Once more we'll don our hiking boots and walk across history at another Hamilton County cemetery that reminds us that the patriots of the American Revolution lived and are buried among us. Pvt. Thomas Palmer rests at the Conner Cemetery in the Birchwood community in Hamilton County, sharing the site with another Revolutionary veteran, William Jefferson Moore. Today, we'll spend some quality time with Palmer.
Pvt. Thomas Palmer was born Jan. 4, 1760, in Loudoun County, Virginia, to William Palmer and his wife, Lydia Eames Palmer. No records include the name, Thomas Palmer, until the military records about his service appear as a part of his pension application, S3651, 147VA, providing insight to his time on the Continental Line.
Palmer was living in Cocke County, Tennessee, on Nov. 28, 1832, when he swore an oath that "he enlisted in the Army of the United States in the year 1781 in the month of May with Captain Henry Bowyers in Winchester, Virginia." He added that he served with "Captain Boyer and his company during the whole time of service under the command of Major John Watts. The Deponent enlisted for 3 years and he was honorably discharged after peace was made. The Company remained stationary at Winchester, Virginia, and, immediately after his third tour of service in the Virginia militia had expired, he served 3 or 4 months in the United States Regular line before being discharged."
Upon further examination, Palmer noted that "when he entered the service of the United States, he lived in the County of Loudon where he was raised. After the close of his services as a Soldier of the Revolution, he moved to Bedford County, Virginia, thence to Greene County, Tennessee, and then to Cocke County where he now resides and has resided ever since."
His time with the "regular forces" began at "old Williamsburg, Virginia with Major Dennis Ramsay and Major Armistead were field officers then in command serving three months and was honorably discharged by his Captain Thomas Humphreys." It is the details provided about those three months of service that supplement our understanding of the final months of the war. As one reads his remembrances, it is almost possible to hear the strains of "Yankee Doodle" being replaced by "The World Turned Upside Down."
In his affidavit, Palmer recounts that "he marched down from old Williamsburg to little York before the time of the Siege and remained there for some days and thence marched through James Town and Richmond. In this Tour, he engaged in a skirmish at a place called Burwell's Ferry, Hog Island on the James River."
Burwell's Ferry was one of several actions preceding the final confrontation at Yorktown. The British considered it a small victory after British Maj. Gen. William Phillips embarked at Portsmouth with about 2,400 troops and managed to land at Burwell's Ferry. But, a dispatch from the British leadership notes that the skirmish, occurring on April 18-20, 1781, resulted in few gains as they "made a few prisoners, spiked and destroyed some cannon and next day returned to Williamsburgh." The colonial troops followed the British back across Virginia, noting that at Williamsburg "several of the Americans were killed and a number wounded. Lieutenant Joseph Lewis was wounded by a shot in the shoulder. The Declarant had two bullets shot through his clothes. We were nearly half the day engaged by Ships, preventing the British from landing." In an interesting twist to our Hamilton County "patriot," his record also indicates that he "had the honor of assisting in the capture of Cornwallis' Army in October 1781."
In his pension affidavit, Palmer was asked for references and furnished the names of the Rev. Solomon Wyatt, a clergyman "who was for many years, in this County, my nearest neighbor" and "Carter Talley, Esquire, believing they will testify." Their testimony apparently satisfied the courts and commission because in the East Tennessee rolls, dated August 1833, Thomas Palmer's name appears with an awarding of $40 per month as a pension.
How did Thomas Palmer and his wife, Emily Atkins Palmer, come to live in Hamilton County during their final years? It is believed that Palmer received a land grant and, by the time of his death in 1852, had been living among other settlers who had made the fertile soils of the region their final home.
Linda Moss Mines is the Chattanooga-Hamilton County historian, a member of the Tennessee Cemetery Committee, THC and regent, Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR.