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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – The Fourth of July marks America’s Independence Day, when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and announced the colonies’ separation from Great Britain. However, the Revolutionary War continued until 1783. America’s independence would not have been won without the members of the military who fought for it. 

Members of the Continental Army and area militia groups fought the British during the Revolutionary War. The Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) ask on the Fourth of July, people take a moment and remember them, many of whom are buried in Alabama.

There is a family cemetery east of Huntsville where two militia patriots were laid to rest. Their names are Francis Eppes Harris and Efford Peter Bentley. They are buried in the Harris-Hill/Harris-Bentley Cemetery. It was originally the cemetery for the Harris family.

According to Tennessee Valley Chapter members of the Sons of the American Revolution, Patriot Francis Harris (1748-1815) was in the Powhatan County militia of Virginia and was appointed an ensign by the county court. Little is known of his actual service since he did not live long enough to be eligible for a pension. Congress did not create pensions for those with militia service until the 1830s. He came to present-day Alabama years before Alabama became a state.

Area SAR members say much more is known about Efford Peter Bentley (1759-1837) because he lived long enough to receive a pension. He was a young soldier as a member of the Virginia militia in Amelia County. Bentley, a private and then sergeant, served three brief tours of duty. 

“And they were very significant tours. The first was at the battle of Camden, South Carolina, a very famous, unfortunately, American defeat. And then he was called up for patrol duty for a few months. And toward the end he was called up again and he was tasked with some other soldiers to take a small herd of cattle to deliver to Washington’s army at Yorktown. And he was actually in Yorktown during the surrender of Fort Wallace, which is the last major battle of the war. So, he saw quite a bit of service in his three tours,” said Mark Hubbs, historian and member of the Tennessee Valley Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Militia were citizen-soldiers in military units created and controlled by state governments. They typically served short tours of duty lasting six weeks or so. SAR members say most soldiers fighting for American independence were these militiamen, not members of the regular Continental Army. The militia was roughly equitable to the national guard of the day. So, they would be called up for specific emergencies in their own community.

“One thing to keep in mind also is that you could be called out in the militia whether you were for the king or for the patriots according to who controlled the territory. So, conceivably, one year you could be called out to fight for the British as a militia and then the next year as that area is taken by the Patriots you could be called out again and fight on the other side,” Hubbs said.

Hubbs says the two Revolutionary War veterans buried in the Harris-Hill/Harris-Bentley Cemetery have strong ties to Huntsville. They’re the great grandfathers of Carl T. Jones, a major Huntsville civic leader for whom Jones Valley is named. According to SAR, Bentley’s daughter married Harris’ son. A daughter of that marriage married George Washington Jones, who is the grandfather of Carl Tannehill Jones.

Members of the Tennessee Valley Chapter of Sons of the American Revolution work to preserve the memory and contributions of our country’s first veterans. The group is continuing its effort to locate and refurbish the graves of many Patriots buried in isolated locations.