Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dr. William Fleming

Dr William Fleming, marker A-64 in Staunton, VA (Click any photo to enlarge)City of Staunton, VA
Marker No. A-64

Marker Text: Physician, soldier, and statesman, Dr. William Fleming (1728-1795) studied medicine in his native Scotland before practicing in Staunton from 1763 to 1768. His home stood at the crossing of New Street and Lewis Creek. Dr. Fleming's career included periods as commander of the Botetourt Regiment, Commissioner for Kentucky, member of the Continental Congress, delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention, and Acting Governor when the Virginia General Assembly met in Staunton in June, 1781.

Location:  At the intersection of Routes 250 & 11 (Greenville Avenue and South New Street next to a City of Staunton parking lot. Erected by the Department of Conservation and Historic Resources in 1987.

  Colonel William Fleming was a physician, soldier, statesman, and planter who briefly served as acting Governor of Virginia during the American Revolutionary War. Fleming was born in Jedburgh, Scotland in 1728, to Leonard and Dorthea Fleming. He studied medicine and trained as a physician at the University of Edinburgh and then entered the Royal Navy, serving as a surgeon's mate. While in the service, he was captured and imprisoned by the Spanish. After his release, he resigned from the navy and decided to emigrate to Virginia in the early 1750's.

Dr. William Fleming, marker A-64 near the Stonewall Jackson Hotel.

Photo taken with Greenville Avenue in the background along with the Stonewall Jackson Hotel.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  William Fleming arrived in Virginia in time to participate in several engagements of the French and Indian War as a surgeon. He was a lieutenant on the 1756 Sandy Creek expedition. Then he was appointed ensign in George Washington’s First Virginia Regiment and served as a surgeon in the Forbes expedition and in the Anglo-Cherokee War. He served in two more campaigns in 1758 and was then made a captain and stationed in Staunton in 1760.

  During his time stationed in Staunton he apparently met and married Israel Christian’s daughter, Anne, in 1763. Israel Christian was a prominent Augusta County citizen, a House of Burgesses member and an Irish immigrant. After marrying Anne Christian, they settled here in Staunton in a house located near the approximate site of this marker, which is where Lewis Creek meets New Street. Fleming resumed his medical career by setting up a doctor’s office and performing surgery in Staunton.

Dr. William Fleming, marker A-64 along S. New Street looking north.

Photo taken looking north on South New Street.

  The Flemings only lived in Staunton from 1763 until 1768 but during that time, Fleming was an active citizen and served on the parish vestry. His name appears regularly in the vestry minutes as being reimbursed for medical services he provided to the destitute people of Augusta County. In 1768 he retired from medicine to farm at his estate called "Bellmont" in Botetourt County (now Montgomery County in present day Roanoke, VA). His investments in land eventually made him wealthy.

  In 1774, during Dunmore's War, Colonel Fleming led the Botetourt County militia at the Battle of Point Pleasant. He continued to lead his men after being shot twice, until a third, more serious wound forced his withdrawal. A musket ball lodged in his chest was never removed and often caused him pain. Disabilities from these wounds, from which he never fully recovered, prevented his military service in the American Revolutionary War. The Virginia Assembly awarded him 500 pounds in compensation.

  Fleming was active in politics during the American Revolution, representing a western district as a member of the Senate of Virginia. In June 1781, after Jack Jouett warned the Virginia Legislature meeting in Charlottesville that Lt. Col Tarleton's British forces were coming in an attempt to capture them, they escaped about 40 miles west over the Blue Ridge Mountains. When the legislature reconvened at Staunton, Jefferson's term as governor had expired and Fleming being the senior member of the Virginia Council present, acted unofficially as governor. He served in this capacity from June 1 until June 12, when Thomas Nelson was elected by the legislature as the next governor.

Dr. William Fleming, marker A-64 along S. New Street looking south in Staunton, VA.

Photo taken looking south on S. New Street.

  During this brief time Fleming called out the Virginia militia to oppose the British invasion. A later resolution of the legislature retroactively legalized his actions. Fleming temporarily assumed the position as governor during a time in Virginia history when the governor was elected by the legislature and not by popular vote of the citizens.

  During and after the War for Independence, Fleming headed commissions to Kentucky to settle land disputes and attend to other official business. In 1784 he attended the Danville Convention, which paved the way for Kentucky's separation from Virginia. His final public service was as a Botetourt County delegate to the 1788 Virginia Ratifying Convention, which ratified the U.S. Constitution. Fleming had reservations about the new constitution, but he voted in favor of ratification as instructed by his constituents.

  William Fleming High School in Roanoke, Virginia, is named for him. Their mascot is "The Colonel". Fleming is often confused with another Virginia legislator during the same period from Cumberland County, Judge William Fleming and who also served was a delegate to the Continental Congress.

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