Infantry Private Jesse Thomas lived in Cumberland County , Virginia . He was married with children when he served in the American Revolution. There are many records of his service in the U.S. Archives. Beginning on February 19th, 1778, he served in the 3rd, 5th and the 7th Infantry Regiments of the Virginia Line with continuous service to and including Valley Forge . He served under Colonel William Heth and Colonel William Russell. His service at Valley Forge is recognized by the Society of the Descendants of Washington's Army at Valley Forge . The U.S. Archives has many records of his service.
Jesse owned a plantation on Willis Creek south of the James River near Point of Fork. When he died in 1808, he was buried close to his old home. Near his grave, there is a monument built to honor Jesse's heroism after Valley Forge . The bronze plaque on the granite stone reads:
June 2nd 1781
HERE BEGAN RIDE ON DREADNAUGHT TO
WARN VON STEUBEN CORNWALLIS RAID
ERECTED BY DESCENDANTS
APPROVED BY HISTORIAN SONS OF THE REVOLUTION
Dreadnaught was a great horse. Jesse was a great soldier. Thereby hangs a long and interesting tale about the American Revolution. Many stories could be wrtten about Jesse's service. This account tells about his ride on Dreadnaught. It was written by a Missouri Senator who was Jesse's great grandson.
“A VIRGINIAN'S RETURN”
Written by Francis Lee Wi1kinson (born 1839, died 1904) on occasion of his last trip to Virginia , August , 1902, and published by the South Side Examiner (now Farmville, Herald) Farmville.Virginia.
Cumberland county is most favorably located and is within less than a day's transit. from the great markets of Richmond , Norfolk , Washington and Baltimore . It is rich in reminiscences of the historic past and played no small part in the Revolutionary war for American Independence.
About one half mile east of Trenton Mills on the left bank of Willis' river, there are a few houses, by compliment called a village, and known as “Royal Cake”. Here the Cumberland courthouse road crosses the river; and at this place is a bridge known and called even to this day as Thomas' Bridge. On the opposite side of the river on the right side of the road, on the hill and about half a mile from the bridge there was a frame dwelling house that was built more then a century and a half ago yet it was in a good state of preservation until burned a few years ago. The thick beaded weather boarding was put on with hand forged shop made wrought iron nails that had been exposed to the climatic changes of seasons, and to storms and sunshine of more than one hundred and fifty years, were perfectly sound end free from rust in 1900.
The large rectangular rooms , wide halls, high ceilings and spacious dormer windows indicate that it was an imposing and pretentious building at the time of construction. The house was built by Jesse Thomas, maternal great grandfather of the writer, before the Revolutionary war. He was a soldier in that war and resided in the house just described during its progress and for many years afterward.
In the month of May 1781, Lord Cornwallis from his headquarters in Hanover, near Richmond, detached Colonel Tarleton and his legion of five hundred and some addition troops to capture Governor Jefferson and the assembly then convened at Charlottesville, and to destroy the blast furnace at New Canton, in Buckingham county, one of the only two places where shells, cannon balls and iron projectiles were made for the Colonial army. About the same time he detached Colonel Simcoe at the head of Queen's Rangers about five hundred strong, and some other forces to capture Baron Steuben and his command of five or six hundred men and to destroy the arsenal and military stores at the Point of Fork, where the Rivanna river flows into the James, now the town of Columbia in Fluvanna county, Virginia.
Cornwallis followed with his entire army along the route of Simeco in supporting distance. Baron Steuben was encamped around the arsenal to protect it and the stores and munitions or war there collected for the Colonial army.
Jesse Thomas was at home on a furlough, convalescing from a wound received a short time before at the front in the battle of Cowpens. He owned a fine saddle horse that had gallantly borne him on many a hotly contested field. Fearnaught was his name, chestnut in color, and had a star in the forehead, was full sixteen hamds high, eagle eyed, lion hearted, and swift as an antelope. At that time it was concealed in a cave to prevent being stolen by British marauders. A prisoner of war who had escaped from the British camp at Hanover informed Jesse Thomas of the movements and designs of Cornwallis. Jesse ordered his negro boy “Cuff” to bring Fearnaught quickly from concealment, when he came Jesse mounted, gently patted the horse's mane and said: “Swiftly bear me”. Like an arrow from the bow, Fearnaught dashed forward in rapidly descending rain and along the muddy red road, westward. When Willis river was reached without a stop he cleared the bridge at three bounds and dashed on and on at rapid speed, without pause, until covered with mud and foam he stood on the south bank of the James river opposite the arsenal and Steuben's camp, but no ferryman could be obtained and the river was impassable except by swimming from shore to shore. There was no time for delay. Jesse patted his horse and said: “Cross over”. Into the swollen river he plunged and swam like a dolphin to the northern bank, up the slippery hill he climbed and never drew rein until he reached Steuben's camp and reported the oncoming of British forces.
Baron Steuben immediately embarked for the south side of the river; and he carried a portion of the stores and ordnance safely opposed over, but before all could he removed the advance guard of Simcoe appeared in sight and fired a counter shot across the river, He took away a portion of the remaining ordnance and destroyed the rest together with the arsenal.
That night after destroying the boats so the enemy could not get over to pursue him, Baron Steuben commenced his retreat along the road over which Jesse Thomas had ridden so rapidly. At the Thomas residence, on the hill, on the south side of Willis river, the troops halted for a short rest, then passed on along the road by Cumberland Court house.
Governor Jefferson escaped. A few members of assembly were captured and military stores were destroyed by Tarleton's legion but James river rose so rapidly and high on account of recent rains that it could not cross over and destroy the furnace at New Canton.
The will of Jesse Thomas is recorded at Cumberland court house. He died in the summer of l805 and is buried on the left side of the road, about five hundred yards south of the house. Time has nearly obliterated the markings of the grave in the old cemetery, but its surface is decorated in a green carpeting of myrtle and ivy underneath large locust trees.