Mathew Worley, Continental Soldier, Virginia

Following is an early post for Memorial Day. I hope to have a new posting each day of the weekend to honor an ancestor who fought in America’s wars.

Mathew Worley was born about 1760, or possibly a few years earlier, in or near what was Cumberland County, Virginia. He was the oldest child of William Worley and his second wife, Mary. (William Worley’s first child was Frances Worley. She married John Lansdon in Powhatan Co., Va. She was born about 1745. The lag time between births makes me think that perhaps Frances was the daughter of a first wife who died.) The first public record found for Mathew was a summons to appear before the February 1775 meeting of the Cumberland County, Virginia Court for breach of peace.

When he was just about eighteen years old, in the early summer of 1777, Mathew enlisted as a private to serve in Capt. Charles Fleming’s company. This company was originally organized in Cumberland county and was part of the 7th Virginia Regiment under the command of Alexander McClanahan. The 7th Virginia was assigned to the Main Continental Army just after Christmas 1776, so when he enlisted Mathew became part of the Continental Army. In May 1777, this regiment was assigned to the 3rd Virginia Brigade under the command of General William Woodford. Woodford’s brigade consisted of the 3rd, 7th, 11th, and 15th Virginia Regiments and was part of Stirling’s Division. The regiment marched north to meet up with main body of the Army in Pennsylvania.

Mathew re-enlisted for a 3-year term on 1 December 1777. Although the American army entered Valley Forge on December 21st, Mathew was fortunate to spend most of that winter on furlough in Virginia. At that time, armies did not fight during the winter but remained in camp to prevent the enemy from taking over their positions. When spring arrived the fighting resumed from the positions both armies had occupied at the start of winter. On 16 February 1778, while still on furlough, Matthew was promoted to rank of corporal, serving at that position with Thomas Bernard, Frederick Smith, and James Bedford.

From April until June of 1778, the army remained at Valley Forge and had been assigned to Lafayette’s Division. The British command had devised a change in strategy and had begun to concentrate their war efforts in the South where they believed loyalists to be more plentiful. General Howe had been replaced by General Henry Clinton who had orders to use the northern forces of the British Army for raids and blockades along the coast. The British troops in Pennsylvania withdrew to New York City and the American Army left Valley Forge in pursuit. Washington moved the Army to the New York Highlands to guard the Hudson River against the British and the muster rolls for this summer showed Mathew to be at nearby Paramus, New Jersey on the west side of the Hudson in July. They moved on to Camp White Plains, New York on the eastern side of the river, just north of Manhattan, where they remained for August. They had marched to Newark, New Jersey where Matthew was on guard duty by the time the September muster roll was recorded. Mathew was assigned fatigue duty in October, performing labor not related to combat, perhaps building fortifications, digging ditches, etc.

Following the reorganization of the Virginia line, the 3rd and 7th Regiments became the new 5th Regiment and Mathew found himself in Capt. James Baytop’s Company, commanded by Colonel William Russell at Pompton Plains, New Jersey. November’s muster roll, dated 1 December 1778, shows they had moved on to Middlebrook, New Jersey where Washington had decided to quarter the army for the winter. “The Virginia troops were posted just west of the gap where Middlebrook creek flows out of the mountains, at Chimney Rock. The Virginia position extended along today’s Foothill Road.” This winter was a mild one compared to the winter the Army spent at Valley Forge and the one to come the following year at Morristown. Spring came early and by late May the troops were being ordered away to new campaigns. In June and July 1779, Mathew’s regiment was at Smith’s Clove, near the present day town of Monroe, New York, not far from West Point. They spent the summer here and in nearby Ramapo and by November they had gone only as far as Haverstraw, in Rockland County, New York, the same county as Ramapo.

The Continental Army, including our Mathew, encamped at Morristown, New Jersey for the winter of 1780, the worst winter of the Revolutionary War. Joseph Martin of Connecticut describes what it was like for the soldiers at Morristown that winter in his memoir, Private Yankee Doodle, originally published in 1830.

“. . . blankets of thin baize, thin enough to have straws shot through without discommoding the threads. How often have I had to lie whole stormy, cold nights in a wood, on a field, or a bleak hill, with such blankets and other clothing like them, with nothing but the canopy of the heavens to cover me. All this too in the heart of winter, when a New England farmer, if his cattle had been in my situation, would not have slept a wink from the sheer anxiety for them.

“And if I stepped into a house to warm me, when passing, wet to the skin and almost dead with cold, hunger, and fatigue, what scornful looks and hard words have I experienced.

“As to provision of victuals, I have said a great deal already, but ten times as much might be said and not get to the end of the chapter. When we engaged in the service we (were) promised the following articles for a ration: one pound of good and wholesome fresh or salt beef, or three quarters of a pound of good salt pork, a pound of good flour . . . we never received what was allowed us. Oftentimes have I gone one, two, three, and even four days without a morsel, unless the fields or forests might chance to afford enough to prevent absolute starvation. . . The poor soldiers had hardships enough to endure without having to starve; the least that could be done was to give them something to eat. . .

“It is fatiguing, almost beyond belief, to those that never experienced it, to be obliged to march twenty-four or forty-eight hours (as very many times I have had to) and often more, night and day without rest or sleep, wishing and hoping that some wood or village I could see ahead might prove a short resting place, when, alas, I came to it, almost tired off my legs, it proved no resting place for me. How often have I envied the very swine their happiness, when I have heard them quarreling in their warm dry sties . . .”

“Almost every one has heard of the soldiers of the Revolution being tracked by the blood of their feet on the frozen ground. This is literally true, and the thousandth part of their sufferings has not, nor ever will be told. . .”

Starvation was common in Morristown that winter, made worse by rampant inflation. Yet many fewer soldiers perished during this winter than did at Valley Forge. This excerpt from the National Park Service gives a glimpse of what daily life was like for the soldiers during this winter.

“Except on rare occasions, such as participation in an occasional public celebration might afford, the average soldier found camp life at Morristown hard, unexciting, and often monotonous. Sometimes his whole existence seemed like an endless round of drill, guard duty, and “fatigue” assignments, the latter including such unpleasant chores as burying the “Dead carcasses in and about camp.”

The last muster roll found for Mathew was dated 9 December 1779. The 5th Virginia had been relieved from the 2nd Virginia Brigade and assigned to the Southern Department whose records were either poorly kept or, more likely, destroyed. The British were assaulting Charles Town (now Charleston), South Carolina and in December the Virginia line was ordered south to join General Benjamin Lincoln in defense of that city. Once the troops arrived, the British blockaded the city and on May 12, 1780, after forty days under siege, General Lincoln surrendered Charles Town, the Continental troops including the Virginia line, and our grandfather Mathew, to the British. While the militia troops were allowed to go home as prisoners of war on parole# and the officers were released, the Continental soldiers were cast into prison ships and other vessels in the harbor where they were kept for thirteen months.

We know nothing of Mathew’s experience during this time and truly shrink from having to imagine what it must have been like with men crowded into the holds of ship with little or no air, no provision made for sanitation, and with wormy and diseased food as the only form of sustenance. We do know that “of the nineteen hundred prisoners surrendered at Charleston and several hundreds more taken at Camden and Fishing Creek, only seven hundred and forty were restored”.

Mathew was discharged from the army in July 1781. A copy of Mathew’s discharge paper can be found at the Library of Virginia and is copied here.

“This may certify that Matthew Whirley a Corp’l in the fifth Virg’a Regt. has served the term for which he was enlisted for and is hereby discharged from the service- that he rec’d his pay up to the first of Decmb. one thousand seven hundred and seventy nine, since which he only rec’d two dollars in specie which was _________ by Congress to the prisoners at Charles Town. Given under my hand at Williamsburg this 21st July 1781”.
Wm. Johnson, Capt.

“I certify that Mathew Whorley was in Service prior to the 1st Jany 1777.
W. Moseley, Major April 2 1784”

Mathew’s father, William Worley, had moved his family to Bedford County, Virginia while Mathew was in the service and when he was released from duty he went there to his father’s home, as did his brother, Zachariah, who had been serving in the Virginia Militia.

Mathew began paying property taxes in Bedford in 1782. Rachel Wheat, the daughter of transplanted Marylanders John and Susannah (Gatton) Wheat, caught the eye of Mathew and the two were married April 18th 1785. The following year Mathew and Rachel’s first son and our great great great grandfather, Henry Worley was born. War was over and it was time to get down to the business of living in the new nation Matthew had helped to build.

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One Response to Mathew Worley, Continental Soldier, Virginia

  1. Jennifer Simpson says:

    Matthew Worley is part of the Worley’s I am researching. I have went back as far as I can ( to John I and Esther of Rocky Oaks Church) and can’t find any information beyond John Worley I. I have found that he came over from England, but haven’t been able to find who his parents were – siblings or where in England he was from. Have you found any information that may help me find this information? Simpson4@ntelos.net

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