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The Great Joseph Controversy

     It has always been a matter of dispute, both from within and outside the McDowell family, as to which Col. Joseph McDowell was the Hero of King's Mountain during the Revolutionary War. The respective descendants of each man, as well as various historians, differ sharply as to which is the correct man due the credit. In King's Mountain and its Heroes, by Lyman C. Draper, and reprised in McDowells, Erwins/Irvins, and Connections, by John Hugh McDowell, the following descriptions and accomplishments are related for each of the two Col. Joseph McDowells of Revolutionary War fame. They are Joseph McDowell, Jr. of Quaker Meadows - the son of Capt. Joseph McDowell, Sr. (b. 1715) and Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens - the son of “Hunting” John McDowell (b. 1714). It is important to note at the outset, that regardless of what is stated below (to which I have recorded here verbatim and without judgement), Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens (son of “Hunting” John McDowell) was the only Joseph McDowell to have served in U.S. Congress from North Carolina. However, both men had served in the North Carolina State Legislature at the same time.

     “Joseph `Quaker Meadows' McDowell, Jr. served in Congress in 1793-95 and in 1797-99, this is of the third and fifth Congresses. In 1797, he was a commissioner for running the boundary line between Tennessee and North Carolina. He died August 11, 1801, of apoplexy, in the 45th year of his age, and was buried at the Quaker Meadows, where some rude stones and a large tree at the head of his grave mark the place of his repose. He married Margaret `Margaretta' Moffett, a daughter of Col. George and Sarah `Martha' McDowell Moffett of Virginia, leaving two sons and six daughters. He was recognized as a leader of the Republican (Whig) party in the western counties of North Carolina, and was eminent for his sagacious leadership in civil matters, as he had been dauntless and successful in the Revolutionary War. He was no inconsiderable antagonist in debate, and throughout his life he was the idol of the western people of North Carolina. Draper says it was certainly Joseph of Quaker Meadows who led the Burke County troops at King's Mountain, and that the confusion has all come about because he had the same name as his cousin, Joseph of Pleasant Gardens. They resided in the same county, married sisters, it seems, were in the same Legislature at the same time, and were both at King's Mountain. Quaker Meadows Joseph as the leader of the troops of Burke County, and Pleasant Gardens Joseph as a Captain of a company. Draper also goes on to state that this accounts for the confusion which the descendants of each have had about the matter.

     “Joseph `Pleasant Gardens' McDowell, the son of `Hunting' John McDowell, was born February 25th, 1758. He served on Gen. Griffith Rutherford's campaign, killing an Indian with his sword; on scouts against the Indians in Burke County, and commanded a company at King's Mountain. He was a member of the North Carolina Convention in 1788, making several speeches. He married Mary Moffett, another daughter of Col. George and Sarah `Martha' McDowell Moffett of Virginia, dying in April 1795, leaving several children. He was a physician and lawyer, by profession, and is regarded as having the brightest intellect of any of that family connection. Joseph of Pleasant Gardens secured some of Ferguson's service - six of his china dinner plates, and a small coffee cup and saucer, several of which are yet among his descendants, and in the Draper's footnote it refers to letters the author had from Mrs. R. M. (Mary Louisa) Pearson and Miss N. N. (Nancy Moffett) McDowell, granddaughters, and Miss Anna McDowell Woodfin, a great-granddaughter of Joseph.

     Margaret Erwin McDowell (the great granddaughter of Joseph of Pleasant Gardens) in the book, McDowells, Erwins/Irvins, and Connections, by John Hugh McDowell, writes:

     “Hunting” John McDowell of Pleasant Gardens, North Carolina was one of the pioneers of western North Carolina; came first from Pennsylvania to Virginia, and from the Valley of Virginia to Pleasant Gardens in 1743. He entered large tracts of land in 1750. He was too old for active service and was not in the Revolution of 1775, and he refused protection from the British, and preferred to drive his cattle off to the cove. His county was then Rowan, and he attended court at Salisbury, one hundred miles away. Afterwards his county was Burke, and later on it was McDowell, in honor of his illustrious son, Joseph. `Hunting' John was of Scots-Irish descent, and is said to have been related to Ephraim McDowell of Virginia, probably a nephew (note: he was, in fact, a great grandnephew). John McDowell married Annie Edmistin (Edminston) of Virginia and by her he had three children; Joseph, Rachel and Annie. The latter married a (William) Whitson,, and their descendants are to be found in Buncombe County, North Carolina and in California. Rachel married Col. John Carson, and after her death he married Joseph McDowell's (of Pleasant Gardens) widow, Mary Moffett. Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens, the only son of `Hunting' John McDowell, was married to Mary Moffett - a daughter of Col. George Moffett and Sarah `Martha' McDowell in Augusta County, Virginia, Staunton being the post office. The writer has a letter written by Colonel George Moffett, to his daughter, Mary, and it was written from Augusta County, VA., 2 July 1807, and posted at Staunton.

     When a boy of eighteen, Joseph of Pleasant Gardens, was in (Gen. Griffith) Rutherford's campaign against the (Cherokee) Indians, in 1776, and killed an Indian with his own sword. Two or three years ago (ca. 1915?) his sword was found in a garret at Pleasant Gardens, and sent to the museum at Raleigh (North Carolina). He was a man of delicate constitution, and in addition to being a fervent patriot, had considerable taste for military affairs. He was a man of great `dignity and modesty of character, and was regarded as possessing the brightest intellect of his day, in western Carolina.

     I (Margaret Erwin McDowell) have in my possession a manuscript from Silas McDowell of Macon County, North Carolina, who endeavored to correct all errors, and give the people historical facts. He was born in 1795, and was a man of remarkable memory and gathered facts. He says of Joseph (Pleasant Gardens) McDowell:

     “If there was any man in this part of the State that distinguished himself in mind, as ranking far above his fellows, except Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens, Burke County, North Carolina, tradition has not transmitted the fact; though there were scores of strong-minded, honorable and patriotic men in this division of the State, who figured in the Revolutionary War.  McDowell's light went out when he was in his noonday prime, and in the last decade of the 18th century, and from that time until 1820, there has arisen no bright and particular star. `Joseph of P.G.' was born 25th February, 1758, and died April 1795, at the age of 38 years. Young as he was he soon went into the Patriotic Army, and was soon promoted to Major, under his cousin Charles, who was Colonel, afterwards General. Joseph met Col. Fergerson (sic) at Gilbert Town, and drove him back and prevented his crossing the mountain.”

     I (Margaret Erwin McDowell) have it from my father Dr. John (Calhoun) McDowell, who had been told by his father, the Hon. James (Moffett) McDowell, and his aunt Annie (McDowell) McDowell, the son and daughter of Joseph of Pleasant Gardens, and Mary Moffett (McDowell): that while Joseph was stationed at Gilbert Town, his mother, Annie (Evans) Edminstin (McDowell), molded bullets and carried them tied under her skirts, to her son. She went from Pleasant Gardens to Gilbert Town on horseback, a considerable distance, through a rough country, and on the way she was encountered by rough Tories, who took her horse by the bridle and tried to prevent her from going further; but with the courage of the women of that day, she managed to get out of the ruffians' way and made a safe trip.

     Joseph was engaged in the battle of Cow Pens (sic) and Ransaur (sic) Mills, and was the McDowell who commanded his own and General Charles McDowell's troops at King's Mountain. Robbing `Joseph of P.G.' of the command of the regiment at that battle, had been the mistake on the part of some historian, and because of the dispute, in saying that Joseph of Quaker Meadows was the superior officer, and commanded his brother Charles' troops - the name McDowell does not appear on the King's Mountain monument. The two Josephs were cousins and married sisters, Mary and Margaret Moffett, and both fought in the same battles, and both were brave and honorable in all things, but having the same name, and both being soldiers, then statesmen, a great deal of confusion has arisen.

     Joseph of Pleasant Gardens was undoubtedly the commander at King's Mountain; all my (Margaret Erwin McDowell) family from my grandfather, James (Moffett McDowell) Joseph's son, and Annie (McDowell McDowell), his daughter, down to my father (Dr. John Calhoun McDowell)) and mother (Sarah Ann Erwin McDowell), have said so, and I think the china which is in the possession of the writer is proof conclusive. The china was given to Annie McDowell by her mother, Mary Moffett McDowell, telling her the set of china was given to her father, Joseph, from Fergerson's (sic) belongings, after the Battle of King's Mountain.

     Annie (McDowell) married her cousin, Capt. Charles McDowell of Quaker Meadows, Burke County, North Carolina and she gave the china to her daughters. Both the Woodfin ladies, Annie and Capt. Charles' daughters, have pieces of this china, and Miss Annie Woodfin still has pieces; a cup and saucer; and when she showed it to me a year ago (ca. 1917?) she said: “My mother told me this was given to my great-grandfather, Joseph of Pleasant Gardens, after the Battle of King's Mountain. Mrs. Bynum, another daughter of Annie and Capt. Charles, the granddaughter of Joseph of Pleasant Gardens gave a plate from the same set of china, to her son, Judge (John) Grey Bynum of Morganton, making the same statement to the writer that the Woodfin sisters had made. I believe that plate is the only thing I ever coveted. Judge Bynum and his wife (Hennie Erwin Bynum) died without children, and there was no one to inherit the china. The Judge gave the same to his much beloved brother-in-law, Mr. George Green, of Wilson, North Carolina, who married my cousin. I wrote to Mr. Green if he would give me the china, and allow it to remain in the family, and not pass out of the name. Being big-hearted and honorable, he brought the china plate to me, saying he had rather give it to me than to the Museum at Raleigh - so I have the china and send you (John Hugh McDowell) a photo of same. Getting it was an answer to (my) prayer.

     Joseph was a lawyer and his law books are in the family; and from them I send his autograph. `J. McDowell, P. G.' If Joseph of P. G. , was the rightful commander of General Charles' troops posterity should know it', says Judge Lecke McCorkle; `...and to that just man I am indebted for a great deal of data, that corresponds with all my family has said.” Again, he says; `No man had more distinguished ancestors and descendants than Joseph of P.G. according to their number. Joseph was Major before the battle of King's Mountain, and Colonel after that. He served in the North Carolina Legislature, from 1785-1792. He was a member of the North Carolina Convention in 1788, for the purpose of adopting or rejecting the Constitution of the U.S. in which he made a statesmanlike speech, opposing its adoption on the ground that it did not guarantee the rights of the States, trial by jury, and the great writ of habeas corpus' - so that the Honorable Lecke McCorkel, who made a big effort to do justice to both Joseph of Pleasant Gardens and Joseph of Quaker Meadows.

     Joseph of Pleasant Gardens died in April 1795, and was buried at Round Hill, the family burying ground at Pleasant Gardens, and his grave is unmarked. John, James (Moffett), and Annie were the children of Joseph and Mary Moffett, two (probably three: George, Elizabeth, and Joseph) others having died young.  Hon. John McDowell, of Rutherford, was a most estimable man, several times served his country honorably in the Legislature, as did his brother, of Yancy County; and while James was in the Legislature the new county taken off of Burke, was named through compliment to him, for his father Joseph of Pleasant Gardens, and was called McDowell County.

     John married a Miss (Mary Mansfield) Lewis, and his descendants are scattered over North Carolina, and to his daughter, Miss Sarah McDowell, and to her nephew, John Michael, and to Dr. Michael and Major Ben Burgin, who was 95 years old fifty years ago when he gave my father, Dr. Michael, and others, a great deal of information concerning Joseph of Pleasant Gardens, I (Margaret Erwin McDowell) am indebted for much that I've written.

     James (Moffett) McDowell married Margaret Erwin `of Belvidere' Burke County, North Carolina and lived until after her death at Pleasant Gardens, and from there he removed to Yancy County, leaving three sons and two daughters mostly to the care of his wife's relatives at Belvidere - the oldest being ten and the youngest one year old. James McDowell, like many of that name, was celebrated for his hospitality, and the sister-in-law who brought up his infant, and did a great deal for all of the children, has often said to the writer (she was my great aunt, Miss Cecelia Irwin), “Brother James McDowell was the kindest and best brother-in-law I ever knew.” James McDowell, it seems, never refused to go security for his friends and kin; and through the latter he lost his Pleasant Gardens home - same being sold for security debts, and then he moved to Yancy County, where he died in 1854. James McDowell and Margaret Irwin had three sons and two daughters, besides two children who died when a few months old.

COPYRIGHT © 2000 Leo B. McDowell

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