Benjamin Scott Mayes

Overmountain Men - Prior to King's Mountain
Overmountain Men – Prior to King’s Mountain

Very little has been recorded about Benjamin ‘Daddy Ben’ Scott Mayes.  He was an ‘outlandish’ (colloquial term for those born in Africa) who remained a slave until death.  He made his mark on history during the American Revolution.  He had accompanied his master, then Captain John Scott, to war.  According to written accounts, Benjamin had been captured.  The British demanded he tell them where his master was hidden.  He refused.  Legend has it that Benjamin was hanged three times, but either he was cut down each time prior to suffocating for further interrogation, or, as some sources indicate, the British, after three tries, gave up.  This incident and the circumstances of his life are mostly buried in history.  I have attempted to present a better picture through searches in archives, genealogy, tax lists, and census reports.

The African American who later became known as Benjamin Scott Mayes was born in West Africa.  History does not record his birth; however he died on March 10th, 1829 in his 88th year (the local community thought this to be his age).   That would put his birth at or near 1741.  He was reported to have been a royal prince, though his lineage is unknown, and was either a captive of war and sold to Muslim slavers, or was kidnapped.  There is no recorded date as to when he was put aboard a slave ship to the American colonies or when John Scott of Piney Creek, Maryland became his principal owner.  It is unknown whether Scott purchased Benjamin directly upon his arrival to the colonies or if he had previous owners.  What is known is that Benjamin would resettle south in what would become eastern Tennessee.

Throughout the 1760’s and early 1770’s, settlers just west of the Alleghenies leased their lands from the Cherokees.  In 1772, they organized their http://www.findagrave.com/ fragile settlements in the Watauga, Nolichucky, and Holston River Valleys (presently the northeast corner of Tennessee).  They established the Watauga Association; John Sevier and Isaac Shelby – later leaders in the rebel cause against the British – were among those who established the association.  In 1775, the settlers purchased their leased lands outright and formed the independent Washington District.

The next year they applied to be annexed to Virginia, but were denied.  Prior to and during this period, the Cherokee Nation had aligned themselves to the British.  They were encouraged to harass and attack the settlers.   In 1777, the settlers applied to North Carolina for annexation and were accepted, designating the “overmountain” area as Washington County.  It was from this description that the settlers west of the Alleghenies were called ‘overmountain men’.

Into this setting of wilderness homesteads, Indian unrest, and looming war, John Scott would bring his family, including Benjamin.  John Scott (1749-1811) married Mary Hannah McCorkle (1750-1827) in 1775.  At the time they lived in the rather pleasant community of Piney Creek at or near the Monocacy River near Taneytown, Maryland.  They were members of the Piney Creek Presbyterian Church; Reverend Joseph Rhea IV (b. Ireland, 1715-1777) was pastor.  It was upon his urging that Scott took his family west over the Alleghenies.

King's Mountain Oct. 7 1789
King’s Mountain Oct. 7 1789

In 1776, the reverend had accompanied a military expedition as chaplain to the Watauga region.  After viewing the rich, fertile land and clear streams, he returned to Maryland and encouraged many of his congregation to join him in a migration to the Washington District.  Before they could leave, Reverend Rhea died and is buried in the Piney Creek Reformed Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Taneytown, Maryland.   The rest of the congregation departed Maryland and later that year settled on Beaver Creek and in the ‘fork of the Holston River’ now Sullivan County, Tennessee.  They named their community Piney Flats. Charles Cummings, a visiting Presbyterian from Abingdon, Virginia, encouraged the settlers to immediately build a house of worship.  A log church was completed in July 1777 and named the Bethel Presbyterian Church.

John and Mary Scott, along with their bondsman Benjamin, cleared their land and built their home and out buildings.  John and Mary also started to raise a family.  They ultimately had five children; William (1777), John (1780), Joseph (1782), Elizabeth (1785) and Jane (1787).   As the newly settled congregation continued to build their community in what was then wilderness, war loomed on the horizon.

Most of the settlers west of the Alleghenies were wigs in support of the new American cause.  East of the Alleghenies in the Carolinas, there were many Scottish Highlander settlers who were devoted to their King.  A ‘civil war’ erupted between these two factions resulting in many raids and skirmishes between patriot and loyalist. British agents contributed to this violence by urging the Cherokees to attack and harass the settlers.  When General Clinton (commander of British Forces in America) captured Charleston in May of 1780, General Cornwallis was given a large force to invade the interior.  The communities of Washington County and surrounding areas were up in arms and formed militias.  In 1780, John Scott became Captain Scott in Colonel John Sevier’s regiment of ‘overmountain’ men.  When threatened by British Major Patrick Fergusson of the 71st Foot, Scott, the regiment with Scott and Benjamin by his side, marched with Sevier and crossed the Alleghenies into North Carolina.

This brings the narrative to where, when, and how Benjamin was captured.  History does not give any details beyond the fact that Benjamin was hanged and tortured while refusing to tell the whereabouts of his master Scott.  This then leads to speculation.

Though Colonel Clarke of Georgia routed a loyalist force along the North and South Carolina borders in July of 1780, the first major conflict between the two combatants occurred on Aug. 8th 1780 in what has become known as the Battle of Cedar Springs.  Here, Colonel Clarke is joined by the overmountain men of Colonels Shelby and Sevier.  They fought a vicious battle against large odds.  They pushed the enemy back until the loyalists were reinforced.  This resulted in a pursuit of the rebels by the British and their loyalists.  Perhaps they caught up with Captain Scott and Benjamin during the chase.  Maybe, as legend has it, Benjamin had just enough time to hide Scott before he was taken, hanged and tortured.  So far in the writer’s research, there is no clue as to how Benjamin escaped this ordeal.

After the Battle of Cedar Springs, the rebels turned their attention towards Musgrove’s Mill, a British encampment on the Enoree River. Both sides as similar numbers of men. The Americans were successful in their attack, killing many of the enemy and putting their small army to flight.  There was little possibility of Scott and Ben being caught by the enemy in this action.

After this action, the Americans set their sights on the British fort at Ninety Six, however en route, they heard of Gates and the main southern army’s defeat at Camden.  Cornwallis turned his attention towards further south and the west, sending Major Ferguson to pursue the ‘overmountain’ patriots.  The rebels retreated back across the Alleghenies.  It is possible in their retreat that Scott and Benjamin may have been in the rear and British forces caught up with them.

King's Mountain Death of Major Patrick Ferguson
King’s Mountain Death of Major Patrick Ferguson

Another possibility where the British may have caught up with Captain Scott and Benjamin was either prior to or after the Battle of King’s Mountain.  Colonels Sevier and Shelby, while in Washington County, raised an additional force to attack Major Ferguson.  This after Major Ferguson threatened invasion resulting in total ruin of their settlements.  The opposing forces met on October 7th at the Battle of King’s Mountain along the North and South Carolina border.  It was a devastating defeat for the British loyalist forces resulting in the death of Major Ferguson. However on the retreat, the rebel forces faced near starvation with many groups breaking off to make it home on their own.  Again, Scott and Benjamin could have been caught by marauding British or loyalist patrols.

After the war, Benjamin remained with the Scott family as their slave.  Captain John Scott became Colonel Scott in the Tennessee militia.  He died in 1811 after serving in the state legislature representing Sullivan County (name given to Washington County region after statehood on June 1, 1796)  and is buried at the New Bethel Presbyterian Church beside his wife Mary Hannah McCorkle Scott.  The records indicate that Benjamin became the owner of one of the Scott’s daughters.  She later on resettled in Maury County, further west and south of present day Nashville and that Benjamin went with her.  It is written that Benjamin was buried on the Mayes family farm, no marker; however there is a memorial to him at the Zion Presbyterian Church in Maury County.  At some point after Colonel John Scott’s death, Benjamin Scott became Benjamin Scott Mayes, adding on an additional surname of his new owner.

Here is where more holes exist in tracking the final movements of Benjamin and his owners.  Mary and John Scott had two daughters; Elizabeth and Jane.  So far, this writer has yet to find an historical trace of Elizabeth Scott.  Without that information, it is uncertain if Benjamin accompanied Elizabeth to Maury County.  The younger daughter Jane McCorkle Scott has been traced.

Jane ‘Jennie’ Scott was the second wife of Major Robert Rhea (1776-1841), son of  William Rhea II, brother of pastor Joseph Rhea.  Both lived in Sullivan County (previous Washington County district).   Robert is buried in the Weaver Cemetery, Bristol, Sullivan County.  Jane Scott Rhea died after the census of 1870 where she is listed living with her daughter Jane Rhea Smith, Virginia. Her exact death is presently not known.

Since Benjamin died in Maury County in 1829, the same time that the Scott’s daughter Jane was still living in Sullivan County, it is unlikely she is the daughter to whom he was supposed to have accompanied.  Since Jane was Maj. Robert Rhea’s second wife, Jane could have moved to Maury County prior to her marriage and taken Benjamin with her.  Benjamin could have been sold to a Mayes family before Jane returned to Sullivan County and married Robert.

There is also Elizabeth Scott who this writer can find no trace in any of the Maury County records.  There is an 1820’s census report giving a Jane Scott living in Maury.  Perhaps Elizabeth traveled to Maury County with Benjamin.  Remained and married a Mayes in which additional research will expose.  Or perhaps the information is lost.  Also, Elizabeth could have sold Benjamin to a Mayes family.  There are many Mayes buried in the Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Maury County, six miles west of Columbia.  Dr. Samuel Scott, Revolutionary War Veteran, and his wife Mary, who are buried at the Zion Presbyterian Cemetery, could have purchased Benjamin as their time living in the area corresponds to Benjamin’s residence.

Lastly, there is reference to Benjamin receiving a gold medal for having protected Captain Scott from the British.  A search through Congressional and Medal of Merit awards did not list Benjamin.  It is assumed this was a medal given by state or local authorities.

Read the first installment of A Black Man’s Destiny (Shades of Liberty) here.

RESOURCES:

Texts

Armstrong, Zella.  Some Tennessee Heroes of the Revolution.  1933:  Five Pamphlets published in Chattanoga, Tennessee.  Combined into one volume in 1975 with last reprint in 2009: Genealogical Publ. Co., Baltimore, Maryland.

Draper, Lyman Copeland and Allaire, Isaac Shelby.  King’s Mountain and its Heroes.  History Of the Battle of Kings Mountain… Events which led to it.  1881:  Peter G. Thompson Publisher, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Dunkerly, Robert M.  The Battle of King’s Mountain, Eyewitness Accounts.  2007:  The History Press, Charleston, South Carolina.

Gordon, John W. South Carolina and the American Revolution, A Battlefield History.  2003: University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC.

Kazek, Kelly.  Forgotten Tales of Tennessee.  2011:  History Press, Charleston, SC.

Ripley, Warren.  Battleground – South Carolina in the Revolution.  1983:  News and Courier, The University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

On Line:

Census Finder –  1820 census listed http://www.censusfinder.com/tennessee

Family Search: http://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Maury_County,_Tennessee

Find a Grave: http://www.findagrave.com/

Maury County Archives: http://www.tennesseegenealogy.org/archives/maury_county_archives.htm

Maury County Genealogy and History: http://genealogytrails.com/tenn/maury/

Maury County Genealogy and History: http://genealogytrails.com/tenn/maury/

Maury County Public Records Directory: http://publicrecords.onlinesearches.com/TN_Maury.htm

Maury County Register of Deeds: http://www.maurycounty-tn.gov/index.aspx?page=103

Tennessee Dept. of State Maury County: http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/history/county/factmaury.htm

Maury County Genealogy and History: http://genealogytrails.com/tenn/maury/

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