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Capt. Benjamin MERRILL

Male Abt 1731 - 1771  (~ 40 years)

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  • Name Benjamin MERRILL 
    Title Capt. 
    Born Abt 1731  Hopewell Township, Hunterdon [now Mercer] County, NJ Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Reference Number LD7Z-J6J 
    Died 10 Jun 1771  Hillsborough, Orange County, NC Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Cause: Execution 
    Buried Benjamin Merrill Memorial Site, Hillsborough, Orange County, NC Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • (1) Merrill, William Ernest, Captain Benjamin Merrill and the Merrill Family of North Carolina, Penrose, NC: 1935, pp. 5-6, 13-19:

      Captain Benjamin Merrill, one of the first North Carolinians to give his life for the sake of Liberty, was hanged by the British at the Courthouse in Hillsborough on the 19th day of June, 1771.

      He was a descendant of Richard Merrill who had come across from England about 1605 to make a home in the New World. The freedom loving and adventuresome spirit which marked his ancestors as far back as 1572 was very clearly shown in the life of Benjamin Merrill, for he, in his turn, left his home in Hopewell, New Jersey to make a journey into a far and little known southland, where he encountered many hardships and became known as a courageous and distinguished man. Perhaps another reason, other than adventure, for his departure from New Jersey was the fact that his father died without giving him a plantation as was the custom of that day. Benjamin's southern journey ended in the Jersey Settlement of Rowan County, now Davidson County, North Carolina. This particular part of the old North State was supposed to have been settled by a group of New Jersey Baptists. The Merrill plantation was located about two miles east of the Jersey Church and on the edge of the settlement, which was about five miles south of the now prosperous little city of Lexington. Land records show that he purchased 1042 acres in the Parish of St. Luke on the north side of the Yadkin River from George Smith on September 9 and 10, 1760. The old plantation home was surrounded by a grove of beautiful and majestic oaks and cedars. One old cedar stands today to mark the old house place. One writer laments the fact that these venerable old trees cannot speak, for they could tell us much valuable history of the eventful years between 1700 and 1800. Tradition says that Benjamin was a gunsmith and that a small creek, at the foot of the hill near where his residence stood, afforded the power necessary to operate the simple machinery used in boring out the barrels. In the evening he would arrange a barrel for boring, start his crude machinery and leave it running all night. By morning the barrel was ready for the next step in its manufacture.

      We know that our hero was in the Jersey Settlement in 1756, four years before any land deeds were recorded, for, "on January 24, 1756, Benjamin Merrill and others (were) named to appear (in court) to show reasons for not going out against the Owens, who it was thought committed several misdemeanors, etc." We know further that he was a young married man when he started to North Carolina. He had married Jemima Smith, the daughter of Andrew Smith of Hopewell, New Jersey, and their second son, John, was born at Hopewell on December 11, 1750. It is evident that the dangerous and weary trip to North Carolina came in the five years between 1761 and 1756.

      * * *

      There have been various names given to the wife of Captain Merrill. My grandfather wrote in his notes that her name was Mary Smith; others contended that she was Jemima Stout of Stoutsburg, New Jersey; others gave her the name of Sarah. Now we know that she was none other than Jemima Smith of Hopewell, N. J. This fact is self-evident if we consider the records. Andrew Smith of Hopewell made his will October 17, 1874, and bequeathed to his daughter Jemima "one Spanish Pestole to her forever, if it should so happen that my Daughter Jemima Should become poor and Needy in this life I do Require my Exers to give her Reasonable Relief out of my estate. I also give and devise to my Daughter Jemima's children that she bear to Benjamin Merrill to Wit: Samuel, John, Andrew, William, Charles, Elijah, and Jonathan Merrill, Anna McCleary, and Penelope Merrill to all and each of them Severally fifty pounds." Now if we examine the records in Rowan County, North Carolina, we find land deeds made and signed by Benjamin and Jemima Merrill when they sold a part of their holdings to John Ganoe in 1770.

      Benjamin died on June 10, 1771 and his widow, Jemima Merrill, married Harmon Butner of Rowan County on February 20 (28), 1775.

      On May 7, 1777, Jacob Wiseman and Robert Moore were asked to arbitrate a matter concerning the estate of the late Benjamin Merrill between Harmon Butner and the Merrill Children, Samuel, John, Andrew, William, Benjamin and Penelope, and Boyd McCreary and Anna, who have the interests of Charles, Elijah, and Jonathan. Note that this list of Merrill children corresponds precisely with that found in Andrew Smith's Will. There are many other records which bear out this point.

      Just a few minutes before Benjamin was executed, he is quoted as saving: "In a few minutes I shall leave a widow and ten children. I entreat that no reflection be cast on them on my account and, if possible, I shall deem it a bounty, should you gentlemen petition the Governor and Council that some part of my estate may be spared to the widow and fatherless." Here follows what Governor Tryon said, "Benjamin Merrill, a Captain of the militia, left it in charge of the officers to solicit me to grant his plantation and estate to his wife and eight children. Wm. Tryon."

      Mr. A. J. Owen, a member of the Jersey Church, said, "'that the grant was actually made as requested to the widow and children, and that the document given by Governor Tryon was handed down, with other old papers belonging to the Merrill family, and finally lodged in the hands of Wilson Merrill, brother-in-law of Mr. Owen. In 1855, Mr. Owen got possession of this rare document and held it till 1872, when he went West, at which time it slipped from him.Even though the papers were a hundred years old, yet the writing was just as legible as when first given. It was written on coarse heavy paper and folded like a deed - it was, in fact, their deed then.'Mr. Owen committed to memory its contents. 'On the back of the folded instrument was inscribed: 'To Jemima Merrill and her Children.' The contents were: 'I, Wm.Tryon, Governor and Captain-General for the province of North Carolina:

      To Jemima Merrill and her children:

      You are commanded to hold and possess the land and tenements, goods and chattels, of the late Benjamin Merrill, hung for high treason, till His Majesty's pleasure shall be known: and all his tax collectors and receivers shall take due notice thereof.

      Done at Hillsboro, _____ June, 1771.

      Wm. Tryon.'"

      The correspondence between Governor Martin and the Earl of Hillsborough clearly shows that the estate was given back to the family.

      "Dec. 4, 1771 - The Earl of Hillsborough to Governor Martin: In the last letter I received from Mr. Tryon relative to the affairs of North Carolina and which is dated from New York, he expresses a wish that the plantation and estate of Benjamin Merrill, a Captain of the Militia and who was one of the six rebels executed on the 19th of June may be granted to a wife and eight children he left behind him, and I have a command from the King to signify to you His Majesty's pleasure, that you do accordingly take proper measures that whatever property belonging to that unhappy person became forfeited to the Crown by his conviction should be regranted to his widow and Children."

      "Dec. 12, 1771 - Gov. Martin to Earl of Marlborough: Benjamin Merrill one of the six criminals executed soon after the action with the insurgents has left and innocent and miserable family consisting of his widow and seven young children who must starve unless his Majesty will be graciously pleased to continue to them the possession of the lands of the delinquent. I am therefore my Lord engaged by the feelings of humanity to implore his Majesty's favor to this wretched and fatherless family."

      "Oct. 25, 1772 - Gov. Martin to Earl of Hillsborough: I am to acquaint your Lordship, that I have displayed His Majesty's most gracious Acts of beneficence to the family of Benjamin Merrill, - and I had the satisfaction to see them received with most dutiful and lively gratitude."

      After his execution the widow remained on the old homestead, a valuable and well cultivated farm. Miss Susie Turner, a very worthy and aged lady, told Rev. Henry Sheets that she recalled hearing her aunt, Mary Workman, tell of calling in to visit the widow while on her way to meeting at Jersey Church. Her aunt told her that the widow was blind. Whether the blindness was caused by some natural effect or from excessive grief at the sad and untimely death of her husband was not known. It is said that she never recovered from the shock and that she suffered great mental distress and spent much of her time in walking to pass off the melancholia which clung to her and darkened her days with grief and bitterness. Regardless of all this we known that she returned to the old homestead and lived there with her children for several years. During this time she remained faithful to her church and on one particular occasion in November, 1771, she and the children attended Soelle's services in the River Settlement. Soelle said, "She cannot forget the fate of her husband."

      In 1775, Jemima married Harmon Butner who came to live with her and the Merrill children on the Merrill plantation. On May 9, 1777, the court ordered Butner to bring Charles, Elijah and Jonathan, orphans of Benjamin Merrill, into court to be dealt with as the law required. At the next court Charles was bound to his brother John, who was to teach him the art of being a master of the blacksmith trade and when he became of age he was to receive a set of tools, besides what the law required. He was fifteen at the time he was bound to his brother. Elijah, fourteen years old, was bound to his eldest brother Samuel. He was to learn the weaver's trade. Samuel was to give him a loom and tackle and twelve pounds besides what the law required. Jonathan was bound to his brother-in-law, Boyd McCreary.

      Jemima Merrill Butner lived about thirty years after the death of Capt. Merrill. She made her will on May 7, 1801, and it was proved in February, 1803. It is quoted below:

      In the name of God Amen. I, Jemina Butner of the County of Rowan and the State of North Carolina being in perfect mind and memory, but weakly in body and calling to mind my mortality think proper to make and ordain this my last will and test: knowing that it is appointed unto men once to die, do think proper to confirm my intention by these presents, and in the first place I commend my soul into the hands of Almighty God, and my body to be decently buried, at the discretion of my executors, and as touching such worldly estate, as it has pleased God to bless me with, I dispose, devise and give in manner and form following, that is to say,

      1. I give and bequeath to my eldest son Samuel Meril, 14 pounds which I paid for the improvement whereon Smith Meril now lives, also twenty seven pounds which I paid in taking up a judgment that was against him, also my sorrel horse, also an equal part of all my moveable property, with the rest of my sons, my negroes except.

      2. I give and bequeath to my daughter Nancy my negroe woman, Hagar, which is to be valued, and John, William, and Charles Meril is to have an equal part of the value of said negroe in money; also I give one-half of my wearing clothes to my daughter Nancy.

      3. I give and bequeath to my daughter Ellien one negroe girl named Rose, which is also to be valued and the above John, William, and Charles Meril is to have an equal part of her value in money. I also give to my daughter Elline the other half of my wearing clothes.

      4. I give and bequeath to my son Andrew Meril my negro boy named James, which is also to be valued and the above John Meril, William and Charles Meril to have an equal part of the value in money, also I give to my son Andrew an equal part of my moveable property, that I do not mention in my will.

      5. I give to my son Jonathan Meril, my negroe boy named David and he is to pay to my son Charles Meril ten pounds, current money, two years after my decease, I give also to my son Jonathan Meril an equal part with the rest of my sons of my moveable property which is not here mentioned or given.

      6. I give to my son Elijah Meril an equal part of my moveable property which is not mentioned as given in this will.

      Lastly, I also appoint, constitute and ordain, my son Andrew Meril and Jonathan Meril whole and sole executors of this my last will and test: and I do hereby revoke all other wills and test: at any time by me made, and in witness whereof I have hereanto set my hand and seal, this 7th day of May, 1801.

      Jemima X Butner [her mark]

      Signed, and sealed and declared in the presence of Thomas Durham, Azariah Merrell, Test.

      lt is not known whether the Nancy and Elline mentioned in the will are Merrills or Butners for the records are not clear. Harmon Butner made no provision for them in his will.

      * * *


      Samuel, the eldest son of Benjamin and Jemima Merrill, was born in New Jersey about 1748. He was still a child when his parents started to the south. He was brought up on his father's plantation in the Jersey Settlement and after his father's death he received the plantation. It is presumed that he carried on the agricultural pursuits of his father, and at the same time practiced the art of weaving in which he was a master. He lived until about 1803. In his will which was probated in 1803 he mentioned his wife Sussanah, sons, Benjamin Smith, and Azariah, and daughters Jemima Yarborough and Sarah. From old Bible records we find that there was another daughter named Betty.

      There is a tradition that he was called Azariah, but we are unable to find any basis for this belief. All of his nfficial papers were signed Samuel.

      In the Revolutionary Army Accounts of North Carolina, Sam Merrill is listed in the Salisbury District as being one of those who turned in his service certificate amounting to 7-19-11 and dated Sept. 13, 1782, on account of special certificate paid into the comptroller's office by John Armstrong. He received this pay in land on April 22, 1784. In the accounts of the United States with North Carolina during the time between June and September, 1781, Samuel Merrill is paid for provisions he furnished the army. These two accounts clearly show his actions during the trying period of the Revolution.

      Practically all the Merrills in Rowan and closely adjoining counties are descandents of Samuel through his son Azariah, who married Miss Abigail Frost and lived on the old Capt. Merrill home place.

      One of the eight children of Azariah and Abigail Frost, married Miss Barbara Huffman and they had a large family. A son, David Alexander, lives in Kerrville, Tennessee. David volunteered in November, 1801, to serve in Capt. B. M. Browdes Company in the Civil War. He served under other officials at different times and was an orderly sergeant most of the time. He was wounded in battle at Peach Creek near Atlanta, Georgia, and the wound has never healed.

      Ebenezar, the sixth child of Azariah and Abigail, married Miss Ann Turner and lived on the place that had been owned by his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

      Jonathan, Azariah and Abigail's fourth son, married and went to Alabama. He had two children by this union. His wife died and he returned to Rowan, A few years later he married Miss Mary C. Wiseman and moved to Madison County where they reared a family of eight children. Their son John Franklin, born October 27, 1851, is living with his nephew, Jim Merrill, at Biltmore. Uncle Frank is eighty-four, but quite active.

      Benjamin Smith, the fifth son of Abigail and Azariah, married Miss Elizabeth Leach and lived in Davie County. Wilson. F., their second son, was a well-known school teacher in Davie County until his death. George L., the fourth child, married Miss Mary Jane Murchison. They live at Gulf, North Carolina. He is now a retired Baptist minister. We understand that for many years he was connected with the Thomasville Orphanage (Mills Home) and that he was high in the ranks of the Baptists of this state.

      * * *


      An account of John, the second son of Capt. Benjamin and Jemima Merrill, will be found in the chapter on "The Merrils of Georgia."

      * * *


      An account of Andrew, the third son of Capt. Benjamin and Jemima Merrill, will be found in the chapters on "The Merrills of Mississippi," and "The Merrills of Madison County."

      * * *


      William, the fourth son of Capt. Benjamin and Jemima Merrill, married Miss Salley Haden, daughter of William Haden. On July 28, 1803, William Merrill and wife Sally and his son, Timothy Merrill, let John Burkhart, all of Rowan County, have eighty-seven acres on Swearing Creek, next to Benjamin Merrill and John Clafer. Timothy married Elizabeth Bradshaw, daughter of Robert Bradshaw. We have been unable to find any of the descendents of William and Sally Merrill.

      William Merrill served as a drummer under Capt. David Smith and Col. Griffith Rutherford in the First Regiment of Rowan militia between August, 1775, and the spring of 1776.

      * * *


      Charles, the fifth son of Capt. Benjamin and Jemima Merrill, was born in November, 1761. He served in the Salisbury District Militia during the Revolution and received his pay in a land grant on March 24, 1784. He was not in Rowan when the 1790 census was taken. It is thought that he went to South Carolina.

      * * *


      Elijah, the sixth son of Capt. Benjamin and Jemima Merrill, was born in 1763. He was married when the 1790 census was taken, but had no children. He got a land grant in 1792 for 640 acres on Garron Creek next to Christian Sears. Most of this land was sold during 1794.

      * * *


      Jonathan, the youngest son of Capt. Benjamin and Jemima Merrill, married on September 25, 1787, Nancy Elliot of the Potts Creek section of Rowan County and settled in this section. They had one son and one daughter when the 1790 census was taken.

      He was "Captain Merrill" and tax collector for his section from 1809 through 1813. He owned much land and was evidently a man of considerable wealth.

      * * *


      An account of Penelope and Ann, the daughters of Capt. Benjamin and Jemima Merrill, will be given in the Chapter on "The Merrills of Buncombe County."


      Capt Benjamin Merrill
      Birth: 1731, Hopewell, Mercer County, New Jersey, USA
      Death: 19 Jun 1771 (aged 39-40), Hillsborough, Orange County, North Carolina, USA
      Burial: Benjamin Merrill Memorial Site, Hillsborough, Orange County, North Carolina, USA

      Benjamin, son of William Merrill, Jr. was born about 1731.
      He married Jemima Smith, daughter of Andrew Smith of Hopewell, New Jersey.

      Benjamin Merrill was a Captain in the "Regulators" and was involved in the Battle of Alamance. He had about 300-400 men in his command. Captain Merrill and his command were enroute to the battle, but happened across a British Regiment, and captured them. Governor Tryon was there, in command of his troops. The Americans sent a representative to talk to the British, but Tryon himself killed the man, and told his troops to start firing on the Americans. They were reluctant to do so, and he then told them "to either fire on me, or fire on them".

      So the battle commenced - which the Americans (who were not trained troops, but rather citizens in the militia), lost the battle and disbanded. Tryon then issued a proclamation that those that would lay down their arms, and swear alligence to the British Crown, would be forgiven - except Captain Benjamin Merrill and 5 or 6 others. The governor declared them "outlaws", and stated that when they were caught, they would be hanged, drawn and quartered, which they all were.

      When the Chief Justice passed sentence, he concluded in the following manner: "I must now close my afficing Duty, by pronouncing upon you the awful sentence of the law; which is that you, Benjamin Merrill, be carried to the place whence you came, you be drawn from thence to the place of execution, where you are to be hanged by the neck; that you be cut down while yet alive, that your bowels be taken out and burnt before our face, that your head be cut off, your Body divided in Four Quarters, and this be at his majestys Disposal; and the Lord have Mercy on your Soul".

      Captain Benjamin Merrill was hanged by the British on 19 June 1771 at Hillsboro, N.C. by then Governor Tryon.

      Family Members: Parents: William Merrill (1690-1740), Penelope Stout Jewell-Merrill-Herrin (1702-1776); Spouse: Jemima Smith Merrill Butner (1728-1801, m. 1750); Children: Andrew Merrill (1757-1835), Penelope Merrill Merrill (1759-1830), Anna Merrill McCrary (1760-1828), Half Siblings: Sarah Jewell Parke (1720-1800), Hannah Jewell Stout (1725-1805)

      Created by: Lori Richards
      Added: 30 Apr 2006
      Find A Grave Memorial: 14133898
      Sponsored by Cherry Reynolds Solly
    Person ID I45788  Frost, Gilchrist and Related Families
    Last Modified 5 Mar 2021 

    Family Jemima SMITH,   b. Abt 1728, Hopewell Township, Hunterdon [now Mercer] County, NJ Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Aft 7 May 1801, Rowan County, NC Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 73 years) 
    Married Abt 1747  Hopewell Township, Hunterdon [now Mercer] County, NJ Find all individuals with events at this location 
     1. Jonathan MERRILL,   b. Abt 1765, Rowan County, NC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 3 Mar 1849, Moore County, NC Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 84 years)
    Last Modified 5 Mar 2021 
    Family ID F19690  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart