A Captain Wins, then Loses
An Early Morning Trap
Most of this story comes from the Patriot commander involved. Where sources differ, we defer to his eyewitness account. But believe details with caution!
After defeating the Continental Army badly at the Battle of Camden (S.C.), the British moved into a camp in this region, known as “the Waxhaws” for the Native American tribe that lived here before Europeans arrived. Most of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis’ army camped on both sides of the state border along the north bank of Waxhaw Creek, starting about a mile to the west of the map location. However, one regiment, the 71st of Foot (infantry), was on the south side, protecting the right end or “flank” of the army. It camped on heights perhaps a mile southeast of a mill on the creek near the map marker.
Loyalist (“Tory”) militia from South Carolina took over the house of the mill owner on the north side, and began raiding area homes for supplies. The army was here longer than Cornwallis planned, because malaria and yellow fever broke out. Among the sick was Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, commander of the feared cavalry unit named the British Legion.
North Carolina Patriot (or “Whig”) militia, part-time soldiers, had moved into Camp New Providence in the southern part of today’s Charlotte to monitor Cornwallis. Col. William Davie, the new 24-year-old commander of the state cavalry, decided to attack the Tories. He doesn’t say why in his memoirs. It helped that he knew this land, having grown up in the Waxhaws. His men and some riflemen, mounted either separately or doubled up behind the cavalrymen, took a circular, eastern route so they could approach from the British flank. They arrived around 2 a.m. at a plantation where the Tories had been spotted. But their quarry had moved. After trying two other places, they were told the Tories had gone to the plantation of one of their captains, James Waughub—apparently pronounced without the “g,” because he was known as Capt. “Wahab.” The family changed it to “Walkup” sometime after the war, hence today’s Walkup Road on the west side of the site.
The Waughubs had roots in Scotland, but moved from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1724. James was probably born there, raised in Southwest Virginia, and moved again as part of the migration that brought many Scotch-Irish to N.C., probably in 1751. He was among the first European-Americans in the Waxhaws. (The Waxhaw people had been destroyed decades earlier by European diseases, though some may have been absorbed into the nearby Catawba nation.) Waughub married Margaret Pickens about five years later. By 1761 he had received royal grants totaling 1,035 acres.
The sun was barely peeking over the horizon on Wednesday, September 20, 1780, when Davie’s unit arrived with Waughub. His home was somewhere near the map marker above. A lane led past the house, perhaps going down to the mill. (Most veterans applying for government pensions years later called this skirmish “Wahab’s Lane.”) A field full of mature corn was on the east side of the house and lane. Another was on the north, extending nearly to the house. The Tory camp was probably on unplanted land on the west side. By the house as the Patriots neared were about 60 mounted Loyalists, getting ready to go on patrol. Because of that, they had probably pulled in the sentries that guarded the camp overnight, giving the Whigs a lucky break.
Davie sent some of his rifleman to sneak through the north-side corn in a line facing the house. He and about 40 others entered the eastern field and formed one parallel to the lane, extending past the house. Finally when close enough, the two forces charged. On the south side, meanwhile, a trap closed: Davie had sent cavalry around the east field, and it now entered the lane on the far end after waiting for the infantry to fire. The three units converged on the startled Tory cavalrymen from three sides.
Imagine the confusion and fear as men fell to the ground, and those still mounted tried to figure out where to go. Somehow the latter got past the Patriot cavalry to the far end of the lane, only to suffer a blast of gunfire from the cornfield on that side. More of the Tories dropped, and the remainder were forced back toward the Patriots nearer the house.
At least one Whig was wounded—by his own side. Davie notes that since militia did not wear uniforms, he was mistaken for the enemy. Unfortunately, the only two sources providing details give completely different stories. One says Jack Barnett was on horseback, rode to the fence around the cornfield and spotted a Loyalist he knew, who dropped his gun and ran. Barnett dismounted to grab the gun, the story goes, and just then the cavalry charged the Tories. His well-trained horse charged with them! So Barnett took cover behind a tree, and when he tried to rejoin his fellow soldiers, was struck in the side by three Whig bullets. Despite this, he supposedly recovered at home in Charlotte.
However, according to Thomas Spratt’s grandson, Spratt took Whig buckshot through the muscle of his right thigh, clipping his femur. He was helped back to camp by two other men holding him on his horse. Family stories published in the 1850s claimed the British later camped at Spratt’s farm, and one of their surgeons treated his wounds. Since drafted soldiers and volunteers flowed in and out of militia forces, and record-keeping was imperfect, it is possible both men were wounded and their officers did not realize it!
As for the Tories, Davie says, “they fluctuated some moments under the impressions of terror & dismay.” Finally they jumped some fences on the west side of the house and escaped.
Then, a new danger to the Patriots was heard: drums beating on the heights across the creek. They realized this was the British readying to march to the Tories’ support. Davie ordered the Loyalists’ extra horses and gear to be gathered.
One man did not help. Waughub was greeting his wife and children, who were inside the house during the fight. “They gathered round him in tears of joy and distraction… and he could only embrace them,” Davie writes, before the Patriots had to take off. Waughub “in a few minutes afterwards turning his eyes back towards his all… had the mortification to see their only hope of subsistence wrapped in flames.” The 71st had set the house ablaze, along with the outbuildings and fences.
Davie says the entire Tory unit was either killed or wounded. Other sources suggest 15-20 were killed, 40 wounded, and possibly 1 captured. But the greater impact may have been the 50-96 horses captured with their tack, along with as many as 120 muskets, much needed by Patriot forces. No Whigs were killed or captured.
One veteran adds, “On this occasion several balls passed through the clothes of Colonel… Davie, but none of them struck the skin.” Davie does not confirm that, but it was a common enough experience for officers that he may not have thought it rated mentioning! The Patriots rode all the way back to camp, completing a 60-mile march—and a firefight—in less than 24 hours.
Not lost in the battle, perhaps, was some of the Waughub’s tableware. In modern times, someone bought at a yard sale a brass Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) marker claiming, “This pot was used to hide the silver and pewter of… (Waughub) in his mill pond…” The fate of the pot is unknown, however.
The Waughubs lived out their lives on the plantation, holding 10 people in slavery including Dina, Prince, and Sum. James died in 1798 at 74, about four years after Margaret at 53. They are buried at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church, under tombstones using the Walkup name with a coat of arms and the motto, “Sola Juvat Virtus,” which means “Virtue Alone Delights.” Margaret’s also bears the epitaph, “Freely she left this mortal shore for lands where sorrows are no more. Where her reanimated dust shall dwell and shine among the just.”
If you wish to pay your respects, the coordinates are: 34.79037, -80.83141. Davie is buried nearby, in a walled section next to the church.
Two days after the skirmish, Cornwallis broke camp and began marching north, leading to the Battle of Charlotte. There Davie’s men faced down the entire British army!
An Ill-Fated Home and Monument
Waughub had a new home built after the war. However, according to a 1905 article, it burned down while owned by descendant Col. William Walkup, taking three children with it. William and his wife Jane “had no children, but raised some ten or fifteen orphans,” the article says. “On what is known as ‘Windy Friday…’ (on) March 9, 1855, Union County was swept by wind and flame, which destroyed thousands of acres of timber and scores of buildings and residences.” The family moved into a log cabin near the creek before rebuilding in 1869, probably on the same spot as the burned home, at the intersection of today’s Walkup and JAARS roads. That house still stands. At the time it was the largest home in the county.
The house passed out of family hands in 1906, but James’ great-grandson William Belk bought it 13 years later. Belk was co-owner of The New York Racket store in Monroe, the first of what became the Belk Brothers stores, now the Belk department store chain. After again leaving the family for a time, the house is once more owned by Waughub/Belk descendants.
A DAR chapter placed a monument to the battle south of the house in 1941. “Made of mortared stone and fitted with a proper brass plaque, the large and impressive monument sat on Walkup Road,” a local historian wrote. Sometime after mid-1998, it was destroyed. “Various locals shared that the resident of the home at the time of the destruction said the marker was ‘blown up’ by vandals, (and) that he gave chase in his car causing him to have an accident.” Theft apparently was not the motive, for the plaque was recovered and mounted in the home. It remains attached to the wall near the bottom of the front staircase.
- ‘A Welcome for Cornwallis | Charlotte Mecklenburg Story’ <https://www.cmstory.org/exhibits/hornets-nest-book-one/welcome-cornwallis> [accessed 16 August 2021]
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- Baxley, Charles, ‘Wahab’s Plantation (Printout from Defunct Web Page, Http://Gaz.Jrshelby.Com/Wahabsp.Htm)’, 2008
- Blythe, LeGette, William Henry Belk: Merchant of the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press)
- Burke, William, ‘The North Carolina Loyalists: Faulty Linchpin of a Failed Strategy’ (unpublished Master’s thesis, The College of William and Mary, 1988)
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- Gerhart, Angela, ‘Colonel William Walkup House, Union County, North Carolina’, Local History Room, Union County Public Library
- Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of James McAdow, S2760’, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/S2760.pdf> [accessed 18 August 2021]
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- Hawfield, S. O., ‘Walkup Family Genealogy’, The Monroe Enquirer (Monroe, N.C., 28 November 1957)
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- Mellwaine, C. C., ‘The Walkup Family’, The Monroe Journal (Monroe, North Carolina, 30 May 1905), p. 4
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- Pilon, Mike, Walkup Home Tour and Interview, 3/4/022
- Poland, Patricia, Battle of the Waxhaws, September 20, 1780: Keeping the Name of a Revolutionary War Event Straight (Monroe, N.C.: Dickerson Genealogy & Local History Room, Union County Public Library, 2008a), p. 7
- Poland, Patricia, ‘Buford’s Massacre? Battle of the Waxhaws? Aren’t They the Same Thing? No!’, 2008b, Local History Room, Union County Public Library
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- Poquette, Nancy, tran., ‘Pension Application of Thomas Cumming, # S6780’, in Pension Applications of the Guilford County, NC Soldiers of the Revolutionary War (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements) <http://revwarapps.org/g1.pdf>
- Quarles, Anne, ‘(Headline Missing)’, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C., 21 September 1941), Local History Room, Union County Public Library
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- Robinson, Blackwell, The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1976)
- Sherman, Wm. Thomas, Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781, Tenth Edition (Seattle, WA: Gun Jones Publishing, 2007) <https://www.americanrevolution.org/calendar_south_10_ed_update_2017.pdf>
- Syfert, Scott, Eminent Charlotteans: Twelve Historical Profiles from North Carolina’s Queen City (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2018)
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- Walker, Bill, ‘Cornwallis Comes to the Waxhaws: British Army Stays Longer Than Expected After Fever Strikes Most of the Troops’, The Enquirer-Journal (Monroe, N.C., 26 July 1992)
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- ‘Will of James Waughub, Mecklenburg County Wills Book G, Page 23’, 1795
 Many sources assume the battle was fought at a later house described in the last section, where the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a monument. However, Waughub’s great-grandson William Belk said the battle and house were downslope nearer Waxhaw Creek (in Blythe, undated), as have local historians.
 With permission from the property owner, JAARS, AmRevNC searched the area for physical evidence of a mill or the home described further down. None was visible. We are grateful nonetheless to JAARS for its cooperation.
 Genealogical sources list modern descendants going by Wauchop, Wahab, Waugh, and other versions of the name. However, James signed his will “Waughub” (Will of James Waughub).
 Though more of a skirmish, this action is also known as the “Battle of the Waxhaws,” as declared on the DAR plaque pictured farther down in the text. However, other sources use that name for what also is called “Buford’s Defeat” or “…Massacre” in S.C. The author of a comprehensive report on Camp New Providence pointed out there was a third skirmish just across the border that could also be given the Waxhaws name, and recommended the more specific term we use here (Anderson, John, “Speaking of battle names,” E-mail, 12/26/2021). The former librarian at the Dickinson Local History Room of the Union County Public Library leaned that way as well, though ultimately sticking with Waxhaw’s, apparently because of the monument (Poland 2008b). She said all of the older sources she found called the battle “Wahab’s Plantation.” As mentioned in the text, the majority of pension applications mentioning it used Wahab’s “lane.”
 Sherman 2007. Some sources indicate Tarleton’s British Legion was camped there as well, but it numbered 300-400 men, and later events make this doubtful. Also, all pension applications mention only Tories; though the Legion was mostly Loyalists, they wore British uniforms and are generally called “British” in such applications.
 This incident, and the likelihood at least some of the British Legion would have reacted in time to change the course of the battle, adds to the sense the Legion was not there. Will Graves, transcriber of many of the pension applications, notes that the temporary commander of the Legion does not mention being at this skirmish.
 O’Kelly 2004.
 Syfert 2018.
 Robinson 1976.
 Robinson; Sherman quotes Davie’s commander Brig. Gen. William Davidson as giving the lower numbers in these ranges.
 Pension Application of Samuel Van Eaton.
 Two pictures of the plaque, one dated 2017, were in the vertical files at the Dickinson Local History Room as of 2022.
 Per his will, transcribed in Quarles 1941.
 Pilon 2022.
 AmRevNC is grateful to family member Mike Pilon for providing a tour of the home and permission to take pictures.