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April 29, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham Notables: “The Western Sampson,” Part I

Peter Francisco is undoubtedly one of Buckingham County’s best known citizens. His life story has been told and retold, even mythologized. Recently, I discovered a version of his biography printed in the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser in 1855. Printed twenty years after his death, Francisco’s story had already cured long enough to take on mythic proportions. As an early telling, it is particularly valuable, revealing some curious details in his beloved rags to riches story. The mid-nineteenth century language has its own charm. Unfortunately, the article is unsigned. It begins:

An American Sampson.

As late as the year 1836 there lived in western Virginia a man whose strength was so remarkable as to win him the title of “The Western Sampson.” He knew nothing of his birth or parentage, but supposed he was born in Portugal, whence he was stolen when a child and carried to Ireland. His earliest recollections were those of boyhood in the latter country. While yet a lad he apprenticed himself to a sea captain for seven years, in pay for passage to this country. On his arrival his time and services were sold to a Mr. Winston, of Virginia, in whose service he remained until the breaking out of the Revolution. Being of an adventurous turn of mind, he sought and obtained permission of his master to join the army, and was engaged in active service during the whole contest.

Such was his strength and bravery that no enemy could resist him. He wielded his sword, the blade of which was five feet in length, as though it had been a feather, and everyone who came in contact with him paid the forfeit of his life. At Stony Point he was one of the “forlorn hope,” which was advanced to cut away the abattis* and next to Major Gibson, was the first man to enter the works. At Brandywine and Monmouth he exhibited the most fearless bravery; and nothing but his inability to write prevented his promotion to a commission. Transferred to the South he took part in most of the engagements in that section, and toward the close of the war he was engaged in a contest which exhibited in a striking manner his self-confidence and courage.

* abattis – a line of defense consisting of a barrier of felled or live trees with branches (sharpened or with barbed wire entwined) pointed toward the enemy.

Coming next: Buckingham Notables: “The Western Sampson,” Part II


Leave a Comment
  1. Ted Kinker / Apr 29 2019 6:44 am

    Peter Francisco was raised by my 6th Great Grandfather, Anthony Winston (1723 to 1783). There is a write up about Peter Francisco in the William And Mary Quarterly Vol XIII, April 1905, No. 4, page 213.

    • Joanne Yeck / Apr 30 2019 6:26 am

      Thanks for adding your connection to Anthony Winston, enhancing Peter Francisco’s story.
      I will investigate the article. Thanks for the citation!


  1. Buckingham Notables: “The Western Sampson,” Part V | slate river ramblings . . . .

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