Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois: Thomas Posey

Thomas Posey himself

A grave in Westwood Cemetery at Shawneetown suggests the story of Thomas Posey, who was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, not far from the home of the Washingtons, in 1750. Not much is known of Posey’s family beyond the fact that his mother was Elizabeth Lloyd, sometimes suggested as the lowland beauty alluded to in legends about Washington. Her family was one with a social standing above the average. Posey grew up in the way of country boys of that time, with meager educational advantages. No records of his life previous to 1769 have been found. In that year, when Posey was nineteen years old, the family moved to Botetourt County, Virginia, about 175 miles south and west from his birthplace. This migration brought him much nearer the frontier with its constant Indian threats and conflicts.

Posey enlisted in the militia at an early age and thus began a long and active career. He served as a captain in the forces led by Lord Dunmore and General Lewis in the Indian campaign often designated as Lord Dunmore’s War. In this campaign he held the post of Comissary General under General Lewis in the Indian campaign often designated as Lord Dunmore’s War. In this campaign he held the post of Commissary General under General Lewis. In the Lord Dunmore War he was engaged in the battle with the Indians at Point Pleasant near the place where the Kanawha River joins the Ohio in West Virginia. He was at German Flats, Schoharie, Cherry Valley, and Wyoming. At all these places he acquitted himself well and acquired an excellent military reputation. When conflict with the mother country came, Posey became a champion of the causes of the colonists. He was a memeber of the Committees of Correspondence that sought to keep the colonists informed concerning developments and relations with the mother country.

Throughout his military activities during the Revolutionary War he repeatedly appears as a favorite of General Washington, who recommended or appointed him to increasingly important tasks. At Washington’s special request, Posey was assigned to the celebrated regiment known as Morgan’s Riflemen, where he rendered distinguished service. He was present as a member of Washington’s staff at Yorktown. After the war, he served under Mad Anthony Wayne in some of his campaigns against the Indians. 

Posey was present and helped to arrange the surrender of General Burgoyne, the English play-writing general, at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. After Saratoga he had an important part in other campaigns. He was at Stony Point and led the battalion that successfully stormed the British position. An incident in the Stony Point battle is indicative of his devotion and loyalty to Washington. When asked to lead the storming troops he is said to have replied, “I’ll storm hell if General Washington will plan it.” It was he who announced the capture of the fort.

After the Revolution Posey moved to Kentucky, where he was elected a state senator and served two years as speaker of that body. He was thus, ex-officio, lieutenant governor of the state. Later moving to Louisiana, he served as United States senator from that state. Upon the retirement of William Henry Harrison, Posey was appointed governor of Indiana Territory and served in that capacity until Indiana became a state. He was then appointed agent for Indian Affairs for Illinois Territory and moved to Shawneetown in 1816.

As a souvenir of the battle of Stony Point, Posey brought with him to Illinois the flag carried by the storming troops. This flag with its seven broad stripes of red and white and its field of thirteen stars arranged in a circle was one of the objects of interest in Shawneetown for a century or more. Much tattered and frayed, it was, a few years ago, still on display in the bank there.

Posey died in Shawneetown at the home of his son-in-law, Joseph M. Street, on March 9, 1818, within a few weeks of the time when Illinois became a state. He is buried about two miles north of the old town. 

“Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois” – John W. Allen

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