City Directories and History: Near the bridge crossing over Fishing Creek at Fort Lawn, S.C. was the home of Justice John Gaston, an influential justice of the peace. He served in this role both under the English colonial government as well as the South Carolina government. Though he was older, he was a staunch leader during the American Revolution, arousing heavy resistance to the British in the area. All nine of his sons fought during the war and four died in service to the country.
Informative link: Mills Map of Chester County SC
BATTLE OF BECKHAMVILLE or ALEXANDER’S OLD FIELD
The area around Rocky Mount and the Great Falls of the Catawba bustled with activity in the late spring and early summer of 1780. After the fall of Charleston on May 12,1780, the British began focusing more activities inland and much of their effort was in the upcountry with their aim being to hasten the subjugation of the state. Rocky Mount was made a Royal Post and Colonel Houseman with a detachment was sent to that site. According to L. M. Ford in his history of Rocky Mount, “One of the first acts of Houseman was to distribute handbills among the people calling on them to meet him at Beckhamville and enroll their names as loyal subjects of King George and receive British protection.
“Soon after this he visited Justice John Gaston, who resided at Fishing Creek, as he verily believed that old Justice could and would bring many of his neighbors to his way of thinking. While the old Justice treated him with all kindness and courtesy due a visitor, he did not follow his advice. After the officer departed Justice Gaston sent runners to various places in the community for men to meet at his house that night. The summons were obeyed with alacrity and by midnight thirty men of no mean mould, strong in spirit and of active and powerful frame, had collected together.” Other accounts say there were 33 men who gathered at Gaston’s home, but none-the-less, the group were just as outraged as Gaston that Houseman was trying to force their loyalties. Captain John McClure led the group and early the next morning they set out down the Old Indian Trail by the creek to the “old field” at Beckhamville. At that time the field was known as Alexander’s Old Field.
B.J. Lossing in his “Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution” says the men were clad in “hunting-shirts and moccasins, wool hats and deer-skin caps, each armed with a butcher- knife and a rifle.” Houseman and his men as well as a group of Loyalists and others from the surrounding neighborhood had gathered at the field, some 200 in number. Gaston’s group under McClure’s command attacked and thoroughly routed Houseman’s soldiers and the Loyalists gathered at the “old field.” The British retreated to their bastion of three log forts at Rocky Mount. The next day they returned to Gaston’s home and burned it to the ground, the only thing that was saved was the family Bible.
“This movement of Justice Gaston and his neighbors was the first effort to cast back the wave of British rule….. which was sweeping over the state, and threatening to submerge all opposition east of the mountains,” Lossing wrote. The Battle of Beckhamville is thus seen as the lynchpin of resistance in South Carolina after the defeat at Charleston, but particularly after Tarleton’s Massacre at the Waxhaws only a week earlier. The battle and the subsequent Patriot victory spurred even greater resistance throughout the Upstate. Following the Battle at Beckhamville, the angry Tarleton sent Christian Huck to the area to find Capt. McClure and other Patriots and kill them for the ambush and insurrection in Chester County. It was the beginning of the end for the British who would suffer great defeats at Cowpens, Brattonsville, Kings Mountain and eventually at Yorktown. This article was taken from “The Battle of Beckhamville” booklet sponsored by:Great Falls Home Town Association. P O Box 215, Great Falls, S.C. 29055 (Reprint from the CDGHS – Bulletin)
“Joseph Gaston, son of Justice John and Esther Waugh Gaston, was born in Chester County, South Carolina, on 22 February 1763, on the Cedar Shoals plantation of his father, Justice John and lived there all of his life. Joseph’s early education was provided by his mother and father. His mother taught him his letters, and his father instructed him in politics and Presbyterianism.
Joseph’s trials in the Revolution were best expressed in his own words when he stated that he was “the youngest of nine Brothers, who encouraged by the Councils of a Patriotic Father, were at all times engaged in the Bloody conflict until five of them fell in the good Cause,” and that he was the only one of the five who survived. He further said, “our aged Father was also about this time removed from this in-hospitable world, after living to see four of his Sons give their lives for the cause of their bleeding Country and himself reduced to absolute poverty.”
The young veteran, Joseph, did not marry until after the death of his mother in 1789. The following year on 20 April 1790, he was married to Jane Brown, daughter of Margaret and Walter Brown, who came from County Antrim, Ireland to Charles Town on the ship, Earl of Donegal, in 1767, and later settled in the Fishing Creek section of Chester County.
Joseph and Jane had eight children: John Brown, born 1791, died 1864, married Polly Buford McFadden, born 1805, died 1886, on 4 March 1824; Narcissa, born 1792, died 1871, married Samuel Lewis, born 1782, died 1832, in November, 1819; Eliza, born 1794, died 1845, married William Neely, born 1792, died 1852, on 1 October 1816; Esther, born 1795, died 1856, married Daniel Greene Stinson, born 1794, died 1879, on 29 January 1819; Margaret, born 1797, died 1802; Jane, born 1800, died 1880, married 1st John Barkley, on 23 December 1824, married 2nd Colonel Charles Pinckney Crawford, on 16 December 1834; James A.H., born 1801, died 1859; Robert, born 1808, died 1810.
John Brown the eldest son of Jane and Joseph Gaston received degrees from Franklin College in Georgia and the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. There were then no colleges for women, but the Gaston girls acquired education sufficient to qualify them as teachers.
Joseph Gaston was elected Justice of the Peace during the 1790’s, along with his Knox and McClure cousins. He served for forty years as magistrate on reappointment by the legislature. Thereafter, he was addressed as “Squire.” Squire Joseph never acquired more than a moderate portion of this world’s goods, but he was in comfortable circumstances for his time.
Squire Gaston’s church was next in his affections to his home. The Gaston family worshipped at lower Fishing Creek (Richardson’s), at Bethlehem Meeting House, and upper Fishing Creek Church. In 1834, when the Gastons and their neighbors organized the Cedar Grove Church to replace Richardson’s Church after it dissolved. Joseph, having served as ruling elder in Richardson’s, was installed in the same officer at Cedar Shoals.
Squire Gaston took an active interest in politics. In 1830, at the age of sixty-seven, he was raised to prominence in the Nullification controversy. South Carolina’s threat to nullify the tariff act of the Federal Government seemed to many in the State but a prelude to secession. Joseph Gaston was a staunch advocate of the union he had fought to establish. In Chester, the strong Union Party elected Joseph Gaston to represent its views in the legislature in 1830. Fortunately, for South Carolina, the incident closed without bloodshed, with both sides claiming the victory.
Squire Joseph Gaston died 10 October 1836 at the age of seventy-three. He was the last of the children of Justice John Gaston in Chester. He was buried in upper Fishing Creek Churchyard as there was then no burying ground at Cedar Shoals. Jane Brown Gaston continued to live at the old homestead with her son, James A. H. Gaston, who never married. As captain of the Cedar Shoals Band, James, was widely popular, and a man of fine character.
At the age of eighty-two, Jane Brown Gaston became famous as one of the heroines of the War for Independence, in Mrs. Ellet’s third volume of The Women of the Revolution. A chapter was written about the contributions of her and her family to independence.
Jane lived on for eight years enjoying her legend in her own life time. She died 27 June 1858, in her ninety-first year. Her life spanned the antebellum era between the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States. She had experienced the tragedies and the triumphs of the War for Independence, but was spared the bitter defeat of the Confederate War.”
(Information in part from: Chester County Heritage Book, Vol. I, Edt. by Collins – Knox, Published by the Chester Co Hist. Society – Jostens Printing, 1982)
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