Two Virginia stories from small museums

Just after the American Revolution, Shawnee Indians raiding along the Virginia frontier kidnapped a young girl named Mary Moore.  Mary spent five years in captivity before ending up back home, where she grew up, married, and had children.  As an adult she had persistent trouble sleeping, perhaps because of what she had endured as a child.  Eventually she had to be rocked to sleep in a specially made, adult-sized baby’s cradle.

I encountered the story of Mary Moore in Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement, an excellent book by David Hackett Fischer and James C. Kelly.  I thought it was interesting when I read it, but didn’t really think about it again until just a few weeks ago when I was in Lexington, Virginia.

Just a short distance from Stonewall Jackson’s home is the headquarters of the  Rockbridge Historical Society.  My traveling companion and I had some extra time and stepped inside.  Imagine my surprise when I walked through the door and saw the very cradle mentioned in Fischer and Kelly’s book, the one in which the former captive Mary Moore had to be rocked to sleep every night.

The next day, we headed over to the Housewright Museum, a Jeffersonian home and exhibit/research facility operated by Historic Buckingham, Inc.  There were more surprises waiting here.  In one of the rooms were some artifacts associated with one of Buckingham County’s most famous residents: Revolutionary War hero Peter Francisco.

Francisco’s origins, like so much of his life, are a mystery.  In 1765 he was found at City Point, Virginia as a small child.  He and his sister were kidnapped and brought to America for reasons that aren’t clear; since he spoke Portuguese, he was probably born in Brazil or the Azores.  He grew into an impressive man, well over six feet tall.  In 1777 he joined the militia and went on to serve in some of the Revolutionary War’s most important engagements: Brandywine, Monmouth, Cowpens, Camden, and Guilford Courthouse.

Francisco became legendary for stories of his superhuman wartime feats, but there seems to be considerable exaggeration in the versions that have come down to us.  According to one tale, at Camden, as the Americans retreated in panic, he supposedly pulled a half-ton cannon off the battlefield.  Some accounts report that at Guilford he personally killed as many as eleven men, although Francisco’s own petition to the Virginia Assembly states that he killed two.

Wounded at Guilford, Francisco headed home to Virginia, where in July 1781 he ran into eleven British dragoons at a tavern.  Again, the details are clouded with legend, but apparently Francisco tangled with the entire group of dragoons, killing at least one, wounding several, and taking their horses.  As with so many Francisco stories, the numbers vary greatly, depending on who’s doing the telling.  An engraver illustrated the showdown in 1814:

One thing we do know is that Francisco stayed in Buckingham County after the war, becoming sergeant-at-arms of the Virginia Senate before dying in 1831.  Some of the stories may be exaggerated, but they were enough to make him one of the Revolutionary War’s most celebrated veterans.  His story and Mary Moore’s are just two examples of the fantastic stuff you can find in smaller local museums and historical societies all over the country.

(Peter Francisco engraving from Wikimedia Commons)


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