Monday, April 14, 2014

52 Ancestors #15 - Joseph Laswell: The Tory in Me

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Amy Crow has posted a challenge on her blog "No Story Too Small".

My paternal 4th great grandfather is Joseph Laswell. 

The colonists were split three ways during the American Revolutionary War: (1) about one-third of the people were known as Patriots or the Freedom Fighters; (2) about one-third were Whigs (also known as Tories or Loyalists) who fought in favor of England; and (3)  the last third were neutral. It was a war that pit father against son, mother against daughter, and neighbor against neighbor.

Joseph Laswell was a known Tory at the onset of the American Revolution. Tories used many alias names. Some known alias names for Joseph were: Lasswell, Lasewell, Lacewell, Lacefield, Lasefield, and many, many more.

Joseph was a Tory leader and participated in burning houses and destroying the property of the Patriots in an effort to keep them from winning the war. This was not a one-sided affair. The Patriots did the same to known Tories. It was common among both Tories and Patriots to capture their enemy and hang them. One such occasion is told in  King's Mountain and it's Heroes" by Lyman C. Draper when Adjutant Jesse Franklin was captured by Joseph Laswell and his party of Tories.

"On one occasion a Tory party under Jo Lasefield captured him and had him ready to swing off when......Though they hung him, the bridle with which they did it broke, and he fortunately dropped into the saddle of his horse, bounded away and did escape..."

Joseph was eventually captured, tried, and sentenced for high treason by the Morgan Superior Court. We learn from the Executive Letter Book that Governor Martin addressed the General Assembly:

"I send herewith sundry petitions in favor of persons under sentence of death for High Treason, To Wit: from Burke & Rutherford Co., in behalf of Joseph Lacefield and John Thomson, convicted at Morgan Superior Court, March term last, to be executed the 16th of May.
The Executive have been distressed with a number of wretches condemned heretofore for Treason, who enquiry into their particular cases, have thought them beneath the notice of public justice, and have generally pardoned them on their enlisting into the continental service of eighteen months.
As prosecutions of this kind are daily carried on and the courts of justice worried with them,  I beg the sense of the Honorable, the Legislature, as the Supreme Council of the state, with regard to the above persons, also request that some law be passed that the Judicial and Executive powers of government be directed how to conduct themselves in future towards this class of people."
The above statement "generally pardoned them on their enlisting into the continental service of eighteen months" indicates Joseph joined the Continental Service after his capture. It was common for those who were captured to be given a choice: hang or switch parties. Apparently Joseph decided to live, fought on the Patriot side of the war, and afterwards was still sentenced to be executed.

The Legislature's response is found in Volume XIX 1782-1784, pages 246-247:

"Resolved that it be recommended to his Excellency the Governor to grant a pardon of their several offences to Joseph Lacefield, et. al. who each of them now are under sentence of death, and who have been severally recommended to his Excellency as objects deserving of conviction and others by sundry Gentlemen of reputable characters who are personally acquainted with them and their former conduct in life.
Ordered that the above be resolve be sent to the Senate for concurrence. Ordered that the message from his Excellency the Governor be also sent to the Senate."
In the Senate:

"Mr. Speaker and Gentlemen
The resolve of your House this day recommending to his Excellency the Governor grant pardons to certain persons therein named, now under sentence of death, we have concurred with and cause the same to be handed the governor 21 April 1783."
Whew! Joseph Laswell was pardoned and now a free man.

Joseph Laswell's birth year is not known. I have estimated it to be about 1740 based on the fact that he owned property in Rowan County, North Carolina in 1762. His parents were William and Mary Laswell. By 1771 he is on the tax list for Surry County, North Carolina. Surry was hotbed for Tories.

He married Eunice Riggs. They had several children that are known and possibly some that are not yet known. Their children used various surnames:

 1)    Elizabeth Lacefield m. David Sowder (my 3rd great grandparents)
 2)    Sally Lacefield m. Peter Sowder (they are sister and brother to Elizabeth and David)
 3)    John Henry Laswell m. Wilmoth Owen
 4)    Mary Lacefield m. Unknown Morris
 5)    Lucy Laswell m. Elisha Owen
 6)    Jesse Laswell m. Fannie Bell
 7)    Nancy Laswell m. Frederick Ott
 8)    Abigail Lacewell m. Henry Ott
 9)    Martha Laswell m. (1) John Barr (2) Uriah Hand
10)   William Laswell m. Nancy Reed 

Joseph left North Carolina sometime after 1790 and moved to Lincoln County, Kentucky. He served as Constable in 1803 and 1807. The new county of Rockcastle was formed from this part of Lincoln County in 1810. Joseph spent the remainder of his life there and died about 1816.

Beam me up Cathy - back to top


  1. Cathy,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!