Dinner with My Ancestors

The topic for the current edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why?

Since I’ve been researching my ancestors and writing The Westward Sagas, I have come to know much about my family, but I would like to get to know them – how they felt, what they thought.

If I could travel back to Revolutionary America, I would have dinner in the family home, enjoying the home-cooked meal – and being very thankful that I didn’t have to grow or cook the food. Although I love to cook a roast in a Dutch oven over a fire, I wouldn’t want to have to produce the food … and I wouldn’t want to cook over a fire every meal every day.

I’d like to have the whole family together to hear different perspectives on the events of the time. The most important event in the lives of my ancestor Adam Mitchell and his family was the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

I would ask Adam how he felt when he realized that General Greene had placed the local militia on the front line. In Spring House, I imagined his thoughts this way:

General Greene considers the Guilford County militia must be capable of stopping Cornwallis’ Army with only sheer determination. He knows very well that we are here to protect our homes, women, and children from assault by the British. We have much more to lose than the Virginians or the Continentals from Maryland and Delaware. As the battle is to be fought here on our lands, he knows that we will fight to the end to protect what is ours. If that is not what the General thinks, then he considers the Guilford County Militia expendable and fodder for Cornwallis’ cannons.

That’s what I imagined, but I wonder if that’s really what Adam thought. Did he understand the general’s battle plan while he faced the British Army or did he realize what had happened only after the fact? And I’m eager to hear about Adam’s experiences as a prisoner of war. Was he treated as badly as I think he was? Did he believe he would be released or did he expect to die in the British camp?

I also have questions for Adam’s mother, Margaret Mitchell. How did she have the courage to face down the British soldier who found her and the family hiding in the spring house? She sat on a trunk containing the family’s collection of pewter ware that could have been used by the enemy to make bullets to kill her son and his comrades in arms. She defied the orders of the British soldier to get up so he could inspect the trunk. How did she find the courage to risk her life and the lives of her family? Was she surprised when the young soldier backed down? Later, she negotiated the release of her son from British captivity. How did she come up with her plan? Did she really believe it would work or was she operating out of desperation and fear? Did she know how important her role was in the Revolution?

Young Robert Mitchell, only fourteen years old at the time, had the responsibility of protecting the family while his father was fighting in the battle. He hid behind his grandmother’s skirts in the spring house tightly clutching his grandfather’s flintlock pistol. What went through his mind when his grandmother defied the soldier’s orders? Did he expect to have to shoot the soldier? Did he fear his whole family would die in that moment? Later, the British burial detail forced the fourteen-year-old to pick up bodies from the battlefield in the family’s cornfield, haul them in a wheel barrow, and bury them in graves he dug. How did that experience affect him? Did he feel like a man at age fourteen or did he feel like a scared young boy?

Robert’s sister Peggy was only six at the time of the battle. She hid with her grandmother, mother, and siblings in the spring house. She watched her grandmother refuse to follow the the British soldier’s order to rise. She heard the sounds of battle and the cries of dying men. She saw her family farm turned first into a battlefield then into a cemetery. Did she understand what was happening? Was she aware of the danger? How did she deal with her fear?

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War and the most significant event in the lives of the Mitchell Family who lived through it. If I could go back in time, I would ask them to share how they survived – physically and emotionally – so that two centuries later, there are more than 10,000 known descendants of Adam Mitchell … of which I am one.

[tags]genealogy, American Revolution, Adam Mitchell[/tags]

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