Chapter History

Captain John Oldham Chapter was organized on December 2, 1957, by Organizing Regent Retha Downey, and was named for the oldest son of William and Basey (Elizabeth) Oldham, born in Prince William County, Virginia, on November 10, 1757. The family followed oldest son Jesse to Orange County, NC (later Caswell County) between 1764 and 1777. John was a captain of a local company; his brother George was a major; and his brother Jesse is said in family lore to have made at least one trip to Kentucky with Daniel Boone and helped plant the first corn crop at Boonesborough. John’s nephew Richard served in his uncle’s company. This truly was a family that furthered the cause of American independence.

John Oldham fought for the cause of freedom from 1777 until 1781. He enlisted as a soldier in the Revolutionary War in Caswell County, North Carolina, and was soon promoted to the rank of captain. He was serving as captain of a company as early as 1777, serving in Col. Moore’s Regiment in the North Carolina Line. Captain Oldham was in General Gates' command when General Gates was defeated at Camden, South Carolina, August 16, 1780, by the British under Cornwallis. In this battle the colonial standard bearer was shot down and Captain John Oldham seized the standard and bore it until the final defeat by Cornwallis.

Retha Downey was born in 1895 and was a third generation Nevada County native in a distinguished Nevada County family. She began a working career and moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the War Production Board at the Red Cross Headquarters building, across the street from the DAR Continental Hall, library, and museum. She thus began her ties with DAR, which were extensive. In 1944, she joined the Army as a WAC and was stationed at Camp Beale.

Retha belonged to the Marysville Chapter, which was not doing well at the time, so she decided to form a local chapter. She was not only our organizing regent, but was also a charter member of the Nevada City Historical Society, and she sparked the effort to restore the old Nevada Theatre on Broad Street. She was very good friends with DAR California State Regent Arta Oldham Brandt Flood.