerable portion of the time a Lieutenant; that she is sure he was a Lieutenant under Capt Allen at the siege of Charleston early in 1780, that he marched much through North & South Carolina, and served at various times under Col. Lanore, Col. Cleveland, & Col. Hearne, but it is impossible for her to state the particulars of his service, at her advanced age.

That her husband the said Thomas Biecknell was wounded with an ounce ball in his hip in the Battle at King's Mountain, with which wound he died; he was carried to Burke County near Morgantown [Morganton], to the house of Mr. Bowman, whence declarant went and waited upon him with his wound Eleven weeks, at the end of which time he died. She does not know of any documentary evidence, or any evidence of any kind, that she can certainly get to prove his service, but thinks an indent may have been issued to her for his service, as she recollects, to have tryed to get something, & thinks, she did get a small sum, but does not know how [much].

That she was married to the said Thomas Bicknell in Wilkes County N.C. by Squire Riggs, as she believes on the 22d October, as she thinks the year 1774, as she had but three children when her husband entered the service, and when his service closed entirely she had five children and four months and fifteen days after his death her sixth child Mary was born; her said Daughter, Mary, married David Roper, and she now lives with her, and on their charity. She has no record of her marriage, nor of the births of her children, they [the banns] were published in Church as the custom was in those days to be married. That her husband, the aforesaid Thomas Becknell, died on the thirty first day of December 1780, and that she has remained a widow ever since that period, as will more fully appear by reference to the proof herewith forwarded.

signed: Rachel X Biecknell

"Rachel Bicknell's declaration was "sworn to and subscribed" before William D. Steele, Judge of the Court of Ordinary for Pickins District.

"While Rachel Bicknell could not recall the date on which her husband had "entered the service," it is seen that she remembered that he had done so "under Capt. Richard Allen, who was afterwards Colonel." It happens that many years earlier, in 1832, this same Richard Allen had applied for a pension (file S-6490 at the National Archives), and in his application, he had given a detailed record of his own service, which he recalled had begun in either October or November 1775 in "Captain Jesse Walton's company of minute men .... " By 1777, Allen had become an ensign in Captain Benjamin Cleveland's company of Wilkes County Militia, and when Cleveland was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1778, Richard Allen had succeeded him as captain of the company.

"It may not have been until 1779 that Thomas Bicknell joined Captain Allen's company, but he was surely a member at the time of the events that Allen recalled taking place in 1779, as follows:

" "In the latter part of the year 1779, a call was made for troops to march
in the defense of Charleston. A draft was made from the militia in Wilkes
[County] for one company, and a draft also made from the captains of
companies for a captain to command that company--the lot fell upon the
deponent [i.e. on Allen, himself], and he accordingly repaired with his
company to Hamblins old store where they rendeyvoused [sic] on the 15th
of January 1780--as soon as they could organize and make the necessary
preparations they marched direct to Charleston, S.C., where they joined
the third regiment of North Carolina Militia commanded by Col. Andrew

"Capt. Allen's company helped prevent the Tories from burning the city of Charleston, after which they returned to their homes in Wilkes County in April 1780, "having been gone between three and four months," in the words of Allen.

"Rachel Bicknell stated in her pension application that she was was sure that her husband had been "a Lieutenant under Capt. Allen at the siege of Charleston, that he marched much through North and South Carolina, and served at various times." Her memory of her husband's activities during this period is in keeping with Capt. Allen's account, as follows:

"From the month of April to September 1780 this deponent [i.e., Allen], with
small detachments of the men under his command, served three short
terms ... one of which was against a body of Tories assembled near the
head of the Catawba River, another against Colo. Bryan, a Tory Colo. who
had embodied a band of Tories in the Southern part of the State, and the
other against some Tories on the North West side of the Blue Ridge.

"In the month of September 1780 information was received by Colo.
Cleveland that Major Ferguson of the British army was advancing from
South Carolina with a large body of British and Tories--upon which Colo.
Cleveland immediately issued orders for all the troops within the County of
Wilkes to reneyezvous [sic] at the Court House. This deponent, with what
men he could collect, repaired thither immediately, and after the troops
were organized they all set out on their march to meet Majr Ferguson.
Upon the way they were joined by Col. Campbell with a body of troops
from Virginia, as also by Cols. Sevier, Shelby and McDowell with troops
from North Carolina. After a junction of the troops was formed, as most of
them had horses, it was proposed that all those who had horses or could
procure them should advance immediately upon Ferguson.

"Captain Allen was placed in command of those troops who did not have horses, and though they "continued their March with all possible speed in the direction of Kings Mountain," the battle had been won by the Americans before Allen and his footmen reached their destination. Because Thomas Bicknell had been on horseback, he had become a member of Colonel Sevier's command and was in the thick of the battle.

"A low mountain or ridge, King's Mountain is located near the border line of North and South Carolina, just over the line in York County, South Carolina, from Cleveland County, North Carolina. When the battle was fought, York County was still part of Camden District in South Carolina, and Cleveland County in North Carolina was part of Rutherford County, which had been cut off from Burke County in 1779. For the Americans, the Battle of Kings Mountain resulted in one of their most brilliant victories of the Revolution and played an important role in breaking British power in the South. Col. Sevier, under whom Bicknell was serving at the time, became a hero of the Revolution as a result of this American Victory."

"As was indicated earlier, Thomas Bicknell was severely wounded during the Battle of Kings Mountain. In her pension application, Rachel (Sparks) Bicknell gave a brief account of his injury, and subsequent death, as quoted earlier.

"Although her declaration for a pension was made in 1845, six years passed before supporting affidavits could be obtained from people who could remember her and her husband. By this time, Rachel was 94 years old. It was in September 1851 that four individuals were found who could testify on Rachel’s behalf.

"In Wilkes County, North Carolina, Benjamin Parks was found who remembered both Thomas and Rachel Bicknell. Described in his affidavit, dated September 22, 1851, as "an old and respectable Citizen," he was closely related to the Thomas Parks, Jr. whose land had adjoined that of Thomas Bicknell on Swan's Creek. On the 1850 census of Wilkes County, Benjamin Parks was shown as 84 years old and a native of Virginia. He was then living in the household of James Parks, age 59. Benjamin Parks claimed in his deposition that he could remember three of Bicknell's neighbors who had been killed at Kings Mountain; he could also recall that Thomas Bicknell had been brought from the battlefield in a "Horse Litter." Parks added in his sworn statement that Bicknell was a married man and had children, but he did not think any record of marriages was kept in those days, and that "even now they are very imperfectly kept." He added that "Mrs. Rachael Beicknell [sic] left this country long since and he never heard of her marrying again." He must have been told that Rachel had testified that her marriage had been performed by Squire Riggs, because Benjamin Parks stated that he had known "Esquire Riggs and that he was in the habit of marrying People."

"Also providing an affidavit to assist Rachel was "an old and Respectable Lady" in Wilkes County named Sarah Gray. In her sworn statement, also dated September 22, 1851, she said that she had known Thomas Bicknell well and that during the Revolution he "was from home a considerable time, said to be in the service of his country. " She added that she had had a brother in the Battle of Kings Mountain who had reported to her that Bicknell "was badly wounded in his hip and never recov- ered, and that her brother had assisted in bringing him from the battle ground." She added that Bicknell's "wife's maiden name she recollects very well, was Rachael Sparks," and that she "was a woman of good and unimpeachable character; that [she, Sarah Gray, herself] was "bound to believe her statement in any mattter."

"In McDowell County, which had been created in 1842 from Burke and Rutherford Counties, a man named David Glass, Esqr., "an old man, and a man, in every way worthy of credit," swore on September 25, 1851, that he could remember Rachel Bicknell "saying a long time ago that her husband ... served in the war of the Revolution, and was shot at the Battle of King's Mountain and carried to Mrs. Bowman's near Morganton in Burke County where he lay a considerable time and then died with the wound."

Also on September 25, 1851, Martha McKenzie, "an old and respectable Lady" in McDowell County, swore that she had been "well acquainted with Thomas Bicknell and Rachail [sic] his wife, who was a Sparks. That she has often heard various persons say the said Thomas Bicknell served several years in the War of the Revolution and was Badly wounded at the Battle of King's mountain and carried to Mrs Bowmans, near Morganton in Burke County and lay there several weeks and died ..." She added that the Bicknells "were both of unimpeachable character, that they lived together and had children and was always recognized as man and wife... This deponent says she is Eighty-six years old and came to this County when a child from Virginia."

"Morganton, to which Thomas Bicknell had been carried, was, and is, the county seat of Burke County, North Carolina; it is located about fifty miles from Kings Mountain. The journey there from the battlefield by "horse litter" must have been a painful ordeal for Bicknell.

"While the kind of wound that Thomas Bicknell received on Kings Mountain could probably be easily treated today, his chances of avoiding infection and other fatal disorders were poor in 1780. Ten days following his misfortune, recognizing the probability that he would die, Thomas made his will on October 20, 1780. The original, as well as the recorded copy, survive in the North Carolina Archives at Raleigh. . . .

"When Rachel Bicknell applied for a pension in 1845, she stated that she did not know where documentary proof could be found regarding her husband's service in the Revolution, but she thought that "an indent may have been issued to her for his services, as she recollects to have tried to get something, and thinks she did get a small sum, but does not know how [much]." Here Rachel probably referred to action that had been taken by the Wilkes County Court on July 28, 1784, by which Justices Benjamin Cleveland, Elijah Isaac, and James Fletcher ordered that "Rachael Bicknel, widow of Thomas Bicknel who was killed in defence of his country in the Battle at Kings Mountain, be Recommended to the General Assembly as an Object of Pity and that Twelve pounds pr. year we think would be as little as she could Subsist on with a large family of children together with her own Industry." Whether the North Carolina General Assembly complied with this recommendation, we do not know.

"When Thomas Bicknell obtained his grant of land on Swan Creek on April 22, 1778, it was noted in its description that one of the men owning adjoining land was Thomas Parks. On May 22, 1778, Thomas Parks, Jr. had entered 422 acres "lying on both sides of Swan Creek & in the forks of sd Creek & joining Thomas Bicknell at the upper end & Majr Wm Lewis at the Lower end & cornering above the Main Road." (Entry 113)

"In 1779, Thomas Parks conveyed 140 acres of his tract to Charles Parks who, on November 2, 1785, sold forty acres to Rachel Bicknell. He sold the remaining 100 acres to William Harvey on the same day. (See Wilkes County Deed Book A-1, pp.520-22.) Rachel paid Parks 25 pounds for her forty acres, described as adjoining her own land and "Bourlands fork of Swan Creek." The witnesses to this deed were: Evan Davis, Reuben Sparks, and John Hawkins. William Harvey paid Parks 65 pounds for his 100 acres, noting that it adjoined land owned by Rachel Bicknell. (The Reuben Sparks who served as a witness to this deed was a son of Solomon and Sarah Sparks, Solomon being a son of the Joseph Sparks who had died in Frederick County, Maryland, in 1749.) . . .

1 comment:

  1. HI! I believe that I am related ! I think through Rachel's son William and his daughter Amelia. I just need to prove it! Amelia was married in Burke Co in 1835 to William Beavers. From that point forward I am good. It is just proving the parentage of Amelia. Not sure if you have any info on that or not.

    Love reading your blog!