Jeffrey Hough – Gruntworks Contributing Blogger
Pvt. Wooldrich Frederick Fritz was born in the Rhine-Palatine area of Germany in 1731. His family immigrated to Philadelphia in 1738 when he was a young boy and settled for a time in Pennsylvania and eventually to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. He met and married his wife Elizabeth there and around 1763 he moved his growing family to the Lexington, NC area where other German immigrants had settled. He farmed for a living and had six children. When the Revolutionary War began his two sons eventually served in General Nathanael Greene’s army along with numerous other men from the German community. Fritz and his neighbor Valentine Leonard were elders in the community and were very influential in persuading men from the area to serve on the side of the Patriots. This would later cost both men their lives.
As British General Cornwallis slowly withdrew to Virginia in 1780 and 1781, the action came very close to Lexington where the Fritz farm was. Wooldrich Fritz fought alongside his sons, George and John, and his friend and neighbor, Valentine Leonard and his son Jacob at Guilford Courthouse on 15 March 1781. Wooldrich Fritz was 50 years old when he saw combat and Valentine Leonard was 63. As Cornwallis withdrew into Virginia the unit was partially disbanded and the elder Fritz and Leonard returned to their farms.
On 19 October 1781, Cornwallis was defeated at Yorktown, Virginia brining all major hostilities to an end. The war between neighbors would continue however. On 2 November 1781 a band of Tories, who were loyal to the British crown, crept up and attacked both Wooldrich Fritz and Valentine Leonard. Fritz would die immediately from gunshot wounds but Leonard would cling to life for another twelve days before passing away. The Tories were never caught. Both men were laid to rest side by side at the Pilgrim Reformed Church in Davidson County, North Carolina.
In 1896 a group of citizens in the community erected a marker near their headstones. The inscription on the East Side reads: “This monument was erected by citizens A.D. 1896 out of veneration for our brave dead. These men are of those who fought for and gained our liberty. Unveiled with appropriate ceremonies on July 4, 1896.”
The West Side reads: “The heroes buried in this spot were cruelly assassinated in their own homes by Tories near the close of the Revolutionary War. They were Patriots and bravely fought for American independence.”
The original soapstone marker for Wooldrich reads: “W. F. Wooldrick Frits, deceased November the second, 1781, age 50 yrs. Remember me as you pass by; As you are now, so once was I; As I am now, so must you be; Prepare therefore to follow me.” On his footstone: “Lo, here doth lifeless Wooldrick lie, cut off by murder’s cruelty.”
I will remember my 5th great-grandfather, Pvt. Wooldrich Frederick Fritz, as I always do on Memorial Day. Grandfather, your sacrifice is not forgotten.