James Winchester (general)

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James Winchester
Portrait by Ralph E. W. Earl, 1817.
Speaker of the Tennessee Senate
In office
Succeeded byJames White
Personal details
BornFebruary 26, 1752
Westminster, Province of Maryland
DiedJuly 27, 1826 (aged 72)
Castalian Springs, Tennessee
SpouseSusan Black
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/serviceContinental Army
United States Army
RankBrigadier general
CommandsArmy of the Northwest

James Winchester (February 26, 1752 – July 26, 1826) was an American military officer, entrepreneur and statesman. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general during the War of 1812. He operated a shipping business, held various offices, and was one of the co-founders of the city of Memphis.

Early life[edit]

James Winchester was born in Westminster, Maryland to William Winchester and Lydia Richards, on February 26, 1752. He was one of eleven siblings. Winchester and several of his brothers enlisted in the Maryland militia during the American Revolution. He served in Gen. Hugh Mercer's Flying Camp battalion during the early months of the war. In August 1777, he took part in General John Sullivans failed raid on Staten Island, and was captured by British forces. He was released in a prisoner exchange, and in May 1778 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the 3rd Maryland Regiment, being moved to the Southern theater of the war. He was taken prisoner a second time at the surrender of Charlestown, South Carolina on May 12, 1780. Exchanged in December, he was promoted to captain and served the remainder of the war under Gen. Nathanael Greene.[1][2][3]

At the conclusion of his service in November 1783, he was admitted as an original member of The Society of the Cincinnati in the state of Maryland.[1][2]

Life in Tennessee[edit]

After the war, Winchester settled in Davidson County, part of the Southwest Territory, where he oversaw the construction of a mill and a distillery. In 1787 when Sumner County was formed from a partition of Davidson, James served in the militia as a captain of horse, eventually being appointed as inspector of the brigade of the Metro District Militia. In 1790, Governor William Blount appointed Winchester as the commandant of the Militia of Sumner while also making him a Justice of the Peace. That same year he married Susan Black.[4]

In 1797, he purchased a tract of land in Castalian Springs known as Bledsoe's Station and oversaw the construction of Cragfont, a Georgian style mansion that was completed in 1802. The mansion was designed and built by craftsmen from Winchesters home state of Maryland.[4]

Following Tennessee's admission to the union in 1796, Winchester served in the Tennessee State Senate, being appointed as the states first Speaker of the Senate.[5] Winchester was considered as a nominee for the United States Senate in the 1809 United States Senate election in Tennessee, but Jenkin Whiteside was elected to the seat.[6] Winchester was also an unsuccessful candidate in the 1811 United States House of Representatives elections in Tennessee.

War of 1812[edit]

In March 1812, three months before the war with Britain began, Winchester was commissioned a brigadier general in the United States Army. When the hostilities started, he was placed in command of the Army of the Northwest, composed of several regiments then camped near Cincinnati. However, a conflict over command resulted in Gen. William Henry Harrison taking charge of Winchester's forces in an expedition to Fort Wayne, by virtue of Harrison's militia commission from Kentucky. Winchester's seniority was confirmed in September, but he was forced to relinquish command several days later when Harrison was commissioned a major general in the regular army.[3]

In October 1813, Winchester met with Harrison in Sandusky where he was ordered to move up the Maumee river and to take back Detroit from the British. While on the march, he established Fort Winchester in north west Ohio, which was the forward observation post on the front lines against the British. Here Winchester camped out with his men where they suffered from a lack of food and supplies. He called it "Fort Starvation" and sent word that his men needed winter supplies or they could not go on. On January 18, he lead his men across the frozen Raisin river and took Frenchtown from a small Canadian militia force, planning to use the town as a launching pad for an attack on Detroit. However, his men were attacked four days later by Col. Henry Proctor leading a larger force of British regulars and Canadian militia, allied with Wyandot lead by Roundhead who were able to retake the town in The battle of Frenchtown. Winchester himself was captured by Roundhead early in the battle while trying to reach his men. Following the loss of hundreds of his soldiers in the initial assault, he agreed to order a conditional surrender of the remainder of his troops in exchange for "a pledge of protection" with his men fearing being massacred by the Wyandot if they surrendered. Despite Procter's pledge, the Wyandot accompanying the British slaughtered 68 seriously wounded American in the Massacre of the River Raisin.Winchester was imprisoned in Canada for more than a year. He was released in a prisoner exchange and assigned to command the District of Mobile. After the war's end, he resigned his regular commission in March 1815 and returned home to Tennessee.[4]

Post war years[edit]

In 1819, Winchester served on the state commission to regulate the Tennessee-Missouri boundary. Along with Andrew Jackson and John Overton, he founded the city of Memphis, Tennessee on May 22, 1819.[7][8]

Death and legacy[edit]

Winchester died in Gallatin, Tennessee at the age of 74 on July 26, 1826. He is buried in Winchester Cemetery at Gallatin.

The city of Winchester, Tennessee, is named in his honor.[9] Winchester Road in Memphis is named after him.[10]

See also[edit]

William Atherton (soldier)


  • McHenry, Robert. Webster's American Military Biographies, Springfield, Mass.: G & C. Merriam Co., 1978.
  1. ^ a b Metcalf, Bryce (1938). Original Members and Other Officers Eligible to the Society of the Cincinnati, 1783-1938: With the Institution, Rules of Admission, and Lists of the Officers of the General and State Societies. Strasburg, VA: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc., p. 342.
  2. ^ a b "Officers Represented in the Society of the Cincinnati". The American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  3. ^ a b "General Winchester: 1813 – Military History of the Upper Great Lakes". Retrieved 2023-12-02.
  4. ^ a b c "Cragfont - General James Winchester House, Gallatin Tennessee". Historic Structures. Retrieved 2023-12-02.
  5. ^ Early Members of the Tennessee General Assembly
  6. ^ Tennessee General Assembly, Senate Journal (1809), p. 30.
  7. ^ "James Winchester". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Tennessee Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-10-24.
  8. ^ "Memphis History and Facts". Memphis Public Library. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2008-10-24.
  9. ^ "Winchester TN - Home of Tims Ford Lake". www.timsford411.com. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  10. ^ "9 Local Streets Names Explained". StyleBlueprint. 2016-04-14. Retrieved 2023-12-03.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Commander of the Army of the Northwest
August 1812 to September 1812
Succeeded by