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Edward Vail (1717-1777)

The image above is a 1778 pen sketch of a Revolutionary soldier by John Massey, a North Carolina Continental. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.

The image above is a 1778 pen sketch of a Revolutionary soldier by John Massey, a North Carolina Continental. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.


Born August 6, 1717(whereabouts unknown), Edward Vail later resided in Edenton, North Carolina, and is most known for his support of American independence.  Whether North Carolina was a colony or a state of the Union, Vail played an important military and political role.  As Captain of the Chowan County militia, for example, Vail served during the French and Indian War.  Vail was also a member of the Chowan County courts and represented Chowan County in the General Assembly from 1754 to 1762, 1770 to 1771, and 1773 to 1774. 

In 1768, Vail served on North Carolina’s Committee of Correspondence to Great Britain.  One of the committee’s duties was appointing a representative to London.  So on December 12, 1768, Vail and the Committee asked Henry McCulloch, a London merchant and Mecklenburg County absentee landowner, to be North Carolina’s “Agent to represent them in Great Briton.”  In particular, commissioner Vail expressed American colonists growing frustrations with Crown rule; the injustices and “impositions” they endured were “unconstitutional and distructive[sic] of the Natural Rights and Privalidges[sic] of Mankind.”

After accepting a commission of colonel in the State Militia, Vail assisted Royal Governor William Tryon in putting down the 1771 Regulator Rebellion.  Similar to many North Carolinians who had supported Tryon, Vail eventually became an ardent revolutionist.  Along with John Harvey, John Ashe, Cornelius Harnett, Robert Howe, William Hooper, Richard Caswell, Samuel Johnston, and Joseph Hewes, Vail was appointed in December 1773 to North Carolina’s Committee of Correspondence.  The Committee purposed to “obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all such Acts and resolutions of the British Parliament,” that affected the colonies and to report its findings to other colonies.  On June 24, 1774, Vail and the eight remaining members of the Committee agreed that a representative from each colony should “meet on July 26th, to which time . . . we shall endeavor in some other manner to collect the representative of the people.”  Thus, one of the first steps toward American unification and independence took place

When the Revolutionary War began, Vail helped establish militia companies throughout North Carolina and served as Brigadier General for the Edenton District.  On June 5, 1777, two months before his sixtieth birthday, Vail died.  According to his last will and testament, written on November 29, 1775, Vail owned two plantations and at least fifteen slaves. 

After his death, Vail left behind his wife Susannah and four sons.  One of his sons, also named Edward, served as a Captain in the Continental Army.  Despite his patriotic lineage, the son was convicted of cowardice and disobeying direct orders during the Battle of Germantown (October 1777).  On November 22, 1777, however, Vail wrote General Washington pleading that he had been “wrongfully Prosecuted & maliciously us’d.”  Vail was nevertheless court-martialed and dismissed from service.


Sources:

Samuel A’Court Ashe, History of North Carolina, vol. 1 (Greensboro, 1908);  Philander D. Chase, ed., The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series (Charlottesville, 1985); John Harvey, Edward Vail, and Jos. Montfort to Henry E. McCulloh, 12 Dec. 1768, Fanning-McCulloh Papers, North Carolina Office of Archives and History; “Historic Edenton, North Carolina,” http://statelibrary.dcr.state.nc.us/nc/ncsites/edenton.htm (accessed 13 June 2006); Hugh F. Rankin, The North Carolina Continentals (Chapel Hill, 1971); William S. Powell, James K. Huhta, and Thomas J. Farnham, eds., The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1759-1776, (Raleigh, 1971); Edward Vail, Last Will and Testament, 29 Nov. 1775, Chowan County Wills, 1694-1938, North Carolina Office of Archives and History

By Richard Carney, North Carolina History Project


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