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Biographical Sketch of Moses Kirkland

By Phil Norfleet

Moses Kirkland (1730-1787) was probably born about 1730, the son of Richard and Mary Kirkland of Prince William County, Virginia.  In about 1753, Richard and Mary and their three children (Moses, Richard and Ann) removed to South Carolina and settled in the Wateree River region of Craven County.  When the Backcountry judicial districts were established in 1769, this area became a part of the Camden Judicial District.  Moses Kirkland's father died intestate in about 1772 and Moses, as the eldest son, inherited all of his father's real property.

A genealogical report of Moses Kirkland's ancestors and descendants, based on secondary sources, is available at the following hyperlink:

Link to Kirkland Family Genealogy Report

By the beginning of the Revolution, in 1775, Moses Kirkland was a prosperous planter owning a sawmill and many tracts of land, mostly in the Ninety-Six Judicial District.  He was a Captain in the Royal Militia, serving under the overall command of Colonel Thomas Fletchall; he actively participated in the Whig -Tory confrontations that took place in the summer of 1775.  In September 1775, he and his 12 year old son, Moses, Jr., eluded Whig forces and reached the house of the Royal Governor, Lord William Campbell in Charleston.  From there he embarked for the British Province of East Florida.  From thence he went to Boston and soon thereafter was in Virginia in the service of the Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore.  By 1777 we hear of him serving under British General Howe in New York.  In April-May of 1777 he traveled to Florida carrying dispatches from Lord Howe.  John Stuart, superintendent of the Indians, appointed Kirkland as deputy superintendent of Indians, on 22 May, 1777.  In 1778, he went among the Indian tribes, distributing presents and endeavoring to persuade them to be loyal and to act in concert with the British.  After his tour of the Indian Nations, he returned to St. Augustine, Florida in March 1778, where he developed a plan for the British reconquest of Georgia and South Carolina.

According to the historian Robert Stansbury Lambert, Moses Kirkland's plan played a pivotal role in convincing the British commander-in-chief, Sir Henry Clinton, to launch his southern campaign of 1780-1781.  Lambert tells us that:

Moses Kirkland, the South Carolina backcountry loyalist who had been in exile since 1775, now reappeared on the scene. In the winter of 1778, Kirkland, now John Stuart's deputy to the Seminole-Creeks, was directed to escort some Creek headmen to St. Augustine for talks with Augustine Prevost on how the Indians might participate in combined operations against the rebels. From there, Kirkland was given leave to go to New York "on private affairs" and to explain to the commander-in-chief his "project for an invasion into Georgia and [the] western frontiers of South Carolina." Prevost cautioned against undertaking such an operation in the "season when sickness and fever abound" or placing too much reliance on cooperation from the Indians, but he did not pose further objections. Kirkland was able to present his plan after Clinton had returned to New York in October.

Kirkland's scheme was nothing if not comprehensive. From East Florida a combined force of British regulars, Brown's Rangers, volunteers, and Indians would invade Georgia overland with the objective of capturing forts and supplies before linking up near Savannah with a contingent of regulars coming by sea from St. Augustine. After Savannah was reduced, a detachment would be sent up the Savannah River to take Augusta, thus cutting South Carolina's trade route to the Creek Indians and establishing a base from which to make contact with the many backcountry loyalists awaiting the opportunity to rally to the king's standard. While this campaign was in progress, Stuart's deputy, Alexander Cameron, was to prepare the Cherokees to assist in liberating the Long Cane settlements where Kirkland expected that many loyalists awaited the chance to cooperate with the royal army. From Augusta messengers could be sent to the "leading men of the regulators and the Chiefs of the Scotch settlers in the lower parts of North Carolina" to prepare those loyalists to rise and organize themselves. Then, if 3,000 to 4,000 troops could be spared from New York to take Charlestown, the rebels would find themselves caught be­tween the two forces, and the liberation of both Carolinas could swiftly follow.

Kirkland's proposal was complicated and would require the close cooperation of all elements in the plan and a good deal of luck. It rested on certain assumptions, each of which remained to be demonstrated and many of which were dubious at best. First, the strength of the loyalists: backcountry South Carolina was deemed to be full of loyalists, and the mere presence of a royal army would bring them flocking in to volunteer for military service; and not only would they rally to the cause in large numbers, but they would come armed, organized, and equipped to serve on short notice. Second, to expect that effective communication could be established between the Scottish "chiefs" and Regulators in North Carolina and the British army around Augusta showed little understanding of the distances involved. Third, the view that the Indian allies were anxious to fight and that their participation would overawe the rebels rather than stiffen their resistance was based on a fundamental misconception of how backsettlers would react to the presence of Indians. The most dangerous assumption, however, was that all of this activity by British redcoats, Indians, and loyalists would find the rebels unprepared or unwilling to resist such an invasion. Kirkland's plan was based to a considerable degree on his personal experiences in 1775, his exposure in Florida to refugee loyalists like Richard Pearis, and his own position in the Indian department. In many respects it rested on facts that were no longer, or were only partially, accurate.

Nevertheless, encouraged by instructions from the ministry in England, Sir Henry Clinton found the idea of a southern campaign sufficiently attractive to plan to implement it in the coming winter.

 [See South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution, by  Robert Stansbury Lambert (published 1987), pages 80-81.]

Sir Henry Clinton's military efforts in the South in 1779-1780 culminated in the capture of Charleston in May 1780.  Moses Kirkland participated in the capture and, on 6 July 1780, was made a regimental commander in General Robert Cunningham's Loyalist Brigade of Ninety-Six District.  Subsequently, he joined Colonel John Harris Cruger on the expedition for the relief of Colonel Thomas Brown at Augusta in the September.  After the relief of Brown, he was put in command of the garrison at Augusta; later he seems to have settled for a time near Savannah.

At some point during the War Kirkland's first wife, Patience, seems to have died.  After the evacuation of South Carolina by the British inn December 1782, Moses sought refuge in Jamaica, where he settled in St. George’s parish and married his second wife, Catherine Bruce. His life was ended by drowning while on a voyage from the West Indies to England in December 1787. Richard Bruce Kirkland, his only son by his second marriage, was born in 1786 and became a planter in Jamaica.

Moses Kirkland's estates in South Carolina were confiscated and sold at public auction during the 1782 -1786 time frame.  Based upon my review of the SC deed records, I can provide abstracts of 14 of these sales as follows:

01 November 1782:  Stephen Drayton acquires a 416-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 52 pounds.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book W-5, pages 350-352.]

01 November 1782:  Benjamin Waller acquires a 325-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book W-5, pages 352-355.]

09 July 1783:  John Ryan acquires three tracts of land of 350, 384 and ??? acres, in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 397 pounds, 15 shillings.  It should be noted that the 350-acre tract was adjacent to the land of Richard Kirtland.  Comment: could this Richard Kirkland be the brother of Moses?  [See Charleston SC Deed Book Y-5, pages 216-218.]

11 July 1783:  Lacon Ryan acquires a 123-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 30 pounds, 15 shillings.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book M-5, pages 44-46.]

11 July 1783:  John Ryan acquires a 352-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 795 pounds, 10 shillings.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book M-5, pages 50-52.]

11 July 1783:  Josiah Greer acquires a 200-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 70 pounds.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book M-5, pages 58-60.]

11 July 1783:  Thomas Blassingame acquires a 188-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 65 pounds, 16 shillings.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book M-5, pages 62-64.]

11 July 1783:  James Harrison acquires a 262-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 39 pounds, 6 pence.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book M-5, pages 94-96.]

11 July 1783:  Bennett Crafton acquires a 364-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 273 pounds.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book N-5, pages 16-17.]

08 October 1785:  Robert Cooper acquires a 1000-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 325 pounds  [See Charleston SC Deed Book V-5, pages 73-74.]

09 October 1785:  Colonel Richard Hampton acquires a 50-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 20 pounds, 16 shillings, 8 pence.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book V-5, pages 116-117.]

01 November 1786:  Joseph DaCosta acquires three tracts of land of 142, 268 and 351acres, in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 81 pounds, 17 shillings, 6 pence.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book T-5, pages 458-460.]

01 November 1786:  Benjamin Waller acquires a 571-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland for 166 pounds, 10 shillings, 10 pence.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book W-5, pages 359-361.]

01 November 1786:  John Vanderhorst acquires a 242-acre tract of land in Ninety-Six District, late the property of Moses Kirkland.  [See Charleston SC Deed Book M-5, pages 44-46.]

 

Biographical Sketch of Moses Kirkland

By E. Alfred Jones of London, England

An excellent biographical sketch of Moses Kirkland was published in The Ohio State University Bulletin, Volume XXVI, Number 4, October 30, 1921, pages 66-72, entitled The Journal of Alexander Chesney, a South Carolina Loyalist in the Revolution and After, Edited by E. Alfred Jones of London England, with an Introduction by Professor Wilbur H. Siebert.  Professor Wilbur Henry Siebert describes Mr. Jones in the following words:

It is scarcely necessary to speak of the special qualifications of Mr. E. Alfred Jones for the task of editing The Journal of Alexander Chesney, since the admirable results of his labors are manifest in this volume. The present writer can not, however, deny himself the pleasure of saying that Mr. Jones has long been familiar with the abundant materials relating to the American loyalists that are to be found in the Public Record Office, the British Museum, and other collections in London. Nor can he forbear to add that the Editor has greatly increased the value of this volume by his copious annotations, many of which contain information not easily available and some, information not accessible at all in print. Mr. Jones found Chesney's Journal in the British Museum (Additional MSS., 32627).

Sketch of Moses Kirkland

Moses Kirkland was a prosperous planter in the fertile district of Ninety-Six in South Carolina. In 1774 he was chosen a member of the Provincial Congress, and was regarded as a warm supporter of the American cause. According to his memorial, however, he maintains that he spoke strongly in the House of Assembly at Charleston in January 1775, against the proceedings of the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, but that his side was defeated by vote, and after protesting he returned home.

In June following, he was appointed by the Assembly to command a company of rangers, and his commission was sent to him in a letter which he refused to accept. (A.O. 12/52, fos. 209-233.)

Kirkland's next step was to assemble the inhabitants of his district and by his influence, combined with the assistance of Colonels Thomas Fletchall and Thomas Brown, he opposed Congress so effectually that he had raised over 5,000 signatures to a resolution to support the king's Government. In consultation with some of his leading neighbors it was now decided that, in view of the improbability of immediate military support from the governor and from the want of arms and ammunition, he should leave the Province and join the British army at Boston. In this scheme Kirkland was supported by his friends and he forthwith left his home in disguise, accompanied by his only son, a boy of twelve summers, and eventually reached the house of Governor Lord William Campbell, at Charleston, thence going on board H. M. S. Tamar. From Charleston he proceeded to St. Augustine in East Florida, armed with letters of recommendation from Lord William Campbell to Governor Tonyn and others, and after a brief stay departed for Boston, where he arrived in September 1775. Kirkland's sojourn at Boston was of brief duration, for he is next seen in Virginia, serving under the governor, Lord Dunmore.  Returning again to Boston, his ship was captured, 10 December, near that port by the American schooner, Lee, commanded by Captain Manly who was probably the American officer of that name who was in command of the American privateer, HANCOCK, described by Sir George Collier as the second officer of rank in the American navy, “a man of talent and intrepidity" and more capable of doing mischief than General Lee,” whom it was “a piece of good fortune” to have captured in June, 1777, with the Hancock. (Hist. MSS. Comm., Report on the Mss. of Mrs. Stopford. Sackville, Vol. II, pp. 69-70.)

Kirkland was sent to Washington's headquarters at Cambridge, where he was detained for 22 days, and then removed to Philadelphia.  Here he was a prisoner until June, 1776, when he escaped, and by traveling in disguise succeeded in getting to Lord Dunmore's vessels in Chesapeake Bay at the end of July. Kirkland afterwards joined General Sir William Howe on Staten Island, and was present at the capture of Long Island, New York, White Plains, and Fort Washington. At the end of March, 1777, Howe requested Kirkland to carry dispatches to East and West Florida, and he accomplished his mission without mishap, arriving, I May, at St. Augustine. Proceeding overland, he reached Pensacola, a journey of twenty days, and delivered the dispatches to Governor Chester and to General John Stuart, superintendent of the Indians, who appointed him deputy superintendent of Indians, by command of General Howe, 22 May, 1777. He remained in West Florida until January, 1778, when he went among the Indian tribes, distributing presents and endeavoring to persuade them to be loyal and to act in concert with the British. Returning to St. Augustine on 1 March, Kirkland prepared a plan for an expedition composed of loyalist refugees and Indians, against Georgia, which he submitted for the approval of the governor and the general, presumably Prevost. The consent of the commander-in-chief was, however, necessary before the scheme could be put into force, and with this object in view, the indefatigable Kirkland set sail for Philadelphia, which he reached in May, only to find that Howe had resigned and was about to return to England. He succeeded, however, in submitting his plan to Howe and Sir Henry Clinton, both of whom approved of it. Kirkland remained at Philadelphia until the evacuation of the city by the British in June, when he accompanied Clinton to New York. Here he was on duty until requested in October by Clinton to accompany Colonel Archibald Campbell's expedition to Georgia, and there to render every assistance in his power. His first taste of war here was at the capture of Savannah by the British. At the action of Brier creek, 60 miles from Savannah, Kirkland commanded part of the Georgia militia and a party of loyalist refugees. Later he accompanied Prevost on the expedition to Charleston.

Kirkland appears to have returned to Georgia, for on 9 October 1779, he was captured with about 100 other loyalists under Captain French at Ogeechie, 15 miles from Savannah, and he and his son, were bound in irons and put on board a galley. Happily, this vessel was captured by the British, and he rejoined the British forces at Savannah.

Lord Cornwallis, it will be remembered, appointed Robert Cunningham to command a brigade of loyal militia in the district of Ninety-Six in 1780. One of the regiments was allotted to Moses Kirkland, the date of his commission being 6 July.  He continued on active service in his own district until he joined Colonel John Harris Cruger on the expedition for the relief of the gallant Colonel Thomas Brown and his force at Augusta in the middle of September.

Major Kirkland's memorial adds but few details of his subsequent career, beyond mentioning that he was put in command of the garrison at Augusta after the relief of Brown, and that he would seem later to have settled near Savannah.

After the evacuation of South Carolina by the British, Moses Kirkland sought refuge in Jamaica, where he settled in St. George’s parish and married Catherine Bruce. His life was ended by drowning while on a voyage from the West Indies to England in December 1787. Richard Bruce Kirkland, his only son, was born in 1786 and became a planter in Jamaica. (A.O. 12/52, fos. 209-233.)

Drayton gives a different version of the reasons for Kirkland's departure from South Carolina, alleging that after his (Drayton's) manifesto of 30 August 1775, warning all persons who should with­out lawful authority assemble in arms with, or by the instigation of Kirkland, that they would be regarded as public enemies, to be suppressed by the sword, and that Kirkland was confounded and his exertions paralyzed. Offering to surrender on a promise of pardon, Drayton demanded his surrender at discretion, but Kirkland fled in disguise, with two trusty friends. (Drayton, Memoirs, Vol. I, p. 382.)

Kirkland conceals one important event in his career, namely, that he was concerned with Major James Mayson and Captain John Caldwell in the seizure of Fort Charlotte and its stores of ammunition, which was the first overt act in the Revolutionary war in South Carolina. It was after the re-capture of the fort by the loyalists that Kirkland turned over to the other side.

Major Moses Kirkland’s prosperous position as a planter may be gauged from the extent of his award of £4,000 from his claim of £12,160 for the loss of his property in South Carolina (A.O. 12/109). This property was sold by the State of South Carolina and realized £1,972. 2s. (A.O. 13/36; A.O. 12/92, S. C. Hist. and Gen. Mag., Vol. XVIII, pp. 69-71.)

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