Though I have more than one ancestor who fought in the War for Independence, I’ve selected my 5th great-grandfather to fulfill this week’s prompt: Independence.
The fourth child and second son of Laurence (1720-1812) and Frances (1725-?) O’Brien, Tillotson was born in May 1760 in what is now Richmond County, North Carolina. At the time of his birth it was Anson County, but around 1779 his father and several other nearby residents petitioned the state for a new county to make it easier to conduct business. Laurence and Frances had immigrated from County Cork, Ireland, to Queen Anne County, Maryland before 1740. Around 1750 he moved his family to North Carolina where Tillotson was born. There are two known siblings for Tillotson: Dennis O’Brien (1740-1800) and Lucretia O’Brien (abt. 1750-?). Two other names have popped up, Nancy and David, but I can’t find anything to confirm their existence.
When Tillotson turned 20 he volunteered for service in the Revolutionary War, enlisting as a private in the North Carolina militia. He served for three months, “holding in subjection the Tories in Richmond County” under the command of Captain William Wall, according to his pension file. When his three months were over, he re-upped with the same outfit and continued fighting and capturing the Tories. However, they didn’t have a place to house the captured enemy soldiers, so they had to let them go. At the end of this three-month stint, he “hired one John Long as a substitute” to take his place. The unit, sans Tillotson, was involved in the battle at Beatti’s Bridge.
The year the war ended, 1783, Tillotson married Sarah Dawkins (1766-1810). They had four children:
- John J. O’Brien (my 4th great-grandfather, 1784-1848)
- Agnes O’Brien (abt. 1785-?)
- Sarah Louise “Sallie” O’Brien (1789-1871)
- Dennis O’Brien (abt. 1810-?)
In June 1792 Tillotson purchased land, 50 acres on the south side of the Rocky fork of Hitchcock, joining Richard Campbell’s and Thomas Adcock’s lines. He had varied interests, including farming and operating a small leather goods business. Tillotson also served at one time as a magistrate in the county. (Several later documents refer to him as “Esquire.”) The children grew up and started families of their own. Son John married Zilpha Casey and they had ten children, all surviving into adulthood. One story goes that daughter Agnes married a McCoy from Mississippi. However, there is a Tillotson O’Brien Smith that may be Agnes’s son. He married a McKay and settled in Mississippi. The jury is still out on this. Daughter Sallie married her first cousin Bryant Lovin, and started a trend for the family. They had 11 children.
Tragedy came in 1810 when Sarah died, probably during childbirth. This left Tillotson with infant Dennis to care for. Dennis grew up and married Christian Cameron; there are no records of them having any children.
It wasn’t until 1829 that Tillotson married again, to Mary Lassiter. In his later years, Tillotson applied for a war pension and was granted $30 per year. After an Act of Congress in 1853 made pensions available for surviving spouses, Mary applied for and received the same annual benefit until her death in 1861.
Tillotson died on 11 July 1840. He’s buried in Old Hickory Cemetery next to his first wife. His obituary from the 29 July 1840 issue of the Fayetteville Observer speaks to his death and of the times:
Another Revolutioner Gone
Death in all forms is terrific, but much more so does it appear, when its object is suddenly seized upon, and at once destroyed by its powerful grasp. Tillotson O’Bryan, Esq. suddenly departed this life at his residence in Richmond County, N. C., in the 82nd year of his age, about 11 o’clock of the evening of the 11th of July 1840. He took supper as usual, and retired to bed, and was taken with the Asthma and died in a few minutes. Thus he was a lifeless corpse who a few minutes before was cheerful and apparently in good health. Mr. O’Bryan was a soldier of the Revolution, and has left but six of his fellow soldiers behind him in Richmond County. He had been an excellent magistrate for many years, and had devoted much of his life to education of the young.