The Fords came to the new world at a rather early date. They settled in Virginia, New Jersey, and Maryland if reports be true. John Ford, the writer's grandfather, emigrated to South Carolina from Virginia during the days of British rule. He was a major in the service of the United States during the Revolutionary War. He was in many battles, and escaped without any serious hurt. At the siege of Savannah, Georgia, by the Americans under General [Benjamin] Lincoln, he was much exposed. Ford visited home shortly afterward, and his wife said he had more than twenty bullet holes in his clothing. Some balls had grazed and discolored the skin, but not one had entered the flesh. The French and Americans assaulted the British works October 9, 1779, and were repulsed. The French loss was six hundred--the Americans lost four hundred. At the battle of Camden on August 16, 1780, John Ford is said to have made many narrow escapes.
George Salmon, the father of the writer's mother, was attached to the commissary department during the Revolutionary War. He had the smallpox in 1780, and was sent out of camp. On his return he was captured by the British and was in [Major Patrick] Ferguson's camp on King's Mountain when the Americans attacked it on October 7, 1780. Salmon described the battle very vividly. When the fire became hot the British soldiers sought shelter wherever they could. So many got behind wagons that they overturned them. He said wagons had wooden covers in those days. The firing had grown terrific. Confusion prevailed generally. He approached the officer in charge of the guard and asked: "Am I to stand here, and be killed by my own people?"
The officer replied, adding an oath: "Every man must take care of himself now."
Salmon ran down the mountain. The first man he met was an American captain, an old acquaintance. His salutation was: "My God, Salmon, have you turned Tory?"
"No, I am just escaping from the British," was the reply.
George Salmon's wife, Elizabeth Young, was then a young girl of about sixteen. She was staying with an uncle. The British came and encamped on the plantation. The ladies retired into a room, and closed the door. Major Ferguson occupied a room across a hall.
He came to our door [Elizabeth Young recalled] and said: "Ladies, you may open your door. I am a gentleman, and will see you are not molested." We opened the door. The major came in and was seated. He entered into conversation, and asked me: "My daughter, where is your uncle?"
"In the Whigs' camp, sit."
"If he had as much sense as you have he would not be there, would he?" "I think he would, sir."
He then began telling us that he was in the habit of fooling the rebels, that in action he wore a short coat and acted with his sword in his left hand. "They have wounded me eleven times, but can't kill me." I was told that it was the method our officers adopted to distinguish them from the enemy while in battle. Soon after the British left, an American scouting party came along. They were informed of the boasts of Major Ferguson. I was told that our troops made it a point to fire at the British officer carrying his sword in his left hand.
The major's ruse failed that time: he was killed--almost his whole army killed or captured. One thousand one hundred and ninety-eight constituted the British loss--American loss, eighty-eight.
Major John Ford had his plantation and house robbed by a band of Tories. They carried off the clothing of an infant child. One of his neighbors, whose name will not be repeated, headed the infamous expedition. Ford swore vengeance. He obtained a furlough, learned the Tory was at his house, armed himself, and was in the Tory's room before he took the alb. The leader of robbers was taking his supper with his gun across his lap. It was now useless. An attempt to raise it would have invited instant death. Ford told him of his crime, perpetrated upon innocent women and children, and that he had come to kill him. Ford struck him on the head with his sword. The Tory's wife was aroused. She screamed, and begged so piteously for her husband's life that Ford relented, telling the cowardly thief he could go.
The reader will say: "What do you mean by introducing these old things?" Simply this: when one comes of fighting stock, he has a right to be proud of it.
The writer's great grandfather, by the mother's side, was in the employ of Lord Fairfax of Virginia at the same time Washington was. Our grandmother saw the great man on many occasions. She said he was tall, and had a commanding presence. "He was the finest looking man I ever saw," were her words. She was also acquainted with General [Francis] Marion. She described him as a rather small man, with a French cast of features. He was simple in his manners, blessed with good sense and a sound judgment. She heard him relate, long before it appeared in print, the incident of asking the British officer to dine with him and having nothing but sweet potatoes to set before the military representative of Great Britain.
She spoke of Colonel [Peter] Horry, one of General Marion's favorite officers. The colonel stuttered, and this sometimes led to ludicrous scenes. He furnished data to write the life of General Marion, and confided the execution of the work to Reverend Mason L. Weems, a Baptist preacher. Horry is said not to have liked the rather grandiloquent and sensational style of the reverend gentleman, and charged him with having made a "Noh-noh-novel of muh-muh my buh-buh-book."
In 1781 or 1782 the Indians and Tories made a descent upon the country adjacent to Greenville Courthouse, South Carolina. They killed the writer's great grandmother by the father's side. They were very old. Their cold-blooded slayers placed the muzzles of their guns against their heads, and blew their brains out. The holes were reported to have been as large as one's fist.
A Tory named Bates, a leader in these sanguinary operations, went to the house of a gentleman named Motlow, and murdered his wife and children, Motlow not being at home. The Tories afterwards managed to capture him. He was undaunted and ready to meet the fate seemingly in store for him. Bates began plundering his person. He was stooping down taking the buckles of his prisoner's shoes. Motlow said: "Bates, can't you wait until after you have killed me before you rob me?" Just at that moment a gun was fired. The ball passed through Motlow's body; he fell upon Bates. The latter raised himself up, and placed Motlow on his feet again. Motlow ran, and was pursued some distance. The blood was gushing from his wound. He held his arms over his breast and endeavored to staunch the flow. He reached a precipice on a stream, made a leap, alighted unhurt, and escaped. His bloodthirsty pursuers did not dare to make the effort he had; they halted. Motlow recovered from his wound.
Some years after the close of the war, a man was put in jail at Greenville Courthouse for horse stealing. Someone told Motlow the description suited that of Bates. Motlow armed himself, went to the jail, demanded the keys, and obtained them. Finding the prisoner to be Bates, Motlow carried him out on the public square and shot him. Such was the infamous reputation of Bates, the red-handed assassin, and such the state of feeling in the community that no one dared to interfere with Motlow while enacting the tragedy or to call him to account for it. They felt that a just retribution had overtaken a bloody fiend.
It was during one of these raids of Indians and Tories that our grandfather, George Salmon, piloted a party of men to a store which the Indians had robbed. They were on a big spree, and could have been whipped easily. The men did not wish to attack. While Salmon was endeavoring to persuade them to fight, an Indian shot him through the body. He said that to cleanse the wound a silk handkerchief was passed through it from side to side several times. He lived to do good service afterward.
After the dose of the war, John Ford was engaged in the practice of law in Greenville and was elevated to the bench. He died at forty-five years of age from a disease of the lungs brought on by a severe cold contracted during the war. Ford left several children. His son, William, born in 1785, was an honest man, always candid in his expressions of opinion, and fearless of consequences. He married Harriet Salmon, by whom he had children, all of whom died in early life, except Elizabeth and the writer, John Salmon Ford. The latter was born in Greenville District, South Carolina, May 26, 1815. William Ford immigrated to Lincoln County, Tennessee, in 1817. He went to Texas after annexation, where he died at the age of eighty-two in Travis County in 1867.
John Salmon Ford, at an early period of existence, exhibited some marked and rather positive traits of character. He possessed the capacity to get into fights with the boys, to fall in love with the girls, and to take a hand in the deviltry set on foot by his playmates. The old ladies of his neighborhood looked upon him as a sort of prodigy, and predicted he would be killed for his general "cussedness" before reaching the age of maturity, or hanged for some infernal mischief he might commit.
In 1834, while reading medicine under Dr. James G. Barksdale of Shelbyville, Bedford County, Tennessee, Ford volunteered to wait upon his friend, Wilkins Blanton, who had contracted smallpox in a virulent form. He was eventually sent outside of town to a small house. One of the attendants, an old darky, died of the disease. Blanton recovered. The young pill peddler got his name in the newspapers.
The war of Texas independence commenced in the fall of 1835. The capture of San Antonio gave to the Texians a fame for gallantry, and caused many men in the United States to tam longing eyes towards the new land of promise. Many young men aspired to take part in a struggle which appeared to involve all the principles for which our forefathers fought in the revolution of 1776. During the early part of 1836, Ford penned an address to the public which was distributed in handbills and otherwise. The result of this address was that a number of men volunteered to go to Texas.
In those days a journey to Texas seemed to be a perilous undertaking. It was bidding adieu to the rest of the world and, under existing circumstances, volunteering in a war of desperate chances. All knew less than 100,000 people had thrown down the gauntlet to a nation of 8,000,000 souls. The fall of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, the surrender of [James W.] Fannin a few days after, and the inhuman butchery of prisoners of war, occurring by order of General Santa Anna at Goliad on March 27, 1836, left no doubt of the character of the warfare waged upon the Texians by the government of Mexico. These events shocked the civilized world, and deterred many from joining the Texas revolutionists. Others felt differently; they conceived it a bounded duty to aid those who were battling for the cause of constitutional government, for the rights of man, for liberty. They stepped to the front, determined to avenge their slaughtered brethren, to accept the alternative of victory or death. For such it literally was. The black flag of Santa Anna--the insignia of no quarter--told the tale. None but stout-hearted men were likely to take service in a cause surrounded by so many fatal risks.
Preparations were being made to complete the organization and equipment of the company. The day of starting was under discussion when the whole country was electrified by the news of the victory of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. Ford gave up his intention of running for captain under the impression that the fighting was over, and left for Texas, where he arrived in June, 1836, [and settled in San Augustine]. A gentleman named [George W.] Jewell was elected captain. The company reached Texas and served on the Trinity River against the Indians.