Adam Stephen

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Adam Stephen
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
from the Berkeley County, Virginia district
In office
May 1, 1780 – October 16, 1785
Serving with Moses Hunter
Dolphin Drew
Preceded byThomas Hite
Succeeded byPhilip Pendleton
Personal details
Borncirca 1718
DiedJuly 16, 1791
Martinsburg, Virginia
Alma materKing's College, Aberdeen

Adam Stephen (c. 1718 – 16 July 1791) was a Scottish-born doctor and military officer who helped found what became Martinsburg, West Virginia. He emigrated to North America, where he served in the Province of Virginia's militia under George Washington during the French and Indian War. He served under Washington again in the American Revolutionary War, rising to lead a division of the Continental Army. After a friendly fire incident during the Battle of Germantown, Stephen was cashiered out of the army, but moved to western Virginia, where he became a prominent citizen and served in the Virginia General Assembly.

Early and family life[edit]

Adam Stephen was born in Scotland. He earned a degree at King's College in Aberdeen, and studied medicine in Edinburgh. Stephen later married and had one child, Ann.

Naval doctor and emigrant[edit]

Stephen entered Royal Navy service on a hospital ship before emigrating to the British Province of Virginia in the late 1730s or early 1740s. There he established a medical practice in Fredericksburg.

Soldier and pioneer[edit]

Stephen joined the provincial militia in 1754, and became lieutenant colonel of the Virginia Regiment under George Washington. The unit explored westward across the Appalachian Mountains and fought native Americans, including battles at Jumonville Glen and Fort Necessity (which some consider the opening engagements of the French and Indian War). The following year, Washington, Stephens and the Virginia militia participated in the disastrous Braddock Expedition.[1]

In 1761, Stephen helped organize and fund the Timberlake Expedition, which attempted to reconcile British and Cherokee interests following the Anglo-Cherokee War (part of the much broader French and Indian War).[2] When that war ended in 1763, Stephen assumed command of the Virginia Regiment from Washington, and assisted in putting down Pontiac's Rebellion.

When the American Revolutionary War broke out, Stephen offered his services to the Continental Army, again serving under Washington. He was with the army during the New York and New Jersey campaigns of 1776 and early 1777, and, as a major general, was given command of a division in Washington's army during the defense of Philadelphia. Following the October 1777 Battle of Germantown, Stephen was found drunk during the battle and following a court martial, stripped of his command and cashiered out of the army, making him the only Continental army general court-martialed and immediately dismissed from the service during the war.[3]


Stephens returned to his home in Virginia, and moved to its western outskirts. In 1778 he reportedly laid out the plan for Martinsburg in what much later became West Virginia. He named it after a friend, Colonel Thomas Bryan Martin. Stephen became sheriff of Berkeley County (of which Martinsburg was the county seat). In later years he was joined there by Generals Horatio Gates and Charles Lee, who both purchased property in the county. In 1788, Stephen was elected to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, and spoke in favor of ratification of the Constitution of the United States. Despite opposition by political heavyweights such as Patrick Henry and George Mason, Virginia ratified the Constitution 89 to 79, in large part because western Virginia delegates (including Stephens) supported it 15 to 1.[4]


Stephen died in Martinsburg in 1791, and is buried there beneath a monument erected in his honor.

Stephen's residence at Martinsburg, known as the Adam Stephen House, and The Bower near Shepherdstown, West Virginia, built on property which was once his, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[5]


  1. ^ Lengel, Edward G.; General George Washington: A Military Life; pp. xxxiii–xxxiv; ?; ?
  2. ^ Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); pp.38–39.
  3. ^ Taaffe, Stephen R. (2019). Washington’s Revolutionary War Generals. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 13 March 2009.

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