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General James Screven

Biography & Obituary

GENERAL JAMES SCREVEN was the second son of James and Mary Screven, of James Island, South Carolina. His grandfather was Samuel Screven, who married a daughter of James Witter, all of whom were of James Island. His great-grandfather was the Rev. William Screven, who from having his settlement in South Carolina named "Somerton," is inferred to have been the "William Screven of Somerton," who according to Ivimey's History of the English Baptists "was one of twenty persons, ministers and laymen, in behalf of the whole," who signed in 1656, " A Confession of Faith of Several Churches in the County of Somerset, and the counties near adjacent." It is a fact, however, that Mr. Screven owned two adjoining tracts of land in South Carolina at the head waters of the western branch of the Cooper River, the locality being called Wampee and near Pineopolis. One tract he purchased on June 23rd, l(i!)8, and the other was granted to him January 11, 1700, which are respectively known, in 1907, as "Somerton" and "Somerset."

Mr. Screven is first mentioned in the province of Maine in a record of his purchase November 15th, 1673, of ten acres of land at Kittery, Maine; the second record is that of July 23rd, 1674, when he married at Kittery, Bridget Cutt, a daughter of Robert Cutt, one of the three brothers, who were prominent among the early settlers of New Hampshire. Mr. Screven also served on the grand jury in 1678 and 1680, and as a deputy from Kittery at the general assembly held at York June 30th, 1681.

In September 1682, Mr. Screven was the elder of a Baptist church at Kittery, when a covenant was signed by himself and others. He met with so much opposition and hardship, on account of his religious faith that he agreed to move out of the province. This move is said to have taken place, 1683-1685, to Somerton on the Cooper River, some miles above Charleston, South Carolina.

Mr. Screven was the first preacher of the "First Baptist Church" at Charleston. His memoir by the Rev. H. S. Burrage of Maine, was written for the Maine Historical Society and it is also to be found in "Two Centuries of the First Baptist Church in South Carolina." He died at Georgtown, South Carolina, October 10th, 1713, aged eighty-four years. His wife, Mrs. Bridget Screven, survived him.

Mary Screven, the mother of General James Screven, was born October 9th, 1717, according to Mrs. Poyas' "Carolina in the Olden Times," and she is said to have died about 1758. She was the niece of Edward Hyrne of "Cape Fear Barony. Hyrneham, North Carolina?" Her father was Thomas Smith, born 1670, in England and died in South Carolina in 1733; and her mother was Mary (Hyrne) Smith, whose will was dated in 1776, she dying in 1777, aged 80 years, according to Mrs. Poyas. Thomas Smith was the oldest son of Landgrave and Governor Thomas Smith, who was born in England and died in South Carolina in his forty-sixth year, his will being dated June 26th, 1692. The Warrant Book of the province of South Carolina for the years 1672-1694, perhaps fixes the arrival of Governor Thomas Smith, his first wife Barbara, and their sons, Thomas and George, as they were entered in the Secretary of State's office, July 10th, 1684, for a grant of 650 acres of land, the warrant being dated January 20th, 1684-5.

General Screven married Mary Odingsells, a daughter of Charles Odingsells, of Edisto Island, South Carolina According to the records, Mrs. Screven was a member, in 1771, of the
Midway Church in Liberty County, Georgia. General Screven moved into the province of Georgia prior to September the 11th, 1769, for a South Carolina record of that date is, that James Screven, "formerly of James Island, now of Georgia, and Mary, his wife," conveyed to William Royal a tract of land in the southwest part of that island.

The grants of land in Georgia to General Screven won', Juno 12, 1700, 300 acres in St . David's Parish; August 4th, 1772, 100 acres in St. John's Parish; and January 19th, 1772, 200 acres in St . Paul's Parish.

The political life of General Screven began at Savannah, when, on June 27th, 1774, he was one of a committee of thirty one members selected "at a meeting of a respectable number of freeholders and inhabitants of the province assembled at the watch house in Savannah to prepare resolutions similar to those adopted by the Northern colonies, expressive of the sentiment* and determination of this province." He was also a member from St. John's Parish of the Provincial Congress, which met at Savannah, July 1775, at which a number of resolutions were adopted and five persons were elected to "represent the province in the Continental Congress."

General Screven was a member of the Council of Safety from May 23rd, 1776, until October 10th, 1776, when he may hare resigned on account of his military duties. He also took the oath on May 23rd, 1776, as one of the three Justice* of the Quorum, and on July 22nd, 1776, be was one of thirteen persons who were ''recommended and approved of as magistrate* for the parish of St John's." On January 5th, 1776, he was commissioned captain of a company of ranger*, afterwards known as the St John's Rangers,

Captain Screven and his company of rangers were at Savannah March 2nd, 177*. when a British fleet attempted to capture and carry away vessels which were loaded with rice, etc. The authorities directed the dismantling of these vessels by Captain Rice. Not knowing that the British were on board, Captain Rice was captured. Captain Demere, of St . Andrew's Pariah, and Lieutenant Daniel Roberts, of the St . John's Rangers, were sent under a flag of truce to apply for Rice's release, but they too were detained. Cannon fire was opened upon the British, when they proposed to treat with two trustworthy officers if sen; over. Captain Screven and Captain Baker of the St . John's riflemen were selected. With twelve men of the St John's Rangers, these officers were conveyed by boat to the vessel and demanded the return of the detained officers and Captain Rice. Captain Baker fired at some one on board the vessel, who used an insulting remark, when the British returned the fire and continued to do so until the boat's party was out of range, one man being wounded. Fire was then opened between the Yamacraw Bluff battery and the British troops on the merchant vessels, lasting about four hours. One of the vessels was set on fire and turned loose from its moorings by volunteers. The flames on this vessel spread to others. Two vessels escaped damage by the fire. The British soldiers on these two were ordered ashore and detained prisoners of Captain Screven in the country. For this event refer to Jones' Hist, of Ga., Vol. II, pp. 226-227.

At a meeting of the Council of Safety, June 21st, 1776, it was "ordered that his Excellency, the President, do issue orders to Colonel Screven in order to draught part of the militia to bring the cannon from Frederica." On July 2nd, 1776, he is "ordered to support Lieutenant Colonel McIntosh with a sufficient number of his men to make a stand against the troops of Indians;" on July 30th, 1776, "ordered that Colonel Mclntosh. Colonel Screven, Captain Baker, and Captain Woodriffe be recommended to go as volunteers to East Florida, and that his Excellency do issue orders accordingly."

In referring to Colonel and Brigadier General Samuel Elbert's Order Book, April 8th, 1777, Colonel Screven is mentioned as "President of the last general court martial;" on June 21st, 1777, he is "Colonel of the third regiment of Continental troops;" on January 27th, 1778, "Colonel James Screven, commanding at Savannah;" on March 17th, 1778, Brigade Orders Headquarters, Savannah, "James Screven, Colonel, Commandant;" therefore acting Brigadier-General; and on May 25th, 1778, Camp at Fort Howe, "the following promotions have taken place in the Georgia Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Stirk of the second battalion, Colonel of the third vice Screven, resigned 21st of March." Up to the latter date, from January 2nd, 1776, Colonel Screven had been actively employed on duty at points from the Savannah to the Satilla River.

It is not known when Colonel Screven was commissioned a Brigadier-General. It probably occurred soon after his resignation of the Colonel's commission, May 25th, 1778. Histories give an account in the experience as General Screven, upon the approach of Lieutenant-Colonel Prevost and his troops of one hundred regulars and three hundred refugees and Indians under McGirth from East Florida towards Midway Church. Colonel Prevost after entering the Georgia settlements on November 19th, 1778, encountered the first resistance, Friday, November 20th, by Colonel John Baker and some mounted militia at the point where the Savannah and Darien road crosses the Bulltown swamp in Liberty County. The Americans retreated, Colonel Baker, Captain Cooper and William Goulding being wounded. The next resistance, Saturday, November 21st, was at North Newport Bridge, afterwards called Riceborough Bridge. Meanwhile, Colonel John White had concentrated one hundred Continentals and militia with artillery, "at Midway meeting house," and "thrown up a alight breastwork across the road at the head of the causeway over which the enemy must advance On the morning of November 22nd, Colonel White was joined by General Screven with twenty militia men. It was resolved to abandon their position and occupy a new one a mile and a half south of the meeting house where the road was skirted by a thick wood in which it was thought an ambuscade might be advantageously laid. McGirth being well acquainted with the country and knowing the ground held by Colonel White, suggested to Prevost the expediency of placing a party in ambush at the very point selected by the Americans for a similar purpose."

"The contending parties arrived upon the ground almost simultaneously and firing immediately commenced. Early in the action the gallant General Screven, renowned for his patriotism and beloved for his virtues, received a severe wound, fell into the hands of the enemy, and was by them killed while a prisoner and suffering from a mortal hurt." Jones' Hist . of Ga., VoL II, p. 306.

Source:Men of mark in Georgia Vol. 1  edited by William J. Northen


The Death of Gen. James Screven.—On the morning of November 22, 1778, Gen. James Screven fell mortally wounded within a mile and a half of Midway Church. At the head of twenty militia men he had just come to the support of Col. John White, who was expecting battle at this point with the. enemy under Colonel Prevost, the latter having entered the settlement by way of East Florida. The British officer was in command of 100 regulars and was re-enforced by the Tory leader McGirth, whose force consisted of 300 Indians and refugees. Both sides, by a singular coincidence, agreed upon the same skirt of woods for the purposes of an ambuscade. They also arrived upon the ground almost simultaneously, and, in the firing. General Screven was struck. According to Colonel Jones he was killed after falling into the hands of the enemy, who were thus guilty of an act repugnant to civilized warfare.

The same account is substantially given by David Ramsay. In the latter's ''History of the Revolution in South Carolina" appears this statement: "General Screven received a wound from a musket ball, in consequence of which he fell from his horse. After he fell, several of the British came up and, upbraiding him for the manner in which Captain Moore of Browne's Rangers had been killed, discharged their pieces at him."

Judge Charlton, in his "Life of Major-General James Jackson," after referring to Doctor Ramsay's statement, says: "My notes and memoirs afford me an account somewhat different. They inform me that the General was on feet reconnoitering on the left flank of the enemy's position on Spencer's Hill. On this spot an ambuscade had been formed and he fell in the midst of it."

Benjamin Baker, who was for twenty-seven years clerk of the Midway Church, supports the latter view. In his "Published Records," he says: "Sabbath morning, 22nd. Our party retreated yesterday to the meeting house, where a recruit of some hundreds joined them with some artillery, and some of our party crossed the swamp, and coming near a thicket where they expected an ambuscade might probably occur, Colonel James Screven and one more went forward to examine. The Colonel and one Continental officer and Mr. Judah Lewis were shot down. The Colonel had three wounds, the other two were killed. A flag was sent and brought off the Colonel.   Monday 23rd.   We hear the Colonel still lives."

This account is probably correct. It emanates from the locality in question and was written on the very day of the battle.

McCall relates that Colonel White sent a flag to Colonel Prevost by Maj. John Habersham requesting permission to furnish General Screven with such medical aid as his situation might require. The American doctors were permitted to attend him, but his wounds were found to be of such a nature that they could not save him. In the published correspondence Colonel Prevost apologizes for the alleged act of one of his rangers in shooting General Screven after he was disabled.

The gallant officer was taken first to the vestry house of Midway Church, thence to the residence of John Winn, some two miles off, and finally to the home of John Elliott. Sr., where he died. He was borne from the enemy's ground by a detachment of eight men, furnished by Colonel Prevost.   The burial of General Screven took place in the cemetery adjacent to Midway Church. This brave conduct was recognized by both state and national governments, his two surviving daughters were each granted 1,000 acres of land by the Legislature of Georgia, while the United States Congress, after the lapse of more than a century, has still further honored his memory in the handsome memorial shaft which he is soon to share at Midway, with his illustrious companion in arms, Gen. Daniel Stewart,

Source: A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians

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