Reminiscences of a Forsythe Rifleman
War of 1812
(Stokes County Rifleman, Captain Benjamin Forsythe)
April 22, 1851
From the Salem People’s Press
Eaton’s Creek, Stokes Co., N.C.
March 31, 1851
Messrs. Blum & Son
As the tide of time will soon have swept from the ranks of the living all who were engaged in the
War of 1812 and the rising generation thereby be compelled to rely solely upon written or printed
testimony for information respecting that critical period in the history of our country; and as your
recently created county most deservedly bears the name of my lamented, brave and fearless
captain (afterwards Lt. Col. Forsythe, who nobly poured out his heart’s blood in defending our
Republican soil against British aggression. I have thought some reminiscences from an old
Forsythe Rifleman might be acceptable at least to the younger portion of the readers of your paper.
You may be assured it makes me feel melancholy and sad, when I reflect that there can now be
found, in what formerly constituted stokes, only four survivors (excluding myself) out of a band of
about sixty good and true Stokes County Riflemen, who left in 1809, enlisted for five years in their
country’s defense, under the command of Captain Benjamin Forsythe
Wm. Eaton, Sen.
Reminiscences of a Forsythe Rifleman
In the month of May, 1809, Captain Benjamin Forsythe, with his Rifle Corps, consisting of about
seventy men, principally natives of Stokes County, took up his line of march from Germanton to
Washington, in this state, taking the route through Raleigh, where the ladies (God bless them!),
paid our company a heart thrilling compliment, by a general waving of white handkerchiefs from
windows and balconies, at the same time bestowing upon us their smiles of approbation and
warmest wishes for our safety, whenever our country might call us to the battlefield.
After a brief stay of a few weeks in Washington, we were off again on the march for another point in
our destiny, and soon found ourselves in Fort Powhattan, on the James River, with orders to quarter
there until the spring of 1810; when, by orders from headquarters, we sailed down the river and pitched
our tents at Fort Norfolk, for the tedious space of eighteen months, at the expiration of which time, it
being daily expected war would be declared against Great Britain, we received orders to move
Northwest and accordingly, were hastily packed on board of a vessel, where after eight days of severe
sea sickness, we landed at Fort Columbus, on Governor’s Island, in the harbor of New York, which
place came very near settling every one of our final accounts. Our entire company at one time seemed
to be lying at the point of death, and we should all no doubt have died, but for that timely permission
received from the Secretary of War, for us to remove to the U.S. Barracks, on Staten Island. To obtain
this permission, our worthy captain, who watched over every one of his men like a guardian and a father,
had to write not less than three urgent letters to the War Department.
The bad water, damp air and other promoters of disease on Governor’s Island, were thankfully
exchanged by us, for the high land, healthy atmosphere, good water, etc., of Staten Island, the
partial resemblance of which, to our own mountain regions, restored the surviving portion of our men
to good health, ready for service, just as war was declared, when to our great joy, we were forthwith
ordered to Sackett’s Harbor, on Lake Ontario, where we arrived after a series of forced marches, in
July, 1812, a day or two subsequent to the unsuccessful attempt of the British to take that place---
John Bull, having been beaten off by our vessels of war, aided by a small but truly gallant body of raw
militia—Our company being the first U.S. Regulars that reached the scene of action, Captain Forsythe
assumed command of that station and retained it until superseded by the arrival of his superior officers,
at the head of whom was the brave General Pike, who the following year lost his life, in the battle of
York, Upper Canada.
It will be seen here, at Sackett’s Harbor, commenced the active military career of the Forsythe Riflemen.
The first reconnoiter between our company and the John Bulls, took place on the Canada shore, about
160 miles down the river St. Lawrence, where we made a descent for the purpose of capturing a notorious
old Tory by the name of Stone, who, according to reliable information received by our commander-in-chief,
had nearly completed the organization of a gang of about fifty desperadoes, intended expressly, under his
command, to make excursions into the various unprotected settlements on our side of the river, with the
determination to butcher, scalp, burn and destroy, without regard to age, sex or condition.
The old Tory, as we understood, boasted of having with the aid of Indians, scalped and killed scores of
women and children on the Mohawk River, during the Revolutionary War, and promised that with the
assistance he was about to received from the British government, he would exceed many fold his former
murderous achievements. These rumors were calculated to, and did, arouse the patriotism of our warm
hearted and gallant captain, who, as if by electricity, communicated all he felt to every one under his
command; and as quick as lightening, all of us, to a man, pledged ourselves to accompany him on any
enterprise at the blast of a bugle, without regard to how far our march might extend into the territory of
our haughty and self-conceited enemy.
To conclude, as briefly as possible, this meager narrative of our first meeting face to face with men
armed and determined to do or die, I will remark, that on a cold day in the month of October, 1812,
agreeably to a well concerted plan, our company, to the number of 105, (every man of whom was a
dead shot), headed by our indomitable commander, started in open rowboats down the river for the
haunts of the old Tory.
On our way downstream, we were detained by a severe storm of snow, hail and sleet, and not until
the end of six days did we effect a landing on the Canada shore, near the Tory’s dwelling. We had
scarcely landed before we were discovered by the old Tory’s men, more than half of who, twenty in
number, we killed in fair fight; and although we failed to catch or kill the old murderer himself, yet by
destroying the better part of his men, all of his provisions, and other munitions of war, we so terrified
and crippled him, that we accomplished our objective and he was prevented from carrying into
execution his nefarious plans of rapine and murder. Consequently, hundreds of families living on the
New York side of the St. Lawrence River were thus rescued from the bloody scalping knife and
tomahawk of the old Tory and his murderous companions. In accomplishing this, we unfortunately
lost one of our best men, who was shot dead by a ball that pierced his left breast. “Peace to his
ashes”, he was buried on the spot where he fell.
And having in this manner literally and successfully carried the “war into Africa”, where we thought we
had rendered our country some little service, we embarked in our boats and made the best of our way
back, encountering in our route two English brigs of war, from whose annoyance we were happily
rescued by the approach of a portion of our own naval force, on board of which we were received with
great rejoicing and speedily transported to Sackett’s Harbor, where, as we landed, and our success
became known, flags were displayed, guns fired, and thundering cheers upon cheers given, both by
our fleet and army, for the Forsythe Riflemen.
Wm. Eaton, Sen.
Transcribed by Christine Spencer, September 2008
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