Who is Montfort Stokes?
During a meeting of the Board of Managers for the Oklahoma Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, we were discussing potential activities in which our organization could participate. There was a brief conversation on the subject on marking graves of Revolutionary War Soldiers, an activity in which our counterparts back East participate in quite regularly. My first thought was "That would be nice but there are not any Revolutionary War Soldiers buried in Oklahoma." To my surprise, someone mentioned that we only had one in Oklahoma but no one could recall his name. I'm an avid history buff but I hadn't heard of this. With my curiosity aroused, following the meeting I did some research.
Montfort Stokes was born on 12 March 1762 in Lunenburg County, Virginia. He was the youngest of the eleven children of David Stokes, a military officer and judge. At the age of 13, he enlisted in the United States Merchant Marine. During the American Revolutionary War, Stokes was captured by the British and confined for seven months on the British prison ship Jersey in New York Harbor. He later held the rank of major general in the state militia from 1804 to 1816.
After the Revolutionary War, Stokes settled in Salisbury, North Carolina, farmed, served as clerk of court, and studied law. There, he first met Andrew Jackson, a fellow lawyer. He served as assistant clerk in the North Carolina Senate from 1786 to 1780, and as clerk from 1799 to 1816, until he was elected to the United States Senate following the resignation of James Turner. He served the remaining few months of Turner's term and then a full term in the Senate, but was defeated for re-election by the legislature in 1823. He had previously been elected to the Senate in 1804, but had declined the seat. During his Senate term Stokes changed his residency from Salisbury to Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Stokes was then elected to the North Carolina General Assembly where he represented Wilkes County in the North Carolina Senate from 1826 to 1827 and the North Carolina House of Commons from 1829 to 1830.
In 1830, Stokes was elected Governor by the General Assembly on the ninth ballot, defeating Cadwallader Jones and Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr.. Stokes faced Spaight for re-election again the following year and was elected by a narrow margin (98-93). During his term in office, Stokes supported construction of canals along the North Carolina Coast; he simultaneously served as president of the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees.
A strong supporter of President Andrew Jackson, Governor Stokes urged the state legislature to support Jackson's anti-nullification position; Stokes was named by Jackson to head the Federal Indian Commission, overseeing relocation and resettlement of Indian tribes from the American southeast, and resigned as governor on November 19, 1832.
With his new position, Stokes moved to Fort Gibson in the Indian Territory (now part of the state of Oklahoma) in Feb 1833. He advocated for the Cherokee, Seneca, Shawnee, and Quapaw tribes. He died on 4 November 1842 and is buried near Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.
So if anyone ever asks me “Who is Montfort Stokes?”, my response will not be “I don’t know.”, nor will it be “A past Governor and Congressman from North Carolina”, but will be "Montfort Stokes is believed to be the only soldier of the American Revolutionary War buried in Oklahoma.”
Although Montfort Stokes is buried at Ft. Gibson, the exact location of his grave remains a mystery. It was believed he was buried on the post and later moved to the Ft. Gibson National Cemetery; however, I recently found a 1978 nomination form to the National Register of Historical Places for the Cherokee National Cemetery also located in Ft. Gibson. The paragraph below from the application suggests he may be buried in the Cherokee National Cemetery.
Montfort Stokes DAR Monument erected in 1925 at Ft. Gibson, OK. Notice the named is spelled Montford with a "d" rather than a "t".
The article below is from the Oklahoma Historical Society Chronicles of Oklahoma.
Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 13, No. 1
SONS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
The members of the State Society, Sons of the American Revolution were guests of Montfort Stokes Chapter, at Muskogee, on the occasion of their annual meeting, held on February 22nd. The three chapters in the State were well represented which evidences a most pleasing reaction to the patriotic endeavors of the organization. Luncheon was served by the ladies of the First Presbyterian Church, following which came the reports of officers and the annual address by Judge John B. Meserve of Tulsa.
The following officers were elected for the ensuing year:-William O. Beall of Tulsa, President; Thomas G. Banks of Oklahoma City, John Fred Brett of Muskogee and Hal S. Downing of Oklahoma City, Vice-Presidents; Walter J. Bashaw of Tulsa, Registrar; A. N. Leecraft of Durant, Historian; Edward F. McKay of Oklahoma City, Chaplain; Philos S. Jones, of Muskogee, National Trustee and Paul P. Pinkerton of Sand Springs, Delegate to the National Convention to be held this year in Louisville, Kentucky, in May.
The retiring President, Hon. Philos S. Jones of Muskogee has left behind him a year of unremitting service to the welfare of the society.
Immediately after the session the assembled members made a pilgrimage to old Ft. Gibson and to the grave of Gov. Montfort Stokes at that place. Gov. Stokes is the only soldier of the Revolution to sleep within the confines of our beloved State and it was so fitting that the members of this patriotic society should pause at his bier on this occasion of their annual meeting.
The annual meeting next year will be held at Oklahoma City.
John Fred Brett, Secretary.
End of Article
By Glenn Lee
- Oklahoma Historical Society Chronicles of Oklahoma
- Congressional Biography
- North Carolina Historical Marker
- Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Robert Sobel and John Raimo, eds. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. (ISBN 0-930466-00-4)