Berkeley County, West Virginia Biography of Horatio GATES


         Horatio GATES was born in Malden, Essex, England, in 1728, in the Castle of the Duke of Leeds; little is known of his parentage except rumors that he was the natural son of Sir Robert Walpole and others that made his father the butler in the employ of the Duke.

         He was trained as a soldier and first saw service under Ferdinand the Prince of Brunswick. He next appeared as captain of the King’s New York independent company and, in 1755, at Halifax as a major. He was with Braddock at Fort Duquesne, July 9, 1755, where he was severely wounded and Washington is credited with having saved his life in the retreat. In 1762 he was at the capture of Martinique by Monckton, and after visiting England in 1763, he purchased a plantation in Berkeley County, Virginia, which he named “Travelers’ Rest.”

         Washington, when in 1775 called on by congress to select officers for the Continental Army, named Gates, who was commissioned adjutant-general, with the rank of brigadier-general. In 1776 he accompanied Washington to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was commanding-general of the northern army operating against Crown Point and Ticonderoga. He won the support of the delegates to congress from the New England states and was given the rank of major-general and superseded not only John Sullivan, but in August 1777, Gen Phillip J. Schuyler. The New England contingent still further pressed their demands by openly suggesting Gates as commander-in-chief. The battle of Saratoga, which resulted in the surrender of Burgoyne to Gates, October 17, 1777, served to magnify his military genius, and congress voted him a gold medal, gave him the thanks of the country and placed him at the head of the board of war.

         The opportunity thus presented to the friends of Gates was taken advantage of by the delegates of New England, and the cabal against the commander-in-chief was renewed with the object of forcing Washington into retirement and thus making place for Gates. Generals Thomas Conway and Thomas Mifflin conspired with Gen. Gates, and their correspondence revealed to Washington by Lord Stirling and obtained by him from Col. James Wilkinson, Gates’ chief of staff, in a moment of unguarded conviviality, put the commander-in-chief on his guard, and he exposed the whole affair. Gates sought to escape the odium by charging Wilkinson with forgery, whereupon Col. Wilkinson challenged Gen. Gates who first accepted and finally declined the challenge. Gates retired to his estate in Virginia and took no part in the operations of the army until June 1780, when after the capture of Gen. Lincoln, he was given command of the southern army. His force of 4,000 men was concentrated in North Carolina to oppose Cornwallis, who was rapidly marching northward. On August 16, the armies met at Camden, South Carolina, and Gates was overwhelmed and his army almost annihilated. He was thereupon superseded by Gen. Nathanael Greene, and suspended in December 1780 from military duty. A court of inquiry acquitted him in 1782 and he was reinstated.

         He moved to New York City in 1790 after having emancipated his slaves. He was a member of the New York state legislature in 1800. He was, through his marriage with Mary Valence, only child of James Valence of Liverpool, England, placed in possession of a fortune of $450,000 which Mrs. Gates used during the revolution to advance the military fortune of her husband by a sumptuous lavishment of hospitality. He received an LL.D. from Harvard in 1779 and was vice president-general of the Society of the Cincinnati, 1784-86. He died in New York City, April 10, 1806.


    Submitted by Marilyn Gouge and extracted from Encyclopedia of Virginia Biographies, 1915, and History of Berkeley County, West Virginia, 1928

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