Southy Simpson - The Definitive Biography of a Forgotten Founder
Southy Simpson was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses during the tumultuous years leading to the Revolutionary War.
Simpson was also a Colonel in the Virginia Militia who, despite being uneducated, had an intimate relationship with many of the more famous Founders.
I first ran into Southy Simpson while reviewing a list of Revolutionary Signatures on several Virginia documents.
Simpson is a Founder about whom information is extremely difficult to come by. This made my desire to find out who he was overwhelming and I began several weeks of research.
Now, I have dug into his life and, in so doing, I am confident this page will be the most authoritative source for Southy Simpson on the Internet.
Virginia Nonimportation Resolutions
By 1769, Southy Simpson had been in the Virginia House of Burgesses for almost a decade. Additionally, he had risen to Major in the Accomac County Militia.
Simpson was in the House when, in May of the same year, the Royal Governor dissolved (temporarily) the Colonial Assembly. This action was one of the moments which set Virginia directly on the path to Revolution.
When the members met the following day (in a quasi-legal Congress), they signed the Virginia Nonimportation Resolutions. These Resolutions were a voluntary agreement that certain goods would not be purchased from Great Britain,.
The following year, Simpson signed an updated nonimportation Resolution with his fellow Representatives. During this time he would have been intimately familiar with many of the more famous Founders, such as George Washington, Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry.
When, four years later, the Royal Governor permanently dissolved the Colonial Assembly, Southy Simpson was one of the members who signed the Association of Members of the Late House of Burgesses. This shadow government took control of Virginia and, after independence was declared, became the first State Government.
Speaking of independence, South Simpson attended the Fifth Virginia Convention in May of 1776. Here, he was one of the men who declared independence from Great Britain…a full month before the Continental Congress.
Chairman of the Accomac County Board
About this time, Simpson was elected as Chairman of his County Board.
There was an interesting instance when a man named Arthur Upshaw (another member of the County Board) was accused of disobeying the Nonimportation Agreement. Upshaw argued that his ship was packed and ready to sail before the Agreement was published, so it could go without breaking the law.
This case is fascinating as it needed to be determined exactly when a ship was considered to have exported/imported goods. Was it when the ship left the harbor? Or when the ship was loaded? Perhaps it was when a sale was made?
Southy, as Chairman, signed the Board’s ruling against Upshaw.
During the Revolutionary War, Southy Simpson was appointed as Colonel of the Accomac County Militia.
Accomac County is on the peninsula which stretches south from Maryland but is technically part of Virginia, despite being across the Potomac River.
From here, Simpson kept watch over the comings and goings of the British Navy. He also burned at least one house owned by a Loyalist.
There was one fun anecdote I came across, told decades later by an old man who’s father was one of Simpson’s men, which discusses some confusion. It involves alarm bells which would ring to rally the men to their posts in case of emergency.
One night, the alarm sounded and the men all ran to their boats. Apparently, South had a good, hearty laugh at this sight, as he witnessed the alarm being set off by a gaggle of geese.
In early 1778, the Virginia Assembly passed ‘An Act for speedily recruiting the Virginia Regiments on the continental establishment.’ This Act was intended to help recruit men to the Continental Army
The Act instituted a draft of all able-bodied single men. Additionally, it gave the Continental Army the ability to take members of local militias under its authority.
In this situation, Southy Simpson wrote to his old friend George Washington (and similarly, Henry Laurens). Simpson told the General about his support for the war, but spoke of his concern for taking too many men from the Accomac Militia. The area was already undermanned and there was a serious worry that the British would land.
A Plain Honest Man
Unfortunately, Washington was unable to accommodate Simpson’s request, writing:
“Your request to suffer the drafts in that part of the Country to remain there, is an indulgence I am sorry to say I cannot with the least propriety consent to…returning you my sincere thanks for the warm manner in which you express your anxiety to serve the cause.”
In other words, ‘sorry, I need soldiers more than you do.’ To be fair, he was right, and it is difficult to imagine Simpson was too broken up about this response.
Sadly, Southy Simpson would not live to see the end of the Revolutionary War. He passed away a year later while still a Colonel in the Militia.
While I was unable to locate his cause of death, Southy Simpson’s obituary in the Virginia Gazette remembers him by saying:
“In his publick character…he was a sincere friend to impartial justice and equal liberty: In his private character a plain honest man.”
As I stated earlier, I am confident this article is the definitive authority on Southy Simpson currently on the Internet. But…
I have a challenge for you!
I’m am dying to know how Southy Simpson…well…died. Can you help?
Anyone who can confirm how Southy passed away will be declared ‘Researcher of the Week’ on all of the Founder of the Day social media outlets. (OK, that might sound lame, but I don’t have much to give in the way of prizes). Good luck!
If you’d like to read some of my other pieces which have a tendency to make it to Page 1 on Google, check out Austin Roe (the article I’m most proud of) and Hercules Mulligan (who I’m pleasantly surprised still gets several reads a day, despite being written last summer).
Since there is certainly no biography on Southy Simpson, if you’d like to read about other plain, honest men, pick up a copy of ‘Plain, Honest Men’ which discusses the writing of the Constitution. It’s one of my favorites and can be found thru the affiliate link below.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Robert George Kissinger.
Thank you for showing a city kid that he could live in the woods.