The Civil War in North Carolina



Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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the Yale catalogues; but nowhere does it so appear.

        As the name Waitstill is so historical, it is to be regretted that the master spirit of the Mecklenburg declaration and the patriarch of the North Carolina bar, ever changed the spelling. Still was the name of one of the maternal ancestors of the Winthrops, in England, at Groton manor, and Wait was another. Mrs. Susan (Palmer) Avery had an uncle, Wait Still, who in a matter of record at New London, April 16, 1713, is styled Major General Wait Still Winthrop, the middle name was often omitted in the signature in those early days. Susan named her son, b. March 27, 1708, after her distinguished uncle, and her son Humphrey gave the name to the distinguished North Carolinian. The first James Avery, and Edward Palmer, were distinguished in military and civil life; both were high commanding officers in successful wars with the Indians. They had served many years together in the Legislature and upon the bench, and in the early history of New London, they are constantly named together as taking the lead in all public affairs. The families being so intimate, it is not remarkable that Samuel, the youngest son of James Avery, should have wed Susan, the daughter of Major Palmer, and granddaughter of Governor John Winthrop, Jr., of Connecticut.

        For this full and satisfactory account of the early history of this family, we are indebted to the unpublished manuscript of J. George Harris, of the United States Navy, residing at Groton, who is a lineal descendant of Christopher Avery, the common ancestor of all the Averys named.

        Of this family there were eleven who were massacred at Fort Griswold, at Groton, Connecticut, by the English troops, commanded by that infamous traitor, Benedict Arnold, on the 6th of September, 1781; about 800 troops under his command attacked this fort, defended only by about 160 Americans. After a stout resistance they took it after heavy losses on both sides. Colonel Ledyard, commander of the fort, had ordered his men to cease firing, and stood near the gates prepared to surrender. The British entered; the officer shouted, "who commands this fort?" Colonel Ledyard replied "I did, sir; but you do now," presenting his sword with its point towards himself. His sword was thrust back through his body and he fell prone on the earth. This was a signal of indiscriminate slaughter, and the British crossed the parade ground in plattoons, firing upon the defenseless garrison, who had grounded their arms. With the bayonet they stabbed the dead and dying. Of the command of 160 they left scarce 20 able to stand; there they in heaps fallen one upon another, as brave a band as fought with Leonidas of ThermopylŠ. Of these are "immortal names that were not doomed to die," and eleven of the name of Avery perished in that most infamous massacre by this demon of destruction.

        In a letter from his brother Solomon Avery, of July 11, 1783, a copy of the original is to be found in "Uni. Mag.," IV, 245, he states:

        "Eleven Averys were killed in the fort at Groton, and seven wounded; many Averys have been killed in this war. There has been no Tory named Avery in these parts."


        From such a stock was Waightstill Avery descended.

        Waightstill Avery came to North Carolina. He was truly an acquisition to any State. He was a gentleman and a scholar. He graduated at Princeton in 1766, studied law with Littleton Dennis, of the eastern shore of Maryland, and came to North Carolina, entering that province February 4, 1769, obtained a license to practice his profession, through Governor Dobbs, April 5, 1769, and settled in Mecklenburg, at the house of Hezekiah Alexander. His diary is preserved in the "University Magazine,"
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