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Virginia’s Forgotten Founding Fathers

By Jarred Marlowe

There is one fact about Virginia that no one can deny: it is rich with history. 

Much of our early history as a nation can trace its roots back to the Old Dominion state, and the amount of key people that came from Virginia is a bragging point we will always have. So many great historical people came from Virginia that many often get overlooked and their accomplishments get overshadowed when compared to the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. But these people, while overlooked by most, had an impact on our area that lasts to this day. Such is the case with Col. Abram Penn.

Abram (also known as Abraham) Penn was born in Caroline County, Va., in 1743. When he was a young child, his family moved to present day Amherst, which was then a part of Albemarle County. He married Ruth Stovall in 1767 and they moved south to then-Pittsylvania County, but what we now know today as Henry and Patrick counties. Here, Penn and his wife would settle down and have a large family consisting of 12 children.

Penn’s first foray into the political realm came in the early 1770s when he was appointed to serve on the Committee of Safety in Pittsylvania County, which at the time was created to enforce the trade embargo the colonies had against Great Britain. These committees often became the governing agency for colonial regions as the people began to distrust British government agents. 

Penn would later serve in the Virginia House of Delegates, representing Patrick Henry County along with Del. Robert Hairston of the well-known Hairston family. (After breaking off from Pittsylvania County, Patrick Henry County existed until 1791 when Patrick County broke off and took the name Patrick, leaving the original land with the name Henry County.)

In the spring of 1774, Penn was tasked with serving under Col. Andrew Lewis in a series of conflicts that became known as Lord Dunmore’s War. In this war, the British governor of Virginia declared war against Native American tribes settled in the Appalachian Mountains (present day Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio) after they captured and killed several people looking to settle in the wilderness. Penn assumed the rank of captain and commanded troops from the Virginia militia, helping to win a decisive battle at Point Pleasant, West Virginia that spelled the end of the conflict. The war ended in the fall of 1774, after which Penn returned home to Pittsylvania County.

Penn was also very much involved in the American Revolution. He was appointed to the rank of captain in the Continental Army, leading a group of militia in 1779 and becoming the county militia executive in 1780. He led the militia on several expeditions against colonists loyal to Britain, known as Tories, in southwest Virginia and in the Yadkin River valley in North Carolina. His men were also called to assist American General Nathaniel Greene in his efforts against Lord Cornwallis in March 1781. They joined forces with Greene after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and would stay with Greene for a short period of time. Penn would also be present at the siege, and eventual surrender, of Cornwallis’ forces at Yorktown.

After the war, Penn returned home to spend the rest of his days in the peace and tranquility of his home Poplar Grove, located in Critz. He was instrumental in establishing and organizing the new Patrick County government when the county broke off from Henry County in 1791, administering the oaths of office to several county officials. Also, he and several of his sons served as Patrick County’s first “gentleman justices,” which was a group of men appointed by residents of the county to come together for a few days every month to sort out local affairs. 

Abram Penn passed away in 1801 and was buried in his family cemetery on his farm which is located on Virginia 703, off of Abram Penn Highway. 

 

 

 

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