He received a fair education according to the standard of the day, but was more adventurous than studious. At the age of 17 he joined a company of Rangers formed for the purpose of fighting the Indians, who were very troublesome in that section. During an expedition to the frontier for the object of punishing a marauding party, his company was ambuscaded and made a desperate resistance, but were overpowered and put to flight. During this skirmish young Winston acted with great gallantry. His horse was killed under him and he himself received to balls; one in the thigh, and the other in the body. Dragging himself painfully into the underbrush, the Indians in pursuit of the retreating Rangers, passed him by. Here he would doubtless have perished had he not been discovered by comrades, who like himself had sought the brush for refuge. His friend being unwounded aided him in escape, faithfully carrying him on his back for three days, until they reached the welcome shelter of a frontier man's cabin. During this toilsome and painful journey they had no food save the berries of the wild roses, which fortunately, were quite plentiful. One of the bullets which he then received was never extricated and continued to the end of his life to be a source of suffering.
Early in 1770, Winston migrated to what was then Surry, now Stokes County, North Carolina, settling in the vicinity of the forks of Dan River. He embraced with ardor the cause of the Colonies in the dispute with the mother country, and was chosen by the people of his county to represent them in the important Provincial Congress of 1775. In February following the was one of an expedition against the Scotch Tories on Cross Creek, who in the endeavor to effect a junction with the royal troops under Sir Henry Clinton were signally defeated at Moore's Creek Bridge on the 27th of that month.
By the Provincial Congress of April, 1776, he was appointed lst Major and Commandant of the Militia for the county of Surry. In this capacity he served under Gen. Griffith Rutherford in arduous expedition across the mountains in the fall of the same year. By this expedition the Cherokees were so effectively humbled that they continued peaceful during the rest of the war.
Under the Constitution of 1776, Major Wins ton was elected a member of the first House of Commons, which met the following years. Upon him, in conjunction with Waighstill Avery and Robert Lanier, was conferred the important duty of effecting a permanent settlement with the lately humbled Cherokees. They succeeded in securing the celebrated treaty of the Long Island of Holston, thereby extinguishing the Indian tititle to a large area of land and establishing a peace which enabled the western people to devote all their engeries to the defeat of the British. Without this treaty the victory of King's Mountain would have been impossible, as the mountaineers would have been exposed to the attacks of the savages.
During the Britain invasion of North Carolina, Major Winston was in active service against them and against the Tories. He fought with the gallant but unfortunate General William Davidson against Cornwallis and afterwards with Col. Cleveland against the Loyalists of New River.
From 1807 to 1813 he served as a Trustee of the University of North Carolina, thus showing his interest in higher education, which was just then struggling for recognition. Immediately after the battle of King's Mountain, the General Assembly of his State voted Colonel Winston a sword, in recognition of his gallantry on that memorable day; but in the harassing trials of the war, the vote was not carried into effect. It was not until the beginning of the second War of Independence that this duty was performed.
His reply when this honor was conferred upon him was characteristic of the man, and in its laconic brevity breathes the sublime virtue of the ancient Spartan. He said, "Mr. Speaker, I am at a loss for words to express my sense of honor which the General Assembly has conferred upon me by this grateful present. I trust that the sword which is directed to be presented to me, will never be tarnished by cowardice, but be wielded in defense of my country[s right and independence." Thus was his last public service crowned by a noble testimonial of his people's love and gratitude. He died on the 21st of April, 1814.
In person, Col. Winston was of commanding presence and fine manners. His form was stately, his countenance noble and expressive; in some features resembling his kinsman, Patrick Henry. His nature was fitted rather for action than for contemplation or speech.
Warrior, Statesman, Patriot, Educator, he yet "lives in the hearts of his countrymen." His monument in the thriving and progressive town of Winston, which was fitly named in his honor, since the liberty he so greatly aided in establishing, alone made its existence a possibility.
In the grand Memorial Hall at Chapel Hill, amid the names of other illustrious Carolinians, is a tablet to the memory of Colonel Joseph Winston. It reads as follows:
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