James Bohannon was born in 1742, the first child of “Captain” Elliott Bohannon and his wife, Anne Walker. Elliott was born in Gloucester County, Virginia, and amassed an estate on over 800 acres in what were then Orange and Culpeper Counties, which, when his will was probated, amounted to £156,950 (over £10 million today). Elliott and Ann were attached to the patriot cause, as were their sons.
In 1763, James married Frances Booten (Boughton), whom he named his “beloved wife” in his will, and together they had twelve children. Prior to the start of the War for Independence, James was an agent for Glasgow tobacco merchants who owned large tracts of land in Virginia, and leased them, through agents like James, to farmers who raised the tobacco. The crop was then shipped to Glasgow, where it was the basis for the fortunes of the Tobacco Lords. This arrangement ended permanently in 1775 with the start of the shooting war, and James found other activities to occupy his time.
On December 30, 1776, Elliott “for divers good causes but especially the natural love that he doth bare to said James Bohannon hath granted unto said James Bohannon and his heirs forever three hundred acres of land in County of Culpeper. . .”1 Additionally, Elliott deeded another 78 acres to James in the same county on June 14, 1777. This solidified James’ ties to Culpeper throughout the War.
During the Revolution, James worked actively on behalf of Virginia to procure supplies for militia units. He distributed cash that was to be used by these units to pay for supplies. He is referenced in the George Rogers Clark Papers as having reimbursed a number of individuals on behalf of the Colony of Virginia for expenses relating to Captain Robert Todd’s company of Culpeper County Militia to join General George Rogers Clark’s Illinois campaign. “Total cost for the company of 29 men from Culpeper Court House, Virginia [,] to Big Creek on Kaskaskia was 322 pounds, 8 shillings and 9 pence. Payment was for salt, meat, flour, forage for horses, whiskey, and use of wagons.”2
In the Illinois campaign, George Rogers Clark led a small force of Virginia militiamen to seize control of several British posts in the Illinois country. In July 1778, Clark and his men crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky and took control of Kaskaskia and Vincennes. The occupation was accomplished without firing a shot because most of the French-speaking and native inhabitants were unwilling to fight for the British.
As was typical of the supply system of that time, suspicions were aroused and accusations made when things didn’t go the way a commander thought was right. Even Washington’s favorite general, Nathaniel Greene, was accused of impropriety when overseeing the quartermaster corps. It was part of the job.
In a letter from Colonel John Montgomery, commander of the Culpeper unit, to Clark, Montgomery described a situation regarding the supply situation. I have cleaned up Colonel Montgomery’s spelling and punctuation, which makes his letter almost incomprehensible.
“Agreeable to your orders I have pursued in Regard of James Buckhanan [Bohannon] how on his Examination he saith that his Money that was paid or put into his hand to furnish provision Run out, and that he was Compelled to Borrow a Sum of Money after paying away what he had of his own, for which he Sent by Capt Quirk to purchase a quantity of Bacon in Washington County. But on Capt. Quirk’s paying for the Bacon it was observed to Be Bad. Capt Quirk delivered up the Money To the Court, the court Give it to Col. Arthur Campbell to Send to the auditor at Which time Said Court Sent a copy of their proceeding to me.
“I immediately wrote to Mr Buckhanan [Bohannon] Concerning the Sum of Money Supposed to be Bad [short] by The Court to Come down and Clear him Self of the Charge laid against him, at which time he Received two Thousand five-hundred pounds More Sent to him By the hand of Mr. Madison from Government. He [Bohannon] then Came and demanded of Col. Campbell the sum of Money in order, as he told Me, to Return [it] To the Man he Got it from, as he then Was Called on By Me to March for this place, and if he did not Return the Same Money that he Must Return other Money in [its] place — according to his Bargain, and by That Means lose the hole Sum of Money. [It] was out of his power to Stand trial, being then Called into The Service of his Country. [In response] Col. Campbell Refused, Supposed to Be By the Reason that They were at variance before. The dispute Raised to Such a height That they Came to Strokes, and I Suppose Col. Campbell to be the informer.
“But for fear it Might Be true, I Compelled him [Bohannon] To Give Sufficient Security for his appearance Before any Court of Justice if Called. Therefore, I think if opportunity would Admit, it would Good for you to write to John Montgomery, high Sheriff for Montgomery County, to know the Certainty as his letter May Be depended on, and if he is found Guilty I don’t wish him to go unpunished. Nor Can I think of putting up with So heinous a crime. I would have Sent him agreeable to order of Government, But if I did his family Must Suffer, nor have I a Guard to Spare. Knowing So Much of the nature of The Case as I have written you, It Gives Me Some Charity to Believe it might Be only Spite.”3
So, in other words, James had sent an officer to by bacon. The officer, finding the bacon bad, refused to complete the transaction, and returned the money to his superior, Colonel Arthur Campbell. There was acrimony between this Colonel Campbell and James Bohannon over some previous argument, in which they had come to blows. When Colonel Campbell, in turn, returned what he claimed to be the money received originally from James Bohannon to a court, it was found to be short by some amount. Colonel Montgomery wanted and investigation, but thought that the accusation may have been the result of the enmity Colonel Campbell harbored for James.
Later, Colonel John Montgomery sent a follow up letter to General Clark, which included the following (again, spelling and grammar made comprehensible):
“. . .Sir, since I wrote to you concerning Mr. Buckhanan [Bohannon], I thought of another method to find him out, knowing where he laid out large sums of money: Sayre [?], $3,500; from Charlottesville, $3,500; Charlottesville, $700; Murray, $300. But after examining them I could not find one bad bill [account] amongst the whole, except one seven-dollar bill. Captain Shannon received from him $1,500. If he has not left the falls, I think it would be good to examine that money.”4
So, it seems that upon further investigation, James Bohannon was proven to be a good steward of Virginia’s money, and helped further the cause of American Independence by getting needed cash from the Virginia treasury to where it was needed so that troops could be supplied. This aspect of the war, unglamorous and overlooked, was absolutely essential for victory. As General and President Dwight Eisenhower said, “You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.”
After the Revolution, James moved his family to Surry (now Stokes) County, North Carolina, where he died in 1807. His son Philemon, our ancestor, married Elizabeth Strother Gaines, whose father, Thomas Gaines, was also a Patriot, serving in the Virginia and Maryland Rifle Regiment.
1 “Deed Abstracts of Culpeper County, Virginia (1775-1778),” Culpeper County Deed Book H. Virginia County Court Records, ed. Ruth and Sam Sparacio (McLean: Ruth and Sam Sparacio, 1988), pp. 84-85.
2 “The Illinois Regiment,” George Rogers Clark Papers at the Virginia State Library and Archives (microfilm). Ed, Richard Eugene Willson and Donald E. Gradeless, Ph.D., (Chicago: Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Illinois, 1998), microfilm reel 1, frame 1069.
3 “Montgomery to Clark, September 29, 1779,” Kaskaskia Records, 1778-1790. Virginia Series Volume II, ed. Clarence Walworth Alvord (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1909) , p. 125.
4 Ibid., p. 126.