[NOTE: This article was edited on 3 August 2019 to incorporate information provided by Theresa Purviance.  Most of the corrections and additional information appear in the section, A Little Background on the Purviance Family.  The author is grateful for Ms. Purviance’s generous providing of information to correct and expand this article.]

By Richard Gwynallen

Sarah Jane Wasson
1746 – 1800
Relationship to Fawn: 7th great aunt

James Purviance
1733 – 1806
Relationship to Fawn: 7th great uncle by marriage

In the essay, Archibald Wasson – Cordwainer and Farmer, I introduced the Wasson family, who married into our Mordah/Murdah (now Murdock) line.  One of the daughters of Archibald Wasson and Elizabeth Woods, Sarah Jane Wasson, married James Purviance. The Purviance and Wasson families would intermarry on several occasions over two generations.

Both of Sarah’s parents were born in Ireland, but Sarah was born after Archibald and Elizabeth had emigrated to the American colonies, then moved the family from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.

This essay is less about Sarah and James’ life together, and more on the role James and other Purviance relatives played in the Revolutionary War.  I ran across some material collected by other researchers and thought it made a nice addition to the stories of our ancestors.  The Wasson line is the direct line of our immediate family.  We are descended from one of Sarah’s sisters, Agness “Nancy” Wasson, so we are not descended by blood from any Purviance lines that I know of yet.  However, the story reflects on the experience of that branch of the Wassons during the Revolutionary War, and with the intermarriage of Wassons and Purviances there is a joint experience with our direct family line.  In particular, the reader will note:

  • A reference to Sarah Jane Wasson in the records of one of her sons that offers a rare intimate insight into a moment of one of our ancestors lives.
  • A look at what Sarah was confronted with as her home became a military hospital and her husband went to war.
  • That the Purviance family interacted closely with other families that are part of our direct family line, such as Wassons and Mordahs.
  • The movement of that branch of the Wasson family west and north from North Carolina.

A Little Background on the Purviance Family

The Purviance family immigrated to the American colonies in the early 1740s from Castle Finn (Caisleán na Finne, Irish, meaning “castle of the (river) Finn”) in County Donegal, Ireland, where they had lived for at least two generations. Castle Finn is located in East Donegal near the County Tyrone border.

As to the origins of the Purviance family, my original article drew upon work by researchers who maintained that they were French Huguenots from the town of Royan in the Charente-Maritime department, which was in the former Poitou-Charentes administrative region of France, arriving in Ireland prior to 1702.

Royan is a seaside town on the western coast of France. After the Edict of Nantes established tolerance for Protestants in France in April 1598, Royan developed as a fortified Protestant town.  After the Edict was revoked by Louis XIV in October 1685 and Protestantism declared illegal, most of the population of Royan emigrated.

This would be in keeping with the time frame of the Purviance family, and the Purviance name is one of those included in the List of Qualified Huguenot Ancestors by The National Huguenot Society.

However, Theresa Purviance firmly disputes this theory and gives the family a Scottish origin in Ayr, Scotland.  Quotations in the remainder of this section are from Theresa Purviance’s communication to me.

She concedes that the “Purviances are often confused with or labeled as French Protestants (Huguenots)”, and explains the confusion as arising from the probability that “there was intermarriage during the period of the Purviance’s French residence.”

“The Purviances were Scottish merchants who emigrated in the late 1500s or early 1600s (most estimates put it around 1600-1610) and they lived and traded in Royan, France for around 90 years (making them naturalized French you might say).”

Even if that were the case, Ms. Purviance goes on to say that ” . . .there is nothing passed down through any of the descendants (as there was in other Huguenot families) to indicate any Huguenot connections; no papers, documents, Bibles, or anything else. ”

“The name Purviance is actually a Scottish-ized Latin term for a man who was not a priest but a kind of secretary who worked for the Catholic Church and Clergy. This would indicate that the family belonged to the literate upper class.”

Ms. Purviance further sees the confusion over their origins as having to do with both Scottish and French Protestants having to leave France in the same time period.  “They, along with other Scottish and French Protestants (Calvinists), were forced to leave France around October 22, 1685, after King Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had allowed religious toleration of Protestants (Calvinists).

“Jacques (Jacob) de Purviance (1620-1697) and his family, which included his son, Jacques II (1644–1691), fled France around October 22, 1685. They first went to Lisburn, Ireland, and then traveled to County Donegal, Ireland, settling at Castlefinn near cousins, the descendants of one John Purveyance, who had settled there around 1613.”

Back to the family in question

James’ father, John David Purviance, was born in Castle Finn, County Donegal, in 1708.  Theresa Purviance’s information clears up a question I had posed in my original article , that being that most Royan residents seem to have emigrated to the Dutch Republic. Therefore, it was a question in my mind as to why this family would have ended up in Ireland.

Theresa Purviance’s information providing a Scottish ancestry, including Purviance family who had emigrated to Ireland earlier, and whom this Purviance family joined answers that question.

James’s mother was Margaret McKnight, also of County Donegal.  The McKnights were originally from Scotland, but it is unclear to me how long they had been in Ireland, why they had left Scotland, or where they originated in Scotland.  The most frequent contenders for a place of origin seem to be the area of Loch Awe in Argyll or Kirkcudbright in southwest Scotland.

After emigrating from Ireland, the family of John David Purviance and Margaret McKnight first settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Apparently Margaret’s McKnight family emigrated with them.  The Purviance and McKnight families then moved to Rowan (which became Iredell) County, North Carolina.  There is general agreement that James and and some of the Purviance family moved south in in the 1760s, following the same pattern as many Ulster Scots in Pennsylvania by migrating down the Great Wagon Road south.  They may have settled on the south fork of the Yadkin River.

However, as early as 1758, a John Purviance appears on a petition to be excused from tax delinquency in Rowan County (which becomes Irdell County).  This could be James’ brother or his father.  It indicates that when James and others moved south in the 1760s they might have been joining family who migrated earlier.

The Purviance name, as well as McKnight, appear on a petition to organize the Fourth Creek Presbyterian Congregation in Iredell County in 1764.  Other names on that same petition that will be familiar to readers of this site include Mordah, Murdock, Wasson, Milligan, and Sloan.  This could be the same John or James himself.

Further, James Purviance and John Purviance (most likely James’ brother) appear among the first Elders for what became the Concord Presbyterian Church in 1775.  A McKnight is also on that list.

This indicates that the full Purviance family was in Iredell County by 1764, and that they had a relationship with our Mordah/Murdock family as well as the Wassons.

The family first appears in the Rowan County record of deeds when George and Mary McDonald sell “200 acres on the south side of Third Creek adjacent to the land of William Stephenson” to John Purviance for £35.  It was deeded 26 August 1762 and proved at the October court in 1765. (Abstracts of Deeds of Rowan County, NC 1753-1785, Pg. 79: Vol. 6:214/5 Oct. 1765)

This was most likely James’ brother John because it clearly was that brother who in 1767 sold that same acreage to “Mathew Oliphant, husbandman”, for £58. This transaction references John’s wife Jane, who would have been Mary Jane Wasson, the sister of Sarah Jane Wasson.  (Abstracts of Deeds of Rowan County, NC 1753-1785, Pg. 91: Vol. 6:503/23 Dec. 1767).

Eventually parts of the family would end up in what is now Carrabus County, North Carolina, but what was then part of Mecklenburg County.  The family in Carrabus became associated with the Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church, so called because the first minister, Rev. John Thompson, sent by the Presbytery of Philadelphia to preach to scattered Presbyterians in the colony of North Carolina would hold his services under the shade of a Poplar tree.  Ultimately, the Purviance family would remove to Tennessee, then on to Kentucky where James died.

James and Sarah were still in North Carolina in 1784 when State Grant #861 was made to James Purviance for 480 acres on the north fork of Fourth Creek. (Abstracts of Deeds of Rowan County, NC 1753-1785, Pg. 197: 10:237/4 Nov. 1784)

It is not clear why they left North Carolina, but they did not remain long in Tennessee as the Cherokees made it clear they did not want further white settlement in the area.  A John Purviance was killed in one attack.  The move to Tennessee most likely occurred in autumn of 1791.  James’ brother John was killed in 1792 or 1793.  The Sumner County, Tennessee Court Minutes [Wells, pg. 33-34] records that in the 1793 April Term Richard King returned the “inventory/sales of estate of John Purvoince”.

Researchers indicate that some Purviance family returned to Sumner County, Tennessee to a part that would become Wilson County.  James’ brother John died in Wilson County, Tennessee in 1823.  The rest of the family would push on further north into Ohio.  While we don’t know why they left North Carolina, one indication might be that the family, particularly James’ brother David, would become abolitionists, which was one reason they left Kentucky to move further north.

James’ will was dated 6 May 1800 and was proved in Bourbon County, Kentucky on 5 April 1819. Sarah Wasson preceded him in death in 1800, also in Bourbon County, Kentucky.  I currently have no information on the site of their graves.

Service in the Revolutionary War

Several members of the Purviance family were participant in the Revolutionary War. Here I concentrate on James.  As the others’ stories become available I may add them.

James Purviance

In his later years, James and Sarah’s son John wrote reminisces about his family. His comments on his family during the Revolutionary War were included in the Memorial Record of Northeastern Indiana (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, 1896, pp. 455-7) as well as in chapter 4 of The Purviance Family by Stuart Hoyle Purviance.  Excerpts appear on the genealogical website, GENi, as well as other places.

John was born 23 April 1770, so he was but a boy of nine – eleven years of age during the incidents he is describing.

James Purviance was a Captain in the North Carolina Line from 1779 through at least 1781. (Colonial Records of North Carolina, Vol. 10, p. 320, and North Carolina Roster pp. 45, 213).  A number of battles occurred within miles of his home, and the Purviance house was at times converted into a battlefield hospital.

James’s son John describes hearing the sounds of battle:

“We heard the cannonading at my father’s, it being heard from seven or eight miles farther north. My brothers, my sisters and myself were sitting on the porch during the cannonading, but my mother could not remain in the house. She walked across the yard, back and forth, with her arms folded across her breast, with a solemn countenance. She spoke not a word more than to let her children know that their father was probably in the battle.”

When I first read this I could see my 6th great aunt, pacing, hearing the roar of battle just miles away, worried, thinking through what she had to do, the only adult between it and her children huddled on the porch.  She would be about 33 at the time, with at least five children ranging in age from one to about 10 years of age.  It made her come to life for me.  Perhaps being outside made her feel closer to the experience of her husband.  Perhaps it was part of her personality to not be able to remain still. Perhaps it was more practical. Perhaps she wanted to be the first to see whatever came into view in order to know as soon as possible whether her home needed protection.

The houses of these settlers were very similar.  An historic house  of that same period remains in the general area and allows us an idea of what the Wasson house may have looked like. That house is pictured below and can be visited on the Ramsour’s Mill battlefield site.

Ramsour's Mill Christian Reinhardt Cabin

John later speaks of another battle or skirmish occurring two miles south of his father’s house. This was his immediate experience, though later it was proven that his father was not in the first battle mentioned, but was engaged at some other point.

As a side note, John Purviance speaks of the ‘making of songs’ to praise the soldiers and mock those who deserted. He said, “ . . . there were songsters and songmakers in that day, and in a short time the songs were made and sung by many with an air to the satisfaction of the good soldiers and mortification of those who retreated.”  In fact, though now in English, such songs were the continuation of a long Irish and Scottish Gaelic tradition where the bards circulated songs to encourage clans to battle and ensure that ridicule lay in store for those who did not fight.

In addition to James, several members of the Purviance family served in the colonial army.   John Purviance speaks of having two uncles and several cousins under the command of General Lock.  One of the cousins was killed and an uncle was ‘shot in four places,’ at last being ‘brought to the ground by a ball which struck him in the hip.’ This uncle was most likely James’ brother John who other sources show as having been wounded and taken to the Purviance house for medical care. John may have been wounded at the battle of Ramsour’s Mill, about twenty miles from the home of James Purviance.  Whichever battle it was in which John was wounded and taken to the Purviance house, the house was used as a hospital and he was taken there as many wounded were.  This was not unusual for the time.  In those days all the homes near the battlefields were temporarily turned into hospitals. Sarah Jane Wasson would have organized her children to tear up linens and clothes to serve as bandages and help care for the wounded.  The house would have been a scene of frantic activity, and Sarah and the children old enough would have been in the midst of it, rushed, tired, and having to keep their wits about them.

James’ son John Purviance describes these events: “Many of the wounded were carried on biers, one on each bier, and took boarding; in the neighborhood. My uncle and others were brought to my father’s home. I remember it as though it was yesterday. The sufferings of my worthy and respected uncle were great and cannot be described. Surgical operations could not extract the ball in the hip. About forty years later my aunt, who was dressing the wound, felt the probe cut something hard and by probing the ball was extracted. I heard of it, went to visit them and saw the ball.”

Knowing that the Purviance house was about 20 miles from the site of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill gives us geography within which to places James Purviance and Sarah Wasson.   Since the Ramsour battlefield is in Lincoln County and the Purviance-Wasson family lived in Iredell County at this time the 20 mile swath of possible landscape would have to be east of the battle.

Ramsour Mill Painting

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill painting depicting the rally by Tory forces in their encampment before they drove the Patriot cavalry back down the hill.  The painting hangs in the lobby of the James W. Warren Citizen Center of the Lincoln County, North Carolina government.

Today what remains of the battlefield is nestled between three schools. A strategic plan to preserve the battlefield does exist.

A .3 mile trail runs behind the battlefield, with the trail head at 229-255 Jeb Seagle Drive, Lincolnton, North Carolina.  The map below pinpoints the site of the battle and displays a 20 mile swath about the battle site.


Below is a diagram of the position of forces at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.

Battle of Ramsour's Mill battle layout

Below is the Ramsour’s Mill Battlefield site today.

Ramsour's Mill Battle site

Below is a map of the vicinity on the battlefield today.

Ramsour's Mill Battle Site Vicinty Map 1

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Much of the original battlefield has been lost to development, but the historic cabin on the site was that of the Reinhardt family.

Ramsour's Mill Christian Reinhardt Cabin

Christian Reinhardt, Sr., his wife Elizabeth, her mother, Barbara Schindler Warlick, and her brothers all took an active part in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. The Battle was fought on the Reinhardt land, 1/2 mile north of Lincolnton, North Carolina, and their home was turned into a hospital.

Ramsour’s Mill was on a creek about three hundred yards west of the Reinhardt house.  About 1,300 Tories assembled in camp about three hundred yards back of the Reinhardt home and 300 yards from the mill, and Colonel Locke with about 400 patriots decided to attack the Tories at sunrise on June 20th.  The battle was ferocious.  Discipline was lacking because most were farmers, not trained soldiers. At times the fighting was close combat and the parties were so close together that they beat each other with the butts of their guns.

Mrs. Reinhardt and her two children had taken shelter in the cane field during the battle.  Returning home, she found the dead and wounded strewn on the ground around her house.  Mrs. Reinhardt and Mrs. Warlick tore up their fine linens to make bandages for the wounded soldiers.

Neighbors, relatives and friends fought against each other and as the smoke would clear they would recognize each other.  All were in civilian clothes and it was hard to distinguish the Whigs or Patriots from the Tories, save by a piece of white paper in the hats of the former and a twig in the hats of the latter.

It is believed that James Purviance, with other relatives, originally served under General Rutherford as Captain, commanding a company, then later was assigned to General Gates and General Sumter. Ultimately his company was assigned to Colonel Locke.  His son John relates:

“Being entitled to so much weight in the baggage wagon, father provided a suitable chest for his clothing and papers. The baggage wagon, belonging to one of the neighbors, passed by and took in the chest, which was taken to Gates’ army in the South. For some reason father, with a part of his company, was sent to join Sumter, leaving part of his company and baggage with Gates, and an engagement was expected. I think the reason why father was sent to join Sumter was to escort him to Gates. What I will say about Sumter’s defeat I received from father orally. Sumter knew that the British were in pursuit of him, but nevertheless the army came to a halt on the side of the hill, near a large watercourse; by some it was called a half-mile wide; I think it was the Catawba river. Arms were stacked and sentinels stationed. Sumter’s tent was struck while he was in it writing. The army was mostly scattered down by a spring by the riverside. Father and Colonel John Isaacs, in walking up from the spring, stopped by the way and were talking about the bad generalship and critical situation they were in when the sentinel’s guns reported and the dragoons came on in a rush. Colonel Isaacs was taken prisoner, but father slipped down a bank out of view and kept up the river. At some distance he met with William McKinney, one of his company, and they took the river. Sometimes they had to swim, sometimes they could wade, the bullets striking the water before and behind them until they were out of reach. McKinney was a stout young man, good in water, and kept foremost; but after they got out of reach of the bullets, poor McKinney’s fortitude failed. He proposed to turn back and surrender and wished counsel. Father told him that his counsel would be known by his conduct, and he was determined not to surrender while he could help it. Poor McKinney turned back, surrendered and afterward took the South fever and died in the hospital. Father fortunately had a knife; he ripped open his coat-sleeves and by that means got his coat off and let it go to the waves; next was his hat, which was large: he let it go also; next came his sword, with which he was loath to part, but to save himself he let it go too. He made to land, and looking around could see the British dragoons ranging about on the same side of the river. He took to the woods and rounded the field, bending his course from the river till finally he saw some men who had also made their escape across the river. He recognized Philip Drumm, a young Dutchman, one of his own company. They got together and traveled home together, not less than 100 miles. Father had saved his handkerchief and had it tied on his head. Young Drumm took it off and insisted upon putting his own hat in its place.

“In passing through the Indian land about seventy miles from home two horses were presented to father with the request that he take them home and deliver them to friends of the owner for safe-keeping, who lived in father’s neighborhood. Each had a horse. They traveled together to Morrison’s mill, three miles from home; the roads parted; the hat father was wearing being given to young Drumm, its owner, Archibald Bradley, the miller, presented father with a decent hat to wear home. When he came in view he was not at first recognized by his family, no coat, a strange hat and no sword and a little dirty. When he embraced the family his countenance was pensive. Clean clothes put on, the word ran through the neighborhood and the neighbors gathered in. He had but little to say that afternoon and was much cast down over the outlook, with two armies defeated and the British marching where they pleased. But the next morning he put on his cheerful countenance again, took courage and started for the field.”