A Look Back to Morgan County’s last Revolutionary War veteran

America has just celebrated Independence Day. 

It is a little-known fact that Morgan County once had among its residents men who had fought for this country’s freedom from British rule. Of course, Morgan County wasn’t in existence during the time the Revolutionary War was being fought between April 19, 1775, and Oct. 19, 1781 – the battles at Lexington and Concord, Mass., and Yorktown, Virginia. 

The Treaty of Paris formally ending the war was signed Sept. 3, 1783.

Morgan County is older than the state of Alabama, having been founded Feb. 8, 1818. The Alabama Territory was created March 3, 1817, but Alabama did not achieve statehood until Dec. 14, 1819. The last date will be the big day as far as Alabama’s Bicentennial is concerned – Dec. 14, 2019.)

All of the dates mentioned above were long after the Revolutionary War ended; however, Morgan County had Revolutionary War veterans because many of the older men who had fought for American freedom when they were young were adventuresome enough to leave their homes in the 13 original states and travel south and west to places like Alabama. 

Their identities were made known beginning with the first census to include the state of Alabama in 1820.

The last surviving Revolutionary War veteran who came to Morgan County after the end of the War – and the cession by Spain of its territory first to England and, after the new United States came into being, from the English to this country – was Robert Barclay. 

Robert was born in Ireland but came with his father to North America in 1769 when he was a small boy, 6 years old.

While war was raging as the united colonies were seeking to become a free and independent nation, Robert enlisted in the Army. His commanding officer was Gen. Thomas Sumter, a man with extensive military experience who used his men with sincere regard for their safety as well as his achievement of his battlefield objectives. They assisted in the defense of Charleston during the Battle of Sullivan’s Island but were unable to prevent the city’s capture by the British.

The Sumter contingent continued to inflict damage on the enemy’s forces as well as their Tory allies, however. They were most successful when they won a clear victory over the British in the Battle of Blackstock’s Farm. 

Sumter’s counterpart on the other side, Col. Banastre Tarlton, said Sumter had trained his men to “fight like a gamecock.” This is where the expression Carolina Gamecocks originated. 

In honor of Maj. Gen. Thomas Sumter, the fort constructed in Charleston Harbor, where another war began a dozen years after Robert had passed away, was named Fort Sumter. 

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in the centennial year of his birth back in Ireland. At the time of his Revolutionary army service, Private Barclay was still in his teens.

The Barclay family had settled in South Carolina when they came to America. Robert returned to his home there when the Revolutionary War had been won. 

His family’s first move from the Palmetto State was made in 1802 when he was 39. At that time, they moved southwest to Tennessee. Then, in 1816, he and his family moved to Morgan County. 

Historians say Robert Barclay was one of the first pioneers who crossed the Tennessee River, three years before the Territory of Alabama would become the state of Alabama.

Like most of his fellow Morgan Countians, Robert Barclay was a farmer. Just as he had come through the Revolutionary War without a scratch, he continued to live a healthy life in this county. Even though multiple disease epidemics were common, Robert was able to avoid them, and when he passed away July 26, 1848, at 85, it was said his hard work during a long life had simply worn his body out. 

Although he could have afforded to buy glasses to read his Bible, he never had any need for them anyway. 

Robert had not come to faith in Christ until he moved with his large family to Morgan County, where he affiliated with the Baptist church. Robert’s wife had preceded him in death; however, when he died, three sons and three daughters remained to mourn the loss of their heroic father – this county’s last Revolutionary War veteran.

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