Cornelius “Neal” Alexander Roberts married Mary Benton about 1767. I am a descendant of theirs.
The mid- and late-1700s was a dangerous time for habitants in Southwest Virginia, near Chilhowie and the Clinch River.
A mixture of long hunters, British colonists, and American Indians all contended for their piece of the tree-covered mountains and clean water. Constant violence, and successive attacks by Indian hunting and war bands, laid unrest upon the settlers.
Against this backdrop, Cornelius and Mary began their life together in Henry County. The couple lived contently for a few years, and in 1769 they were granted a Right of Settlement in Grayson County, Virginia, and a plot of land to go with it.
Cornelius, being a man to stand up for what he had and what he believed, enlisted in the militia in 1774, and fought during Lord Dunmore’s War against the Shawnee Indians. He was a member of Capt. David Looney’s Company, one of the seven companies from Fincastle County.
Daniel Boone, who is famous for exploring and settling much of Kentucky, was one of Capt. Looney’s Lieutenants and became a good friend and comrade to Cornelius.
As was standard for that unsettled time in American history, many members of the militia who fought in prior skirmishes found themselves playing a role as patriots. This is how it was for Cornelius in 1780 when he fought against the British in the militia of the Elk Creek District during the America Revolutionary War.
Finally, in and around 1783, Cornelius settled down for good with his family in Russell County, in what is now Virginia, not far from Cedar Creek – a branch of the Clinch River. Cornelius and Mary lived happily for many years and had a total of 12 children, six boys and six girls.
As was too common for most people in those days, however, peace was not to last.
In June of 1788, several men, including Cornelius’s son Daniel – who he named for his friend Daniel Boone – as well as his sons-in-law, set out on an expedition to the Black Mountain. This trip was intended to collect the valuable herb, ginseng, used at the time for medicinal purposes.
They unknowingly set up camp within five miles of Cherokee Chief Robert Benge and his tribe. Daniel, the young son of Cornelius, had spotted the Indians nearby as he was gathering firewood and he told his father about them. Daniel said that if the Indians should attack, he planned to hide under the trunk of an old tree, near the creek, where the water had washed the dirt from around it.
Cornelius had plenty of experience with Indians, and knew how they fought, so as the sun grew heavy in the West, Cornelius gathered his family for battle.
As expected, the Indians attacked at night. It was reported and written that Cornelius yelled, “why don’t you wait until daylight and fight like white men?” Young Daniel stuck to his plan and hid under the trunk of the tree near the water. Daniel’s dog attacked an Indian and pulled him over the tree trunk where the boy was hiding, but as luck would have it, the Indian did not see Daniel.
Cornelius, unfortunately, was scalped and killed in the attack. He was 42 years old when he died.
His family buried him under a large chestnut tree near the creek, cutting the tree and scattering chestnut burrs, so the Indians would think they had cut it to harvest chestnuts, and would not disturb his grave.
Cornelius never knew his youngest daughter and 12th child as she was born a few months after his death. Mary named her Mourning in his memory.
Twenty-five years later Cornelius’ son, Daniel, and a party of men hunted down and killed Dick Benge, the son of Chief Robert Benge (who was killed in an ambush on April 6, 1794).
The account of their death was recorded in the “Calendar of State Papers” of Virginia.
Mary, widowed with so many children, including her new baby Mourning, soon married the Reverend John Frost, a Baptist Minister, in about 1790, and they moved to Clark County, Kentucky. They lived together four decades, until Reverend Frost died in 1830. No one knows whether Mary subsequently moved to Tennessee with other members of the Frost Family or stayed in Kentucky with some of her children.
Cornelius and Mary left a legacy of 117 known grandchildren and more than 660 known great-grandchildren.
Their daughter, Mourning Roberts Tally, was my fourth-great-grandmother.
[Note: I’m a deep believer in the power of legacy to help us better understand our role in the world and how we got here. That applies not just to people, but to land and ranch properties that often have their own tales to tell. Capturing and sharing our legacies helps preserve the ranching culture and traditions.]
Be Sure to Read These Other Lewis Family Legacy Blog Posts: