Revolutionary War

Private Michael Tanner (1759-1849) Revolutionary War Soldier Buried in Old Choestoe Cemetery

(Photo by Monroe County Historical Association)

Private Michael Tanner (1759-1849)

Revolutionary War Soldier Buried in Old Choestoe Cemetery by Ethelene Dyer Jones

The marker for Revolutionary War soldier, Private Michael Tanner, stands about in the middle of Old Choestoe Cemetery.  A simple marble monument, it is unpretentious and one might pass it by, not recognizing its significance or the contribution the soldier made to America’s freedom.

Michael Tanner was born December 4, 1759 in York County, Pennsylvania.  His surname came from a trade name meaning those who followed the profession of tanning animal hides for leather.  The earliest-known progenitors of Michael Tanner originated in Germany, moved to Holland, and then migrated to America in 1721, settling and plying their trade in the Pennsylvania colony.

When Michael Tanner was 18, in 1777, he enlisted in the Continental Army in Shenandoah County, Virginia.  His first military encounters were to protect settlers against uprisings of Indians.  Then he engaged in skirmishes with the Tories who were faithful to the British crown.

When the Revolutionary War officially began, he served first under Captain Raider, General Hand and Captain Mason.  His regiment moved to Fort Wallin on the Ohio River.

He next saw service on the South Branch of the Potomac River where he was under the command of Captain George Huston and Colonel Simms.  He fought in Rockingham County, Virginia under Captain John Rush and in the Virginia Regiment headed by Colonel Harris.

The highlight of Private Michael Tanner’s service was at the Battle of Yorktown when General George Washington engineered the surrender of British Field Commander, Charles, Earl of Cornwallis.  There 8,000 allied Continental Army forces converged, together with allies of 15,000 French soldiers and 3,000 militiamen.  The contingents prevented British reinforcements from arriving by sea.  It was a tense confrontation.  Alexander Hamilton was in charge of America’s light infantry.  In negotiations, General Washington secured the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19, 1781.  Did Private Tanner hear, from the British ship in the harbor, the somber strains of “The World Turned Upside Down?”  We can only wonder.  The peace treaty was signed in Paris on September 3, 1783.

Private Tanner returned to Rockingham County, Virginia.  There, on July 14, 1782, he married his sweetheart, Catherine Butt.  The young couple migrated to Buncombe County, NC, and eventually to Choestoe in Union County, Georgia before 1838, joining some of their children who had settled here.

Known children of Michael and Catherine Butt Tanner are Mollie Tanner Ross, Elizabeth Tanner Ellison, George Tanner, Sally Tanner,  Catherine Tanner Harkins and sons Jacob, Adam and Abraham.

Michael Tanner applied for a Revolutionary pension, using his father’s German Bible to establish his birth date as December 4, 1759.  Catherine Butt Tanner preceded her husband in death, dying April 12, 1842.  We assume she was interred in the Old Choestoe Cemetery in an unmarked grave.  Private Michael Turner died seven years after his wife on August 25, 1849.  In 1989, his great, great grandson, Dr. J. Allen Henson, had a military marker erected in memory of his ancestor.

Pvt. Michael Tanner was a neighbor to our Dyer, Souther, Collins, Hunter, Townsend, Nix and other ancestors, early settlers in Choestoe community.  Their daughter, Catherine, married a Harkins.  An error in transcribing occurred in the marriage entry of Bluford Lumpkin Dyer who was listed as marrying Rutha Tanner on February 9, 1854.  Rutha was a Turner, not a Tanner.

On November 3, 2001, the Blue Ridge Mountains SAR and the Old Unicoi Trail Chapter DAR held an impressive memorial service at the gravesite of Private Michael Tanner in Old Choestoe Cemetery.  It was a worthy tribute to an humble soldier-farmer whose ancestors came to the shores of America in 1721 seeking freedom.

[Resource:  Dr. J. Allen Henson, biographical sketch of Private Michael Tanner.  This sketch written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.]


Things I found fascinating in Ethelene’s post:

  • His surname being Tanner because his family were actually tanners of hides.
  • Pvt. Michael Tanner was a witness to more than one historically significant battle of the Revolutionary War, makes me wish he’d written down his experiences.
  • Tanner and his sweetheart wife moved to Buncombe County, NC before moving to the Choestoe area of Union County GA which borders Cherokee County NC. Seems many folks landed in Buncombe before moving farther west. Reminds me of a saying I’ve heard all my life: “The State of NC doesn’t realize the state boundaries extend beyond Asheville (which is in Buncombe County).” In other words, folks around here sometimes think the far western mountain counties of NC get the short end of the stick.



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  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    July 4, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Amazing, Tipper! Work brought my husband and I to York County, PA., back in 1974, and we have been here ever since. Really we are about a mile from the Cumberland County area where we lived for many years and right on an old wagon trail road from the 1700’s sits a breathtaking beautiful stone home built in the 1700’s by a Tanner that lived there. I don’t think that was his name but he made his living by tanning hides. It was and is still called Nantilly. We have been to Yorktown a couple of times and enjoyed the best time in Williamsburg with the reenactments. You had to pay to be a part of it but it is wonderful. You are transported back in time as part of a town crowd listening to George Washington, or Patrick Henry talk or standing in the crowd when a Regular came racing thru the street on his horse yelling an update on a battle. As has been said before, we should never forget the men that stood and fought for this country.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    June 29, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    This is an amazing post and so interesting. My Great Grandfather came from out in N.C. and migrated here as well in Union Co. and some migrated in Hiwassee Ga. My Grandpa was raised in Hiwassee at a place called Hightower. I can’t help but wonder if this man is related somehow on my dad’s side.

  • Reply
    Lisa Looney
    December 29, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Looking for Vincent/Vinson Tanner born 1880/1890? – the name I have. His sons were John W. and Wiley Tanner, wife’s name unknown, may have had 2 girls. Probably served in the Indians Wars, later remarried and family settled in FL.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Thanks Tipper! I have very much enjoyed the patriot series, especially this article! Several of my forebears were also involved in the indian wars in frontier Pennsylvania. It’s interesting to think they may have served with Michael Tanner! It really is a small world!

  • Reply
    July 4, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Interesting stuff!
    I’m curious to know if that old German Bible still exists.

  • Reply
    July 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Happy 4th of July to you and your family. I have a feeling there will be some pickin going on and maybe a picnic to

  • Reply
    July 3, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Can’t wait to get my coffee made
    each morning to see what’s on your
    post. Enjoyed Ethelene’s sketch and we appreciate it very much.
    And you’re right about N.C ending
    at Asheville, I lived there 12 years or so and most of the folks
    didn’t even know about all the towns and counties west of there.
    Happy 4th to you all. Ken

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Thomas
    July 3, 2010 at 11:13 am

    No matter how humble the background these men stood up for their country and should not be forgotten. Just read on that July 3,1863 was the end of the battle of Gettsyburg.

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