Silhouette of Sampson Mathews, 1756
|Virginia State Senate from Augusta, Rockingham, Rockbridge, Shenandoah, and Pendleton counties|
Augusta County, Virginia
January 20, 1807|
|Profession||politician, soldier, lawyer|
|Service/branch||Virginia provincial militia|
|Rank||Lieutenant Colonel of Virginia provincial militia|
French and Indian War|
• Braddock expedition
• Battle of Point Pleasant
American Revolutionary War
• Raid of Richmond
• Siege of Yorktown
As a soldier he participated in three wars. He served with George Washington in the Virginia provincial militia on Braddock's Expedition of the French and Indian War; he was commissary for Virginia militia in the Battle of Point Pleasant of Lord Dunmore's War; and he was lieutenant colonel of Virginia militia in the American Revolutionary War, leading the American defense against Benedict Arnold's January 1781 raid of Richmond and fighting at the decisive Siege of Yorktown.
In politics he was a member of the inaugural Virginia State Senate, of which body he was a member from 1776-1781 and 1790-1792, representing Augusta, Rockingham, Rockbridge, Shenandoah, and Pendleton counties. He toured the western frontier as a representative for the United States Congress to fortify the colonial border from Indian attacks, and he oversaw shipbuilding efforts for the Continental Navy's Virginia fleet at Warwick. He also helped found Liberty Hall (later Washington and Lee University), when it was made into a college in 1776.
Sampson Mathews was born c. 1737 in Augusta County, Virginia to Anne (née Archer) and John Mathews. His parents were among the first settlers of Augusta County who had immigrated to America during the Scotch-Irish immigration of 1710-1775, and his father was a notable member of the early Augusta County community. Sampson was educated at the Augusta Academy, a classical school founded in 1749.
In the 1760s Sampson and a brother George Mathews ran a local inn and tavern, as well as a series of mercantile outposts along the frontier as far west as Greenbrier County. In their outposts they sold basic supplies but also specialty items including "spelling books, silk, hats, silver, and even tailor-made suits," and acted as unofficial bankers.
On the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Mathews was elected captain of a local militia unit and accompanied George Washington under British General Edward Braddock on his ill-fated Braddock expedition. This was the largest British expedition to the colonies, and was intended to expel the French from the Ohio Country. The French and their Indian allies ambushed Braddock, who was mortally wounded in the Battle of the Monongahela. After suffering devastating casualties, the British retreated in disarray. Though the expedition was a disaster for the British, Mathews for his part had proved a capable leader and was elected sheriff of Augusta County the following year, also assuming the functions of chancellor.
By fall of 1774, tension between colonial frontiersmen and local Indian tribes had again elevated, causing Lord Dunmore to assemble a 1000-man invasion of Indian territory, culling recruits from the Virginia frontier. Mathews was appointed commissary of subsistence for Col. Charles Lewis and oversaw the driving of 500 pack horses with equipment and food, including 54,000 pounds of flour, and 108 cattle for the march from Augusta to Point Pleasant, for which he was nicknamed the Master Driver of Cattle. The Battle of Point Pleasant, the only major battle of Dunmore's War, was fought between Virginia militia and Indians from the Shawnee and Mingo tribes along the Ohio River. The Indians, under the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, attacked Virginia militia under Col. Lewis, attempting to halt Lewis's advance into the Ohio Country. Sampson's brother George Mathews played a significant role in the victory, flanking the Shawnee chief and initiating his retreat. The Virginians incurred over 200 injuries and deaths during the battle though the campaign was declared a victory by Dunmore; it was the last battle that the colonies of America would fight alongside the British.
Mathews became one of the founding trustees of Liberty Hall, formerly the Augusta Academy, along with brothers Thomas and Andrew Lewis, Samuel McDowell, George Moffett, William Preston, and James Waddel. In 1776 the academy was renamed in a burst of revolutionary fervor and relocated to Lexington, Virginia. Chartered in 1782 by the new Commonwealth of Virginia, Liberty Hall was again renamed, to Washington College. After the American Civil War it became Washington and Lee University, and is now the nation's ninth oldest institution of higher education.
The months following the Dunmore's War saw tension rise between the British and the colonies. Lord Dunmore dissolved the House of Burgesses in May 1774, and when the assembly was set to convene in Richmond for the 1775 session under the interim name of the Second Virginia Convention, Mathews was part of a committee to elect delegates and draft preparations for the impending war. When independence from Britain was established, he was elected to the inaugural Virginia State Senate in 1776 on the formation of that body from the dissolved Governor's Council, where he represented Augusta, Rockingham, Rockbridge, Shenandoah, and Pendleton counties.
During the inaugural session of the Virginia General Assembly, the senate passed an act to promote the Continental Navy's Virginia fleet. Charles O. Paullin states that "no other state owned as much land, properties, and manufactories devoted to naval purposes as Virginia. Mathews was appointed trustee of the operation stationed at Warwick on the James River, five miles south of Richmond, where he oversaw the making of sail material from flax grown by the farmers of Augusta County, as there was no money available to buy linen cloth for sails.
In 1778, Mathews, George Clymer, and Samuel Washington were sent as representatives for Congress to the western frontier to report on security of the American border. Congress had learned of British governor Henry Hamilton's efforts to pit local Indian tribes against the lightly guarded American western border, and feared attack. From Fort Pitt, the committee reported back to Congress the seriousness of the threat, leading Congress to send 3,000 militiamen to the western frontier, including George Rogers Clark. Clark finally captured Hamilton in winter 1779--a success that encouraged the alliance with France.
Mathews returned to the Virginia senate and in December 1780, took control of the body as its acting president while Governor Thomas Jefferson fled the capitol of Richmond as British armies approached Virginia's eastern shore. By January 1781, the British had made their way up the James River to the capital. British Brigadier General Benedict Arnold invaded and captured Richmond by surprise, destroying supply houses, foundries, and mills with virtually no resistance. Jefferson sent an emergency call for defense of the capital. Mathews, then lieutenant colonel of Augusta County militia, responded with a company of approximately 250. His march to Richmond was delayed for several days at the James River due to heavy rain that impeded crossing efforts. In his camp food was scarce, many were ill, and medical care was almost nonexistent. Many man deserted, and rumors of mutiny spread. When the militia finally caught up to Arnold outside of Richmond, they were too late to protect the city from ravaging. Mathews' men skirmished with the British until Arnold eventually retreated to Portsmouth to either be evacuated or reinforced in the closing days of the month.
Mathews' company later merged with General George Washington and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau for the October 1781 Siege of Yorktown, the last major battle of the war. In the beginning of September, the fleet of the Comte de Grasse defeated a British fleet led by Sir Thomas Graves that had come to relieve British General Lord Cornwallis, who had built a stronghold in Yorktown, at the Battle of the Chesapeake. As a result of this victory, de Grasse blocked any escape by sea for Cornwallis. By late September Washington and Rochambeau's armies arrived, and the army and naval forces completely surrounded Cornwallis, leading to his surrender.
Sampson Mathews married to Mary Lockhart, a fellow Scotch-Irish immigrant. Son Sampson Mathews Jr. was a Virginia Delegate from Bath County. Daughter Martha Mathews married Gen. Thomas Posey.
At the conclusion of the war, Mathews retired to Richmond to practice law before returning to Augusta County. He served as the first high sheriff of Bath County when it was formed from Augusta County in 1791. He died in Staunton, Virginia in 1807.
In his Annals of Augusta County, Virginia (1902), historian Joseph Addison Waddell said of Mathews: