Purnell Houston was born on February 1, 1755 in Somerset County, Maryland to Robert H. Houston and Mary Purnell. Mary died one year after Purnell's birth leaving her two children, Mary and Purnell, in her husband's care. Robert Houston moved from Maryland to Sussex County, Delaware where he met Priscilla Laws and married her in 1757. Purnell was raised in Sussex County, Delaware along with his sister and 13 step brothers and sisters.
At the age of 20, Purnell married Mary Tumlinson (Tomlinson). A record of this marriage was found in a book of Virginia residents leading one to believe that the couple was married in Virginia in 1775. However, there are sources that list Delaware and Oakland, Maryland as possible marriage sites. Purnell traveled to Philadelphia to be an apprentice to Master Young, a saddle maker. About the first of February, 1776 Purnell finished his apprenticeship and returned home to Sussex County, Delaware.
In March, 1776 at the age of 21, he volunteered for service as a private in the Revolutionary War under Captain John Hazzard. He spent two months in a troop of about 30 soldiers that guarded the Capes of Delaware watching for British ships that were in the waters near the Capes.
Purnell was discharged from this service and in November, 1776 he volunteered in Philadelphia in a company of Pennsylvania militia commanded by Captain Chambers which was attached to General Cadwallader's brigade. These troops were raised to guard against the enemy who was over running New Jersey. In the later part of November or early December, Purnell's troop was encamped near Trenton, New Jersey on the opposite side of the River. The enemy was in possession of Trenton and on Christmas Eve, Purnell fought in the famous Battle of Trenton in which the American soldiers crossed over to Trenton and defeated 900 Hessian soldiers. The General in charge of this attack was George Washington. Following this battle, Purnell marched to a place called Blackbird which was located in New Jersey. In early January, 1777 the troops marched back to Trenton where they held a bridge against the British soldiers. Purnell left at night with his troops, under the leadership of General George Washington, for Princeton and attacked the British. From Princeton his troop marched to Somerset Courthouse, to Pluckamin and finally to Morristown which was the winter quarters for the American soldiers. About the last of March, 1777, Purnell's troop marched back to Philadelphia were he was discharged.
In April, 1777 an agent of Colonel Bland of the Virginia Cavalry contacted Master Young to attend to the saddles and bridles of the cavalry's horses. Master Young asked Purnell to serve with him for two months in the service of the army from Virginia. After this term, Purnell joined Master Young as a hand on a ship that was going to Boston from Philadelphia by way of Egg Harbor. On the return to Philadelphia, around Rhode Island, the ship was captured by The Unicorn, a hostile vessel. Purnell was held prisoner for eight or nine weeks. After his release, he went to New London and once again joined the Revolution in service on a brig called the Privateer. Purnell never sailed, he became sick with prison ship fever and was left in New London until the ship returned from duty. In September, 1778 he sailed back to Philadelphia, thus ending his time of service in the American Revolution.
Purnell returned home to Sussex County, Delaware and began to build a life with his wife, Mary. Purnell has a land assessment listing in 1785 in Cedar Creek Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware. On the 1790 Reconstructed Census of Delaware, Purnell is enumerated in Mispillion Hundred in Kent County. I have been told that Purnell was willed land by his grandfather John Houston, but to date I have not locatged the legal documentation. Sometime before 1800, the family moved to Monongalia County, (West) Virginia. Nine known children were born to Purnell and Mary.
In Monongalia County, Purnell was one of the local saddle makers. He and Mary also operated a dry goods store and in 1801 he obtained a license to "keep an ordinary (tavern) at the house formerly occupied by Thomas Pindell, deceased, at the forks of the road." The Houston family has many listings in the early 1800 Monongalia district and county court records. Purnell must not have been a very successful financial manager as he was in debt to a good many people. He owed a number of men saddles for which he had received payment and a doctor for small pox shots given to his family. There are entries of money owed to Purnell for saddles made and debt to Mary (Polly) for goods bought in the store. Polly was not a quiet, retiring woman. A peace bond was taken out against her for threats that she had made to a man who owed her money!
Mary died in Monongalia County on January 31, 1830. After her death, Purnell went to live with one of his daughters, Sarah Houston Hill and her family. Purnell had no income or resources of his own and was 75 years of age. In 1832, he applied for a pension due him from his service in the Revolutionary War. His pension was approved and he received $93.25 in two years. In 1834, an attorney for the United States, Washington G. Singleton, traveled to Monongalia County to interview Purnell regarding his service in the revolution. Singleton determined that Purnell had not served a sufficient amount of time to receive a pension. Singleton not only canceled the pension, but threatened to prosecute Purnell to obtain the $93.25 that he had received from the government. Purnell was 80 years old, infirmed and afflicted with palsy at the time of the threat. Joseph D. Hill, Purnell's son-in-law, was persuaded to become his security. Joseph signed the note which was due in 1836 to diffuse what had become an intolerable situation for his father-in-law. Unfortunately for Joseph, assisting his father-in-law, would be a "thorn in his side" for the next 16 years, almost until his own death.
Before payment of the note became due, Purnell Houston died on March 9, 1835 in Monongalia County, (West) Virginia at the age of 80. He is buried beside his wife Mary at Mout Union Cemetery in Monongalia County, West Virginia.
Children of Purnell Houston and Mary Carey:
Updated November, 2009
Thank you to cousins Don Robinson and Peggy Miller who have collaborated with me on this line.
Unlock the Houston Treasure Chest!
For more information on the Battle of Trenton, check out these two sites--The Battle of Trenton and Christmas in Trenton.
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