BUCKNER – Revolutionary War Spies & Intrigue


My mother used to tell me this story of the old days in Virginia during the Revolutionary war, told her by her mother who was Elizabeth Watson before she married Philip Buckner. It was something like this:

The family was living on a plantation in the eastern part of the state, in what county I know not,—it may have been Spottsylvania Co., since Thomas Buckner is said to have come from there and Philip my grandfather was related to him—but it was certainly In the eastern part of Virginia. There were a few Tories in that county though most of the people were ardent supporters of the cause of Independence. You remember that Virginia was the first colony, even before Massachusetts, to enter her protest against the levying of unjust taxes on the Colonies by Parliament. John Fiske in his “Virginia and her neighbors” makes this clear. You will find it also in Howe’s “Historical Collections of Virginia.” There had been rumors of a probable descent of a detachment of the British army on that locality and the people were uneasy and troubled. About this time a report spread that some British soldiers had been seen in the neighborhood. Greatly excited, immediate preparations were made to save their property from the depredations of the enemy, and her father Mr. Watson hastily gathered together his stock of cattle, taking one or two servants with him, and leaving the rest to protect the family, he hastened to some safe place among the mountains.

He had not been gone long when a British officer in full uniform rode up to the gate and, dismounting, was seen talking earnestly to one of the negroes. Presently he approached the house and demanding admittance, was shown into the best room where her mother awaited him.

She rose and greeted him with cold civility. He stated that he wished to see the owner of the plantation. She replied that her husband was absent and could not be seen. He said he had urgent business with him—what time would he return? She, believing he meant to capture him or do him some harm, replied somewhat evasively. “Then” said he “I will wait till he comes.” And pleading great fatigue threw himself on a sofa and covered his eyes with his hand. My grandmother left the room with as much dignity as she could command though sorely troubled as to the meaning of this strange visit. The news penetrated to the negro quarters, and an old darky whom his master had charged with the special care of his young mistress, suddenly appeared in the doorway of the room with his master’s drawn sword in his hand.

Believing the stranger was able at any moment to rise and slay the household, (as he observed he was only feigning to sleep,) he never took his eyes from him. The hours dragged on wearily and still the officer slept, or feigned to, and the faithful servant stood guard, till at length the Master arrived and was soon closeted with the intruder. He at once avowed that the uniform he wore was a disguise, assumed for the purpose of learning how many tories there were in that vicinity. That he was an officer in the continental army, acting under orders of his superior officer, and was in fact on a secret mission. He mentioned also that he had been talking with one of Mr. Watson’s servants, and that he, believing him to be a British officer, had revealed to him the place where he, Mr. Watson had concealed his stock, also their number and value. “But there is one old fellow that you can certainly trust,” he added, “the one who stood guard over me with a drawn sword.  I was afraid to close my eyes”—he laughed—”for fear he’d chop my bead off.” Being assured of the truth of his story, Mr. Watson pressed him to stay all night and my grandmother made ample amends for her former lack of hospitality.

Source: “Reminiscences of The Buckner Family”, by Mrs. Priscilla Aylette Buckner Reardon, about 1901, pages  16-17.