Thomas Polk

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Thomas Polk
Reenactor Jim Williams portraying Thomas Polk at the 20 May 2014 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence Commemoration at Founder’s Square, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Cumberland County, Pennsylvania
Died1794 (aged 6162)
Charlotte, North Carolina
Old Settlers' Cemetery, Charlotte, North Carolina
( 35°13′47″N80°50′35″W / 35.2296°N 80.8431°W / 35.2296; -80.8431 Coordinates: 35°13′47″N80°50′35″W / 35.2296°N 80.8431°W / 35.2296; -80.8431 )
Allegiance Kingdom of Great Britain
Continental Congress
United States of America
Service/branchNorth Carolina militia
Continental Army
Years of service1775–1778, 1780–1781
Rank Colonel
UnitCommissary General for the North Carolina Line
Commands held Mecklenburg County Regiment, 2nd Salisbury District Minuteman Battalion, 4th North Carolina Regiment
Spouse(s)Susanna Spratt
Relations James K. Polk (Great-nephew), William Polk (son)

Thomas Polk (c. 1732–January 25, 1794) was a planter, military officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1781, and a politician who served in the North Carolina House of Commons, North Carolina Provincial Congress, and Council of State. Polk commanded the 4th North Carolina Regiment in the Battle of Brandywine. In 1786, Polk was elected by the North Carolina General Assembly to the Congress of the Confederation, but did not attend any of its sessions. Polk was a great-uncle of the 11th President of the United States, James K. Polk.

Continental Army Colonial army during the American Revolutionary War

The Continental Army was formed by the Second Continental Congress after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the ex-British colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in their revolt against the rule of Great Britain. The Continental Army was supplemented by local militias and volunteer troops that remained under control of the individual states or were otherwise independent. General George Washington was the commander-in-chief of the army throughout the war.

American Revolutionary War War between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, which won independence as the United States of America

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America.

The North Carolina Provincial Congresses were extra-legal unicameral legislative bodies formed in 1774 through 1776 by the people of the Province of North Carolina, independent of the British colonial government.


Early life and War of the Regulation

Polk was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania around 1732 to William and Margaret Taylor Polk. His father was of Scotch-Irish descent, and had been born in the Province of Maryland. In 1753, Polk moved to Anson County, North Carolina. In 1755, he married Susanna Spratt, with whom he would have eight children. [1] In 1765, Polk participated in the War of Sugar Creek, [2] in which local settlers took up arms against large private landholders who were speculating on real estate in the area of what is now Charlotte. During that conflict, speculator Henry McCulloh attempted to have a large tract of land that had been granted to him by the Crown surveyed and subdivided. [3] The settlers in Anson County objected, as McCulloh sought to interfere with what they considered their established rights in the land. [4]

Cumberland County, Pennsylvania county in Pennsylvania, United States

Cumberland County is a county located in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the 2010 census, the population was 235,406. Its county seat is Carlisle.

Province of Maryland English, from 1707, British, possession in North America between 1664 and 1776

The Province of Maryland was an English and later British colony in North America that existed from 1632 until 1776, when it joined the other twelve of the Thirteen Colonies in rebellion against Great Britain and became the U.S. state of Maryland. Its first settlement and capital was St. Mary's City, in the southern end of St. Mary's County, which is a peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay and is also bordered by four tidal rivers.

Anson County, North Carolina County in the United States

Anson County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 26,948. Its county seat is Wadesboro.

During the confrontation into the settlers and the land agents, McCulloh attempted to evict Polk from his home. [4] Polk and his supporters intimidated McCulloh's land officers and surveyors to the point that McCulloh allowed the rights to a portion of his lands to revert to the Crown by 1767. [3] The settlers were not, however, ultimately successful, and many, including Polk himself, purchased land from McCulloh or were otherwise bribed into cooperation. Polk was also given a position as a commissioner for the new town of Charlotte due to McCulloh's influence, and served as McCulloh's land agent in the newly created Mecklenburg County. [5] Charlotte had been founded at the crossroad of a small trail with the Indian Trading Path near where that great thoroughfare entered the lands occupied by the Catawba people. Polk's homeplace sat near the center of that community. [6]

Mecklenburg County, North Carolina County in the United States

Mecklenburg County is a county located in the southwestern region of the state of North Carolina, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 919,618. It increased to 1,034,070 as of the 2015 estimate, making it the most populous county in North Carolina and the first county in the Carolinas to surpass 1 million in population. Its county seat and largest city is Charlotte.

Trading Path

The Trading Path is not simply one wide path, as many named historic roads were or are. It was a corridor of roads and trails between the Chesapeake Bay region and the Cherokee, Catawba, and other Native-American groups in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Indians had used and maintained much of the path for their expansive trading network for centuries prior to its use by Europeans and/or European-Americans. Indian and later European/European-American settlements occupied key points along the path. That section of the Trading Path through the Carolina piedmont was also known as the Upper Road, and a portion between North Carolina and Georgia was called the Lower Cherokee Traders Path.

Catawba people Native American tribe

The Catawba, also known as Issa, Essa or Iswä but most commonly Iswa, are a federally recognized tribe of Native Americans, known as the Catawba Indian Nation. They live in the Southeastern United States, on the Catawba River at the border of North Carolina, near the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. They were once considered one of the most powerful Southeastern Siouan-speaking tribes in the Carolina Piedmont, as well as one of the most powerful tribes in the South as a whole.

Polk served in the North Carolina House of Commons from 1766 to 1771. [7] During the War of the Regulation, Polk was appointed a captain of militia by Governor William Tryon as part of the governor's strategy to recruit prominent Presbyterians to his side against the Regulators, many of whom had backgrounds in Presbyterian congregations. [8] Polk's position as an assemblyman allowed him to take advantage of financial rewards after the defeat of the Regulator movement. [9] In 1772, Polk surveyed the border between North and South Carolina. [7]

War of the Regulation uprising in the Carolina colonies

The War of the Regulation was an uprising in the British North America's Carolina colonies, lasting from about 1765 to 1771, in which citizens took up arms against colonial officials, whom they viewed as corrupt. Though the rebellion did not change the power structure, some historians consider it a catalyst to the American Revolutionary War. Others like John Spencer Bassett view that the Regulators did not wish to change the form or principle of their government, but simply wanted to make the colony's political process more equal. They wanted better economic conditions for everyone except slaves and Native Americans, instead of a system that benefited the colonial officials. Bassett interprets the events of the late 1760s in Orange and surrounding counties as "a peasants' rising, a popular upheaval.”

William Tryon British general and governor of North Carolina and New York

William Tryon was a British general officer and a colonial official who served as the 39th Governor of New York from 1771 to 1780, assuming the office after having served as the eighth Governor of North-Carolina from 1765 to 1771.

Presbyterianism Branch of Protestant Christianity in which the church is governed by presbyters (elders)

Presbyterianism is a part of the reformed tradition within Protestantism, which traces its origins to Britain, particularly Scotland.

American Revolutionary War

Polk was among the residents and officials of Mecklenburg County who drafted and adopted the Mecklenburg Resolves on May 31, 1775, which called for a reorganization of colonial government and declared laws enforced by the Crown null and void. [7] Polk was then elected a member of the Third North Carolina Provincial Congress, which established a government in the absence of Royal Governor Josiah Martin. [7] In late 1775 Polk participated as a colonel of Patriot militia in the Snow Campaign, [7] which sought to suppress Loyalist recruiting in the South Carolina Upcountry. [10]

The Mecklenburg Resolves, or Charlotte Town Resolves, was a list of statements adopted at Charlotte, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on May 31, 1775; drafted in the month following the fighting at Lexington and Concord. Similar lists of resolves were issued by other local colonial governments at that time, none of which called for independence from Great Britain. The Mecklenburg Resolves are thought to be the basis for the unproven "Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence." While not a declaration, the Resolves annulled and vacated all laws originating from the authority of the King or Parliament, and ended recognition of the Crown's power in the colony of North Carolina and all other American colonies. It became the first colony to formally do so, taking place about a year before the Halifax Resolves were passed by the Fourth North Carolina Provincial Congress.

Josiah Martin was a British Army officer and colonial official who served as the ninth and last British Governor of North Carolina from 1771 to 1776.

Patriot (American Revolution) American colonist who rejected British rule in the American Revolution

Patriots were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

Polk was then appointed colonel of the 4th North Carolina Regiment of Continental Line and marched north in early 1777. Polk and his unit fought at the Battle of Brandywine and wintered at Valley Forge with General Washington's main army. [7] In September 1777, with British forces about to occupy Philadelphia, Polk was assigned to escort a baggage train containing the city's bells, including the Liberty Bell, from Philadelphia to safety in Allentown. [11] [12]

The 4th North Carolina Regiment was authorized on January 16, 1776 and established on April 15, 1776 at Wilmington, North Carolina for service with the Continental Army Southern Department under the command of Thomas Polk. The regiment saw action at the Battle of Brandywine, Battle of Germantown, Battle of Monmouth and the Siege of Charleston. The regiment was captured by the British Army at Charlestown, South Carolina, on May 12, 1780. The regiment was disbanded on January 1, 1783.

Valley Forge site of the military camp of the American Continental Army over the winter of 1777–1778

Valley Forge functioned as the third of eight military encampments for the Continental Army's main body, commanded by General George Washington. In September 1777, British forces had captured the American capital of Philadelphia. After failing to retake the city, Washington led his 12,000-man army into winter quarters at Valley Forge, located approximately 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Philadelphia. They remained there for six months, from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778. At Valley Forge, the Continentals struggled to manage a disastrous supply crisis while retraining and reorganizing their units. About 1,700 to 2,000 soldiers died due to disease, possibly exacerbated by malnutrition.

George Washington 1st president of the United States

George Washington was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who also served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He led Patriot forces to victory in the nation's War of Independence, and he presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which established the new federal government. He has been called the "Father of His Country" for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.

By February 1778 Polk returned to North Carolina to recruit more soldiers for the Continental Army, but by June 26 he had resigned his commission, aggrieved at being passed over for promotion to brigadier general after the death of General Francis Nash. He lost his command of the 4th North Carolina Regiment when, in a reduction of forces, it was combined with the 2nd North Carolina Regiment. [7] In mid–1780 Polk again accepted a commission with the Continental Army, this time serving as commissary general of purchases for both the state of North Carolina and the Continental Army in the southern theater. [13] When Nathanael Greene assumed command of the Continental Army in the southern theater, he met with Polk for an extended time on the general's first night in the army's camp in order to become familiar with the region's resources. [14]

Polk also acted as commissary for the Salisbury district, one of North Carolina's militia recruiting divisions, often using his personal assets and credit to provide supplies for the Patriot cause. When controversy arose over the propriety of his practices in obtaining supplies and credit, he again resigned, [7] but continued to work with General Greene, who appointed him a brigadier general in early 1781. The North Carolina General Assembly refused to approve the commission and appointed him a "colonel commandant" instead. Polk declined the appointment, citing his age and family responsibilities. [15] [7]

Summary of service record: [16]

Political life after the Revolution

In 1783 and 1784, Polk was elected to the North Carolina Council of State, which assisted the governors in performing their executive duties. [7] In 1786, the General Assembly elected Polk as a delegate to the Third Continental Congress, by that time known as the Congress of the Confederation, but Polk did not attend any of that body's sessions. Polk's home accommodated President George Washington overnight during his 1791 tour of the southern states. [7]

Death, legacy

Mecklenburg Declaration reenactors firing a gun salute after laying a wreath at the grave of Thomas Polk on May 20, 2011.. Thom Polk gun salute.jpg
Mecklenburg Declaration reenactors firing a gun salute after laying a wreath at the grave of Thomas Polk on May 20, 2011..

Polk died at his Charlotte home on January 25, 1794, [7] and was buried in what is now known as the Old Settlers' Cemetery in Charlotte. [17]

Notable relatives

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  1. Rankin 1988, p. 112.
  2. Rankin 1988, p. 112–113.
  3. 1 2 Whittenburg 2006, p. 1093.
  4. 1 2 "Marker L-111: War of Sugar Creek". North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  5. Kars 2002, pp. 46–48.
  6. Kratt 2009, pp. 16, 20.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Rankin 1988, p. 113.
  8. Kars 2002, p. 126.
  9. Kars 2002, p. 190.
  10. Dunkerly & Williams 2006, p. 21.
  11. Polk 1915, p. 14.
  12. "Thomas Polk". Trail of History. Mecklenburg County Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  13. Johnson 2011, p. 118.
  14. Buchanan 1997, p. 288.
  15. Buchanan 1997, p. 293.
  16. Lewis, J.D. "Thomas Polk". The American Revolution in North Carolina. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  17. 1 2 Polk 1910, p. xxiii.
  18. 1 2 3 Polk, William H. (1912). Polk Family and Kinsmen. Louisville, Kentucky: Bradley and Gilbert. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  19. "About Fort Polk". Vernon Parish, Louisiana: US Army, Fort Polk Public Affairs Office. 2013. Retrieved 2011-05-23.