John Baptista Ashe was the eldest of seven children born to Samuel Swann Ashe (1725-1813), Governor of North Carolina, and Mary Porter (1732-1767). He was born in 1748 at Rocky Point in New Hanover County, North Carolina, USA, presumably at his father’s residence, The Neck, on Northeast Cape Fear River. Privately tutored at home, he later engaged in agricultural pursuits, as well as having a military and political career.
He served throughout the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), otherwise known as the American War of Independence, and attained the rank of colonel. He was at the battle of Alamance in 1771, and at the battle of Morris’ creek in February 1776. He was appointed a captain in the Sixth Continentals in April 1776, a major in January 1777, and lieutenant-colonel in November 1778. He served with credit throughout the war, and particularly distinguished himself at the hard-fought bloody battle of Eutaw Springs in September 1781.
He was a member of the State house of commons 1784-1786, serving as speaker of the house in 1786. He was a member of the Continental Congress in 1787 and served until 1 November 1787, when he resigned. He served as chairman of the committee of the whole in the State convention of 1789 that ratified the Constitution of the United States. He presided over all the deliberations of that body during the discussion of the instrument. He had opposed the adoption of the constitution without amendments, and like his father and brother-in-law, Willie Jones, was strongly imbued with the spirit of democracy.
During his career in the Continental and United States Congress he displayed the same untiring opposition to sectional power, that had characterized the name of Ashe. Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, was a Member of Congress with Ashe, and their views were antagonistic. One, intensely northern; the other, southern. On calling the roll, this became so noticeable that some one wrote:
“Fisher Ames and others say Aye,
John Baptista Ashe says Nay.”
He was a member of the State senate in 1789, and was elected as an Anti-Administration candidate to the First and Second Congresses serving from 24 March 1790 until 3 March 1793. In 1795, he was elected from Halifax to the Legislature, but then retired from public life. Three years after his father retired from the office of governor, he himself was elected. However, after signifying his acceptance, he died on 27 November 1802, before being inaugurated into the office. When his death was formally announced to the senate on 29 November, his successor in office, James Turner of Warren County, proposed a thirty day period of morning that was unanimously adopted.
His father, of Wiltshire, England ancestry, was Samuel Ashe, future governor of the state and brother to militia General John Ashe. His mother was Mary Porter, cousin to her husband and his first wife. He had many distinguished relatives:
– Son of Governor Samuel Swann Ashe (1725-1813);
– Nephew of Major General John Ashe (1720-1781);
– Father of Samuel Porter Ashe (1791-1848);
– Brother of Colonel Samuel Porter Ashe (1763-1835) and Lieutenant William Cincinnatus Ashe (1765-1781);
– Uncle of the Hon. John Baptista Ashe (1810-1857), Major William Shepherd Ashe (1813-1862), and Colonel Dr. Richard Porter Ashe (1823-1871).
On 7 October 1779, Ashe married Elizabeth (26 February 1762 to 1 September 1812), daughter of the late Joseph Montfort, one-time provincial grand master of Masons in North America, and older sister to Mary Montfort, who became Mrs Willie Jones. John and Elizabeth then made their home on the southern outskirts of Halifax, and Elizabeth became her husband’s sole administratrix upon his death. John Baptista Ashe left one son, Samuel Porter Ashe, whose descendants live in Tennessee.
John Baptista Ashe was a tobacco grower. As of 1785, Ashe owned forty-eight slaves; by the time of the federal census of 1790, the total had risen to sixty-three. His tobacco was used in the making of cigars that were marketed under the name of “John Ashe”.
Death and Burial
John Baptista Ashe died on 27 November 1802. He and his wife are thought to be buried in unmarked graves just south of Halifax, possibly in the private burial ground at White Hall (now Glen Ivy) estate. Portraits of both, miniatures on ivory by an unknown artist, are in possession of Ashe’s descendant, Mrs L. Watson Hall of Little Rock, Ark. Both likenesses were engraved by the Philadelphia lithographer Albert Rosenthal about 1885 and were first reproduced by C. W. Bowman. Ashe’s name is commemorated by Ashe’s Island, off Onslow County.
A memorial tablet has been installed at the Ashe Cemetery, Rocky Point, Pender County, North Carolina.
– Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: 1774-2005 (2005)
– John H. Wheeler, Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians (1884)
– Introduction by the Hon. Samuel A. Ashe, Cyclopaedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas of the Nineteenth Century: Vol. II (1892)
– William S. Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina: Vol. I (1994)
– The South in the Building of the Nation: Vol. XI (1909)
– Charles L. Davis, A Brief History of the North Carolina Troops on the Continental Establishment in the War of the Revolution (1896)
– Buz Kuzan, Find A Grave website