north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     Benjamin Cleveland, Patriot leader in the Revolution and son of John and Martha Coffee Cleveland, was born in 1738 in Prince William County, Virginia. Living on the frontier he adapted to a lifestyle of drinking, gambling, and fighting. Upon marrying Mary Graves, he settled into a more subdued life as a farmer. In 1769, Cleveland moved to North Carolina with his brother and father-in-law and settled on Roaring Creek, near Mulberry Fields in present day Wilkes County. After hearing about the Kentucky wilderness from his neighbor, Daniel Boone, in 1772 Cleveland and his friends set out for the bluegrass country on a hunting expedition. The hunting party however was attacked by a band of Cherokees near Cumberland Gap and ordered to get off their land. After regaining his strength, Cleveland returned to the Cherokee country with a band of riflemen to boldly face his attackers retrieve his stolen horses.

     At the start of the American Revolution, Cleveland was appointed ensign in the Second Regiment of the North Carolina Continental forces but he declined the appointment in order to serve in the Surry County militia. Cleveland encountered the Cherokee once again as a scout and a captain in Rutherford’s campaign against the Cherokee uprisings. Away from the battlefield, in 1774 and 1775 he served as a justice in the Surry County court. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1778 and to the state Senate in 1779. When Wilkes County was formed from Surry County in 1778, Cleveland was designated head of the commission of justices and named colonel of the Wilkes militia. Leading his militia against Tory uprisings throughout the backcountry, Cleveland developed a reputation for his harsh treatment of Loyalists. On one occasion he was indicted for murder for the hanging of two Tories; he was later pardoned by the governor. Cleveland’s forces participated in the defeat of Major Patrick Ferguson’s Redcoats at Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780, the turning point of the war in the South.

     At the close of the Revolution, Benjamin Cleveland lost his Yadkin River plantation, “Round About,” to a settler with a clearer title. He moved to the Tugaloo River Valley in western South Carolina in 1784. For several years, he served as a judge of the Pendleton County court. In his later years, Cleveland grew to a tremendous size, and with and estimated weight of 450 pounds he was unable to mount his horse. Benjamin Cleveland died at his home in October of 1806.


References:
John Preston Arthur, A History of Watauga County, North Carolina, With Sketches of Prominent Families (1915)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 384—sketch by C. Sylvester Green
Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, III, 202
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