Saturday, March 27, 2010

Henry Sebastian Atkinson Question

Henry Sebastian Atkinson Question
Robert R. Guilinger and Richard E. Henthorn
6 February 1997

Applicants for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and researchers of the Atkinson family of Northumberland Co., PA and Monroe Co., OH have for many years reported that Henry Sebastian Atkinson born Abt. 1782 in Northumberland, PA, son of Charles Atkinson (b. 1760) and his first wife, Sarah McKnight, was the person who in adulthood became known as General Henry Atkinson. The authors of this piece have examined a substantial amount of Atkinson material gathered and recorded by researchers dating back to 1950. The claim that Henry Sebastian Atkinson became a General has been made over and over. In no case did anyone, making this statement, cite a source for reaching this conclusion.

Now through the research efforts of Marisa A. (Simons) Back of Akron, OH, which were shared with Robert Guilinger, well documented evidence about the life of Henry Atkinson, the General, has come to light. Roger L. Nichols a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, under the guidance of Professor Vernon Carstenson, wrote his doctoral dissertation on General Henry Atkinson. This work was published as, "General Henry Atkinson - A Western Military Career," by Roger L. Nichols, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.

The following "Page" extractions from Mr. Nichols book may be of interest to Atkinson researchers wishing to pursue this matter in more depth.

Page 65:
Atkinson, General Henry, Born in North Carolina in 1782, he entered the army as a captain in 1808. After serving at frontier posts in the southwest, he moved to New York where he was promoted to colonel and in 1815 assumed command of the 6th Infantry. In 1820 he was promoted to Brigadier General, but was reduced the next year when Congress cut army strength. Atkinson was active in Indian removal and served at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, from 1826 until his death in 1842. Allen Johnson & Dumas Malone, eds. "Dictionary of American Biography," (22 vols., New York, 1928-1936), 1:410

He served in the War of 1812 against the British. He was also in the Battle of Holy Ground, in Alabama, on 23 Dec 1813 when the Cree Indians were defeated. Following the war, Atkinson drew some important assignments including leading a force of 1,100 men in 1819 in the "Yellowstone Expedition" to keep the Indians and British fur traders in line.

He was promoted to Brigadier General on 13 May 1820 at St. Louis, MO. He commanded a force of 476 men and explored the territory between St. Louis and the Yellowstone River (in Montana) in 1825. He led troops against the Winnebago Indians at Prairie du Chien, IL in 1827 and was Commanding General of the troops in the Black Hawk War of 1832. He personally led the troops in the Battle of Bad Ax on 2 Aug 1832 when the Indian forces were almost annihilated, ending the war.

Page 8:
Henry Atkinson, the sixth child of John Atkinson, Esq., and his wife, was born in 1782 on the family plantation in Person County, North Carolina. Few families living on the North Carolina piedmont at this time left complete records, and the Atkinsons were no exception. Therefore, neither the day nor the month of Henry's birth is known. (1) His mother died soon after his birth. Almost nothing about her has survived, but there is a small plain headstone bearing the epitaph, "Mrs. John Atkinson, first consort of John Atkinson," (2) in a rural cemetery in North Carolina. Henry's father married again, probably within a year after his first wife's death, this time to Frances Dickens, daughter of a close friend. (3).

Citations listed for the information in paragraph above:
  1. Gravestone of Henry Atkinson, Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky; Atkinson Genealogy, furnished by Gen. B.W. Atkinson, San Diego, California.
  2. North Carolina Gravestone Index, State Department of History and Archives, Raleigh (hereafter NCSD).
  3. Will of John Atkinson, Apr. 5, 1792, Person County Records, NCSD.
Information about the burial place of General Henry Atkinson is confusing. Footnote (1) above implies he was buried at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, KY.

Yet, on pages 220 and 221 of his book, Mr. Nichols writes, that the General died at Jefferson Barracks, in St. Louis, MO. On page 221 he wrote, "There, with the St. Louis Greys and the Boon Infantry acting as the military escort, the procession moved from the late residence of the deceased, to the burial ground in the vicinity of the barracks. At the grave the Reverend Chaplin S. Hedges, former Episcopal chaplain at the post conducted the ceremony. After the bugler's notes and the noise and smoke of the rifle volley faded, the body was interred." According to the Atkinson genealogy by descendant, General B.W. Atkinson of San Diego, CA, the body of General Atkinson was moved from the burial place at Jefferson Barracks and re-interred at the large Cave Hill Cemetery near Louisville, KY where a gravestone marks the grave.

Page 4:
Except for two short campaigns in New York State and Canada during the winter of 1813-14 and the summer of 1832 when he commanded an army of regulars and volunteers in the Black Hawk War, most of his career was spent at the routine tasks of army administration and training. Because most of his training was in noncombat situations, when he faced the Sac and Fox Indians in the Black Hawk War, he had little experience upon which he could draw.

Henry Atkinson married Mary Ann Bullitt of Louisville, KY in 1826 and lived at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, MO, from 1826 until 1842. Henry and Mary Ann had at least one son, Edward Graham Atkinson.

Page 220-221:
On Sunday, June 12, [1842], he became seriously sick. His family called in their medical friends from St. Louis, but Atkinson weakened rapidly, and at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14, 1842 General Atkinson died of bilious dysentery at his home.

(Citations listed for the information in this paragraph: "New Era," June 15, 1842; "Missouri Republican," June 15, 1842; Graham to Jones, June 14, 1842, Letters Received, AGO.)

General Atkinson served a total of 34 years in the U.S. Army, rising from the rank of Captain to Brigadier General.

It is interesting that both Henry Atkinsons have been listed as being born, Abt. 1782. It is not known if this is just a coincidence or if it may have been the wishful thinking of those wishing Henry Sebastian Atkinson of Northumberland Co., PA was General Henry Atkinson. From the work of Roger L. Nichols there can be no doubt that there was a General Henry Atkinson from Person Co., North Carolina. There also can be no doubt that General Atkinson was not Henry Sebastian Atkinson of Pennsylvania.

Little is known about Henry Sebastian Atkinson of Pennsylvania. It has been reported:
  • he was born Abt. 1782 in Northumberland Co., PA.;
  • that his mother, Sarah McKnight, died shortly after his birth (probably as a result of the birth);
  • that he was raised by his uncle, Cornelious Atkinson Jr. and his wife;
  • that he became a General in the army.
As of June 1996, no documentary evidence to support any of these statements has been cited by any researcher who has done Atkinson research over the previous 46 years.

It is the conclusion of the writers that:
  • there may have been a person named Henry Sebastian Atkinson,
  • he might have been born Abt. 1782,
  • the place of birth might have been Northumberland Co. PA and
  • no subsequent records of his existence have been found.
To reach any other conclusions, in light of the fact that there has been no documentary evidence cited concerning Henry Sebastian Atkinson, would be pure speculation.

Mr. Guilinger and Mr. Henthorn are both interested in the genealogy and history of the Atkinson family of Monroe county, Ohio.

Mr. Robert R. Guilinger
Mr. Richard E. Henthorn

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