Philomene Holcombe Joins the Committee on Safety



There are many jokes about committees [e.g., "A recent study concluded that the most efficient size for a working committee is 1.6 people"], but at the outset of the American Revolution, the colonists set up committees that were deadly serious. In November 1775, our ancestor Philomene Holcombe risked his life by agreeing to serve on the Prince Edward County (Virginia) Committee on Safety.

As the rebellion against England became ever more violent and widespread in 1774 and 1775, the authority of the Royal colonial governors disintegrated. The Committees on Safety were the first local government bodies set up by the colonists to replace British rule. Holcombe was one of 21 men elected to the Committee in Prince Edward County. For many months, the Committee was the only functioning government for the county, and it assumed broad powers, including the right to call up county residents to join the militia fighting the British.

In the spring of 1776, the Commonwealth of Virginia was established at a convention in Richmond. The Virginia legislature voted its support of the Continental Army after Patrick Henry's impassioned speech that ended with the famous quote, "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" This quote was not so much a call to arms: Henry was 40 in 1775, and did not serve as a combatant during the war. Rather, Henry was stating the stark reality that any politician who defied the Crown, as Holcombe did by joining the Committee on Safety, consigned himself to one of two fates: Liberty if the Revolution succeeded, or execution for treason if it failed.

Philomene continued to serve in various positions during the revolution, including as a Justice of Prince Edward County. At the outset of the war, Philomene's son, our next this lineage John Holcombe, joined the Continental Army as a Captain. He suffered a thigh wound at the Battle of Germantown north of Philadelphia on October 4, 1777. He returned to Virginia to recuperate, then joined the Virginia Militia in which he rose to the rank of Colonel. He fought at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina on March 15, 1781 - a battle that the Rev. Thomas Mullins also participated in, probably as an Army Chaplain.

After the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Col. Holcombe's regiment was attached to Major General Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette spent the summer shadowing British General Cornwallis, and Lafayette's troops were part of the American force at the Battle of Yorktown. Yorktown ended in a catastrophic British defeat on October 19, 1781, effectively ending the war. Because Col. Holcombe had been deployed with Lafayette just 7 months earlier, it is likely that Holcombe fought at Yorktown, but we do not yet have definitive proof.

Did Col. Holcombe and Rev. Mullins meet at Guilford Courthouse in 1781? Probably not. But their respective families were united in marriage 90 years later, in a very different place: Fayetteville, Arkansas, where William Madison Mullins married Sophia Freyschlag. It doesn't seem far-fetched to suppose that William and Sophia knew of their respective ancestors' roles in the Revolutionary War; that perhaps each had a traditional family story about the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

Our family has qualified Philomene and John Holcombe for the Sons of the American Revolution – Philomene for his service on the Committee on Safety, and John for his service with the Continental Army, the Virginia Militia, and his term as Burgess in 1782. We have qualified both for the Society of Colonial Wars as well.