Adam Stephen

StephenOne of the many interesting figures associated with William Crawford was Adam Stephen. Stephen was a recent immigrant from Scotland when Crawford met him in February 1754. He was a surgeon who had served in the Royal Navy before coming to the American colonies and he established a medical practice near Fredericksburg.

When Governor Robert Dinwiddie called for militia volunteers to confront French incursions into the Allegheny Plateau in February 1754, Stephen went to Winchester, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley to raise a rifle company and both William Crawford and his brother, Valentine, were among the 25 men he recruited.

When George Washington began his march from Alexandria to the valley in March, he had only managed to gather, an ill-equipped group of 134 men, whom he referred to as being “loose, idle persons that are quite destitute of house, and home.” The original plan had been to recruit men from the valley around Winchester but the only success there was Adam Stephen’s company. Given the quality of the men recruited around Alexandria, Washington was glad to hear of Stephen’s small company, and he wrote Stephen, directing him to prepare to join Washington’s Virginia Regiment. He also wrote the governor about Stephen’s men saying, “I have given Captain Stephen orders to be in readiness to join us at Winchester with his company as they were already in that neighborhood—raised there.”

Stephen would accompany Washington into the Ohio Country and lead his company at Jumonville Glen and again at the disastrous battle at Fort Necessity. Following the retreat and the subsequent disbanding of the regiment, Stephen kept his company together, adding more men and training them as experts in wilderness warfare using native American tactics, subsequently referred to as “Rangers.”

His Ranger company would join the ill-fated Braddock expedition in 1755 on its march to take Fort Duquesne. It was a good thing for the British Regulars and the American militia that they were there, as Stephen’s company, which was acting as a rear guard, put up a highly effective line of defense that allowed the fleeing army to safely cross the Monongahela and escape almost certain destruction by French and native American forces.

Following Braddock’s defeat, the Virginia Regiment was reconstituted in the fall of 1755 with Washington again in command. Stephen also returned, serving as Washington’s executive officer. All went well until Washington suddenly resign his post following the successful Forbes’ campaign against Fort Duquesne in 1758. From that point on, Stephen became a rival of Washington, fighting him over the acquisition of frontier lands along the Ohio and then running against him for election to the House of Burgesses.

After the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Stephen was appointed as the commander of the 4th Virginia Regiment with the rank of Colonel. He soon became a Brigadier general and his regiment was eventually assigned to Washington’s main army. There, his sour relationship with Washington continued and became an issue. Stephen would later say that Washington was a “weak man” and he sometimes openly displayed his contempt for the American commander-in-chief.

Despite his problems with Washington, the Continental Congress promoted him to the rank of Major General in February 1777. However, in May of that year, Washington reprimanded Stephen for inflating casualty figures resulting from fighting against the British at Piscataway, New Jersey. Later, however, during the Philadelphia Campaign, Adam Stephen made his final error with Washington. His bad performance at the Battle of Germantown was deemed to be “unofficerlike behavior” and he was accused of being intoxicated. He was dismissed from the Continental Army and returned to his home in Berkeley County, Virginia, in disgrace.

He resumed his medicine practice, farmed, and remained a figure in local politics until his death on July 16, 1791.

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