Mrs. Hemphill’s Sheep

This amusing anecdote refers to my five-times great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Patton) Hemphill.  It is part of a series of Biographical Sketches from Burke County, North Carolina that were written by by Col Thomas George Walton (1815-1905) and were first published in the old Morganton Herald in 1894.

“The HEMPHILLs of Silver Creek and Old Fort emigrated from the North of Ireland, previous to the Revolution.  They were of Scotch descent, Presbyterians in religion, Whigs of the Revolution, and good, well-to-do citizens.  I remember an anecdote told me in 1840 by a pensioned soldier of the olden time, in connection with the Silver Creek branch of the family.

FERGUSON, on his march from the Catawba to Gilbert Town in 1780, had a chart of the country through which he was passing; on this chart was drawn an isolated mountain, directly on the line to Gilbert Town, to which he gave the name it now bears – “The Pilot Mountain”.  He was encamped near Mrs. HEMPHILL’s; sending out a foraging party, they seized and carried to camp her flock of sheep.  Mounting her horse, she found FERGUSON in his marquee.

He asked, “What can I do for you madam?”

She answered, “Col. FERGUSON, I am told, and believe you to be a gentleman.  Your men have taken all my sheep; winter is coming, and I have no means of clothing my little children except from the wool of my sheep.”

“Where is your husband?” he asked.  “I will not tell you a lie sir; he is out with the Whigs.”

“Well, madam, your husband is engaged in a rebellion against his lawful king, with others who are at war with me; but I am not here to oppress women and children, but my soldiers must be fed; you may have half of the sheep.”

“May I take my choice?” she asked.

“Yes” said the colonel.

With thanks, she left, following the orderly, who had been instructed, and, reaching the penned flock, she first selected the old bell wether, the leader of the flock for years, and, as was expected, the whole flock leaped the enclosure, following the flying leader home, and thus by her Irish forethought, outwitted the distinguished British colonel.”

Kapp, Martha P., comp. “BURKE COUNTY, NC – BIOGRAPHIES – Early Settlers of Burke County, Part 2.” Burke County, NC GenWeb Archives. 30 Nov. 2008

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