Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Private Michael Tanner, Revolutionary War Soldier

The marker for a Revolutionary War soldier, Private Michael Tanner, stands about in the middle of the Old Choestoe Cemetery. This simple marble monument, typical of war memorials dotting old cemeteries in various locations, is unpretentious. One might pass it by, not recognizing its significance or the contribution the soldier made to the freedom of America.

The Blue Ridge Mountains Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, seeking to make a more lasting memorial, held a commemoration service at Private Michael Tanner’s grave on November 3, 2001. As a member of the Old Unicoi Trail Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, I was invited, along with other members of my chapter. It was a distinct privilege, toward the end of the memorial service, for fellow chapter member Carole Thompson and me to place a wreath to honor the service of Private Michael Tanner.

Dr. J. Allen Henson, a descendant of Private Tanner, gave a brief biography of his great, great great grandfather. It is to Dr. Henson I am indebted for the following information.

Michael Tanner was born December 4, 1759 in York County, Pennsylvania. Tanner is a trade name, deriving from those who followed the profession of tanning animal hides for fine leather. The earliest-known progenitors of Michael Tanner seem to have originated in Germany, moved to Holland, and then migrated to America in 1721, settling in Pennsylvania.

When Michael Tanner was eighteen, in 1777, he enlisted in the Continental Army in Shenandoah County, Virginia. His first encounters were against the Indians of the area to protect settlers from raids. He then engaged in skirmishes with the Tories who were faithful to the British crown.

When the Revolutionary War officially began, he was ready to bear arms for his country. At first he served as a volunteer, but was drafted when fighting accelerated. He served at first under the command of Captain Raider, General Hand and Captain Mason.

His unit journeyed to Fort Wallin on the Ohio River, the first assignment after he was drafted. Then he moved with his unit to the South Branch of the Potomac River where he was under the command of Captain George Huston and Colonel Simms. From there he fought in Rockingham County, Virginia under Captain John Rush in the Virginia Regiment headed by Colonel Harris.

The highlight of Private Michael Tanner’s military service occurred at Yorktown, Virginia, when General George Washington engineered the surrender of the British Field Commander, Charles, Earl of Cornwallis. At full strength, the American allied forces brought together 8,000 Continental Army troops and 3,000 militiamen at Yorktown, augmented by 15,000 French sailors who blocked Cornwallis’ escape and prevented British reinforcements from arriving by sea. It was a tense confrontation and much hinged on General Washington’s maneuvers, with Alexander Hamilton commanding the light infantry.

Cornwallis, realizing the precarious position of the British forces, began negotiations with General Washington. On October 19, 1781 the American Revolution ended and American independence was secured. Did Private Michael Tanner hear the strains of “The World Turned Upside Down” played from the British ship in the harbor? If he did, its strains must have reverberated in his memory for years to come.

We can only imagine the relief and happiness of soldiers like Private Michael Tanner who had done their part to bring about the surrender. Although it took two more years for hostilities to completely cease, statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams kept negotiating for terms of peace. Questions of what would become of British loyalists (Tories) after the war and the bounds of U. S. territory to extend to the Mississippi River were argued. The Treaty of Paris was signed September 3, 1783.

Private Michael Tanner returned to Virginia following Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. In Rockingham County, Virginia on July 14, 1782 Tanner married Catherine Butt. They migrated from the more settled area of Virginia to the frontier counties of Rutherford and Buncombe in North Carolina. There they reared their family and he earned his living from the soil. Known children of Michael and Catherine were Michael (Jr.), Mollie Tanner Ross, Elizabeth Tanner Ellison, George Tanner, Sally Tanner, Catherine Tanner Harkins and sons Jacob, Adam and Abraham.

When Michael Tanner made application for a war pension, he used his father’s German Bible with family records to establish his birth date as December 4, 1759. From the pension application Dr. Henson learned of the war record of Private Tanner. He was still in Buncombe County, North Carolina, when he received a Revolutionary War pension in April, 1833.

By 1838, Michael and Catherine Butt Tanner had settled in the Choestoe District of Union County, Georgia, moving there to be near some of their children who had migrated before them. Catherine Butt Tanner preceded her husband in death, dying April 12, 1842. Her grave was marked by a fieldstone in Old Choestoe Cemetery. Seven years later, on August 25, 1849, Michael Tanner was laid to rest by his beloved Catherine. In 1989, one hundred and forty years later, Dr. J. Allen Henson had a military marker erected for his ancestor.

The memorial service held on November 3, 2001 was a solemn, dignified and uplifting ceremony. The strains of patriotic music from fife, drum and bagpipe echoed through the trees and hills around Old Choestoe Cemetery where this Pennsylvania-born, Virginia-bred, Yorktown patriot found his final resting place. The honor guard dressed in military regalia gave a proper twenty-one gun salute. It was a worthy tribute to an humble soldier-farmer whose ancestors had come to the shores of America in 1721 seeking freedom.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 19, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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