Search billions of records on


William Layland Bio & Memoirs
From DeBow's Review 1852

This is rather long, but if this is part of your family, it contains a lot of great information.

WILLIAM LAYLAND,  a Revolutionary soldier, now living on Sicily Island, ten miles from Harrisonburg, was born in Berkeley county, Va., near Slinker's Gap, on the Shenandoah River, 3d May, 1742.
His parents were from New Jersey, of the upper Freehold; his mother's maiden name was Sarah Ellison.
In 1773, there was so much agitation and excitement amongst the people and dread of the savages, that his parents returned
from Virginia to New-Jersey, in the neighborhood whence they had migrated.
We will here narrate the occurrences of the life of Mr. Layland, pretty much in his own language, and we will see how well it accords with history, for some persons are incredulous on the subject, simply because from his great temperance and prudence, he does not show such extreme debility and decrepitude as is often evinced by persons many years his juniors.
In 1776, he enlisted as a volunteer in the continental service, and the first engagement in which he took a part was called Morris' Battle. The first officer under whom he enlisted was Morgan, the captain of a company of riflemen from Virginia. He was at the battle of Trenton, under the general-in-chief. He was with the army in the winter of 1777, when encamed at Valley Forge, and says, that General Washington had all the soldiers inoculated. He was engaged in the battle of Monmouth, 29th June, 1778, and in a skirmish at Wlitemarsh. He was with General Anthony Wayne at the storming of Stoney Point, on the 15th July, 1779. In this engagement, he states, that the general was directed to choose his men, as the service was considered hazardous. They attacked the place in the night, which was a very dark, cold, cloudy and drizzly one. They proceeded with so much caution and secrecy, that they were on the sentinels before they knew it, and the first one they seized and made him pilot them through the fort. Thev found the officers up in a three-story building, and when they were summoned to surrender, they demanded upon what authority, when the Americans quickly answered, "By the authority of Jesus Christ and the Continental Congress!" In this affair, Mr. L. was thrown from a ladder and fell amongst some stones and shells, which hurt him badly for awhile, but did not disable him from duty.

Late in 1781, word was brought into camp where he was, that the Eastern Division of the army was discharged, and they were disbanded without any clothes or pay, and allowed to make their way home as they best could. In passing through the country, the people often laughed at the shabby appearance of the soldiers. and jeered them, calling them " lousy rogues;"
would not allow them to come into their houses, but made a great outcry, as if afraid they would be robbed. This conduct hurt h'im more than the hardships of Valley Forge, or any bodily injury sustained on the field of battle. But after all this, he was not dissatisfied with the soldier's life; so in 1792, he again enlisted under General Wayne, on the 13tlh May, to go
against the Shawnee and other tribes of indians; his captain was John Cummings, his lieutenant was named Hall, and the term of enlistment was'three years.
He joined the grand army of the West at Pittsburg,  marched to Cincinnati, and thence to Greenville, where they remained inactive for some time, when his company, with others, numbering three hundred, were sent as an escort with ammunition, provisions, etc., in wagons, to Fort Defiance.
They were five days going, during which time the weather was rainy and unpleasant. When they arrived and delivered the stores to the officers in the fort, they struck camp on the margin of a smal! creek, and were carelessly engaged in cooking, some sleeping, and others amusing themselves in different ways, while their arms were stacked in the centre. Suddenly they were surrounded and violently attacked by a large body of Indians, who rushed to try and seize the guns, all the time yelling in the most terrific manner, and dealing deaith blows all around. The struggle was terrible for a brief space of time, but the Americans overpowered them, and the surviving Indians made a precipitate retreat.
There were many women in the fight, who were armed with short clubs, having an iron spike running through. with a hook on one end, while the other was sharp. The lndians carried off their dead comrades, and when they were so heavy that they could not handle them, they cut them up and threw them in bags and curried them off.
In this fight, Mr. L. was knocked down into the creek, and lay there insensible for some time, and ever since that, his brain has been impaired, and his mental faculties somewhat enfeebled. When they marched back to Greenville, Dr. Carmicheal,
the surgeon, attended him.

After this, he was in another escort with stores and ammnunition under Col. Hamtramk, from Greenville to Cincinnati: then he went from Cincinnati to Fort Hamilton, which plaice was under the command of Major Cass, under whom Mr. Layland afterwards served as orderly sergeant. He speaks in the highest terms of Major Cass, as an officer and a gentleman.
While here, his three year term of enlistment expired, when he again entered the service under Capt. Pike, at Fort Massac, in his company of riflemen.
Shortly after this, Percy Pope came on with orders to pick his men at this fort, in order to proceed down the river to Natchez, and Mr. L. was taken in this expedition, and landed at Natchez 13th May, 1797. They came down in flat-boats, having a great many of them together, presenting quite a formidable appearance, although there really were not more than thirty efficient men on board, as a great many were sick. The boats were loaded with hogs, cattle, corn and provisions.

After landing, they erected thirty tents on Liberty Hill, and from the display made, the Spanish officers were impressed with the belief that there was quite an army of them. At this time, there were only two or three decent looking buildings in the town, the Catholic Cathedral being the largest of any, but not very prepossessing. They hewed out and prepared a large and very high flag-staff, which they erected stealthily by night by means of long shears and blocks and tackle, and next day at dawn, when the Spaniards saw the American flag flying aloft, they were struck with fear and astonishment, as they concluded there must be a great many men where so much had been done. T

he Spanish officers prevaricated, and tried by many arts to baffle the Americans and prevent their getting possession of the country. They hired Mr. Job Routh and Mr. Cushing to haul their cannons and other things down the bluff at night, in order to embark down the river, but failed to get off, when the same gentlemen were hired to haul back their baggage before day again, hoping they had not been detected in their cowardly movements. This was done several nights before they finally departed. Before they left, they threw all kinds of filth into the wells, with the carcasses of animals, and choked them up
with rubbish, and it was also thought they had thrown poison into them. The wells stunk so that it was impossible to go into them, or even approach near them.

At this time the army was reduced, and many officers lowered in their grade, or discharged from service, and only those men retained who had enlisted for five years. Major Isaac Guion was chief officer at one time.
After Percy Pope left, Capt. John Heath took the command, who was maimed in his right hand, and used only the left. At this time Guion was made pay-master. When Mr. Layland enlisted, he was promised 300 acres of land for his services, but he has never received it yet.

He was honorably discharged 13th May, 1798, by his officers, Guion and Heath, both of whom signed a certificate of his good and soldierly conduct.

During all his long service lie never indulged in the use of any spirituous liquors, and always had the confidence and firiendly regards of his comrades and officers, and was allowed more liberties than many others.

After leaving the U. S. service, he married Miss Elizabeth Swayze, the youngest daughter of Samuel Swayze, near Washington, Adams county, Miss., on the 9th January, 1799, and resided in that county till March, 1835, when he removed to Sicily Island where he now lives.
His wife died here on the 9th March, 1837, leaving two daughters and five sons.

Mr. L. is now a good looking man for his age; his complexion is florid, face is full, blue eyes, and has a full suit of gray hair. He converses freely and cheerfully, while there is no appearance of that bodily or mental imbecility which might naturally be looked for in one of his great age.

He walks a great deal, and prefers it to riding-he walks every Sabbath to a church near by his house, and last summer walked to Harrisonburg.
One of his sons is living with him, and he has a small piece of land and a few slaves who support him comfortably. But for all his services in the army, he has never yet received any pecuniary reward from the government. He says he feels unbounded satisfaction in having acted a part in achieving the liberty of his country, and hopes the present and future generations will not sacrifice it on the shrine of party strife or sectional ambition!

Back    Home