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HON. JOSEPH R. UNDERWOOD.
Josepii Rogers Underwood was born in Goochland county, Virginia, on the 24th day of October, 1791. He was the eldest of eight children of John Underwood, who frequently represented that county in the Legislature. The name of Senator Underwood's grandfather was Thomas, and that )f his great-grandfather, William Thomas Underwood. The last emigrated from England as a merchant's clerk, when quite i boy, in the latter part of the seventeenth Mitury. He had two wives: the last, »hose maiden name was Taylor, was the nother of Thomas Underwood, who repesented the county of Goochland in the -legislature of Virginia ten years, beguiling in 1777 and ending in 1790; a leriod when it may be safely affirmed that io man, unless he possessed a clear head nd sound heart, was likely to be trusted, 'horaas Underwood, the grandfather, also iad two wives. The second, whose maidn name was Taylor, was the mother of anc children, among whom John was the econd child. Thus, by a double conection, Judge Underwood is related to bat very numerous family of Taylors who lhabit the low lands of Virginia. On the lother's side, Judge Underwood is decoded from the Rogers and Pollard ...... ^
imilies. His maternal ancestors have reded in Virginia from the earliest periods f the colony. His mother was Frances logers, daughter of George Rogers and ranees Pollard. His great-grandfather, oseph Pollard, and his wife, lived until »ey were about ninety-three years of age, id were man and wife more than seventy ears.
Senator Underwood was named for his internal uncle, Joseph Rogers, who went ith his cousin, Gen. George Rogers lark, to Kentucky at an early period, as captured by the Indians near Maysille, and subsequently killed at the battle f Piqua Plains in attempting to make his ieape from them.
The parents of Senator Underwood eing in humble circumstances, and having
a large family of children to provide for, were induced to commit him to his maternal uncle, Edmund Rogers, who, shortly after the Revolutionary War, (in which he was a gallant soldier, and engaged in several battles,) emigrated to Kentucky, and became a locator and surveyor of land warrants, by which he secured a handsome estate.
Mr. Rogers conducted his youthful charge to Barren county, Kentucky, in the spring of 1803, and nobly did he fulfil the promise made to the parents of the little boy "to be unto him as a father." The Green river country in Kentucky, in which he had settled, was then a wilderness, and contained but few schools, and those not of the best class. Joseph was placed at school, near the town of Glasgow, with the Rev. John Howe, a Presbyterian minister, and under his tuition commenced learning the Latin language. After remaining with him a year, he was transferred from place to place, and put under the charge of various teachers in different parts of the State, as suited the. means and arrangements of his uncle, until, having been prepared for college, he was sent to Transylvania University, where he completed his scholastic course in the year 1811. On leaving the University, he commenced the study of law in Lexington with Robert Wickliffe, Esq., and under the instructions of this learned and accomplished lawyer, he finished the course of elementary reading.
About this time Kentucky was thrown into great excitement by the war with Great Britain, then raging with violence on the Canada border. The melancholy affair of the River Raisin had deprived the State of some of its best citizens, and plunged the commonwealth in mourning. The impulse to arms was universal, and pervaded all classes. With a mind imbued, by the teachings of his uncle, with strong admiration for military achievements, it was not to be expected that young Underwood should remain an indifferent spectator of the martial preparations around him. In March, 1813, a company of volunteers being about to be raised in Lexington, to be commanded by John C. Morrison, two regiments of militia, which were to supply the number of men required, were drawn up in parallel lines, and a stand of colors planted in the centre. Those who designed to volunteer, were requested, at the beat of the drum, to march to the colors. Young Underwood was the first to reach and raise the stars and stripes, and bearing them aloft, marched after the musicians along the lines, other volunteers falling in as he passed. This little, but prompt incident, stranger as he was among the young men who volunteered on that occasion, led to the election of Mr. Underwood as the Lieutenant of the company. A gentleman, much Mr. Underwood's senior, then holding a military commission, tendered his services. The privilege was conceded to the volunteers of electing their own officers. When the election for the Lieutenancy was about to commence, a voice in the ranks was heard exclaiming, "Where is the man who carried the colors? Let's elect him." Upon this, young Underwood stepped forward and said to the company, he should be happy to serve them if thought worthy. The voters formed two lines, Mr. Underwood and his competitor being at the head of their respective supporters. On counting the votes, the numbers were found to be precisely equal. It was agreed to decide the matter by lot. The competitor of Mr. Underwood threw up the dollar. He cried heads, and so it fell. Those who voted against him immediately surrounded him in the best humor, saying, "It's all right; we'll now go for him who lias luck on his side."
Isaac Shelby .was then Governor of Kentucky, and signed the first commission that Mr. Underwood ever held in the service of his country. The company was attached to the thirteenth regiment, commanded by Col. William Dudley, constituting part of Gen. Green Clay's brigade. On the 5th of May, 1813, Dudley's regiment was defeated and captured by the combined British and Indian forces opposite Fort Meigs. After taking the British battery, which the regiment was ordered to attack, most imprudently, and in direct
violation of Gen. Harrison's orders, instead of returning to the boats, and crossing the river to Fort Meigs, the regiment pursued the retreating Indians and Canadian militia into the woods. These kept up a retreating fire, and were rapidly reinforced The pursuit continued about two miles, the Indians contesting every inch of ground, sheltering themselves behind tiw and logs, and shooting down the Kentuckians as they advanced. When the regiment charged upon the foe in their ambuscades, as soon as they fired, they would retreat, load, take new posiiioD.*. and again shoot from behind trees and log>. on the advancing regiment. In this maiiner the fight continued for many hour>. At length orders were given to retreat to the captured battery, which had been left in charge of two companies; where, instead of finding friends and companions, the regiment met foes. A detachment ot the British army bad retaken the battery and driven the two companies to their boats; and, as if anticipating what would happen, waited the arrival of the retroa: ing regiment, which, coming up in disorder, was incapable of resistance and sum-n dercd.
In the battle, Captain Morrison wfc killed, and the command of the company devolved upon Lieutenant Underwood. The loss of the company, owing to iu position on the extreme left of the regiment, and the efforts of the enemy to outflank and surround it, was very severe. In the retreat Lieut. Underwood was * verely wounded. The ball still remains in his body. After the surrender, the prisoners were marched down the left bank o: the Maumee river, about two miles, to tfx old fort built by the British and retained for years after the end of the Revolutionary War. In marching from the place oi surrender to the fort, the Indians stripf<J the prisoners, with a few exceptions, oi their clothing, watches, and whatever eke of value they possessed. Lieut. Under wood, however, saved his watch by hiding the chain, so that it was not discovered and it was afterwards of great service U him and his fellow soldiers. He was stripped of all his clothes, except his shirt a* pantaloons, and in this condition, bleedinj from his wound, was marched to the fori But before getting into it, he and his am panions passed through a scene of savage iarbarity and cruelty which will probably lever occur again in the United States. They were made to run the gauntlet. Diis was done in the following manner, rhe Indians formed a line to the left of the tad or trace running along the river ank, which was nearly perpendicular, and 'itending from the dilapidated walls of he fort, about one hundred and fifty yards lp the river, leaving a space of some forty ir fifty feet between their line and the >ank of the river. Through this defile, he prisoners were compelled to pass, in irder to reach the gateway that led into he fort. They were informed by the iritish soldiers, that it was the intention of he Indians to whip, to wound, or to kill, tist as their malevolence and vindictiveicss should prompt, and that each from he starting point, at the head of the line, hould make his way into the fort in the est way he could, and with all possible peed. The prisoners were told, that rhen within the walls they would be safe, >ut this promise was violated. As the irisoners ran between the Indian line and he river bank, many were maimed and killd with tomahawks, war clubs and rifles. 'hose brates in whom all feelings of nmanity were not totally extinct, only eat the prisoners over their heads and houlders, as they passed, with ramrods nd wiping sticks. Lieut. Underwood, on :aching the head of the line, perceived iat it was concave or circular, and that lose who ran next to the river bank were lore frequently shot down than those earer the Indian line. He, therefore, de;rmined to pass by the ends of the muzles of their guns, knowing that if he scaped being shot, when immediately in ■ont, the gun would not be turned upon im, because the ball, after killing him, tight also hit those standing further on I the curved line. This policy of the kutenant, although it gave him a better hance to escape the bullets, brought him i closer contact with ramrods and wiping licks, and he received many severe blows, ietween forty and fifty prisoners were killi in thus running the gauntlel; among lem the brave Captain Lewis, who comlanded a company from Jessamine county. As the prisoners passed into the old >rt, they were ordered to Bit down, and
did so npon the wet ground. Lieut. Underwood asked permission to lay his head in the lap of a fellow soldier named Gilpin, which being readily granted, he stretched himself upon the ground, the better to enable the blood to escape from his wound. In this situation an Indian of the Potowattamie tribe from the embankment of the old fort, which was elevated about four feet above the ground on which the prisoners were sitting, presented his rifle, and shot a prisoner near the base of the embankment. He then deliberately loaded his gun and shot another. After this he laid down the gun, drew his tomahawk, jumped off the embankment, and drove it to the helve in the heads of two others. He then scalped and stripped his four victims, and departed with his trophies. The ball which passed through one of them, penetrated the hips of a soldier near by, inflicting a wound which afterwards occasioned his death. So that it may be said, that five prisoners were murdered by this infuriated savage after safety had been promised them. It is believed, however, that the British officers and soldiers were sincerely desirous to prevent the massacre which occurred in the fort. Whilst the Potowattamie was engaged in his work of death, hundreds of savage warriors dressed in their war costumes and hideously painted, were stationed upon and about the embankment which encircled the prisoners. Among them rage and fury were manifested by every sort of ejaculation. The British guard incessantly uttered the expression, "Oh nitchee wah, oh nitchee wah." It can never be forgotten by those who heard it on that occasion. It was the language of mercy addressed to the infuriated Indian, and those who surrounded him, and as afterwards interpreted to the Kentuckians, signified, "Oh! brother, quit, go away." This appeal may have prevented the massacre of all the prisoners.
When the Potowattamie began the butchery, the prisoners in danger, and who, up to that moment, had retained their seats upon the ground, now rose to their feet and endeavored to get out of the way and save themselves, by jumping over the heads of those who remained sitting. In this melee of horror, while those on the outside were receiving the tomahawk, those a little removed were, in their efforts to escape, trampling the wounded and prostrate Lieutenant under their feet in his own blood. When the Potowattamie had glutted his vengeance and retired, when the uproar was calmed and order restored, he presented an appearance more readily conceived than described. Having been previously stripped to his shirt and pantaloons, he now appeared as if plastered with a compost of mud and blood. In this situation, he was an object of one of the most disinterested acts of benevolence ever performed.' A generous soldier, named James Boston, of Clark county, Kentucky, took off his hunting shirt, the uniform of his company, and insisted on clothing the Lieutenant with it, which was done, thereby concealing the blood and wound. This circumstance may have saved the Lieutenant's life, for it is believed that the Indians are disposed to put to death all those who are wounded, and who fall into their hands.
After many other interesting and thrilling incidents, Lieutenant Underwood reached the prison ship lving in the Maumee river, eight or nine miles below the rapids, about nine o'clock at night. He was put on board, and being announced as a wounded officer, was taken to the cabin of the vessel and permitted to lie upon the floor, where he spent the night without a blanket or covering of any kind. Midshipman Parsons was kind enough on the next day to surrender his berth to the Lieutenant, who thereafter, during his stay on board, received every attention from Captain Stewart and the other officers in command. Captain Stewart and Midshipman Parsons were captured by Commodore Pern- in the naval battle on Lake Erie, and with other officers, were sent to Frankfort, Kentucky, and there confined in the penitentiary to answer as hostages for the treatment American prisoners might receive in England. This was a measure of retaliation, in consequence of the outrage perpetrated at Dartmouth, in England. Lieutenant Underwood visited the captain and midshipman in the penitentarv with a view to return the kindness they had shown him when a prisoner.
r>- .<^day after the battle, the Ame
^ws, for themselves and men,
idge, promising not to fight
against the King of Great Britain or his allies, during the continuation of the war, unless regularly exchanged. Upon the presentation of the paper, inquiry was made whether, by the term " allies," it was intended to embrace the Indians. The reply was, "His Majesty's allies are known," with an intimation that the prisoners must act at their periL Upon the execution of the paper, those officers and men capable of marching, were landed and discharged on parole. Lieutenant Underwood and James E. Davis, Esq., of Lexington, were landed at the mouth of Huron river, and found quarters in the cabin of a recent settler named Sharrott, where they were treated with all kindness until they were able to travel home. About the first of July, the Lieutenant reached the house of his uncle in Barren county.
This short but disastrous campaign having terminated, Mr. Underwood resumed his legal studies, and in the fall of 1813 obtained license to practice law. He opened an office in Glasgow in the winter, and attended the first court in Bowling Green in February, 1814. He was fortunate in obtaining fees and money enough to pay his expenses, the more necessary because his good uncle had now determined to throw him upon his own resources. Well did he meet his uncle's confidence in his success. He rose rapidly, and in a few years stood high in his profession. The Hon. John J. Crittenden, now his colleague in the Senate, and Solomon P. Sharp, a distinguished member of Congress, and subsequently Attorney-general of the State, were his associates at the bar, in the beginning of his professiond career. These eminent lawyers then lived in that part of Kentucky where Mr. Underwood has always resided.
He was elected in the year 1816, beir.: just eligible, to represent Barren county .n the legislature, and was annually return.-i for four years. He then voluntarily withdrew from the political arena, that all at his energies might be devoted to the pf.vment of heavy debts, incurred by the insolvency of those for whom he was bound as surety. He was greatly harassed, bu; by severe struggles freed himself. K* books were even surrendered to satisfy creditors, but he never was sued at any time . ■:' his life except as surety for others. He pun r