Things I Know for Sure

We eat at the Arkansas Burger Company here in Little Rock pretty regularly.  They make a nice veggie burger and they have fried pies on the menu.  I love fried pies the way I love chocolate gravy and biscuits.  All my comfort food involves sugar and fat and lots and lots of butter.  

One day we were standing at the counter and my darling fiancee pointed out a sign hanging prominently on the kitchen wall: DAR Arkansas.  “Daughters of the American Revolution, look. I bet you could get in, with all your relatives that lived in Virginia.”  

Of course this started a research tangent.  First, I had to figure out exactly what benefit DAR might have for me, other than some kind of antiquated social bragging rights.   But namely, I wanted to know if he was right.  Can I definitely prove that one of my direct ancestors supported the American Revolution? 

This turned out to be a relatively easy task, thanks to a little time-line review and to the very fortunate fact that my Grandfather Joshua Barton, son of Isaac and Sarah Barton, lived on the Watauga River, in what is now eastern Tennessee in 1775.  Joshua had just lost the mother of his seven children, Susan Dodd.  Not long after her death, he married Jane Dubart in his native Maryland, where he’d moved with his mother and her second husband. Joshua moved the family to what is sometimes called the “Republic of Watauga.” 

In 1772, the residents of the Watauga Valley formed what some call the “first declaration of independence.”  Technically outside British colonial boundaries in Cherokee territory, the all-white settlement set up their own government, which they ran until 1776.  That year, the Association formed a committee which resolved to “adhere strictly to the rules and orders of the Continental Congress” and asked for the state of North Carolina to “annex” them so they could offer military help “in defence of the common cause.” 

Several members of the committee and other local residents signed the Petition to North Carolina, publicly declaring their sympathies in the Revolutionary War.  Near the bottom of the document is the name “Joshua Barten, Sr.”  There is a misspelling here, but he is careful to mark himself out from his son, Joshua Barton, Jr.  Along with the  family’s long tradition of his having lived in the area during the time, convinces me that the Watauga Petition’s Joshua Barten, sr. and my Grandfather Joshua Barton are the same person.  

Joshua, like his own father, wasn’t afraid to confront the wilderness.  I don’t think that most Americans living today can really imagine the kind of courage and fortitude it must have taken for anyone to get on a ship heading for America during the 17th century.   There was little hope they would ever see their relatives again, and there was a better than average chance they might end up dead at a relatively young age.  That’s what happened to Isaac, who died in 1721. He was just 36 years old.  

Joshua outlived his father by a few years, but he spent that time repeating Isaac’s determination.  Moving to Watauga, at that time, was like moving to the arctic circle might be to us today.  It was beyond the edge of all civilization. He kept pushing into the wilderness right up to his death.  He died in 1776 or 1777 after taking over land in Kentucky from the Shawnee.  He was killed by Shawnee helping to defend a fort near Boonesboro, Ky.   

When I went to Mississippi last year to do some research, I discovered a family history in a local library that claims that Joshua’s son, Joab, survived the Indian attack, but was abducted by the Shawnee.  According to the story, he grew up with the Shawnee and lived with them until his sister moved to Missouri.  The legend claims that via some odd connection with Daniel Boone, Joab Barton discovered his sister and left the Shawnee to live with her.   

I never went ahead with my application to the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I’m not sure my delay is as much out of laziness as I later told my fiancee, when he asked about it. 

I’m tempered by the fact that every time I read the story of Grandfather Joshua Barton, I am struck that his dedication to facing the wilderness also meant he was committed to fighting and killing Native Americans. He was an active participant in their dislocation.    

Gathering these stories, for me, means I have to be honest about the history.  I’m proud of my ancestors’ penchant toward the unorthodox and revolutionary.  It is the one trait I think I can trace through most of the Isaac Barton family history, a trait that appears in the narrative over and over again.  But I’m not so proud that I want to participate in any “historical whitewashing.”  I’m not sure what a membership in the DAR would say about my stance.    

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