Starling Gunn

Starling Gunn (1764-1852)

Starling Gunn Tombstone
Click on Photograph for Larger Image
  • Born Nottoway County, Virginia
  • Revolutionary War Veteran
  • Buried Yanceyville Methodist Church

Biographical Sketch

Starling Gunn was born in Nottoway County, Virginia, in 1764. He moved to Caswell County after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, but exactly when is not known. An 1835 North Carolina Revolutionary War pension record lists him as a private. The actual pension application apparently had been filed in 1832. Most believe that Gunn settled in Caswell County between 1785 and 1791, when he purchased 400 acres on Rattlesnake Creek. Both his father, Thomas Gunn, and his brother, Griffith Gunn, also moved to Caswell County. Whether they were in the county before Starling is unknown. However, all three are thought to have been established in Caswell County by 1792.

Starling Gunn is buried in the Yanceyville Methodist Church cemetery, and a photograph of his tombstone is shown above. The epitaph on the stone reads as follows:

Sacred to the memory of Starling Gunn a soldier in the war of Independence who fired the first cannon at York and was an eye witness to the surrender of Cornwallis. He was for more than 40 yrs a prominent member of the M. E. Church. Who Died Aug. 13, 1852. AE. 88 y's 3 m's 4d's.

A newspaper obituary stated that he "assisted in placing and firing the first gun upon the British at Yorktown." Starling Gunn would have been just age seventeen when he performed these deeds. Before his remains were moved to the Yanceyville Methodist Church cemetery in 1950, he had been buried some 1.5 miles north in a family cemetery.

Note the following from the declaration that he made in 1832 in support of his Revolutionary War pension application:

[In 1781] [t]his Declarant was marched to old Jamestown under the aforesaid named officer. From thence we marched to Williamsburg and there remained some time. And from there we followed in pursuit of the enemy to Yorktown where we besieged the enemy. At this place this declarant was (by an arrangement of the officers) taken out of the Infantry (into which he had volunteered at Williamsburg) and was put in the Artillery and assisted in digging the trenches and building the fort and assisted in firing the first Gun that he recollects to have been fired upon the Enemy.
. . . .
. . . This Declarant was well acquainted with a great many regular officers who were with the troops where he served. He knew Col.Lamb, Col. Price, Genl. Mecklenburg, Genl. Wayne, Genl. LayFayette and Genl. Washington.

Starling Gunn was active in Caswell County politics and was a staunch supporter of the Methodist Church. Note the following from William Powell's Caswell County History (at 440):

Itinerant ministers were welcomed in homes along the way and they often stayed for extended periods of time when they found a warm welcome and an attentive congregation. It was recalled at a later time that Revolutionary veteran Starling Gunn reserved a special room in his modest home as the "Preacher's Room." It was described as being comfortably furnished and often used. Tradition relates that it was Gunn who constructed a building that came to be known as Piney Grove Methodist Church. From hewn logs he and his neighbors erected a 40 by 24-foot building for the use of any minister who passed; a partition three feet high across the back of the building marked off an area reserved for any slaves who wished to attend.

According to family records, Starling Gunn married Mary Hooper (1768-1843) on October 5, 1785. They had thirteen children. Mary Hooper Gunn is buried alongside her husband in the Yanceyville Methodist Church cemetery.

Starling Gunn, Virginian

A week or ten days ago the Raleigh News and Observer published a story about how Mr. Kerr had gone on a visit to LaFayette Murray, who lives like a lord on a fine plantation three miles from the thriving hamlet of Yanceyville, in Caswell County, North Carolina: how he found a little graveyard on this plantation and in this graveyard an old monument or headstone which marked the last resting place of Starling Gunn, a soldier of the Revolution, who fired the first cannon at Yorktown when Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington. In view of the well known historical gifts of the News and Observer, we assumed that there was really no foundation for the story, and immediately discredited it, suggesting that if the alleged grave should be opened the original copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration would be found in the left-hand pocket of the jim swinger which he (the said Starling Gunn) is almost certain to have worn on his farewell appearance.

That was a trifling way in which to speak of so serious a mater if, in the circumstances, it could have been regarded seriously, and we wish now to make the most ample apology for this apparently irreverent observation, since we are assured that there was really a Revolutionary soldier by the name engraved on the monument in Caswell County, that his memory is cherished by is descendants to this day because of his high character and his loyal service to his country in the great struggle for American independence.

The Rev. E. Steirling Gunn writes as follows from Trinity Rectory, Natchez, Mississippi: I have just read a clipping from your issue of September 10 with the caption "Another Find in North Carolina," which was sent me by my mother. There is the grave of my grandfather, Starling Gunn, in Caswell county, North Carolina, some three miles from Yanceyville, with a tombstone bearing this inscription: 'Sacred to the memory of Starling Gunn, a soldier in the War of Independence who fired the first cannon at York and was an eyewitness to the surrender of Cornwallis. He was for more than forty years a prominent member of the M. E. Church, who died August 13th, 1852, age 88 years, 3 months and 4 days.'

The monument or tombstone was erected by my grandfather's family, I think by my father, and the inscription was placed there because my grandfather told my father that these were the facts in regard to his war experience. I never saw my grandfather, for whom I am named, but I have heard my father recite these facts many times.

This statement from the Rev. Mr. Gunn establishes beyond any further question that there is a monument in the old graveyard on Mr. Murray's plantation three miles from Yanceyville, in Caswell County, North Carolina, and that it marks the spot where Starling Gunn, Patriot and Soldier, rests. "But," says the Rev. Mr. Gunn, and this is the most interesting feature of the new North Carolina find:

"But my grandfather was not a soldier from North Carolina. He settled in the virgin forests of the Old North State after the war. From the Department of the Interior, Washington, D. C., I have received the following record: 'Starling Gunn, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, born in Brunswick County, Virginia, May 9th, 1764. Residence at enlistment Amelia County, Virginia. Dates of enlistment September, 1776, February 1781, March 1781, June 1781. Length of service, 3 months, 15 days, 3 months, 3 1/2 months. Rank, private. Captains under whom service was rendered, Edward Mumford, John Knight, Anderson and Cobb, Price. Colonels, Elliott, Meriwether, Richardson, Lamb. State, Virginia Continental Artillery, Battles engaged in, siege of Yorktown. He served as a substitute for his father, Thomas Gunn.'"

"But my grandfather was not a soldier from North Carolina." All honor to Starling Gunn, the Virginian who fought with Washington at Yorktown!

Source: The Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 18 September 1911.



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