Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Peter Shields Revisited

by Donna Gloff

Delores D’Errico has done extensive research on Peter Shields (1756-1832), the several-great grandfather in many Orlando families, who served both the English and the Colonists in the Revolutionary War. She is searching for documentation to support our long-held beliefs about his life. Below are some of her findings and suspicions about his story. I (the author of this article) agree with her well researched and presented information and suspicions. Dolores welcomes comments and information from anyone who can add something to this discussion.
We think:
1 Peter Shields was born in Lanchester, England and came to the colonies as a soldier in a Red Coat, serving King George.
We know a Peter Shields was christened in Lanchester’s All Saints Anglican Church in 1756. This baby is commonly accepted as our Peter Shields, but we have nothing that shows why this Peter Shields is our fellow.

Right, above: Lanchester, Durham, England, near the border between England and Scotland
Left: If this Peter is our Peter Shields, he was christened in the church, All Saints in Lanchester. This is how it would have looked then. The tower was built in the middle ages. Today there is a clock set in the tower wall.  
Right: People of 1760s England dressed rather like the folks in the sketch to the right.

.FYI: What was Peter Shields’ life like in England? He most likely did not come from a family of substance because if he had, his family would have bought him a rank in the army and there is no indication that Peter Shields was an officer in either the English Army or the Virginia Militia.
b. Legend says that he came as a soldier with Burgoyne’s forces to put down the rebellion in the American Colonies. So far no documentation has been found that supports even his enlistment or conscription into the King’s Army. However, the circumstantial evidence causes us to believe this is most likely true. We need to research the British military records for Burgoyne’s troops in order to confirm this. Fortunately, there are many kinds of records and they are in good condition, so, when someone gets to the task it should not be unpleasant work. The records surrounding his military career should also confirm where and when he was born, who his parents were and what his father’s occupation was.
Right:The uniform of an English soldier at the time of the "Rebellion"

In 1984, apparently using information from the history books, Larry Shields constructed a likely scenario for Shields’ career as an English soldier.
2 Peter’s wife may have been Elizabeth Judy.
No record has been found of Elizabeth’s parents or of Peter’s and Elizabeth’s marriage, but Peter’s wife has generally been identified as Elizabeth Singleton. Dolores noticed that one reference, the Blackford County History, stated that his wife was of German heritage. She further noticed that "Singleton" is not a German name and the closest German family would have been the "Judys", according to tax records. (This is a German or Swiss name originally spelled "Tschudy" and pronounced "Judy".) Also, the person who bought Peter’s 70 acres in Hardy County was one "Jacob Judy".
The short reference that claims Peter Shields’ wife was of German heritage doesn’t carry too much weight, but it did catch Dee’s attention and what weight is does carry tilts the balance away from the Singletons to a German family, like the Judys.
Left: Virginia counties in Peter Shields’ day. Red is Peter Shields' Hardy and Pendleton County Properties, Blue is the Braxton County area where both the Shields and Singltons settled in the early 1800s. Green is Farquier County where the Singletons came from.

The case is made stronger because there is no reason why Peter Shields would have crossed paths with the Singletons in his early years. The Singletons settled in Farquier County, several counties and a mountain range away from Hampshire/Hardy County where Peter pioneered, farmed and where he and Elizabeth raised their family. Then why might earlier researchers have thought Elizabeth might be a Singleton? Since the Singletons settled near the Shields family in Braxton County, an early family historian may have jumped to a conclusion. However, Peter and Elizabeth married and raised their family in Harrison/Hardy County decades before their move next to the Singletons in Braxton County.
3 Peter served in the Virginia Militia twice.
a. English prisoners and deserters were not welcome in the Continental Army.
Dolores cites "Escape in America" by Richard Sampson, pg 68, which quotes a Congressional resolution in February 1778:
"Whereas experience hath proved that no confidence can be placed in prisoners of war or deserters from the enemy, who enlist into the Continental Army; but many losses and great mischiefs have frequently happened by them; therefore Resolved, that no prisoners of war or
deserters from the enemy be enlisted, drafted, or returned, to serve in the Continental Army."
Local militia, however, were not so restricted. Peter Shields could very well have served with his neighbors in the Virginia militia. There were several militia units present at Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown so he might well have been there, just as our historians have said.
Unfortunately, the militia records are too often faded and illegible. This has not stopped Dorlores from searching for evidence of Peter Shields' service. Delores finds clues to Peter Shields' military service in unexpected places. For example, Peter's son Peter Jr. named one of his sons Weedon. That is an unusual first name. However, General George Weedon commanded the militia regiments who were present at Cornwallis' surrender. Another example is Treasury Records documenting the transfer of land from Joseph Neville to several men. One of them is Peter Shields and the land transferred is Peter's 70 acres in Hardy County. The militia was not involved with the national program that gave men land in sections of Ohio and Kentucky in return for service in the national army. However, Neville, in raising his militia, could have made contracts with his men for land in return for service, and since Neville was a land speculator, it would have been to his advantage as well an an opportunity for his men to acquire that most precious commodity, their own farms.
Left: Illustration of Revolutionary War Militia in battle
b. At roughly age 50, Peter again served in the Virginia Militia. We have records which show he served in 1807 under Capt Jordan. (ref: Volunteer Soldiers, 1784-1811, transcribed by Virgil D. White 1987)

If we were to find the reason Peter Shields chose to enlist in the militia during a time of peace with the English, French and Indians, we would know a lot more about the life he lived.
4 Peter and Elizabeth settled in the North Branch of the Potomac Watershed, on West Mill Creek near the county line separating Hardy and Pendleton Counties. (Note the red dot on the above map of old Virginia.) They had 70 acres to farm in Hardy County and a 35 acre piece of land nearby in Pendleton County that may have had a saltpeter mine.
a. Hardy County
Tax records show that in 1784 Peter (in his late 20s), Elizabeth and their first two children were living in Hampshire County. (Hardy County was formed in 1786 from Hampshire County.)
About 1790, 70 acres of unimproved land in Hardy County on the west side of North Mill Creek between John Wise and John Liking was surveyed for Peter Shields. This land had originally belonged to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Neville.
Left: Survey of the 70 acres land
Right: A random photo of West Mill Creek

In 1811 Peter (in his 50s) and Elizabeth sold the 70 acres to Jacob Judy for 75 pounds.
FYI: How big is 70 acres?
(70 acres equals .109 square mile or the equivalent of a square about 1/3 mile on each side.) They raised their eight children there. The land acquisitions and the children’s births are well documented. The possibility that he had a saltpeter mine is very likely.

b. Pendleton County
In 1805 Peter Shields purchased 35 acres of saltpeter caves in Pendleton County, a few miles south of his 70 acres in Hardy County. He sold the land to ??Hinkle in 18??.

Right: A "brush" of Saltpeter on a stone cellar wall.

FYI: What is saltpeter?
Saltpeter is potassium nitrite, KNO3: potassium, nitrogen and oxygen. Saltpeter is common in the caves along the Allegheny Mountains where it seems to grow on the rocks. It is the result of a chemical reaction It is scraped off the rocks and then purified into saltpeter. Its main use at that time was for gunpowder, which is abo
ut 75% saltpeter, 15% sulfur and 10% charcoal.
5 Peter and Elizabeth Shields moved with their family to Salt Lick, Braxton County, in the early 1800s. Their life on Salt Lick will be covered soon, in another entry.

No comments:

Post a Comment