Major William Mills, Loyalist

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Major William Mills, Loyalist

Also Known As: "Henry"
Birthplace: James River, Virginia Colony
Death: November 10, 1834 (88)
Buncombe County, North Carolina, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Col. Ambrose Mills, Loyalist to the Crown, Revolutionary War and Mourning Mills
Husband of Eleanor Mills
Father of Col John Columbus Mills; Millicent Amelia Yielding (Mills); Marville Mills; Mourning Lewis; Sarah Edney (Mills) and 3 others
Brother of Mary Amanda Mills and John Thomas Mills
Half brother of Thomas Mills; Ambrose Mills, Jr.; Amelia Ruth Featherstone; John Mills; Mary Twitty and 3 others

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About Major William Mills, Loyalist

Major William Mills

  • born 10 November 1746 in James River, Va.,
  • died 10 November 1834 in Edneyville Twp, Buncombe County (now Henderson), NC.

He married ELEANOR "NELLY" MORRIS 12 October 1765 in Wateree River near Camden, Kershaw County, SC. daughter of WILLIAM MORRIS and ESTER PHALBY. She was born 1739 in James River near Williamsburg, Virginia. and died 10 November 1834 in Buncombe County (now Henderson), NC.

For the most credible and well-researched biographical facts about William Mills, please see the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills (2018) at For a thorough set of abstracts of William Mills' land transactions across Western North Carolina, and other legal mentions, please see the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills (2018) at The following biography is compiled from the writings of a number of authors whose names are unknown but whose work has been passed along through carbon copies and mimeographs for many years. Edited and rearranged by Pam Wilson, Geni Curator, on 28 January 2016.

William Mills, the only child of Col. Ambrose and Mourning Stone Mills, was born Nov. 10th, 1746, at the plantation on James River, Virginia. The family soon migrated to the Wateree River in Camden District, Craven County, South Carolina. The grant of land to Col. Ambrose Mills in the colony of South Carolina extended for forty miles up the water of the Wateree River and several miles back from the river.

Tragedy marked his life early, for while he was with his father on a trip away from home, hostile Indians in the Indian risings of 1755-61 murdered his mother, Mourning Stone Mills, and others, possibly his siblings, in an attack on their plantation on the Wateree River near Camden, S. C. He often spoke of this sorrowful event as the saddest of his life.


The Mills family tradition says that the family came from Derbyshire, England, and that Col. Ambrose Mills, on the maternal side, descended from the Stanley Derbys of England. It was also understood that Col. Ambrose Mills had a brother, William, who returned to England after the Revolution. Draper in his "History of King's Mountain hero's" mentions a Col. William Mills who returned to England. Perhaps he was the brother of Col. Ambrose Mills.

On 12 Oct 1765, he married Eleanor Morris, also formerly of Virginia and the sister of John Morris, of Old Tryon COunty, NC, The couple was to have two sons, Marville and John, and five daughters: Phalby, Elizabeth, Mourning, Sarah, who married Rev. Asa Edney and Eleanor, who married Rev. Samuel Edney.

He and his wife lived 69 years together and were like lovers till death. She died the year before he did and it was thought that his grief for her hastened his death. She lived 94 years and he 88 years. Eleanor died in 1833 at the age of 94 years. Wiliam died at his home in NC, on his birthday 10 Nov. 1834 when Mills fell or was thrown from his horse in his 88th year and died. " A weathered, moss-grown stone marks the grave where the first known white settler in what is now Henderson County is buried near his old home place. In a few words of its description there is no reminder of the eventful career of William Mills from his birth in 1746 to his death eighty-eight years later.

Before the battle of King's Mountain, Williams Mills migrated to the blockhouse on the Catawba River and thence to settle on the Green River, in what was Old Tryon and later Rutherford (then Polk) County, in 1776.

They were surrounded by Indians several times, and twice driven from their homes, having their houses and all their contents pillaged and burned...Three slaves of Mills were captured several times and badly hacked up by Indians.

He acted as Major under his father at King's Mountain, where he was badly wounded and left for dead, and was subsequently saved from being executed at Biggerstaff's (where his father was executed) by leading Whigs and Tories, who interfered, knowing of his worth and goodness.


After the Revolution, Mills was a pioneering settler across the Blue Ridge mountains in the former Cherokee region of western N.C. in Buncombe (the part of which later became Henderson in 1838) County.

Until some time after the Revolutionary Was opened, Col. Mills and William were active in helping to defend the frontier settlement. Later, perhaps due to influence of his brother-in-law who was with Cornwallis, Col. Mills became leader of a band of Tories and was captured at the battle of King Mountain.

When the Revolutionary War began, there was a number of family living near the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge, just on the border of Cherokee domain, the most of them being in what is now Polk County.

Once ardent patriots, when they later cast their lot with the Royalists, the land of these Tories was confiscated by the Act of 1777. Thus, homeless when the struggle for independence was over, and lands west of the Mountains were opened for settlement, in 1783, many of them began life anew in the plateau region which lay near at hand.

Through influence of his friends, William, who was then Major, was released, and tradition says he found refuge in a cave on Saluda Mountain where he remained until the strife was over. Visitors to its summit claim to distinguish within the cavern there signs of his old camp fire.

Much has been written about William, left for dead at the Battle of King's Mountain, but who, with help of his friend Merrimon Featherstone and his cousin James Stepp, was carried to safety. William Mills and Merrimon Featherstone hid out first around Mills Springs, but later moved over to SugarIoaf Mountain until the war was over. They then came forward, pledged allegiance to the new country and began to rebuild their lives. They settled in Buncombe County where they each secured large tracts of land, and Merrimon married William's half- sister, Amelia.

When William Mills pioneered into the newly opened territory in search of a home, he came across the mountains by what is still known as Mills Gap, and as the sun was going down, reached a fine, bold spring under a maple tree, not far from where afterward he built a home. Laying aside his pack, he stooped down, drank and explained to himself: 'There no white man has ever drunken of this water before: Here I'll rest tonight, and this is where my family shall have their new home.

After the Revolution he crossed the Blue Ridge and settled on the waters of Clear Creek, N. C. He cut the wagon road across the mountains at this point, and hence it was always called, and is to this day Mills Gap. He was the pioneer of that country and gave names to the mountain streams and places of that section. The most beautiful river in Western N. C., "Mills River" was named for him. He named Clear Creek, the stream on which he lived, because of its beautiful crystal waters. He also named the following mountains, Bear Waller, Sugar Loaf, Look-out, Bald Top, Pilot Point, Black Mountain.

Mills River and Mills Gap, in that section, are named for him. The Mills home was about a mile from the present village of Fruitland, which derived its name from the many apple and cherry trees which William planted in that section. William planted a great many fruit trees and became known over time as the father of the apple industry of what was to become Henderson County. His daughters and their husbands Samuel Edney, lived on adjoining farms, and from them and their large numbers of descendants the township of Edneyville was named.

Mills was a great rifleman, and fond of the woods - he killed a great many bears and deer. He owned 25 or 30 slaves, and a large area of the choicest mountain lands, which he located. The farm on which he lived was large, and he had several mountain places where raised horses and cattle. His swift saddle horse and trusty rifle were objects of his attachment. He had large orchards which he liberally opened to the poor. He was fond of fast horses - had little to do with mankind, and was seldom seen at public meetings or public places. He was devoted to his family and enjoyed their society, but otherwise he lived in solitude and nature's wilds, more than man's. He often sought the mountains and streams on which he lived, and held communion with the silent monitors of nature. When he had business among the haunts of man, he went straight to his performance and when done, returned to his home.

A person who knew him wrote: "He was silent generally, but had one of the most genial, handsome and speaking faces that I ever beheld. I accompanied my mother on her annual visits to him from South Carolina. I can see him in my imagination distinctly before me now. In person, he was extremely handsome, medium height and elegant proportions, small hands, feet and ankles - bright, clear complexion, large beaming blue eyes and high expanded forehead - with hair as white as snow, worn straight back and plaited into a queue. He was one of the most active and sinewy men of his day. I have often seen him, then 85 years of age, breast and mount his horse from the ground. His habit was to ride to his mill about a mile distant every morning before breakfast. He often wore moccasins with russet leggins, or the old fashioned tight pants, buttoned close to the legs and ankles. He frequently wore buck-skin pantaloons."

His home was visited by almost everybody who traveled through the country. He had many visitors from the low country in South Carolina during the summer. He entertained General Jackson as he passed from Tennessee to South Carolina. His house was the home of the ministry. He erected a church which was called "Mills Chapel". The ministers called him "Father Mills". Bishop Asbury spent much time at his house. "He was a man of great passions - high temper and would fight in a minute even at his advanced age, yet his passion was soon over, for he had as tender a heart as ever beat in human bosom. He was economical in all of his habits. It was told that he never made a debt in his life, and died not owing a shilling."


Taken from "The Morning Post" Raleigh, N. C., Sunday, June 18, 1899 "Buncombe Men"

William Mills emigrated to the "block house" on the Catawba, and thence to Green river, now Rutherford County, in 1766. He was of English descent, and was born on James River, Va. The 10'h of November 1746. At an early age he married Miss Eleanor Morris of South Carolina, and together they journeyed happily through life for 69 years. They were surrounded by Indians several times, and twice driven from their home, having their houses and all of their contents pillaged and burned. At one time he returned from hunting and found his house robbed, his wife gone and everything laid desolate which set him perfectly wild. He commenced moaning and tearing out his hair, when like an Angel, his wife suddenly appeared unharmed. As the Indians entered the house, she crept through a small window in the garret, and down the chimney, making her escape to a swamp near by, where she lay concealed until she heard her husband's voice.

At another time she escaped in a similar way, and when a whole troupe of Indians were ripping up feather beds and yelling over their plunder, she raised a shout, solitary and alone in a swamp near the house: "Hurrah for King George and his Army", with such rapidity that the whole horde of savages took to their heels and she gained a bloodless victory and saved most of her property. She was not only bold, but a most exemplary woman and Christian, having been a member of the Methodist Church for over fifty years previous to her death, which occurred in the spring of 1833 at the age of ninety-eight years, beloved and lamented by all who knew her.

William Mills was small in stature, but compact, sinewy and hardy - always wore "moccasins", wool hats and rode bare-back horses - never having owned but one saddle, he was Fond of the largest horses, was an unerring rifleman, and a sober, industrious citizen. He fought bravely at Cowpens and there received two bullet wounds and one from the sword, which marked him distinctly to his grave. He fought also at Ninety-Six. Being one of the first adventurers and settlers in the western part of the State, its history grew under his eye. "Mills Gap" the first wagon road across the Blue Ridge Mountains took its name from him, and also Mills river, one of the most beautiful streams of pure, clear water in the world. his river is in Henderson formerly "Buncombe" which in these days was a great state, including Haywood, Henderson, Yancy, Madison. a part of Burke and Rutherford and what is still old "Buncombe", being then about sixty miles wide and one hundred sixty in length.

The children of Mr and Mrs. Mills were two sons and five daughters. John Mills married, moved and settled on "White Oak" Rutherford County, where he accumulated a fortune and died, leaving a good name and promising family. Marvel Mills married and settled on Mills Gap Road, Rutherford County, made a handsome property, misled a family, and died at an old age, honored and beloved. Phalby married David Myers, who lived some years in "Buncombe" then moved to Richland District, South Carolina, where he amassed a very large fortune, raised a large family, and then was killed by Col. Ellmore (1 believe) in his old age, in a most cowardly manner by shooting him in the back with a shot gun without due notice. Ellmore, by his great wealth, escaped the gallows Morning married Henry Graves Lewis. Sarah married Asa Edney. Eleanor, the Rev. Samuel Edney. These three all settled on Clear Creak near their father - raised large families, lived and died, respected and lamented. Elizabeth married George Jones, who settled on "White Oak" Rutherford County, but afterwards moved to Spartanburg Court House, S. C. where he remained a number of years, then returned to his farm where he died. He raised and educated a large family, and made a handsome fortune. The daughters all attached themselves to the Methodist Church ill their early days and lived and died, four of them, in the faith of the Gospel, having each spent an average of fifty years in the Church. Mrs. Jones is the only one of the family living at this time, 1858.

Mr. Mills at the death of his wife, when he walked out by a spring near the grave, remarked, with tears streaming o'er his furrowed cheeks, "Nelly and I drank upon our knees at that spring fifty-five years ago, when there was no white man's foot in the country". He was Proverbial for his benevolence and kind advice to all his children and neighbors and almost daily, for an age, rode around to see the three children who lived nearest to him. At his death, he had 89 grand children. his orchards were the common property of all, and every year of his life he set out, at least, 100 of the most choice trees, particularly peaches and cherries. On Saturdays, an army might be seen, mostly children of the neighborhood, filling their baskets, pails and cans with the contents of the orchards. The only charge he ever made was "Don't break my trees."

Once his house was beset by Indians in the night. He was absent, and his family escaped and fled to a hill or brushwood near by. On reaching the hill the mother missed Marvel then about seven or eight years of age. He had crawled under the bed The savages entered the house, among them was the most noted Indian of all that region, known as "Club" or "Big-Foot", from the fact of his having not only an enormous body but an enormous foot, which "made its mark" wherever he went. Some stood at the door, "Club-Foot went in first and went to the hearth and commenced "Blowing up the fire". At that time Marvel in his boyish innocence, and through fear of being seen, bethought him of the pail of water (which bestudded every "Log Palace") and instantly made for it, seized and right over "Big-Foot's' head, he emptied its contents into the fireplace, extinguishing every spark of fire to the amazement of"Big-Foot", and to his amazement, the next thing he knew he struck the other end of the wall about eight feet from the floor, and eighteen from the fire-place, "Big-foot" having seized him and with one hand dashed him against the other end of the house. It was perfectly dark and Marvel soon was able to crawl, and knowing the doorway, he crept cautiously out right under the feet of the Indians at the door and thence under the floor, where he remained until the Indians "struck fire", plundered the house and left. The suspense of the mother in the meantime was as great as her joy when she found the Indians were gone, and Marvel alive. Marvel remembered the impression of that fire and water, ground and lofty-tumbling scene very distinctly till the day of his death, and always related it with laughter and animation.


Obituary of William Mills, published in a contemporary Hendersonville NC newspaper: "WILLIAM MILLS, son of Ambrose and Mourning Mills, immigrants to the U.S. from England,' born on James River, Virginia, November 10, 1746, moved to Wateree, S.C., where in 1763 he married Elleanor Morriss; later moved to Green River, Rutherford County; a participant at King's Mountain, Cowpens, and Ninety-Six; the first white man to cross the Blue Ridge into what is now Henderson County; moved to Buncombe County in 1788; died November 10, 1834." Buried in LUCIAN EDNEY CEMETERY, HENDERSON, NC, (Now called the WILLIAM MILLS FAMILY CEMETERY, take Highway 64 East to Jones Store. Cemetery located on Twin Oak Farm, owned by Mr. and Mrs Riley Jones, in back of store. This cemetery is located about a quarter of a mile behind my sister's house on Highway 64.

Major William Mills, was in the British Army, as was his father, Colonel Ambrose Mills. At the Battle of Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War, he was wounded and left for dead. He escaped into the mountains to the land of what is now Henderson County. All the land he and his father had owned before the Revolutionary War was confiscated by the state of North Carolina because of allegiance to the King. After that event, William decided to ally himself with the new democracy, and moved his family to present-day Edneyville. The County areas known as Mills Gap and Mills River were named by Major Mills, and the area known as Fruitland came from the name of his farm "Fruitland". He died on his 88th birthday from injuries received in a fall from his horse. Tradition has it that William Mills was the first known white settler in present day Edneyville in Henderson County. The Right Reverend Francis Asbury, first Bishop of the Methodist Church in America often visited William Mills plantation and preached there. He was reportedly the wealthiest man in the area and owned between 25 and 30 slaves. He liked to raise horses and cattle, and had large fruit orchards, but was generally not a sociable person except with his family. He was described as being "extremely handsome, medium height, and elegantly proportioned, had small hands, feet and ankles, a bright, clear complexion, large beaming blue eyes and a high expanded forehead with hair as white as snow, worn straight back and plaited into a queue." At one time he entertained General Andrew Jackson at his home during one of Jackson's trips through the area. He built a church called "Mills Chapel", and the ministers of the church called him "Father Mills".

The children of William Mills and his wife were: John who settled in South Carolina. Marville who married and established his home in what was then Rutherford County. He and his descendants had a large share in developing that section of Polk County known as Mills Springs. Phalby married David Meyers and lived on Mills River, at its junction with French Broad. Elizabeth married Overton Lewis,' one of her daughters married Phillip Brittain who lived near Stoney Mountain. Mourning Mills married a Jones. Sarah Mills married Rev. Asa Edney, and lived on Clear Creek at the Edneyville settlement. Eleanor Mills, known to her family as "Nellie Mills", married Rev Samuel Edney. He also lived at Edneyville, which received its' name from these two brothers."


Some deed extracts:

(a) "29 September 1779, William Mills of Rutherford County to Thomas Wadlington of same, for 200L process money of North Carolina, !and on both sides of Walnut Creek on the waters of Green River, adjoining John Fisher, and granted to John McKnitt Alexander on 29 April 1769, and conveyed to Samuel Sharp, then to William Mills. Signed William Mills {Seal}, Eleanor Mills {Seal}. Witnessed by John Earle and William Nevil"

(b) "27 October 1779, John Kirkconnel of Beaufort County NC to Samuel King of Rutherford County.." was witnessed by William Mills and William Gilbert. Interesting note here, is that William Mills grandmother was a Gilbert, and this William Gilbert is likely a relative.

(c) "27 September 1783, William Mills of Rutherford County to William Twitty of same, for 200L specie.. 150 acres on the North side of Green River, part of a tract conveyed to Ambrose Mills & falling to said William by heirship. Signed William Mills. Witnessed by John Mills and Ann Mills."


Here is his Last Will and Testament, which was probated in court during the January 1835 session. Two Buncombe County Court notations give some clues: January 1835, "The Last Will and Testament of William Mills being offered for probation was objected to by Phillip Brittain and others, heirs at law of said William Mills, deceased. Secondly, 22 April 1835, "Court granted letters of administration to John Mills on the estate of William Mills, deceased, who entered into bond with Phillip Brittain and Marvel Mills Edney as security in the sum of $12,000. Ordered by court that John Mills have leave to withdraw from the clerk's office the purported last will and testament of William Mills, deceased, without the clerk retaining a copy." It was never returned. Phillip Brittain was "General Phillip Brittain" who would marry a Mills descendent.

The year 1835 would not see the end of the legalities surrounding his death; not even ten years would be enough. In August, 1847 his estate settlement landed in the Supreme Court in a landmark case (1847 NC 465). The property being contested was two valuable slaves, a girl named Nelly and a boy named George. Ambrose J. Edney. Executor. et al v. Elisha King. Administrator. et al. The Henderson County Superior Court ruled in favor of King and sent the case to the Supreme Court on appeal by Ambrose Edney. A summary of the Courts' decision: "(1) Every person who claims to recover, either at law or in equity, must show title in the pleadings, and that ought to be done by distinct averments or plain affirmative statements.

(2) The title of a bill is no part of it. It is merely a mode of conveniently denominating a bill or cause, and it can not be deemed apart of the statements of the bill, either as to the title or to the parties.

(3) Where a bill of injunction is filed to stay the execution ora judgment, it is improper to make the clerk, who issues the execution, and the sheriff who has received it, parties defendant. They are mere ministers of the law, and have no interest in the controversy.

(4) If the sheriff has notice of the injunction, it is a contempt to him to proceed with execution,' but to that purpose a notice is sufficient, and a subpoena should not be served on him."

Discussion: "Appeal from an interlocutory order in this case dissolving the injunction, which had before been granted, made at the Fall Term, 1846, of Henderson County Court of Equity, his Honor, judge Caidwell, presiding. This was an injunction bill. The bill states that William Mills died intestate, leaving seven children, and that the said heirs met, and by common consent divided the personal estate of said intestate, by which division a boy named George and a girl named Nelly, fell to the share of, Asa Edney; that the value thereof exceeded one-seventh part of the said personal estate, and that the said Edney then executed four forty-five dollar bonds to the other heirs for the overplus, and that all of them have been paid by Sam Edney's executor, namely, the plaintiff, Ambrose d. Edney"

Before continuing with the courts' opinion, I might interject here that Asa Edney, his son-in-law, had died during 1842, and his sons Ambrose J. and Calvin Edney were the Administrators of Asa's Will.

Continuing, "The bill further states that some time thereafter, Elisha King and Benjamin King obtained letters of administration of the estate of the intestate William Mills, and thereupon required all the heirs to bring forward the property of the estate and have it sold,' upon which Nelly was surrendered by Asa Edney (the boy George having been sold by him), and Nelly was then sold by the administrators and bought by Asa, he being the highest bidder at the price of $362, for which he gave his bond, with Samuel J. Edney, one of the plaintiffs, as his surety. "The bill further states that at the execution of the bond, the administrators to whom it was payable, expressly agreed that if the division as made by the heirs was ever rendered valid by common consent or otherwise then the bond should be Cancelled, and that it was upon that agreement and condition the bond was given. That afterwards Elisha King, surviving administrator, agreed, together with the heirs and distributees of William Mills, to refer the whole matter to B. Shipp and Joshua Roberts, and that said award has been made and confirmed without allowing a credit of the $362, and that they have failed to allow Edney credit for the four $45 bonds, which he had long ago paid for said girl. The bill then charges"The bill further states that at the execution of the bond, the administrators to whom it was payable, expressly agreed that if the division as made by the heirs was ever rendered valid by common consent or otherwise then the bond should be cancelled, and that it was upon that agreement and condition the bond was given. That afterwards Elisha King, surviving administrator, agreed, together with the heirs and distributees of William Mills, to refer the whole matter to B. Shipp and Joshua Roberts, and that said award has been made and confirmed without allowing a credit of the $362, and that they have failed to allow Edney credit for the four $45 bonds, which he had long ago paid for said girl.

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Major William Mills, Loyalist's Timeline

November 10, 1746
Virginia Colony
Columbus, Polk County, North Carolina, United States
Tryon, Polk County, NC, United States
Virginia, United States
Virginia, United States
January 1, 1775
Mill Spring, Polk County, North Carolina, United States
December 12, 1777
Rutherford County, North Carolina, United States
September 24, 1782
Rutherford County, North Carolina, United States