War of 1812

A Kentucky Baptist in the War of 1812

I recently completed an essay on Ambrose Dudley, early Kentucky Baptist pastor, for publication in a multi-volume series of books published by Particular Baptist Press: A Noble Company. Ambrose was himself a Captain in the Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary War before resigning from his commission following his conversion and call to ministry. In researching Ambrose Dudley, however, I came across some fascinating details regarding his youngest brother, William. Since this year marks the bicentennial of the beginning of the War of 1812 and in honor of the approximately 25,000 Commonwealth citizens who served in the military during this period, I present the following brief sketch of Colonel William Dudley.

By 1778 William Dudley was under the guardianship of Ambrose after having been orphaned when he may have been as young as twelve.[1] When Ambrose moved to Kentucky in 1786, William was apparently still a member of his household. In the first tax records for which the Dudleys were present in Fayette County, William was listed as a male above 21 in the household of Ambrose Dudley.[2] By 1792, William had his own 150 acres.[3] William would become a respected resident and a leading magistrate in Fayette County.[4] He was received as a candidate for baptism at the Bryan Station Baptist Church (where his brother Ambrose served as pastor for nearly 40 years) in November of 1801.[5] During the War of 1812, William served as a Colonel and courageously led a group of 800 men to silence a British battery of cannons at Fort Meigs (in Ohio) on May 5, 1813. This effort was successful, but in a subsequent engagement with British troops in the area he and his company were lured into the woods, surrounded by Indians and defeated.[6] Early Kentucky historian Lewis Collins provides the gruesome details of the death of the Colonel. “Colonel Dudley was shot in the body and thigh, and thus disabled. When last seen, he was sitting in the swamp, defending himself against the Indians, who swarmed around him in great numbers. He was finally killed, and his corpse mutilated in a most shocking manner.”[7] These events caused William Dudley to achieve infamy as this episode became known nationally as “Dudley’s Defeat.” In his death, Dudley joined fellow Kentuckians in disproportionately making up approximately 60% of all casualties in the war with England.


[1] Ambrose Dudley posted a £2,000 guardian bond on April 16, 1778 on behalf of “William Dudley, orph. of Robert Dudley.” This probably indicates that Ambrose and William’s mother, Joyce, died around this time leaving William an orphan indeed. William Armstrong Crozier, ed., Virginia County Records: Spotsylvania County 1721-1800 Being Transcriptions from the Original Files at the County Court House, of Wills, Deeds, Administrators’ and Guardians’ Bonds, Marriage Licenses, and Lists of Revolutionary Pensioners (Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1978), 78.

[2] Netti Schreiner-Yantis and Florene Speakman Love. The Personal Property Tax Lists for the Year 1787 for Fayette County, Virginia [Now Kentucky] (Springfield, Va: Genealogical Books in Print, 1985), 2.

[3] Fayette County Tax Records 1787-1804 [micro-film] Kentucky Historical Society.

[4] Collins, Historical Sketches of Kentucky, 293-294.

[5] Bryan’s Station Baptist Church Records, 1786-1901 (Fayette Co., KY) [manuscript] Kentucky Historical Society, 119.

[6] Edward J. Reilly, Legends of American Indian Resistance (Santa Barbara, Calif. : ABC-CLIO, 2011), 57.

[7] Collins, Historical Sketches of Kentucky, 294.