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This year marks the 245th anniversary of the colonists in North America formally announcing their independence from Great Britain with the issuance of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The members of the Second Continental Congress (including, among others, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and the author of the document, Thomas Jefferson) had secretly voted to draft the declaration of separation from the British king on July 2, but it was not until the words “Unanimous Declaration” were ordered to be printed and presented to the populace, that the world knew of the colonists’ resolve to create their own nation. Therefore, July 4 is celebrated as Independence Day.
It did not create independence on that day. In fact, the resolve of those colonists would be tested for the next seven years as bitter and violent military battles raged between the two sides. More than 45,000 would die (of injuries or disease) for their respective causes. Of those who served in the regular army or one of the state militias pressed into service, at least 40 would later move to Iowa and call the Hawkeye State their home.
Recently, Nathan Brown, of Crane’s Regiment in the New York Militia, received attention when the monument below which he was buried after settling on a farm near Springville, was restored and updated by the citizens of the community. He is one of two Revolutionary War soldiers interred in Linn County.
The other is John Osborn. Osborn was born at Shenandoah, Virginia in 1763 to a large family, including Enoch Osborn, his father’s brother. At age 17, John enlisted with Enoch’s Company of a regiment within the Virginia Militia led by legendary Col. William Preston.
He was raised with a strong Christian background and was not pleased with the concept of killing his fellow man.
In 1780, when Osborn joined the unit, the Revolutionary War had been progressing for five years and many colonists feared it would not end well for those who showed disloyalty to the King. As a result, there was a substantial number of farmers and businessmen who were recruited by the British as loyalists. They were to take up arms, and, along with the Native American population, wreak havoc against the revolutionaries in any way they could.
Thomas Jefferson, governor of Virginia, became alarmed at this and directed Col. Preston to organize a regiment of volunteers for the state’s militia forces. Enoch was placed in charge of one of its companies, and John followed as one of its first recruits.
Preston, however, was not a soldier of the traditional form. He was raised with a strong Christian background and was not pleased with the concept of killing his fellow man, especially if they were fellow Virginians. Instead, he felt it his moral duty to attempt to prevent bloodshed and resolve issues through civil discourse.
With this calling, rather than deploy long lines of soldiers in the fields to fire at and annihilate anyone who refused to publicly side with the revolutionaries, Preston announced that he was invoking a summit between himself and those who claimed fealty to the King. The peace summit attracted many. But some, who fired on anyone approaching them from the opposing side, were rounded up by members of Preston’s regiment and brought to the Court House at Montgomery County, near John’s birthplace, not to be shot, but rather to be placed on trial. Young John Osborn was among them.
As part of the hearings, “loyalists” were given the option of paying a bail, if they could afford it, and sign a sworn statement agreeing not to fight against the militias, or else they could be forwarded to the state for possible charges of treason and prospectively face far harsher treatment.
Hundreds of men were brought in for trial. Preston, who served as chief judge, drew upon his faith, and its teachings of compassion, and exonerated all but seven. These seven were convicted, but not punished on site. Instead, Preston made certain that there was a review of the case on appeal for each one.
Seeing his acts of humanity, and comparing them to the oppression excised upon them by the king, nearly every one of the exonerated Loyalists joined the state’s militia and swore allegiance to the newly forming nation. As such, it was young John Osborn who helped, in a very real and lasting way during the early years of his career, win the war through his role in recruiting patriots to form our country.
Osborn served another year in the Revolution as a soldier, then moved to Indiana where he resided in the peaceful rural countryside with his sons until they relocated to Center Point in 1852. Two years later, John passed away at the age of ninety one. His short gray granite tombstone stands modestly on a hill at Center Point Cemetery.
So, as we observe the 245th anniversary of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, let us remember Osborn and the principles for which he and his commanding officer stood, enabling the cause of freedom and justice to prevail. You might also want to stop by the petite, gray marker at the cemetery, offer a prayer, and say “thank you.”
David V. Wendell is a Marion historian, author and special events coordinator specializing in American history.