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Bruce’s Crossroads

A Bugler Loses his Horse and his Life


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Coordinates: 36.2009, -79.9033.

Type: Sight
Tour: Guilford Battle
County: Guilford

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Odyssey Dental of Summerfield has kindly allowed AmRevNC users to park in their lot.[1] At busy times, please park toward the back. If it is full, return to Summerfield Road, turn left, and park in the Sheriff’s Office lot (the next driveway on the left); a sidewalk leads back past the dental office.

All stops are visible from pavement or within your vehicle.

Man in a white tee shirt that says, "Just a Regulator Guy"


The Continental army of the South has been withdrawing from the Charlotte region before its British counterpart, while trying to gather enough militia to take a stand, in a campaign now called “The Race to the Dan.”



Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene has camped on the heights around the Guilford County Courthouse, now in the town named for him, Greensboro. He formed a “light corps” of cavalry and fast-moving infantry under Col. Otho Williams to guard against, and keep an eye on, the British. Williams has moved in this direction (northwest) to look for the Redcoats, probably sending forward small patrols.


The British army under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis is trying to hunt down the Americans. It zig-zagged east from modern Winston-Salem and is marching in this direction, the front perhaps as close as a mill a few miles west (across NC 68, which runs by the Greensboro airport to Oak Ridge, from a later mill there today).


Sunday, February 11, 1781.


Mug saying, "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll

Imagine the Scene

Most of the details of this story come from two eyewitnesses, secondhand in one case. The earliest known sources are three books published at least 47 years later, which differ on many points. Veteran’s pension applications confirm the basic facts, but believe details with caution.

Walk to the front of the fenced-in area by the driveway.

You are on the plantation of Charles Bruce, along with his family and an unknown number of enslaved people. The home itself was on the hill behind and to the left of the graveyard[2], hidden by leaves during warmer months. A veteran reported years later this is a muster point for local part-time “militia” soldiers, both for the 1776 campaign against the Cherokees in the far west of the state, and one to suppress Loyalists in the Cross Creek (Fayetteville) area the next year.[3] Two major wagon roads meet a half-mile north (right if facing the road) at “Bruce’s Crossroads,” the current intersection of Summerfield and Oak Ridge roads.

The Bruce family cemetery is inside the fence. Look at the tombstone, which is probably not by his actual grave.

Photo of a tombstone and small USA flag on the left, with open ground to the right and a tree at top
(AmRevNC photograph)

Charles Bruce was born in Virginia to a large landowner, who died when Charles was an infant. Little is known about Bruce’s life until he married in Oxford, N.C., in 1768 and moved to Guilford County the next year. He was elected to the 1776 Provincial Congress in Halifax that declared the state independent. The next year he was appointed by the state to recruit Continental troops in the county, and as a commissioner to oversee completion of the “Courthouse, Prison, and Stocks” around which Greene’s main army now is camped.

In September 1780, a civil war between Patriots and Loyalists was heating up, thanks to the British being in South Carolina. A letter from the N.C. Board of War to a militia colonel says, “Mr. Charles Bruce has in his possession a large Quantity of Money, and is now on his way to Little River and Duplin County. He has applied to me for a Guard, thinking it dangerous to go without…” The author does not say what the money is for, but orders the colonel to provide protection! Near the end of the war two years later, Bruce was appointed as a public auditor. That same year he may have built a mill on Robeson Creek, which runs behind the modern school across the road.[4] Afterwards he was named a commissioner for the sale of property confiscated from Loyalists, and like many of those men, managed to buy some of it at low prices.[5]

Turn around to face the road.

Around noon on Sunday, February 11, 1781, Williams’ light corps of 700 cavalry and infantry flows up the wagon road where Summerfield Road is now from the left, and probably past you onto the grounds of Bruce’s Plantation.[6] Included is the “American Legion” cavalry of Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Henry Lee. Neither men nor horses having eaten that morning, the troopers make fires and begin cooking breakfast. A spring on the property may have provided water.[7] Lee says in his memoir, “The morning was cold and drizzly; our fires, which had been slow in kindling, were now lively; the meat was on the coals; and the corn cake in the ashes.”[8] The rains have made their gunpowder damp, cavalry trooper James Martin told people years later.[9] That means their guns may be unreliable, but reports from their scouts indicate the British are nowhere near.

A local farmer, Isaac Wright, rides in on a puny farm horse, probably down the road from the right, and asks to speak to the commander. He tells Williams he spotted the British four miles away. According to Martin, Lee does not believe Wright and insults him, but Martin intervenes.[10] Lee orders Capt. James Armstrong and a few men to investigate with Wright, and they move out to the right toward Bruce’s Crossroads.[11]

A message apparently arrives from a patrol, however, confirming the British are close. Williams decides Armstrong should have more men, and sends Lee to join him with a detachment of 18-30 troopers (sources differ). First Lee orders someone ahead to tell Armstrong to slow down, and Lee’s group catches up after a mile or so.

With them is Lee’s bugler, James Gillies. Contrary to modern claims, including a historical marker seen later, the only early source that mentions his age says he was around 18.[12] Lee merely describes him as a “beardless boy.”

Gillies is buried in the Bruce family cemetery. Read the first “Historical Tidbit” below for details.

Photo of an intersection of two, two-lane roads with an old brick building on the far corner
Bruce’s Crossroads (AmRevNC photograph)

If you wish, visit the 1923 Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) monument across the street to Gillies and Bruce. Then to learn how Gillies died, go back to your car and follow the troopers:

  1. Turn right on Summerfield Road.
  2. Drive 0.5 miles to Oak Ridge Road (NC 150), and turn left.
    Note: This intersection was Bruce’s Crossroads.
  3. Drive 1.8 miles and turn left into the farm lane just before the “Welcome to Oak Ridge” sign.
    Note: Please avoid the private driveway just before the lane.
  4. Pull to the right out of the lane and park facing the sign, where you can see down the road.

You are within the public right-of-way, and can stay in your vehicle.

The narrow, dirt wagon road of the day takes a straighter path than the modern curve you just followed, and probably returns to the route followed by Oak Ridge Road about here. Forest crowds both sides at the time. Lee and the Continentals, all wearing green coats, ride through your vehicle. Likely within your view down the road, however, Lee pulls up. He has begun to question Wright’s information. Wright points out he was scared and may be wrong on the distance. Lee says he is going back, but sends Armstrong on with three dragoons and Wright.

But Wright—perhaps noticing that the cavalrymen around him on their fine steeds look nervous—refuses to go on riding his farm horse. So Lee orders Gillies to loan his mount to Wright. Perhaps you see them make the exchange in the distance. Here sources differ on the direction Gillies takes. Lee claims he ordered Gillies to take Wright’s horse back to camp and update Williams. Other sources, based on stories from one of the troopers, suggest Gillies was afraid Wright would ride off with his horse, so he hops on Wright’s horse and trails after them.

Photo looking down a rural two-lane road with trees on the right and a field on the left
(AmRevNC photograph)

Armstrong’s group probably disappears around the slight curve in the distance and then a sharper bend beyond it. Lee and the rest of the detachment take to the woods within sight of the road to ride back, as a precaution in case the British are indeed close.

They are.

Suddenly you hear a round of gunshots in the direction Armstrong took. Then you hear pounding hoofbeats. Wright and the men appear at a full gallop. Quickly you see why: According to one source, British dragoons (heavily armed cavalry) had been resting by the road past a bend. The curve and woods of the time would explain why the Americans had not seen them sooner, and the sharper turn mentioned above aligns with what happens next. Regardless of exactly where the two sides surprised each other, the British now are mounted and close behind, also wearing green coats. Both groups pass Lee in the woods heading toward you. Lee says he waited to make sure the British were cut off from their support behind them. Armstrong’s men ride through or around you.

Between the two parties on the road is Gillies. The farm horse is lagging behind. Lee wrote years later, “’This ill-fated boy was one of the band of music, and exclusively devoted in the field to his bugle, used in conveying orders. Too small to wield a sword, he was armed only with one pistol, as was the custom of the Legion; that sort of weapon being considered of little import in action; now he had not even his pistol, it being with the countryman mounted on his horse.’”[13]

Back your vehicle around, and follow Gillies back the way you came:

  1. Turn right from the lane, heading towards the crossroads.
  2. Drive only one-tenth of a mile and turn right into the utility driveway.
    Note: You will pass a town historical marker just before it.
  3. Immediately pull off to the right and park.

Walk to the DAR monument using the paved trail. Continue to the right end of the wall, and look back into the woods.

Here the 1781 road runs through what now is the utility substation visible on the other side of the trees, supposedly about where the closest building is within the fenced area. The road passes through a stand of oak trees, according to one of the early writers, Rev. E.W. Caruthers.

Gillies and the British come down the road from right to left. Some of the British surround Gillies and pull him off his horse. They draw their sabres and run him through as he begs to surrender, according to Lee.

The exact site where this happened is lost, but local tradition 100 years later held it was at the base of a tree still standing at the time. A 1920s professor said the spot was marked around then with the small cube the monument now curves around—the “G” on top stands for “Gillies.” He adds it was moved to this location to be closer to the newly paved road where NC 150 now runs, rerouted to get around the gully in front of you.[14] Perhaps the cube was directly downhill by the old road.

Photo looking downhill past a low stone wall monument through woods with color showing through the gaps
(AmRevNC photograph)

Regardless, Lee and his men, enraged, emerge back onto the road and charge from the right. The British scramble into a formation to meet them. At least seven of the British are killed immediately and fall to the road and ground, probably between the utility station and the sign you were at before.

A Continental volunteer, Peter Johnson, is among the troopers. Johnson engages in a sword duel with a British dragoon. His opponent’s foot gets under his and throws him off balance. He sees the English sabre raised and headed toward him when something wet splashes across his cheek. A wipe of the hand reveals blood and brains—but not, as he first feared, his own! A comrade of Johnson had seen his plight and arrived just in time to split the man’s upper ear and head nearly off.[15]

The rest of the British unit, under a Cornet Miller,[16] tries to escape back up the road. Patriot Lt. Stephen Lewis gives chase with some other men. Lee, furious at what happened to Gillies, yells after them to give no quarter—meaning to kill, not capture.

Lee directs one of his larger men to pick up Gillies’ body, and another to accompany them back to the Bruces’. He then takes the rest of the men after Lewis. Shortly they come upon him returning with Miller and most of the British: The lieutenant ignored Lee’s order. (Lee himself admits in his memoir it went against usual Continental standards.) Lee says Miller was not injured, “but his dragoons were severely cut in the face, neck, and shoulders.”

Lee gives Lewis a dressing down, and tells Miller to prepare to die. The group moves off toward the plantation.

As they ride, Miller claims he was only scouting and tried to stop his men, but they were drunk. Lee says he was almost persuaded, but near the start of a long downhill, they catch up to Gillies’ escort. (Most likely this is the slope which starts around the next road on the right in that direction, Birkhaven Drive, and drops all the way to modern I-73.) As they continue down the hill, he decides he will hang Miller in a small valley ahead. He pulls out some paper and a pencil, and hands them to Miller. Lee tells the cornet to write a final note to his friends, which he promises to pass to the British.

Fate is fickle, however. A pistol shot from men monitoring the British in the rear tells them the “van” or front of the British army is near. Lee, no doubt frustrated by the turn of events, orders his men on to the plantation with their prisoners. From there Williams sends the latter on to Greene, and Miller escapes his doom.

Gillies is left in some woods, because they cannot risk the time to bury him. The Continentals withdraw.

After the Skirmish

The van of the British, around 800 men under Brig. Gen. Charles O’Hara, marches past you. Lee says it is not until the next day, as the main army catches up, that the casualties scattered in this area are buried. (He doesn’t say how he knows that.)

O’Hara camps at Bruce’s Plantation. Bruce had gone off with Lee after sending his wife Elizabeth and children to his father’s house, in the care of an enslaved servant, Jack. Caruthers says of the British, “They took all the provisions, grain, and forage they could find, burned the fences with all the out-buildings and were about to apply the torch to the dwelling-house…” Two Quaker neighbors intervened to stop them. Some of this was witnessed by Jack, who supposedly volunteered to check on the property and report back to Elizabeth.

Bruce apparently returned soon after, because years later he told the visiting Johnson that he had buried Gillies personally. See the “Historical Tidbits” for more.

Battle Map

Battle map

Bruce’s Crossroads: Eastern locations are approximate; western are guesses. 1) Continental patrol moves west (left); Lee turns back into woods. 2) Patrol, British surprise each other; British give chase. 3) Gillies caught, killed. 4) Lee returns to road, charges. 5) British turn, skirmish with Lee. 6) Somewhere to the west, troopers capture the British.


  • British: 14–20 killed, unknown wounded, 4–8 captured.
  • Continental: 1 killed, unknown wounded.

Historical Tidbits

  • The Summerfield Historical Committee investigated the Bruce cemetery with ground-penetrating radar (GPR). They found a pair of small graves on either side of the tree on the left; a large one between the trees on the back side, its far end in line with the trees; and a slightly smaller one next to it, just this side of the tree on the right. Records show the Bruces lost two infants at childbirth, and that the Bruces are buried here. There is also one large separate grave just to the right of the Bruce marker (by coincidence), running back into the cemetery, its near end almost aligned with the marker. The committee’s guess is this last grave is that of Gillies. (See the first picture on the page.)[17]
  • In 1826 Johnson, by then a judge, revisited the area from his home in Abingdon, Va., by way of Richmond. His carriage overturned and broke a horse shaft, leaving him badly bruised. A wagonmaker’s shop was nearby, which sent him to Rev. Henry Tatum’s house to wait. Johnson recognized this as being near the site of these events. He told the story to a group by the fire. Tatum’s wife was Bruce’s daughter. Betsy said her father had told the story many times, and called Bruce to the house, where the two men reunited.[18] As Johnson left, he asked what he owed. Tatum supposedly said, “Sir, a word on the subject would cruelly wound my feelings, your account was settled in the year 1781. Your conduct was a receipt in full.”[19] Though it is altered, the Tatum’s log cabin still exists. To see it, from the monument, turn right. Drive 0.25 miles to the second left, Whitaker Drive. Turn left, and after a short distance, turn left again onto Penns Grove Road. Drive 0.2 miles, and the house is at 7622 on the right. A fireplace in the original section has bricks bearing the date “1807” above the initials “HT” and “BT.” (This is private property, not open to the public; please respect the owners’ privacy.)
Photo of a log cabin with a high roof and an extension off the front
(AmRevNC photograph)
Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women
Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women

More Information

  • ‘Acts of the North Carolina General Assembly, 1782, Volume 24, Pages 413-474’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina <> [accessed 14 May 2021]
  • ‘Acts of the North Carolina General Assembly, April 07, 1777 – May 09, 1777, Volume 24, Pages 1-42.’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina <> [accessed 14 May 2021]
  • ‘Acts of the North Carolina General Assembly, October 1784, Volume 24, Pages 650-709’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina <> [accessed 14 May 2021]
  • Barefoot, Daniel, ‘Bruce’s Cross Roads, Battle Of’, NCpedia, 2006 <> [accessed 28 April 2021]
  • ‘Bugler Boy Historic Site’, Town of Summerfield, NC <> [accessed 25 May 2021]
  • Caruthers, E. W. (Eli Washington), A Sketch of the Life and Character of the Rev. David Caldwell, D. D. (Greensborough, N.C. : Printed by Swaim and Sherwood, 1842) <> [accessed 23 April 2020]
  • Caruthers, E. W. (Eli Washington), Interesting Revolutionary Incidents and Sketches of Character, Chiefly in the ‘Old North State.’ (Philadelphia : Hayes & Zell, 1856) <> [accessed 23 April 2020]
  • ‘Charles Bruce (1740-1832) – Find A Grave Memorial’ <> [accessed 11 May 2021]
  • ‘Col. James Martin’, Western Carolinian (Salisbury, N.C.), 1834/11/15, 1834, 3
  • Cook, Sam, Gillies, E-mails, 2021
  • Cook, Sam, ‘Local Fallen Hero: James Gillies’, 2007
  • Donnell, Dore Korner, ‘Bugler Boy’s Story… Marker in Memory of Young Gillies Will Be Unveiled by D.A.R. Tuesday’, Newspaper article, publication unknown, 20 September 1941
  • Garden, Alexander, Anecdotes of the American Revolution (Charleston, [S.C.] Printed by A. E. Miller, 1828) <> [accessed 7 May 2021]
  • ‘Geni – Senator Charles Bruce, I (1740-1832)- Summerfield’ <> [accessed 11 May 2021]
  • Guilford County: A Map Supplement (Jamestown, NC: The Custom House, 1988)
  • Harris, C. Leon, tran., ‘Pension Application of John Hewitt W2618’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters <> [accessed 5 May 2021]
  • ‘Historical Documentation Map, Guilford County, N.C.’ (Jamestown, NC: Custom House, 1980)
  • Hoskins, Katherine, ‘Bugler Gillies, Victim of War’, Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, NC, 1 July 1931a)
  • Hoskins, Katherine, ‘Charles Bruce: A Friend of Liberty’, Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, NC, 1 July 1931b)
  • Hoskins, Katherine, ‘Sketch of Charles Bruce of Guilford’, Greensboro Patriot (and Typewritten Draft) (Greensboro, NC, 1 June 1922), Greensboro Public Library, North Carolina Collection
  • Hoskins, Katherine, ‘Typewritten Page, “Bruce, Charles” Biographical File’, (Ca. 1920s), Greensboro Public Library
  • Lee, Henry, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States, 2nd edition (P. Force, 1827)
  • Lewis, J.D., ‘Summerfield’, The American Revolution in North Carolina, 2009 <> [accessed 28 April 2021]
  • MacLeod, Mrs. John Blount, et al., Seventy-Five Years of Service: History of the National Society Daughters of American Revolution of North Carolina (New Bern, NC: Owen G. Dunn Co., 1975)
  • ‘Minutes of the North Carolina Board of War, September 14, 1780 – January 30, 1781. Volume 14, Pages 376-495.’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina <> [accessed 14 May 2021]
  • ‘Minutes of the North Carolina Council of State, September 02, 1777, Volume 22, Pages 926-929’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina <> [accessed 14 May 2021]
  • ‘Minutes of the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, April 04, 1776 – May 14, 1776’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina <> [accessed 14 May 2021]
  • ‘Obituary’, The Western Weekly Review (Franklin, TN, 30 March 1832)
  • Peterson, Bruce, ‘The Importance of a Small Skirmish during the Race to the Dan’, Journal of the American Revolution, 2021a <> [accessed 24 September 2021]
  • Petersen, Bruce, Follow-up on Gillies, E-mails, 2021b
  • Poquet, Nancy, tran., ‘Pension Application of Samuel Rayl #S4034’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters <> [accessed 5 May 2021]
  • Sherman, Wm. Thomas, Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781, Tenth Edition (Seattle, WA: Gun Jones Publishing, 2007) <>
  • von Stambach Bruce, Michael, ed., Bruce: The First 1,200 Years (Atlanta, Ga.: The Bruce Family Historical Society, The Royal Bruce Society, 1990)
  • Whitaker, T.E., ‘Gillis the Bugler Boy (“Gillies” Biographical File, Greensboro Public Library)’, Newspaper article, publication and date unknown; ca. 1920s.

[1] In-person interview with “Joy,” 5/26/2021.

[2] At the end of Tannery Drive, which is visible from the back end of the parking lot, now private property not accessible to the public (Hoskins 1922 and “Typewritten Page”; Petersen 2021b).

[3] “Pension Application of Samuel Rayl.”

[4] Historical Documentation Map 1980.

[5] Bruce details: Entries from Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina.

[6] Sources differ on the dates. But local historian Bruce Petersen presents compelling evidence it was the 11th, based on dispatches from Williams to Nathanael Greene on the 11th that almost certainly relate to these events, and troop movements that only seem feasible if it were on the 11th (Petersen 2021a).

[7] Petersen 2021b.

[8] Lee 1827.

[9] “Col. James Martin” 1834.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Caruthers 1842.

[12] Caruthers 1856. The next mention of his age appears to be a newspaper article from the 1920s that says he was 15, without citing evidence; twenty years later the age has dropped another year in articles on the DAR monument to him, again without evidence. No early sources mention his parents or state, either; AmRevNC could find no evidence for claims some modern sources make about those.

[13] Lee.

[14] The cube was probably placed on the original road by cadets of what now is called Oak Ridge Military Academy (ORMA). Unfortunately, ORMA archives were destroyed in a fire (Cook 2021). An ORMA professor who investigated the site starting in 1920 wrote that it is identical to a set of 200 given to a judge leading the effort to preserve the Guilford Courthouse battlefield (Whitaker, MacLeod 1975). He added that the original road ran 200 feet south of what then was a new road, which was where NC 150 runs today, according to a 1920 soil survey map. The distance places the old road at the utility building. He also relayed the claim about the oak tree. An ORMA graduate and local historian said the cube was moved in 1913 (Cook 2007). In 1939, a local man named Holt placed a granite marker still visible across the road back toward the Oak Ridge sign, mistaking the cube’s new location for the original death site.

[15] Caruthers 1842.

[16] Most sources reference a “Captain” Miller, but Sherman (2007) says the only Miller of that rank in Cornwallis’ army was in the infantry. Sherman speculates, based on rosters, that the cavalryman captured here was Cornet William Miller.

[17] Petersen 2021b.

[18] Garden 1828. Caruthers (1842 and 1856) corroborated this story, speaking to Tatum and his wife years later, who repeated it to him.

[19] Garden.

Rouse’s Tavern

A Massacre after Midnight


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Type: Hidden History
County: New Hanover

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Rouse’s Tavern, also known as “Eight Mile House,” was said by most eyewitnesses to be seven or eight miles outside Revolutionary Wilmington on the New Bern Road. US 17 mostly follows that route today. Thus the tavern was somewhere in today’s Ogden, named for the man who sold the land to Alexander Rouse, near (or under) the modern highway. However, the exact location of the land and tavern appears lost to history.


The basic facts of an attack at Rouse’s Tavern were recounted by several veterans around 50 years later. However, almost all of the details come from a single source. That is a clearly embellished version written shortly before 1854 by a Wilmington legislator, lawyer, and actor. He claimed he heard it from an eyewitness in 1819, already 38 years after the event.[1] Believe details with caution.

Photo looking down a river to a distant highway bridge with trees behind
Location of Heron’s Bridge, just past the modern one (AmRevNC photograph)

The Wilmington area was in a standoff in March of 1781. The city was occupied by a British corps under Maj. James Craig. A Patriot or “Whig” force of part-time “militia” soldiers camped at the main route to the north across Heron’s Bridge, under Brig. Gen. Alexander Lillington. The forces had battled twice there without changing the standoff.

Craig often ordered units out the New Bern Road to find food. Lillington sent a company of around 25 “light horse,” meaning mounted soldiers in this case, to drive cattle away from the area so the British couldn’t get them. One night, exact date unknown, part of the Patriot unit camped at a “Widow Colier’s” house 12 or 13 miles east of Wilmington with some of the cattle, according to Pvt. George Reed.[2] Part of the men, under Maj. James Love, decided to head off for a drink at Alexander Rouse’s “ordinary,” a tavern that also served food and probably included sleeping rooms, about four miles closer to town. It was on land Rouse bought along the northwest side of the road in 1768 from Richard Ogden.[3]

Love had fought under Lillington at the 1776 Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, which blocked Loyalist recruits from joining the first attempted invasion of North Carolina by the British army. During the Craig occupation, he and another man had a reputation for riding up to the edge of Wilmington close enough to shoot some of the British guards, and then dallying long enough to attract their cavalry into ambushes.

Love supposedly told Patriots at Colier’s that he and his fellow partiers would be back by 10 p.m. Like many drinkers before and since, they instead continued past midnight. Finally they squeezed onto the floor to sleep, their saddles serving as pillows.

Photo of a highway intersection at a stoplight, with businesses lining the far side in the distance
US 17 through Ogden, looking away from Wilmington eight miles from the 1781 border (AmRevNC photograph)

The British learned they were there from a Tory merchant returning to Wilmington.[4] Craig sent a detachment of 60-70 soldiers, mostly cavalry “dragoons” with some infantry, who either shared the cavalry horses or rode separate ones.

The story says the Redcoats were able to surround the tavern by torchlight before the Patriots awakened. The raiders were about to pry open the locked door when it burst open: Love had heard them. Using his saddle now as a shield, he came out swinging his sword. He made it about 30 yards to a mulberry tree before he fell victim to multiple bayonet wounds. The civilian eyewitness, named only as “Thomas,” claimed he had climbed into a pair of large branches to sleep off his drinks. He now was watching from its limbs.

Drawing of a two-story building with a tree and soldiers in front of it, some injured or dead
A modern imagining of the scene (Credit: Fussell, Sikes & Herring 1985)

The commander supposedly ordered “‘no quarter to the damned rebels’”—in other words, take no prisoners. His troops moved inside and began bayoneting men in their sleep. A few Patriots awakened in time to fight back or make it barely out the door before being killed. Only one managed to escape.

A Patriot cavalry officer, Lt. Col. Thomas Bloodworth, somehow learned of the attack and arrived the next morning. The two Thomases went inside and found a scene of horror: “The floor covered with dead bodies & almost swimming in blood, & battered brains smoking on the walls; In the fireplace sat shivering over a few coals, an aged woman surrounded by several small children, who were clinging to her body, petrified with terror.”[5]

Some of the British apparently continued down the road, because all six of the men at the Colier house were captured after a brief fight. According to Reed’s application for a government pension, “He received from this skirmish two wounds from a bayonet; one on the side & one in the leg below the knee.” It adds, “the bone was injured by the bayonet & ever since that time his leg has occasionally broken out causing him a great deal of pain & loss of time…” Reed said another man was mortally wounded at Colier’s, and the remaining six were released on parole, on condition of turning themselves into Craig to “take protection.” But five of the six, including Reed, ignored those promises.[6]

Sources differ on the Patriot casualties, ranging from eight to 11 with one or two injured, including Thomas’ brother. Thomas said he and Bloodworth found bloody trails on the road toward Wilmington, indicating some British were wounded by Love.

Among the dead supposedly was a close friend of Bloodworth, “who he loved as a brother…” This set up another story from the same main source, told on our Wilmington page at a stop overlooking McNeill Point.

Historical Tidbits

  • Old photo of a large tree with 1920s car next to it
    (Credit: Jacobs 1939)
    When George Washington toured the Southern states as president in 1791, he said he was met by a group of dignitaries in the vicinity of the “Rouse House.” They dined nearby before continuing to Wilmington.[7] In 1925 the local Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapter placed a marker by an old tree Washington may have seen along the road, but it was farther out the old New Bern Road.[8]
  • Historians have long searched for the site of the tavern. Some modern sources report that the DAR chapter put a marker near the tavern in the 1930s, and it was torn up when US 17 was expanded. A review of the local chapter’s scrapbooks from the 1920s–50s[9] and an interview with a long-time DAR member[10] found otherwise. Those sources indicate a local historian proposed a state highway marker in 1933, and made a presentation to the chapter about that. But the state turned down the application due to a lack of documentation from the time of the attack. The chapter never placed one.

More Information

  • De Van Massey, Gregory, ‘The British Expedition to Wilmington, North Carolina, January-November, 1781’ (East Carolina University, 1987)
  • ‘Deed, Richard Ogden to Alexander Rouse, Book F, Page 23, New Hanover County Register of Deeds’, 1768
  • Dunkerly, Robert M., Redcoats on the Cape Fear: The Revolutionary War in Southeastern North Carolina, Revised (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012) <$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:762216/ada?qu=Redcoats+on+the+Cape+Fear> [accessed 6 August 2020]
  • Fussell, Jr., Horace, Leon Sikes, and Dallas Herring, eds., Footnotes (Rose Hill, N.C.: Research Committee of the Duplin County Historical Society, 1985), Vol. 19-2
  • Graves, Will, ed., ‘Pension Application of Benjamin Taylor R10406’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters <> [accessed 29 April 2021]
  • Graves ed., ‘Pension Application of George Reed R8658’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters <> [accessed 29 April 2021]
  • Graves ed., ‘Pension Application of John Rigby S9057’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters <> [accessed 29 April 2021]
  • Harris, C. Leon, ed., ‘Pension Application of Jesse Miles S21886’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters <> [accessed 29 April 2021]
  • Hutteman, Ann, Stamp Defiance Chapter, Daughters of the Revolution, and Rouse’s Tavern, In-person interview, 2021
  • Lewis, J.D., ‘Rouse’s Tavern’, The American Revolution in North Carolina, 2011 <> [accessed 15 March 2021]
  • Lillington, Alexander, ‘General Alexander Lillington to General Nathanael Greene’, 9 April 1781, William L. Clements Library, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Nathanael Green Papers
  • McGeachy, John, Revolutionary Reminiscences from the ‘Cape Fear Sketches’ (North Carolina State University, 2002)
  • Steelman, Ben, ‘Where Exactly Was Rouse’s Tavern?’, MyReporter.Com, 2013 <> [accessed 15 March 2021]
  • Stille-Ferguson, Evelyn, ‘Stamp Defiance Meets at Home of Mesdames Howell and Norden’, The Sunday Star-News (Wilmington, N.C., 15 October 1933)

[1] Transcribed in McGeachy 2002.

[2] “Pension application of George Reed.”

[3] “Deed, Richard Ogden to Alexander Rouse.” The deed conveyed a roughly half-mile tract with the buildings on it, but does not specify what those buildings were. An earlier deed it refers to references landmarks like trees, so the land’s location is unclear as well.

[4] Dunkerly 2012.

[5] McGeachy.

[6] Reed.

[7] Henderson, Archibald, Washington’s Southern Tour, 1791 (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923) <> [accessed 19 May 2021];

[8] Hutteman 2021; Jacobs, Mary, ed., In Our Chapter (Wilmington, N.C.: Stamp Defiance Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1939).

[9] AmRevNC review of scrapbooks, North Carolina Room, New Hanover Public Library, 4/13/21.

[10] Hutteman.

Cox’s Mill

Headquarters of a Notorious Tory


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Other maps: Bing, Google, MapQuest.
Coordinates: 35.6791, -79.6237.

Type: Sight
Tour: Tory War
County: Randolph

Access LogoFull

The coordinates mark a farm lane where you can park with permission of the owner. The entire area is private property, so please stay in your vehicle, and limit your visit to respect the privacy of the homeowners.

Mug saying, "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll


Harmon Cox’s grain mill south of modern Ramseur became a stopping point for soldiers on both sides of the American Revolution. It was a strategic location, being on the Hillsborough-Camden, S.C., wagon road near where that intersected the Salisbury-Cross Creek (Fayetteville) road and a ford over the Deep River.[1]


  • In July of 1780, Maj. Gen. Baron de Kalb was moving with Maryland and Virginia regulars to relieve Continental forces besieged in Charleston when he learned the city had surrendered on May 12.
  • With the advance of the British army into North Carolina under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis at the end of January 1781, pro-British partisans were emboldened to take action against their Patriot neighbors.


July 1780–December 1781.


Mug saying "250 Years" with scenes and a map from the Battle of Alamance

Imagine the Scene

Harmon Cox

Photo of a dark brown powder horn on a white background
Harmon Cox’s powder horn, with “HC” on the end (Exhibit, Alamance Battleground, 2020; AmRevNC photograph)

Harmon Cox’s Mill was built around 1770 on Millstone Creek, at the bottom of the slope to the right, between the modern road and the river. His brother William had a mill on the other side of the river. Harmon and his brothers were Regulators, a group formed in the late 1760s to oppose what it saw as unfair taxation and corrupt practices by the colonial government. Harmon was the brother-in-law of Herman Husband, a famous supporter of the group. Regulators may have met here at the mill. Cox joined them in 1771 to confront the royal governor near Burlington, expecting a negotiation. Though a Quaker, he apparently fought at the ensuing Battle of Alamance that ended the War of Regulation, because his powder horn is on display at the battlefield Visitor Center! He was captured, and the governor sent wagons here to confiscate grain for the army.

Cox was among those tried in Hillsborough. Convicted and scheduled to be hung, instead he was spared—at the hanging site—and eventually pardoned in exchange for pledging allegiance to the king. Perhaps this pushed him back to his Quaker roots, as there is no record of him being active in the Revolution. But that oath could be why this became a center of a Loyalist force later in the war.

Photo of an overgrown pile of rubble under a forested creek bank
Remains of Cox’s Mill (no public access; AmRevNC photograph)

The Continental Campsite

The Hillsborough-Camden Road passed uphill from the mill on the right, between the modern house and field behind, down to Buffalo Ford to the left. The Deep River is downhill behind the field.

Photo of two modern men Revolutionary uniforms, one blue, one white
Continental re-enactors (Credit: David from Washington, DC / CC BY [])

Coming up the slope from the right on Wednesday, July 19, 1780, is a column of regular Continental Army troops. Maj. Gen. Baron Johann de Kalb has diverted them here to resupply and collect any of the 200 or so troops who might have escaped the defeat in Charleston. Born to poor Bavarians, he had fought his way to a British command in the Seven Years’ War. He then offered his services to the Continental Congress. “De Kalb was over six feet tall, good-natured, intelligent, and absolutely fearless.”[a] His 1,500 men set up a camp as you watch, stretching from this point south along the road and river to Buffalo Ford. He makes the mill his headquarters.

About a week later, another column appears from the same direction by way of Hillsborough. However, these are part-time “militia” soldiers in everyday clothing, 1,400 Virginians.[2] With them is Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, the self-proclaimed hero of the Battle of Saratoga (N.Y.), in which the British army surrendered. Gates is the new commander of the Southern Department of the Continental Army. The previous commander had surrendered in Charleston. One source says Gates is greeted with a salute from eight cannons despite limited gunpowder supplies.[b]

Painting of a man in a powdered wig and blue coat with a lot of gold trim
Horatio Gates

Gates informs de Kalb that he is relieved of command. The latter is in every sense “relieved”: Though a good military officer, as a foreigner de Kalb is not well equipped for the politics that came with command of a Continental army.[3] The new forces stretch the camp further south, a mile beyond the ford.[4]

The next day Gates, de Kalb, and the other officers hold a “council of war” to discuss next steps, probably in the mill. They know they need to confront the British in South Carolina, but the question is timing. Another 1,200 North Carolina militia are camped on the distant Yadkin River, and the cavalry is in Halifax getting reorganized.

On the other hand, there is little food here: “There was scarcely sufficient grain even for the immediate subsistence of the troops, and the only meat ration that could be procured was lean beef, driven daily out of the woods and canebrakes, where the cattle had wintered.’”[5]

Gates also thinks he can catch the British off guard by moving quickly. Still, his officers are shocked when he orders them to prepare to march, rather than at least wait for the other militia troops. The next day, you watch as they pack up camp and move away to the south to cross the ford.

Unfortunately, without trained cavalry, Gates finds out too late that the British had ventured north from Charleston. The two armies literally stumble into each other just north of Camden, and on August 16 the Patriots suffer a disastrous defeat. Baron de Kalb pays for Gates’ mistake with his life.

Fanning’s “Fort”

In the middle of October, a man about to gain more fame, or infamy, in this state arrives with a small party of militia on horseback from the south. These men are Americans still loyal to King George III, called Loyalists or “Tories.” Their leader is Col. David Fanning, already known for his vigilante justice against Patriots (“Whigs”) and for his ability to escape custody. His company sets up a winter camp nearby, probably building small wooden lean-tos or huts.

The location of his camp is unclear. The site of the modern house and field behind it is the best candidate, based on some references in accounts of the day and its location on high ground near the mill, with a spring uphill from that, and the road. But the camp could have been on the other side of the creek.[6]

Photo of a field with weeds and a line of trees in the back
Possible fort site (AmRevNC photograph)

In January 1781, Fanning has a flyer printed up, and sends men from the camp to post it all over the region with a great offer: “The Bounty allowed for each man, is three Guineas… (and) that during his service he shall be entitled to Clothing, Pay, Provisions, and all the advantages of his Majesty’s Regular, and Provincial (colonial) Troops, and at the end of the Rebellion, when he becomes discharged, of course, he is to receive as a reward for his services during the war, a free grant of Land agreeable to his Majesty’s proclamation.”

At the end of the month, Cornwallis invaded the state and called for Loyalists to join him in Hillsborough. Around Saturday, February 24, Fanning and his now-larger company packed up and moved north past the mill. They narrowly escaped being part of Col. John Pyle’s defeat by Continental cavalry on the way, who also prevented Fanning from joining Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Court House.

Photo of a partially gravel lane through a lawn toward woods
Hillsborough-Camden Road from fort toward mill (no public access to this view, but can be seen in distance to right of house; AmRevNC photograph)

In Fanning’s absence, a Patriot militia unit moves in here. They seize an enslaved man Fanning left behind and “sold him at public auction for 110 pounds,” Fanning complained years later. (That’s around $18,500 in modern money.) The man “was sent over the mountains, and I never saw him since.”[7]

A larger Patriot presence travels down the road past the mill on Thursday, March 29. Two weeks to the day after Guilford, the Continental Army of Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene is on the hunt for a rematch. Here Greene learns Cornwallis is trapped against the Deep further down at Ramsey’s Mill (near the base of today’s Jordan Lake). The next morning they go back the way they came and take the road east roughly where Highway 64 runs now.

Once source says a dispute arose over who should command the Chatham and Randolph county Tory militia. After coming back here, Fanning won an election in June, it says, but grumbling ensued.[c] No matter the cause, Fanning and some of his men definitely took a petition from his backers to Maj. James Craig in British-occupied Wilmington, asking Craig to appoint Fanning as the commander.

Photo of four men in backwoods clothing with muskets
Militia re-enactors (Credit: John Foxe / CC BY-SA)

Fanning returns on Thursday, July 12, 1781. About 150 Loyalists muster here, and he presumably reads Craig’s order as you watch. Craig has officially appointed him “Colonel of the Loyal Militia” in the two counties, and goes on to say: “As Colonel, you are hereby fully impowered (sic) to assemble the militia, and lead them against any parties of Rebels, or others; the King’s enemies, as often as necessary to compel all persons whatsoever to join you to seize and disarm, and when necessary to detain, in confinement, all Rebels or others, acting against his Majesty’s Gov’t; and to do all other acts becoming a King’s officer, and good subject.”[8]

Five days later Fanning learns that on the same day as his muster, Whig militia had mustered at the Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro and arrested local Tories. (A state law required all able-bodied men to serve with the Patriots or pay for a substitute.) Fanning immediately takes off north with the men he had, planning to turn east and ride overnight to rescue the captives.

The Tories arrived too early: The court session was set for 8 a.m., and it was only 7! So Fanning sent pickets out in all directions from the crossroads the courthouse was in—not where a later “Old Courthouse” sits today—to capture the Whigs as they arrived for court.

That evening, Wednesday, July 18, you see Fanning’s force come back up the road past the mill with 53 prisoners bound by rope. Among them are the top officers of the Chatham Militia, three Provincial Assembly delegates, and a Continental Army officer. Fanning frees most of them, but soon takes the 14 he “knew were violent against the government” to Craig in Wilmington.[9]

For the rest of 1781 this is Fanning’s home base for numerous activities: At his request, he received orders from the state Loyalist commander to “center” on Harmon Cox’s Mill. The company attacks Patriot forces and homes—see “Balfour’s Murder” and “House in the Horseshoe”—among other activities detailed below. Meanwhile they appear to have built a fort of some sort here for extra protection.

In early August, Fanning leaves some men here while he rides out to capture wagons of salt bound for the Continental Army in South Carolina. When he returns with the wagons, he finds the fort under attack by 150 Patriots. One of his men and some horses in the fort are wounded. Combined, Fanning has around 150 men himself. The Whigs break off the attack when they spot him and retreat. The Patriots send a flag of truce to Fanning to offer peace. He sends back word that he is “determined to make peace with the sword or otherwise till they should become subjects of Great Britain.”[10] The Patriots withdraw.

Photo looking across an abandoned two-lane bridge within woods
Later bridge at location of Beattie’s Bridge (AmRevNC photograph)

Fanning makes a supply run to Wilmington shortly after with his men. They unexpectedly end up in the Second Battle of Beattie’s Bridge, where they defeat a much larger Patriot militia force.

Fanning issues an “advertisement” from the fort on Thursday, September 6, 1781—really a threat—that couriers circulate throughout the region: “This is to let all persons know, that do not make ready and repair immediately to camp, that their property shall be seized, and sold at public sale; and if they are taken, and brought into camp they shall be sent to Wilmington, as prisoners, and there, remain, as such, in the provost; and be considered as Rebels; also, if any rebel is willing to surrender and come in he shall reap the benefit of a subject (of the King).”

The threat and successful battle help Fanning gather enough men to kidnap the state governor and other government officials in Hillsborough a week later. But Fanning was badly wounded at the Battle of Lindley’s Mill on the way back here, after which the prisoners were taken to Wilmington instead. Fanning apparently never returned here. He stayed active in North and South Carolina until April of 1782 (see Faith Rock), but was never able to raise a significant force again.

On Sunday, December 10, 1781, 300 Patriot militia from Wilkes County and Virginia under Col. Elijah Isaacs claim the fort for three months. On Christmas, Gov. Alexander Martin issued an offer of pardon to all Loyalists who surrender by March 10, and an unknown number appear here. But Isaacs betrays them: All are taken prisoner, not just the criminals among them, and marched off with the army across the ford to a prisoner-of-war camp in Salisbury.

Photo of a wide path through woods
Hillsborough-Camden Road from fort toward Buffalo Ford (no public access; AmRevNC photograph)

Related Locations

Also nearby:

  • To see Buffalo Ford, continue south (left facing the campsite) to the next intersection, Hinshaw Town Road. (This road is on or parallels the route of the Salisbury-Cross Creek Road.) Turn right, and park on the shoulder just before or after the bridge. The bridge was built on part of the ford. Walk onto the north (right) side, and look down to see how shallow the water is on that side. For comparison, watch for traffic and then cross to the south side and look down.
  • If you will leave by way of NC Highway 22 toward Ramseur, read the rest of this paragraph first, and look to the left after you cross Millstone Creek and climb the hill. The summit behind and to the left of the modern farmhouse was the location of the Harmon Cox home. Another spring is on the far side, and a wagon road wound down to a private ford across the river, probably leading to the William Cox Mill. (Note that there is no safe place to park here, and everything off the highway right-of-way is private property.)[11]
Photo of an overgrown field within a corner between woods
Harmon Cox homesite (no public access; AmRevNC photograph)

Historical Tidbit

Descendants of the Coxes took in a seven-year-old named Braxton Craven in the original home. He became the first assistant principal of a school that he later took over and helped to convert into Trinity College. (The town of Trinity grew up around it.) Ten years after Craven’s death, in 1892, the college moved to Durham. In 1924 it became Duke University.[12]

Mug saying "More than a minute-man," with a drawing of a Continental officer


More Information

[1] Dixon and Whatley.

[2] Kalmanson 1990.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dixon and Whatley.

[5] Reese 2001.

[6] Johnson and Johnson 2020.

[7] Fanning 1865; dollar amount from Nye, Eric, ‘Currency Converter, Pounds Sterling to Dollars, 1264 to Present’ <>.

[8] Fanning.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Johnson and Johnson.

[12] Durden 2006; Johnson and Johnson; Russell 1979.

[a] Pancake 1985.

[b] Rankin 1971.

[c] Sherman 2007. Though impressively researched, and generally as or more correct than similar comprehensive reviews of the Southern campaigns, this source mistakes Cox’s Mill for another frequent wartime campsite at Wilcox’s Iron Works farther down Deep River.

Faith Rock | Regulators Tour | Balfour’s Murder

Mount Pleasant

No Taxation without Representation


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Type: Hidden History
County: Anson

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The site of the Anson County Courthouse before and during the American Revolution, and the grave of a Patriot militia officer, lie out of sight behind a locked gate on private game lands.

Mug with an African-American soldier and the words, "Fighting for Freedom."

White capy saying, "My other hat is a" and showing a tricorn hat



Anson County Courthouse

A 1755 log building served as the Anson County Courthouse. On Thursday, April 28, 1768, court justices appointed by the royal governor were in session in the village of Mount Pleasant. Nearly 100 men appeared outside, many carrying hunting weapons, led by Patrick Broggan. In this decade before the American Revolution, people in what then was the western half of the Province of North Carolina—now the Piedmont and foothills—were protesting corrupt officials, and provincial taxes and court fees they considered unfair. They called themselves the “Regulators.”

The door opened, and Clerk of Court Samuel Spencer stepped out. Spencer was disliked by the Regulators, as part of the “courthouse ring” of wealthier men said to control county government. An 1894 history of the Regulators explained:

“Samuel Spencer was at once clerk of the county, assemblyman, and colonel of the county militia. Anthony Hutchins had formerly been sheriff, and as such was behind with his accounts, and was charged with having fraudulently conveyed his land to escape payment. He was now a justice of the county court. Charles Medlock had also been sheriff, and was behind with his accounts. He also was a justice. These three men managed the politics of the county. The sheriff, justices, and other officers were all appointed on their recommendation.[1]

Spencer demanded to know what the group wanted. As he later wrote Royal Gov. William Tryon, “‘They told me they came to settle some matters to the county for which they wanted use of the Court House.’”[2] He went back in and returned with a law book from which he read them the British law “against riot and unlawful Assembly…” The men were unimpressed. “‘They seemed great (sic) exasperated and lifted their clubs and threatened.” But then, “the mob grew laxer and asked to come in and present grievances.’”

Spencer wisely stepped aside and the “mob” entered, ordering the magistrates off the bench. “They questioned the clerk on taxes and fees, openly debated possible violence, and resolved that they would not pay taxes,” one source says.[3] They wrote up what became known as the “Anson Regulators Protest Paper,” in which they complained about how taxes were levied, and stated “‘no people have a right to be taxed without by consent of themselves or their delegates.’”

This somewhat garbled statement was the first formal complaint sent to British authorities in the colonies against what later is termed “taxation without representation.” The Regulators’ point related to the fact county officials were appointed instead of elected.

Ninety-nine men signed it before it was sent to Tryon. The men then left peacefully.

Wade Grave

The courthouse site is—or was, according to the last published reports—marked by a boulder referred to as “Indian Execution Rock.” The name was based on a local tradition that Catawba Indians used it for that purpose. Supposedly red liquid sometimes appeared on the rock on humid days, likely due to its iron content. There is no evidence the Catawbas actually killed anyone there.

As shown on plaques on and beside the rock, this marked the grave of Col. Thomas Wade, a Patriot militia leader who played a significant role in suppressing Loyalist (“Tory”) activity throughout the state. He was a leader at the “Tory War” battles of Beattie’s Bridge, Raft Swamp, and Lindley’s Mill. (Read a short biography.)

His home was nearby. Sometime in 1780 Tories raided it while he was away. They used it as a headquarters for a while, and they stole a large amount of money and crops.

The courthouse was likely a muster point for Patriot militia throughout the war. One source says, for example, that a large force gathered there on Thursday, July 20, 1780. From there it joined the Continental Army on the way to a terrible defeat at the Battle of Camden (S.C.).[4]

Nearby Wadesboro was founded in 1783 by Wade and Broggan, his brother-in-law, who also served in the Revolution. Broggan’s home built that year still stands as a museum. The town later was named for Wade.

Samuel Spencer Home

Further toward the dammed Pee Dee River from the courthouse, there is (or was) a wall restored in 1973 marking the homesite of Spencer.

Samuel Spencer went on to serve with Tryon against the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance, which ended the War of Regulation in favor of the provincial government. When Revolution came, however, this graduate of what became Princeton University joined the Patriot cause. When a government for the new state of North Carolina was formed in 1776, Spencer was named one of its first Superior Court judges. As such, he joined in the first judgement in the nascent United States to declare a law unconstitutional.

As a delegate after the war to the state convention to consider the draft U.S. Constitution in Hillsborough, he voted against it due to the lack of a Bill of Rights.

However, he is perhaps best known for his demise. One day in 1793, the elderly Spencer was napping on a chair in the yard or on his porch. He was wearing a red stocking cap. A wild turkey approached, and was attracted by the bouncing cap. The bird attacked Spencer, leaving him with severe scratches on his neck and head before he could fight it off. He died of an infection from the wounds. One source says he “may hold the dubious distinction of being the only veteran of the fight for independence who was killed by a turkey.”[5]

More Information

[1] Bassett 1894.

[2] All quotations from older records are relayed in Barefoot 1998 unless otherwise noted.

[3] McKeehan 1997.

[4] Sherman 2007.

[5] Barefoot.

Graham’s Fort

A Teen Saves Her Brother


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Type: Hidden History
County: Cleveland

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A modern house hidden from sight at the top of the hill nearest the coordinates, on narrow Graham’s Fort Drive, is said to contain the bones of Graham’s Fort. Please note it is surrounded by private property and cannot be seen from the road, which is part of the reason this is “Hidden History.” AmRevNC also could not confirm this is the house described in a 1998 guidebook that said the “fort” was incorporated into the current home.[1]


Computer with a sticker of the AmRevNC logo on it, a state map with pins in it on a 13-star American flag

Man in a white tee shirt that says, "Just a Regulator Guy"


In September 1780, the remainder of the regular Continental Army in the South was in distant Hillsborough after a bad defeat at the Battle of Camden (S.C.). The main British army was south of Charlotte, and a “Flying Corps” was at Gilbert Town near modern Rutherfordton. With these forces nearby, part-time Loyalist or “Tory” soldiers (“militia”) felt emboldened to attack their Patriot counterparts.

A Patriot officer, Col. William Graham, was in his home with his pregnant wife Susannah, their children, two of his men, and some number of civilian neighbors. Like some other homes on the frontier, it was a heavily built log cabin with portholes for gun barrels, intended to protect local residents under attack from Native Americans. Now they are hiding from Loyalists.

Roughly two-dozen Tory militiamen surrounded the cabin one day that month, probably taking cover behind the tree line. Some approached the front door and called for Graham to surrender. He refused. The men stepped back, an order was given, and the Tories began to fire volleys at the cabin. After each they demanded his surrender. Frustration growing, one time they supposedly called out, “Damn you, won’t you surrender now?”

Graham continued to refuse. Finally John Burke ran up to the house and poked his gun through a crack or porthole. He aimed at Graham’s 19-year-old stepson, and soldier, William Twitty. Susannah was the widow of a Capt. Twitty who was killed serving with Daniel Boone in Kentucky. Graham adopted all eight children.

Twitty’s sister Susan, 17, saw the barrel and yanked her brother out of the way, so the bullet hit the opposite wall. Susan snuck a look out the hole and saw that Burke had not left. He was on a knee, reloading. She is said to have yelled, “Brother William, now’s your chance—shoot the rascal!” He did, and Burke fell dead of a head wound.

Susan unbolted the door and rushed out. Everyone was stunned into inaction. Before the Tories could recover and fire, she retrieved Burke’s cartridge box and gun and got back inside. She joined the fight with it. Finally, with Burke dead and four wounded, the Loyalists gave up and slinked back down the hill. Thanks in part to Susan’s quick reactions and bravery, none of those inside the home were hurt.

Graham moved everyone to an unknown location, leaving enslaved workers to maintain the farm. Eventually the Tories came back, stole his ale and clothing, and took away six of the slaves.

More Information

[1] Barefoot 1998.

Lillington’s Grave

Patriot Leader at Moore’s Creek


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Type: Hidden History
County: Pender

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The bumpy, dirt, Lillington Lane can only get you close to Alexander Lillington’s grave, past where the lane takes a sharp right at the marker above. The family cemetery is out of sight on private property. Their home was nearby, but the exact location is unpublished, and perhaps unknown.

Red tote bag with a picture and list of female patriots


Old drawing of a two-story wooden home with a wraparound porch, and two trees in front
Lillington Hall in 1849 (Lossing 1851)

John Alexander Lillington—who preferred his middle name—was born to a planter and politician in the Brunswick Town area. Orphaned, he was raised by his uncle, but Lillington, too, became a planter and politician. He was also a justice of the peace, and a surveyor.

Lillington’s first combat was against the Spanish during their raid on Brunswick Town in 1748. He was the assistant quartermaster (supply officer) for Royal Gov. William Tryon in defeating the Regulators at the 1771 Battle of Alamance.[1] But four years later he joined the rebellious Committee of Safety, and was elected to the Third Provincial Congress in Hillsborough.[a]

He gained fame leading units in the Patriot militia to victory at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. Later that year, Lillington was named a colonel in charge of one of North Carolina’s Continental Army regiments, and he marched to South Carolina with it in 1777. The regiment saw no major combat, and Alexander resigned his post before it was moved north to join Gen. George Washington’s army.[2] Back home, he was elected to the state House of Commons.[3]

By 1779 he was brigadier general in command of the multi-county Wilmington District. He was sent to aid in the defense of Charleston, with 1,248 men camped just outside town.[4] They spent much of their time building fortifications. Fortunately for him, the terms of enlistment for his men ended before it fell to the British in May 1780. So he escaped becoming a prisoner of war, as happened to most NC troops there.[5]

Lillington remained in charge of the district till the end of the war. In that capacity he organized ongoing harassment of the British forces who occupied Wilmington for most of 1781, including two battles at Heron’s Bridge north of town.

His home, Lillington Hall, was not destroyed during British raids through the region. But he lost most of his possessions, and the Redcoats freed people he held in slavery. After the British left Wilmington, he reoccupied it, and returned to his life as a plantation owner. In 1783, with the war over, the commander of the Southern Continental army, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, returned to his Rhode Island home from Georgia by carriage. He visited here on Sunday, August 24.[6]

Lillington and his wife Sarah raised four children, one of whom served in the regular Continental Army.[7] He was buried in the family graveyard near his home after dying around age 60. The town of Lillington, the Harnett County Seat, is named for him, and he makes brief appearances as a character in the Outlander book and TV series.

More Information

[1] Tryon 1771.

[2] Rankin 1971.

[3] “Minutes” 1777.

[4] Rankin.

[5] Watson 1991.

[6] Rankin.

[7] Watson.

[a] “Articles” 1775.

Bell’s Mill

A Wily Patriot Outwits the Brits


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Type: Hidden History
County: Randolph

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The remains of Bell’s Mill existed into the 21st Century at or near the marker, on Muddy Creek where it entered the Deep River. But it was flooded when the river was dammed to create Randleman Lake. The Bells’ graves are still on dry land, off nearby Wall Brothers Road. The cemetery is owned by a church, but is surrounded by a privately owned farm field.

Mug with a fortifications map saying, "Wilmington 1781"
Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women


British Encounters

Most modern sources refer to a single 1850s source that provides most of the information and the quotes on this page.[1] Rev. Eli Caruthers interviewed multiple witnesses, read available documents, and did not appear to make up stories like some of his contemporaries. Modern historians have been able to corroborate basic facts about Bell from other original documents.[2] Still, believe details with caution!

Martha McFarlane McGee Bell successfully ran her first husband’s farm and mercantile businesses after his death. She married her second husband William Bell, owner of a grain mill on Deep River, in 1779. Both supported independence, and he may have served in the local Patriot (“Whig”) militia. She also worked as a midwife, traveling alone on increasingly dangerous roads “well armed with dirk and pistols” when called. Accosted once by an infamous Loyalist (“Tory”), she took him prisoner and marched him home, though he escaped later.

Painting of a man in a white wig in a 1700s uniform with a sash across his white vest
Lord Cornwallis (Credit: Benjamin Smith / Public domain)

After the Battle of Guilford Court House in today’s Greensboro, the British Army remained on the battlefield a few nights before its commander, Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis, decided to move south to recover. On March 18, 1781, the army camped on the Bell’s Mill property and the plantation immediately north of it.

William made himself scarce to avoid capture. Cornwallis told Martha he was going to use the mill to grind grain for the troops and would occupy her house. She asked if he was going to burn them. Cornwallis said no, and asked why she had asked. Bell supposedly replied that if he “‘intended to burn our mill, I had intended to save you the trouble by burning it myself before you derived much benefit from it…’”

She told several neighbors afterward that Cornwallis first claimed he had wiped out the Continental army. But he kept opening the back door that looked onto the road to Cross Creek (now Fayetteville). When she asked why, he admitted, “‘Well, madam, to tell you the truth, I never saw such fighting since God made me, and another such victory would annihilate me.’”

During the encampment:

  • A British officer insulted her while passing the house to water his horse. She yelled back that she hoped it threw him and broke his neck. Because he was riding recklessly, a few minutes later it did!
  • Bell hid her money under a large rock that served as the bottom step to her door when the army first approached, thinking the camp would be further off, and the soldiers wouldn’t look there. When they camped at the mill instead, she wandered the area one day, asking generic questions and inspecting tents, until the soldiers became disinterested in her. On the way back inside, she safely grabbed her money.
  • When Cornwallis was absent, some soldiers came into the house demanding the cider she kept in the basement. She stood her ground and made them leave.

After two days the army marched east toward Dixon’s Mill at Snow Camp, taking with it all of the Bells’ grain, bacon, cattle, and other provisions—but not her cider! Continental Lt. Col. Henry Lee showed up shortly afterward. Whether he asked her to do this, or she volunteered, is unknown, but Bell mounted up and went to the new British camp. She complained to Cornwallis about damage she only learned about after they left. In fact, she was spying, and returned to Lee with what she had learned.

Sparring with Tories

Sometime later a Whig scout approached her, saying he had heard of a Tory part-time “militia” force forming nearby. Bell went with him to try to find it. In the guise of a midwife afraid of being attacked, she asked questions of everyone they met as to the Tories’ whereabouts until the pair succeeded. They had ridden 30 miles when they got back. The scout informed Lee, who broke up the encampment.

At some point when her Patriot father was visiting, two Loyalists broke in intending to kill him. Her pistols were not handy, so she grabbed an axe and held it over her head. Caruthers reports that she said, “‘If one of you touches him, I’ll split you down with this axe.’” They wisely backed off.

That autumn, Loyalists learned William was back home from a trip north. They approached the house, wounded him when he stuck his head out the window to investigate, and prepared to burn the place. Martha yelled outside to their enslaved servant, Pete: “‘Run as hard as you can to Jo Clarke’s and tell him and the light-horse to come as quickly as possible, for the Tories are here.’” Clarke was a cavalry militia officer who lived a mile away. Again the Tories decided to leave.

Finally, infamous Tory Col. David Fanning showed up at the house with 25 mounted men in home-made uniforms the night he had murdered Patriot Col. Andrew Balfour near today’s Asheboro. By this time, eight to 10 Patriots from the area regularly stayed at the house for Martha’s protection when William was in hiding. She called to them—loudly enough to be heard outside—to open the windows, but not to fire until they had a sure aim on someone. Even David Fanning thought better of challenging Martha Bell, and he moved on.

Nothing is known about the Bells’ lives after the war, except that William died a number of years before her, and Martha went peacefully around age 85.

[1] Caruthers, E. W. (Eli Washington), Interesting Revolutionary Incidents and Sketches of Character, Chiefly in the ‘Old North State.’ (Philadelphia : Hayes & Zell, 1856) <> [accessed 23 April 2020].

[2] These include a 1998 guidebook; NCpedia; the online essay for the relevant North Carolina Highway Marker; and related Sight pages (see “About Sources“).

Trading Ford

Greene Escapes Yet Again


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Coordinates: 35.7234, -80.3903.

Type: Stop
Tour: Race to the Dan
County: Davidson/Rowan

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The Trading Ford is surrounded by private or railroad property, preventing direct access to it and the sites of events described on this page. Otherwise this would be one of our more detailed “Sight” pages, given the importance of what happened here.

A decent though distant view of the island in the middle of the ford is available from the paved pedestrian path over the US 29/70 bridge. The coordinates take you to a parking area of the adjacent Yadkin River Park.

Mug with a fortifications map saying, "Wilmington 1781"

Red tee shirt saying "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll



Early History

Walk onto the bridge and down to the second covered bench. Look to your left at the island on the far side of the I-85 bridge.

What earlier was called “Island Ford,” for obvious reasons, was a relatively shallow part of the Yadkin River on either side of the island you see. The ford was part of a major Native American “Trading Path,” and artifacts indicate people lived here 10,000 years ago. Later wagon roads were built to it from Salisbury toward points east and north.

Photo of a tree-covered island on the left side of a river behind an interstate bridge
(AmRevNC photograph)

A Spanish exploration from a colony at modern Parris Island, S.C., led by Capt. Juan Pardo, built Fort Santiago downriver from the island with the help of Guatari natives in early 1568. This was 17 years before the first English settlement in N.C., on Roanoke Island. The Spaniards were soon driven out or killed, and the site is underwater now.

Like the Spaniards, Englishman John Lawson walked here from the coast in 1701. He was making an exploration of the Carolina colony, mostly on foot, in an arc from Charleston to Washington, N.C. He had followed the Trading Path along the route now covered by US 29/70 further south, and arrived on Wednesday, January 29. He stayed with Sapona natives in their village on the north (left) bank on the far side of the island, for several days. He wrote, “This most pleasant River may be something broader than the Thames at Kingston, keeping a continual pleasant warbling Noise, with its reverberating on the bright Marble Rocks… One side of the River is hemm’d in with mountainy Ground, the other side proving as rich a Soil to the Eye of a knowing Person with us, as any this Western World can afford.”[1]

He notes that the Sapona “king” was holding five prisoners for an unpleasant fate: “The Fire of Pitch-Pine being got ready, and a Feast appointed… the Sufferer has his Body stuck thick with Light-Wood-Splinters, which are lighted like so many Candles, the tortur’d Person dancing round a great Fire, till his Strength fails, and disables him…”

Racers Arrive

In early 1781, Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan’s Continental Army corps had defeated a British wing at the Battle of Cowpens (S.C.), capturing hundreds of prisoners it was now marching north. A British army under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis was racing to trap Morgan against this river. The Americans had camped at Salisbury and then moved out to try to cross the Trading Ford ahead of Cornwallis’ arrival. This was part of the campaign later named the “Race to the Dan.”

The prior autumn, Continental commander Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene had ordered Gen. Edward Stevens of the Virginia militia “‘to explore carefully the (Yadkin) river, the Depth of the Water, the Current, & the Rocks, & every other Obstruction that will impede the Business of Transportation…'”[2] That foresight paid off this night, Saturday, February 3. The river was high and the current strong after days of rain that plagued both armies. But the Patriots were ready. From here you might have caught glimpses of small boats crossing back and forth across the river by the far end of the island—rowboats, flat-bottomed “bateaux,” even canoes. It’s unclear where these boats came from. Morgan’s commander, Greene, had discussed the possibility of carrying some on wagons. Some sources believe Morgan had done that [3], and that Greene arranged for others to be gathered while still in his main army camp in S.C. days before.[4] If so, he helped himself personally, because Greene was here that night!

The corps of around 800 part-time soldiers called “militia” and regular Continental troops, plus the prisoners, were hurrying in fear of the British cavalry. It took hours, but they succeeded, and the boats were tied up on the left side of the river. The Americans camped on the heights above.

The British had tried but failed to cut off Morgan at the crossroads that now is Mooresville, and then chased him through Salisbury. By dark they arrived roughly four miles east of Salisbury and 15 miles from the ford, the best over the Yadkin in this region. Cornwallis sent a portion forward to try to catch the Continentals, while the rest of his army set up camp.

Among the distant trees on the right side of the river, perhaps a half-mile past modern I-85, a large number of civilian refugees failed to make it. Around midnight, Brig. Gen. Charles O’Hara’s Redcoats arrived to find 100 Virginia militiamen and 50 cavalry apparently guarding refugee wagons stuck in river mud.

Photo of a wagon pulled by oxen and followed by Continental soldiers
Continental re-enactors with wagon

Instead, it was an ambush. Greene’s medical chief, Dr. William Read, wrote that after crossing and visiting the camp, he came back to the riverbank. (It’s unclear how soon afterward he wrote up these events, so believe quotations with caution.) Some officers were there watching the approach of the British “column after column” as the light faded. Morgan approached and said, “‘I have laid an ambuscade of 120 Virginia men for the British; we hope to do them some harm.”[5]

According to Patriot militia Col. Joseph Graham, “The militia were drawn up near a half mile from the ford, where a branch crosses which was covered with small timber and bushes, and there was an old field along the road in their front… The American position was low along the branch, under shade of the timber; that of the advancing foe was open and on higher ground, and between them and the sky, was quite visible.” With the British “within sixty steps,” the Patriots opened fire, which the British returned.[6]

As the firing broke out, Read quotes Morgan to say, “’There are my rifles; there the British pistol.’” Dogs added to the noise.[7]

Graham says the Redcoats formed a line and extended to the right, until they began to turn back the militia on the end of the American line. After firing two or three rounds, the militia easily retreated into the night toward another ford. Looking across the river near this end of the island, however, Read saw a gunshot and the dark shape of a man falling off a horse.[8]

Graham continues, “They passed down the river two miles and crossed over, abandoning the baggage and other wagons which could not be gotten over, to the enemy, after taking out the horses.” The British went on to the Trading Ford but “found the water was too deep to ford, and still rising, and that General Morgan, encamped on the other side, had with him all the boats and canoes.”[9]

The British captured the wagons, adding to the refugees’ misery. The Redcoats lost 10–12 killed or wounded, but none were captured. Two of the militia were killed, an unknown number wounded, and 10 captured.

The next morning, Read, Morgan, and the officers were back at the riverbank trying to see what happened. Some of the Virginians, wet and fatigued, appeared on their side of the river walking in your direction from beyond the island. Read told them what he saw. A young soldier stepped forward to say he fired the shot. “‘I was pursued by a dragoon (while) running across that field; he overtook me, and I wheeled about and shot him; I think he fell. At the moment he gave my rifle a heavy cut,’” which he showed to Read.

Two men volunteered to check on the British. They rode their horses down the sharp bank on the left and across the near end of the island to the right side. On returning they said they saw the Redcoats burying the dead in large pits.[10]

The rest of the British army arrived, now totaling 2,000 men. But Cornwallis realized he has been foiled not only by the Continentals, but by nature. The floodwaters made the ford completely impassable.

Greene Ignores Cannon Fire

Return to your car and:

  1. Take the parking exit leading downhill, away from the highway, onto Trading Ford Way.
  2. At the first intersection, Sowers Road, turn right.
    Note: There is no information there, but if you want to visit a monument about these events, go straight across. It is on the right after a short distance. Then come back and turn left.
  3. At the frontage road, Wil-Cox Way, turn left.
  4. Take the first right, NC 150 East, toward the highway.
  5. Continue straight across the interchange, as the road becomes Seven Oaks Drive, and all the way to the no-trespassing signs near a barely visible railroad yard.
  6. Park in the turnaround on the left.

Stay within the road, which is a public street up to this point, or the turnaround. You may get a visit from railroad security if you get too close to the no-trespassing signs!

Look at the distant, forested high ground the road appears to point to.

You are likely standing in or near Morgan’s campsite, looking at Gowrie’s Heights across the river. Right after arriving, Dr. Read walked into the camp to check on Morgan. He found him in his tent, “‘very sick, rheumatic from head to feet.’” He advised the general to leave camp for someplace warm and safe. Morgan supposedly replied, “’‘I do not know where that is to be found until I reach Virginia.’”[11]

The British mounted cannons on the heights, and fired a few rounds. Read reports: “‘At a little distance from the river was a small cabin in which General Greene had taken up his quarters. At this the enemy directed their fire, and the balls rebounded from the rocks in the rear of it. But little of the roof was visible to the enemy. The General was preparing his orders for the army and his dispatches to the Congress. In a short time the balls began to strike the roof, and the clapboards were flying in all directions. But the General’s pen never stopped, only when a new visitor arrived, or some officer for orders; and then the answer was given with calmness and precision, and Greene resumed his pen.”[12]

Old map
Trading Ford area on 1890 map showing “Gen. Greene’s retreat” (Detail from “Map of Davidson County, N.C.,” L. Johnson, 1890)

Graham’s 1871 biography, in which this quote appears, adds, “This cabin stood about two hundred yards east of Holtsburg depot, and a rod or two to the north of the county road, at the foot of the hill.” The road you are on led to the depot, located where the tracks still run today. So the cabin was the distance of two American football fields to the left along this side of the tracks, under the lip of the terrace ahead of you (probably at a railroad equipment parking area visible on satellite maps).

The next day the Continentals moved off to a safer location south of modern Winston-Salem. Cornwallis reluctantly withdrew his forces to Salisbury to await the river’s drop. But the day after that, he gave up and marched roughly 30 miles upriver to cross at Shallow Ford near modern Huntsville.

Photo of a low weed-covered hill with distant trees in the background
View across likely Continental campsite toward cabin site (AmRevNC photograph)

More Information

[1] “Excerpt from John Lawson Journal.”

[2] Pancake 1985.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Quoted in Sherman 2007.

[6] Graham 1904.

[7] Quoted in Sherman.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Graham.

[10] Quoted in Sherman.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Quoted in Greene 1871.

Salisbury | More Tours

Caldwell Homesite

A Patriot Outwits the Tories


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Coordinates: 36.0939, -79.8426.

Type: Stop
Tour: Guilford Battle
County: Guilford

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The coordinates put you in the parking lot for the David Caldwell Historic Park, whose Visitor Center is closed indefinitely as of January 2021. However, you can visit the park year-round during the daytime (see their website for hours). A sidewalk gets you to our stop.

Although various sources report similar facts, they all appear to come from a biography written by one of Caldwell’s students, Rev. E.W. Caruthers, in 1842. Unless otherwise noted, the information and quotes from this page are taken from that source. Though an earnest historian for his day, Caruthers mostly relies on second-hand reports gathered decades after these events. Believe with caution!


The Rev. David Caldwell—educator, pastor, and an outspoken Patriot—has a bounty placed on his head by the British during the war.



Loyalists (“Tories”) regularly come looking for Caldwell at his home. In March 1781, the British army under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis camped various places in the region while chasing the Continental army.


That March, the Continental army of Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene had returned from Virginia and was maneuvering northeast of modern-day Greensboro, preparing to lure the British into a decisive battle at Guilford Court House a few miles north.


Saturday, March 11, 1781.



Man in a white tee shirt that says, "Just a Regulator Guy"

Imagine the Scene

The Log College

From the lot, walk to the paved trail into the park that parallels Cornwallis Drive closest to the lot entrance. Turn right, and stay to the right, passing the rock outline of a foundation on the left. Contrary to the markers there, it probably is not on the site of the Caldwells’ Revolutionary-era home and college. According to the most recent archaeological studies here, those piles most likely mark the second home built sometime between 1790 and 1800.[1]

Continue down the sidewalk to the rock monuments on the left. Go to the second one, for David, and face the lawn to your right.

Building materials and household artifacts found in this immediate area in 2009 suggest a domestic structure is in front of you in 1781, possibly the first home of the Rev. David Caldwell and his wife, Rachel. If so, it is “a double cabin, or a log house, with a chimney in the middle, an outer door to each apartment, and a communication from one to the other.”[2] The second floor houses his 1767 “Academy,” later called the “Log College.” The college “served as a boarding-room academy, a college, a theological seminary, and one of the few schools on the frontier anywhere.”[3] Caldwell was also pastor of the Alamance and Buffalo Presbyterian churches, and a physician.

Photo of a grassy area with a tree on the left with a sidewalk behind, and a dirt strip to the far right
(AmRevNC photograph)

Around the house are several small log cabins the students live in. A “large brick oven” is steps from the house, and a smokehouse is nearby. The house sits within a fence, probably made of vertical planks close together, with a front gate. Caldwell owns the 275 acres surrounding you, including several farms.

Eight or nine enslaved people took care of the buildings and students during the war. After Caldwell’s horse was stolen by three men claiming it was for the army, he asked one of those men named Tom to steal it back that night. He did!

A War of Words

Look directly toward the parking lot. The closest tree across the lawn, where the grass gives way to dirt, was in the center of a colonial road running left to right.[4] If this is the house location, the gate would be within your view near the modern lawn edge in 1781.

Caldwell is a well-known Patriot (“Whig”), not only because he is an outspoken advocate from his pulpits for independence, but he had served in the 1776 convention in Halifax that created North Carolina’s first state constitution. There was an additional incentive for militia and Redcoat scouts to seek out Rev. Caldwell. Cornwallis put a £200 bounty on his head, today worth around $37,000.[5]

Caldwell built a shack on North Buffalo Creek two miles from here to use as a hideout whenever Tories came looking for him. The stream running through the modern Bicentennial Gardens to the south feeds into Buffalo Creek, so named because wild buffaloes still roamed the region when Europeans first arrived.

In Fall 1780 a rider shows up at the door seeking a rest stop, Caruthers reports. He is carrying letters from Gen. George Washington to Greene in South Carolina. Rachel tells him she will feed him, but he should sleep elsewhere, because she is under constant harassment by Tories. Sure enough, the food is barely out before Loyalist militia (part-time soldiers) show up, apparently having heard of the stranger’s arrival. Rachel quickly ushers the courier out the back door and tells him to hide in a nearby thickly leaved, but thorny, locust tree, perhaps to your left or behind you. The Tories surround the house. Once they are done searching, he climbs down the far side of the trunk and escapes.

Contrary to some sources, the British army did not approach and leave the Battle of Guilford Court House on the nearby road, much less camp here before the battle. (See the Battle of New Garden for the actual route.) But detachments roamed the area foraging and seeking out Patriot leaders with Tory help.

Drawing of four men in everyday 1700s clothing with guns
Typical militia outfits

Caruthers says a domestic servant is working in the yard on Saturday, March 11, 1781. (Likely enslaved, her name is lost to history.) The servant hears a commotion in the distance and stands on the fence to see the cause. Soon after, a group of militia soldiers arrive at the gate. They ask her to get the landlady, claiming to be Patriots seeking David’s medical help. (Militia on both sides wore everyday clothes, not uniforms.) What this band doesn’t know is what she had seen in the distance from the fence: the red coats of some regular British soldiers traveling with them! Either this party was Loyalist militiamen, or Redcoats in borrowed clothing. Rachel comes out to greet them, but the servant manages to warn her. The soldiers repeat their request. Rachel says she must check on a child, goes back in the house, and warns visiting Patriot neighbors. They escape out the back door while she goes back to the gate.

The soldiers announce they are taking over the house. (Given that the main army was miles away, this suggests the men were probably Tory militia, though it could have been a British detachment.) Over her protests, they invade the house and either order or allow her and her eight children to move to the smokehouse.

Caruthers picks up the story: They “there passed a day with no other food than a few dried peaches and apples, till a physician interposed, and procured for her a bed, some provisions, and a few cooking utensils. The family remained in the smoke house two days and nights—their distress being frequently insulted by profane and brutal language. To a young officer who came to the door for the purpose of taunting the helpless mother, by ridiculing her countrymen, whom he termed rebels and cowards, Mrs. Caldwell replied, ‘Wait and see what the Lord will do for us.’ ‘If he intends to do anything,’ pertly rejoined the military fop, ‘’tis time he had begun.’” When she asks a soldier for protection, she is told “she could expect no favors, for that the women were as great rebels as the men.

“After remaining two days, the army took their departure from the ravaged plantation, on which they had destroyed every thing; but before leaving Dr. Caldwell’s house, the officer in command gave orders that his library and papers should be burned. A fire was kindled in the large oven in the yard, and books which could not at that time be replaced, and valuable manuscripts which had cost the study and labor of years, were carried out by the soldiers, armful after armful, and ruthlessly committed to the flames. Not even the family Bible was spared, and the house, as well as plantation, was left pillaged and desolate.”[6] Presumably the stolen goods were taken to Cornwallis’ army, now camped at Deep River Meeting House, a day’s march to the southwest.

Two days later, the Battle of Guilford Court House was fought a few miles directly north, easily heard from here. Rachel apparently spent the day in prayer with women of the Buffalo Creek congregation in one of their homes. After the battle, David helped tend to the wounded. There is a monument to him on the battlefield.

Months before and after the two main armies left the area, Loyalist and Whig militias fought a civil war within the Revolutionary War. Caldwell was a hunted man.

Photo of a view along the edge of a lawn on the left and dirt on the right
Colonial road route (AmRevNC photograph)

One time he sneaks back home, Caruthers says, only to have Tory militia surround the house again. He is dragged out to the yard and held under guard while the Loyalists steal whatever they can find of value inside. A neighbor woman, a Mrs. Dunlap, comes out, leans down to him, and loudly whispers a question to him, “asking if it was not time for Gillespie and his men to be here.” One of the guards overhears her, as she intended, and demands to know what she meant. Apparently Gillespie is one of the Patriot militia commanders known to be vicious to Tories, most likely Capt. Daniel Gillespie of the Guilford County Militia.[7] Panic ensues, and the Tories flee, leaving behind Caldwell and their plundered goods!

Another time a Loyalist decides to take a fine tablecloth Rachel especially likes. She grabs it and enters into a tug-of-war with the man. When he begins to win she asks if there is no man who, having wives and daughters of his own, will stand up for her. One is shamed into doing so and makes the thief let go.

Tories show up at the door late another night. They tell Rachel they are Patriots and need to find her husband to treat wounded peers. Erring on the side of compassion, she tells them where his hideout is. Almost immediately after they leave, she realizes they tricked her. She spends the night in fear and prayer. Fortunately, the reverend was away from the hut when they arrived. In fact, he was never captured despite the many attempts.


David and Rachel were buried about a ten-minute drive from here. To pay your respects, read the “Historical Tidbits” section below before you leave, and then:

  1. From the parking lot, turn right on Cornwallis Drive.
  2. Drive 3.6 miles to Church Street.
  3. Turn left, and drive 0.5 miles to 16th Street.
  4. Turn left into the circular driveway in front of Buffalo Presbyterian Church, and park.
Photo of a covered walkway between two brick buildings with three arches
(AmRevNC photograph)

Walk to the left of the sanctuary. Go through the arched walkway to the back of the building, veering slightly left around the rear. Turn left and walk to the parallel lines of low bushes, which outline their plot.

Rachel is on the far left, and David is to her right. They probably lie at normal depths below “table markers” put up by a son, common memorials of the day built to look like tombs.

After the war, Caldwell also served in the Hillsborough convention to consider the new U.S. Constitution in 1788. He turned down an offer to be the first president of the University of North Carolina, and received the university’s first honorary degrees.[8] He is credited with preaching a sermon at the post-Revolution courthouse in Greensboro that convinced Guilford County men to volunteer for the War of 1812. He continued preaching in the churches until age 95, and died at 99 in their second home marked by the rock outline at the Historic Park.

Rachel largely disappears from the historical record except as assisting David with the college and raising their nine children, three of whom may have had mental illnesses.[9] At least three others died as infants. Rachel died at 81, less than a year after David.

Two flat, body-length gravestones raised off the ground
(AmRevNC photograph)

Historical Tidbits

  • David continued to teach at the Log College until 1816, and the college remained open until 1824, taking over the entire first Caldwell home after the second was built. Into the 1790s, David still had not been able to replace the library the British or Tories destroyed. Regardless, the academy graduated many ministers and other state leaders, including later Gov. John Motley Morehead. In a letter years later, Morehead described how Caldwell “made me recite, from four to six hours a day, parsing every difficult word, and scanning nearly every line, when the recitation happened to be in any of the Latin poets. Indeed you could not get along with him, with any comfort, without knowing accurately and thoroughly every thing you passed over.’”[10] On a lighter note, a student told Caruthers that at some point, the school “‘had a goat that possessed a strong taste for books, and if ever a student, from thoughtlessness, left a book exposed, this goat was certain, if he came on it, to appropriate the whole, or part, to his own use.’”[11]
  • Like many of the Founding Fathers, Caldwell apparently disliked slavery but did not free his slaves. By 1810 the Caldwells held sixteen people captive, working at the college or his farms. A contemporary Quaker described him as a “lenient” slaveholder, and Caldwell gave him permission to hold a Sunday school for teaching his and other slaves to read. The Caldwells owned 832 acres in 1815, after purchases of tracts to the west and south, and a small grain mill.[12] In 1818, a neighbor established in woods behind the buildings a starting point for the “Underground Railroad,” actually a series of safe houses for people escaping slavery. Caldwell surely knew about his neighbor’s activity, and one report suggests he allowed his slaves to help runaways in the woods.


Red tote bag with a picture and list of female patriots

More Information

[1] South 1966, Robinson 2009. Baroody 1980 concluded this was the first home, but depended on a later date of construction for the second home than the other sources found—the average age of the artifacts he and Robinson found here dates them to the late 1790s. Also, the foundation underneath the modern layout of rocks does not match Caruthers’ description of the first home as apparently rectangular and having chimneys on each end (Baroody, Robinson) instead of in the middle as described further down in the text. Robinson (2009), repeatedly calls the foundation the second home, as South had concluded earlier.

[2] Caruthers 1842.

[3] Caldwell 2006. This source gives an incorrect size for the room, based on the 1980 study mentioned in Footnote 1.

[4] From the corner of Rachel’s rock nearest the sidewalk, the centerline was 70 feet directly west, where that tree now stands (Robinson 2009). From David’s rock the center was 76 feet away west, so the north-south road was curving slightly southwest toward the modern Visitor Center.

[5] Nye, Eric, ‘Currency Converter, Pounds Sterling to Dollars, 1264 to Present’

[6] Quoted in Caldwell.

[7] As illustrated on many of these pages, a few militia leaders on both sides were known for their excessive violence. This story could refer to one of two other militia captains named Gillespie, both promoted later (Lewis, J. D., ‘The Patriots and Their Forces’, The American Revolution in North Carolina <> [accessed 23 November 2020]).

[8] Miller 1978.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Quoted in Miller.

[11] Caruthers.

[12] Miller.

Deep River | Guilford Battle Tour | New Garden


Dramatic Protests and British Occupiers


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Coordinates: 34.2353, -77.9487.

Type: Stop
Tour: Cape Fear
County: New Hanover

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Park in downtown Wilmington, near the coordinates at Market Street and Front Street, the first stop of our tour.

All of our tour stops can be seen from city sidewalks.

Mug saying "Wilmington" with a map of the 1781 British camp


Founded by 1739, Wilmington was the largest city and port in North Carolina during the American Revolution, with 1,200 residents and 200 homes.


A lot happened in Wilmington during the war, but this page emphasizes four events, listed here earliest to last:

  • Rebellion—Rebellious political actions occurring over a 10-year period before the war.
  • Warships—An attempt by British warships to get upriver past the town in 1776, to open the way to Loyalist-leaning Cross Creek (modern Fayetteville).
  • Craig—Occupation by a corps under British Maj. James Craig for most of 1781.
  • Cornwallis—A two-week stay by the battered army of British Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis after its costly “victory” at the Battle of Guilford Court House in today’s Greensboro.


Saturday, October 19, 1765–Sunday, November 18, 1781.


White capy saying, "My other hat is a" and showing a tricorn hat

Imagine the Scene

The Courthouse

Go to and look into the intersection of Market Street and Front Street.

Rebellion: Before and during the war, the county courthouse is in the middle of this intersection. It is probably a log building, raised above head height on brick pillars. A farmers’ market is underneath. Above it is a simple tower with a bell.

Photo of an urban intersection with a three-bedroom building behind
(AmRevNC photograph)

Early resistance to British policies occurred here, according to the North Carolina Gazette newspaper of November 20, 1765[1]:

  • Around 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 19, almost 500 people—a large percentage of the population—gather here. They hang an effigy of a failed former prime minister, Lord Bute, who remains a hated advisor to King George III and supports the Stamp Act, a tax on paper goods. They then burn the effigy in tar barrels. Next they go to all the homes and force the men not already with them to come out and drink to “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, AND NO STAMP TAX,” followed by “three huzzas” after each. They disperse around midnight.
  • The royal tax collector in North Carolina, William Houston, shows up in town on November 16 on personal business. Like all Sundays it is a market day, and a crowd of 300–400 gathers. Drums beat, flags wave, the bell is rung, and Houston is brought here to the courthouse. The crowd demands to know if Houston is going to enforce the Stamp Act. His slippery answer would make modern politicians proud. He says he “‘should be very sorry to execute any Office disagreeable to the People of the Province.’”[2] They take him inside, where he resigns his office. His exit is more pleasant. The crowd carries him to each corner here in an armchair, giving him three huzzas at each, then further around town, and finally to his lodging.

Thus it is fitting that protesters from across the region meet in the courthouse nine years later, on Thursday, July 21, 1774, in the first attempt to organize resistance in N.C. to a new set of British laws.[3] Called the “Coercive” or “Intolerable” acts, these are meant to punish Boston for the Boston Tea Party and other protests. The delegates decide to send a letter to other counties, calling for representatives to a convention that would elect delegates to the First Continental Congress.[4] They proclaim “the cause of the Town of Boston as the common cause of British America and as suffering in defence of the Rights of the Colonies in general.”[5] In November, local leaders meet at the courthouse as the “Wilmington Committee of Safety” for the first time, to coordinate area responses to Parliament.

A year later an open declaration of resistance is written or copied inside—details are fuzzy, including why this happened in Wilmington! On Tuesday, June 20, 1775, a small group from the Cross Creek area (now Fayetteville) create a document here later called the “Liberty Point Resolves.” The men pledge to defend their rights against “every foe” and support the Continental and Provincial congresses, the latter being the new rebel legislature. Eventually 55 property owners sign the Resolves in Cross Creek.

Most likely at the courthouse the next month, the committee of safety, now in effect the Patriot replacement for the local royal government, takes an action against liberty. It orders that all Africans and African-Americans, free or enslaved, be disarmed, and creates patrols to enforce the order. Slaveholders were terrified of slave rebellions.

The committee also takes harsh steps to enforce support for the growing cause of revolution. Loyalist (or “Tory”) Janet Schaw reports that the committee’s supporters threaten “‘if you refuse, we are directly to cut up your corn, shoot your pigs, burn your houses, seize your (slaves) and perhaps tar and feather yourself.’”[6]

Drama by the River

Walk toward the river on either side of Market to the near side of Water Street, the last road before the river. From that corner, look into Market.

At the time, the river bank started here. You are standing on a narrow dock extending along this side of today’s Market and into the river. Another narrow dock extends from the middle, and a third is on the far side, creating two slips of water. These are used for smaller boats; a larger single slip is in modern Dock Street (a block to the left when facing the river). Larger ocean-going ships, all sailing ships in the 1700s, cannot maneuver into the river due to the winds and a shoal above Brunswick Town. So large rowboats are often used to ferry goods to and from them. Perhaps one is near you, unloading goods into warehouses lining the dock and street behind you, while logs and barrels of tar are being loaded into the other for shipment. At the start of the war, Wilmington was one of the leading exporters in the world for these shipbuilding materials, and the British Navy was dependent on it prior to the Revolution.[7]

Photo of a downtown cobblestone street with a tree-lined median and two-story building behind
(AmRevNC photograph)

However, the slips may well be empty instead. The British navy, and quasi-legal pirates called “privateers” supporting them, partially blockaded the Cape Fear starting in 1777.

Cross Water to the fence at the river overlook. During the war, you would be in the river. Look left (downriver).

Warships: Imagine you are shivering in a small boat on the river on Sunday, January 28, 1776. Wilmington is in an uproar, having learned two small British warships are approaching the town from the ocean, after a brief attempt to retake Ft. Johnston at the mouth of the river (today’s Southport). “Martial law was in effect, and all those who refused to take an oath to support the patriot cause were forced to work on the fortifications. Twenty professed Loyalists were taken into custody. Guns were mounted on the parapets; fire rafts were prepared; stores removed; and the women and children were sent to safety outside the town.”[8]

Photo of a river with a distant bridge, a dock on the left and trees across on the right
(AmRevNC photograph)

Royal Gov. Josiah Martin, forced to flee New Bern the previous summer, is aboard one of the ships, the HMS Cruizer. He has been living on it ever since. Now he is trying to get past Wilmington to Cross Creek, where a Loyalist army of volunteers is forming. On your side of the river, though, are formidable breastworks—ridges of dirt—with cannons facing downriver, manned by Patriot militia (part-time soldiers). The ships draw off and try to go around Eagle Island, which you can see directly across the river. The Brunswick River runs along its far side and feeds into the main channel of the Cape Fear, so they would have come out upriver of the island.

The water is too shallow[9], though, so the ships reappear later in the day. In the far distance, out of range of the Patriot (or “Whig”) artillery, you see rowboats being lowered over the sides and British troops getting into them to raid the town. Patriot militia begin shooting at them from both sides of the river, so the exposed British give up. The troops and boats go back onboard, and the ships retire.

Walk up Water Street (to the right when facing the river). Stop at the broad steps on the right at the back of the federal courthouse, and go up them if you wish. Look across the river at the U.S.S. Wilmington. It rests in the continuation of the Cape Fear River. The water to your right is the North Cape Fear River. The land between the two, on the other side of the Cape Fear from the battleship, now is called McNiell Point.[10]

In March 1781, some of Maj. Craig’s troops massacred eight patriots at Rouse’s Tavern eight miles northeast of town, in today’s Ogden. A related story comes entirely from the son of a Revolutionary War soldier who collected memories from veterans years later. The star of the story, later a well-known politician, never wrote about it, nor are these events mentioned in British records.[11] However, the author said he knew the son in the story well in later years, and the third man is identified in unrelated records. Still, believe with caution!

Photo of a tree-covered point of land across a river
(AmRevNC photograph)

Craig: According to this story, Patriot militia leader Lt. Col. Thomas Bloodworth[12] wanted revenge for the massacre, especially since one of those killed was a friend. One day while fox hunting, Bloodworth discovered a huge, hollow cypress tree on McNiell Point. A gunsmith, Bloodworth made a long-range rifle and practiced shooting at a human figure drawn on his barn from the distance between here and the point. In July he canoed to the Point with his son Timothy and an employee, Jim Paget, with provisions and his rifle. They built a platform inside the tree and bored holes with a hand-drill for air and for shooting.

On Wednesday morning, July 4th, 1781, some British soldiers are gathered at “‘Nelson’s liquor store'” here or nearby. Suddenly one of the soldiers falls backward, followed by the sound of the gunshot. He is dragged into the store as a second soldier is dropped, followed again by the gun’s report. No doubt they scatter, but yet another man is hit.

Boats are launched to scour the opposite river bank. None go as far as McNiell Point, since a shot from that distance seems impossible. Around noon the next day, the shooting starts again. One cavalryman rides to the Market Street dock to water his horse and is knocked off of it.

This supposedly goes on for almost a week. Then a Tory visitor tells the British that Bloodworth is missing, that he saw him going somewhere with a big gun, and that the point was his likely destination. A unit is sent there and finds the empty tree, but too late in the day to cut it down. Bloodworth’s group is hiding. As the British camp overnight, the Patriots capture and tie up a Redcoat guard near their canoe and escape.

Prisons and Patriots

Walk back to the near side of Market, turn left, and go up past Front to Second Street.

Cornwallis/Craig: Where a parking lot now lies across Market Street, a rectangular wooden building you see from one end is used as an army hospital during the British occupation. Among its patients would have been some of the wounded from Guilford Court House. Those too weak to walk were floated across the Cape Fear by boat over the two days before the main army’s arrival, described below.

Cross Second and stop on the corner by the bank.

Craig: Here or perhaps a little farther along 2nd stands a place of misery during Craig’s time. In a low spot in the ground now covered by the modern bank building was a corral of sorts, a high fence of rails with no roof. Called the “Bull Pen,” Craig keeps captured Patriots here, exposed to the sun and rain.

Perhaps you see, through the slats, John Ashe huddled in a corner, shivering and covered in sores. Ashe had been a member of the Provincial Assembly, the colonial legislature, but became a leader of the Stamp Act protests in the 1760s. A Patriot officer at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, which ended Gov. Martin’s hopes of reclaiming the colony in 1776, he was appointed a brigadier general in the state militia later that year. When the British arrived, he went into hiding, but was betrayed and imprisoned here. During a long stay he got smallpox. Finally released due to the illness, he died on the way to his family in Hillsborough.

Another victim of the Bull Pen was political leader Cornelius Harnett, described below at his grave.

Continue another block until you are across from the Burgwin-Wright House at Third Street, and look further up Market.

Rebellion: During the war, you just walked the entire width of Wilmington proper, though homes are scattered throughout a larger area. The town only goes one more block to the left (to Chestnut Street) and two to the right where Orange is today, though there is no street there yet!

Around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 1775, a rider gallops into town from ahead of you, down the dirt road from New Bern that becomes Market Street at this intersection. He likely continues down to the courthouse. He announces that American militia fired on British troops in Lexington and Concord, Mass., on April 19. It has taken exactly two weeks for the news to get here, by horseback, of the first military action of the American Revolution.

Look left up 3rd Street.

Cornwallis: Cornwallis’ army arrives here from Guilford Court House over two days starting Wednesday, April 11, 1781. The army marches in along 3rd Street and eventually into the encampment past modern Orange Street. There his 1,700 men including 225 N.C. Loyalists, plus camp followers and people escaping slavery, crowd into Craig’s fortifications. A letter Cornwallis writes three days later, to his commander Sir Henry Clinton in New York City, both explains his decision and describes the men you see: “‘With a third of my Army Sick & Wounded which I was obliged to carry in Waggons (sic) or on horseback, the remainder without shoes & worn down with fatigue, I thought it was time to look for some place of rest & refreshment.’”[13]

Drawing of three soldiers in green uniforms, one in front with a sword drawn
Hessian jaegers or “hunters” (Credit: Charles M. Lefferts / Public domain)

With them are “Hessian” mercenaries who fought alongside the Redcoats at Guilford. “A German soldier in the Von Bose Regiment recalled that they received double rations of rum each day and plenty of provisions of meat and ship’s bread (also called “hardtack,” long-lasting and cracker-like). Shoes, shirts, and breeches were replaced, welcome changes for the men in worn out clothing.”[14]

Meanwhile, Cornwallis writes an officer friend, “Now, my dear friend, what is our plan?”[15] As his army heals, he debates at least eight different options, according to his letters.[a] Eventually he decides—against late-arriving orders from Clinton—to move to Virginia. He hopes to join up with another British army there. Just two weeks after arriving here, they pack up camp, drums roll, columns form, and Cornwallis’ army marches back out 3rd Street to its eventual surrender at Yorktown.

The impact of his North Carolina campaign on that army shows in his “returns,” or troop counts. He entered the state in January with 3,224. He leaves three months later with half that number—1,723.[16] Craig’s force remains behind, to keep the port open for supplies.

Cross Market to the Burgwin-Wright House.

Cornwallis: This home was built in 1770, atop the former county jail, for John Burgwin, the Royal Treasurer of the colony of North Carolina. This was intended only to be a showcase and guest home; he continued to live at his plantation “The Hermitage” in today’s Castle Hayne north of town, and use an older home near here as his “townhouse.”

Photo of a white, wooden, three-story house with porches on the top stories, from the bottom of wooden steps
(AmRevNC photograph)

An English immigrant at 19, Burgwin became a merchant and planter. He married into money, but his wife died before the war. Having served as the private secretary to previous royal governors, and also the register of deeds as war broke out, Burgwin was the highest-ranking British official in town. So he was probably a Loyalist.

A game of Blind Man’s Bluff turned out badly when Burgwin fell and broke his leg.[17] He must have decided this was a good excuse to get out of town—all the way to England, supposedly for treatment. Burgwin returned to N.C. a couple of times during the war, however. He rented out this home at the start of the war to the Wrights, who would later buy it. Among his other “properties” were as many as 200 forced laborers, including at least 10 enslaved at this house.

Cornwallis is entertained here at least one night: A local writes of seeing him come down the wooden front steps after a party.[18] The host is unknown, as records do not indicate whether any of the Wrights were here at the time, or whether officers were housed here.[19] Also unclear is where his headquarters were, though it was not here, contrary to a nearby monument. Other intriguing stories told about the house are also sadly untrue.[20]

Despite never openly declaring himself a Tory, Burgwin sought and received a pardon under the terms of the Treaty of Paris that ended the war, and returned with his English wife and children. They lived at his plantation and sold the house here, confiscated by the state like many Loyalist properties, after 10 years of petitioning to get it back.[21]

You can learn more of the home’s fascinating history, and stand where Cornwallis did, by touring the house.

Cross Third Street, and continue up Market to the church graveyard at the corner with Fourth Street.

Drawing of a church with a door above a few steps, two windows, and a triangular roof with two dormer windows
St. James Church (Credit: Lossing 1851-2)

Rebellion: Like a ghost, you just walked through the wall of the original St. James Church! It ran from partly up the block to the far corner, and jutted out slightly into Market Street.[22]

The Gazette issue quoted earlier tells of a bit of political theater in the older part of the cemetery up Fourth Street, during the 1765 Stamp Act protests. Another large group “‘produced an Effigy of LIBERTY, which they put into a Coffin, and marched in solemn procession with it to the Church-Yard…’” Acting as if to bury it, “‘they thought it advisable to check its pulse…’” Then they gave it a place of honor in an armchair before a bonfire amid “‘great Rejoicings, on finding that LIBERTY had still an Existence in the Colonies.’”[23]

Warships/Cornwallis: Some sources suggest earthworks were brought right up to the church by the Patriots in 1776. This seems possible given that at the time, it was part of the official Church of England, and the colonial pastor had resigned that year. Local traditions that the British desecrated it come from an 1843 church publication that doesn’t cite its sources. It claims, “The inclosure (sic) of the graveyard was removed and burnt, while the church itself was stripped of its pews and other furniture and converted, first into a hospital for the sick, then into a Block-house for defence against the Americans, and finally into a riding school for the Dragoons of Tarleton.”[24] Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton was Cornwallis’ cavalry commander.

Look at the sidewalk behind the fence, running from the church building on the right and turning right behind that.

Photo of Harnett's gravestone
(AmRevNC photograph)

Just past the sidewalk corner is the grave of Cornelius Harnett, an area merchant. Harnett was perhaps the key political leader of the American Revolution in North Carolina. A long-time member of the colonial and then state legislatures, he led area protests against the actions of Parliament. These included an armed march on Royal Gov. William Tryon’s home in Brunswick Town in 1766, and the burning of Fort Johnston 10 years later. He presided over the creation of the Halifax Resolves that declared N.C. independent, and was the first person to read the U.S. Declaration of Independence to the general public in the state.

Harnett was captured by Craig’s troops and supposedly carried to the Bull Pen across a horse like a sack of flour. He died from illness contracted there at age 58. His epitaph, which he wrote on his deathbed, suggests he was a Deist rather than a follower of formal religion: “Slave to no sect, he took no private road/ But looked through nature up to nature’s God.” Harnett County is named for him, and Harnett Street in Raleigh. Read more about him.

Fortifications on the Hill

Go back to Third Street and turn left. As you pass the back of the Burgwin-Wright complex, notice the next home on that side, the Boatwright House, at 14 S. Third Street. Built in the 1760s, it thus was here during the war.

Walk two blocks to Orange Street.

Warships: In 1776, you would have been near, or standing on top of, an earth breastwork built by Patriot militia. Others are two blocks past the other side of Market (today’s Chestnut, not a road then), along the river, and on the heights north and south of town, as far south as modern Greenfield Park.[25]

Craig: These are no barrier to Craig’s army of 300 regular British troops, mostly Scottish Lowlanders, as they arrive on Monday, January 29, 1781. They had sailed partway up the river from Charleston, landed at the Ellis Plantation about nine miles south, and marched the rest of the way using a road along the river. They are unopposed as they enter town, probably at Front Street; the local militia had only about 50 men under arms, so all have wisely left town.

Photo of modern reproduction abatis, described in the text
Abatis (AmRevNC photograph)

Craig’s troops establish a fortified camp on the hilltop in front of you, then mostly empty with no streets. Over time, troops and escaped slaves from around the area build up a breastwork around the hill. According to an unsigned 1781 map of the camp, this is reinforced with large, sharpened wooden stakes called “abattis” jutting outward the entire length, in some cases two rows of them. The nearest section might be just on the other side of Orange, almost parallel to the street, though slowly angling into and across it to your left. The abatis point toward you. They probably turn right around today’s 5th Street, run less than a block south, and then cut back to the river in a rough diagonal along the hilltop. (See the map toward the bottom of the page.)

The soldiers camp, or perhaps build barracks, within the earthworks. Many officers in Craig’s and Cornwallis’ armies are hosted in private homes all around town. In some cases this was easy because the pro-Revolution owners had fled. Also, some percentage of the population were Tories who had lived in uneasy peace with rebels and neutrals. Realizing supplies are scarce, Craig soon orders Patriot women and children out of town. Otherwise, almost nothing is known about civilian life during the British occupation.

Turn left and walk about halfway up the block along Orange Street. Be careful—don’t prick yourself on abattis as you climb over the breastwork!

Look across Orange into the church parking lot.

Possibly directly in front of you, at the highest point of the modern parking lot, is a raised platform with a few cannons taken from a ship, manned by sailors. Shaped like part of a circle, the arc is on this side so the cannons can spread their fire. The 1781 map shows there also are two triangular “sailor’s batteries” elsewhere along the earthworks plus four square “redoubts,” very small forts.

Craig is known to have two brass “three-pounders” (referring to the weight of ball they normally fire) and two iron six-pounders in addition to the naval cannons; some or all may be on the redoubts.

If you want to tour the camp, a 14-block walk, skip to the “Fortification Tour” section below. You will end up at the Field Headquarters described next.

The Occupation Ends

If you aren’t touring the fortifications, go back to 3rd Street and turn left. Walk one block to Ann Street, and turn right. Walk two blocks to the corner with Front Street.

The best candidate for the location of Craig’s headquarters is in today’s Front Street, more than halfway up the block to your left. It could be a building shown on a 1769 map of Wilmington,[26] or it may be a large round tent called a “marquee” with a small stockade around it. (The 1781 map shows a half-circle within a rectangle, but no physical description remains.) Regardless, this vicinity puts the headquarters roughly halfway between the British-occupied buildings in town and the back of the camp (see camp map below). Cornwallis could have used it as well.

Photo looking uphill along a tree-lined residential street
(AmRevNC photograph)

The breastwork with abatis may cross Ann Street about halfway up the block from Front. It then is thought to take a hard right in Front below the headquarters, and line the top of the river bank back in this direction. (At the time, the sharp drop on the right continued up to the left.) Another redoubt is probably where now there is a multistory building down and across Front Street. The breastwork angles away from it along Front, leaving a gap. This might be used to create a protected entrance to the camp from town.

Turn right and walk one block to Orange Street. Look at the building on your right.

On the corner stands the 1740s Mitchell-Anderson House, much changed since the war. At that time it is owned by merchant Robert Hogg, part-owner of the largest salt importing business in the state.[27] Though there were some salt works and mines in the American colonies, the majority of this vital commodity had to be shipped in. The British blockade no doubt hurt business, so the state supported new salt works like those in Beaufort.

Continue along Front Street.

Rebellion: Somewhere along the right side of this block, barracks were constructed for some of the new Continental (regular American army) soldiers during the build-up to war. Also in town was a storehouse for ammunition, used to supply N.C. Continental forces through most of the Revolution.

Three regiments are formed and trained in town, starting in March of 1776. The troops mutiny on July 14, tired of being stuck here with inadequate supplies, and wanting to be in the action in the North. Militia, better armed at this point than regular troops, surround this and other barracks in town to bring them under control. By ironic coincidence, this is also the day a copy of the new U.S. Declaration of Independence arrives and is read in town for the first time.

After the Continental regiments participate in several southern campaigns that first year, returning here each time, they finally march north to join the army of Gen. George Washington on Monday, April 7, 1777.[28] When Craig invaded, some of his troops moved into the Continental barracks.

Go on to the near side of Dock Street and look across Front.

Craig: As noted earlier, during the war period a large slip is in the middle of today’s Dock Street, with wharves and warehouses on each side. Craig’s supply or “commissary” officers took over the warehouse that runs along the left wharf, the end of which you see from here in 1781. This location provides for easy transfers of supplies from the boats to the camp.

Walk another block back to Market Street.

By mid-November 1781, things are getting desperate for Craig. A Patriot militia army at least three times the size of his, under Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, has been marching to attack him. Rutherford, who led the 1776 campaign against the Cherokees, is camped at Heron’s Bridge about nine miles north. Craig has only two-weeks’ worth of flour left, but he cannot send out foraging parties with Rutherford so close. The British are forced to let their horses roam Eagle Island to find their own food.[29]

Given the situation, perhaps Craig has mixed feelings when he receives word of Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown the month before, and his own orders to go back to Charleston. On Sunday, November 18, his troops form into a column in Market Street facing the river to the sound of fifes and drums. They and their baggage begin to load onto ships all along the wharves. As many as 1,000 Tory civilians from around the region have already fled to the British ships downriver, leaving most of their possessions behind.

The army is joined by camp followers and an unknown number of people escaping slavery. One of the escapees suffers tragic disappointment. Lavinia, held by Declaration signer William Hooper, is spotted by friends of his. They physically drag her back to Hooper’s house, near Princess Street between Second and Third.[30]

Drawing of a soldier on horseback
“Lighthorse Harry” Lee (Credit: National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

From the far distance up today’s Third Street, dust arises. Continental and militia cavalry led by Lt. Col. “Lighthorse” Henry Lee turn the corner into Market. Some of the British troops are still waiting to board. The Patriots begin hacking at the end of the column with their swords. (Cornwallis’ surrender did not end the war.)

A man standing somewhere near the courthouse witnesses a gruesome act of revenge. A Tory lagged behind the column, not expecting any danger, and is clearly confused by the arrival of the cavalry. The fact that Lee’s men wore green coats similar to those of the British cavalry may have played a role. When they approach, the man “‘in a state of apparent mental hallucination walked forth with his hand stretchd (sic) out, as if to salute the troop.’” One of the militia riders pulls his sword, rides toward the Tory, and “‘laid his head open, the divided parts falling on each shoulder.’”[31]

The British return scattered fire. Sources differ on whether Lee’s forces retreat before cannon on the ships can turn on them, or the cannons get off a round. One of the Redcoats is killed and an unknown number wounded, while two or three Patriot cavalrymen are wounded. The last of the British speed aboard, and the ships sail away. Thus ends what is by far the longest British occupation of any town in North Carolina during the American Revolution.

Soon after, Rutherford’s army arrives down Third from Heron’s Bridge and has to restore order: Local Patriots have been attacking the few remaining Loyalists, taking out their frustrations after most of a year under British military rule.

Whigs and Tories continued to target each other across the state for months to come, and the British make one more appearance in 1782. But large-scale combat in the state comes to an end, seven years after it started with an attack on Fort Johnston launched from here.

Fortifications Tour

You can circle the British camp, and see possible locations of its features, as shown on the 1781 map. The camp map below is an “educated best guess” of those locations relative to modern streets.[32] For ease of reading, the section is written as if this map is accurate, but believe with caution!

Camp map: © 2021 May not be reproduced in any form without permission. Base map: © OpenStreetMap contributors.

From the sailor’s battery on Orange, continue up Orange across Fourth Street. As you take this tour, remember that none of these streets existed at the time.

About halfway up the block, back a bit from the street around 418 Orange, is one of the small square redoubts. The cannons faced east, the direction you have been walking, to protect against attack from that side. As you continue to Fifth Street, you will pass by it and over the breastwork to the outside of the camp.

Go to Fifth Street and turn right. Walk toward Ann Street.

Again halfway down the block, the breastwork and abatis on your right turn back toward the river, continuing in a straight, diagonal line all the way to Fourth Street. (Where the abatis or breastwork are mentioned below, remember the other is there, too.)

Turn right at Ann, and walk to Fourth Street. You cross the breastwork again and re-enter the camp about halfway down the block, which angles across the road. Turn left, cross Ann Street (not Fourth yet), and walk to where the sidewalk curves.

Around this point the breastwork turned slightly left away from the current sidewalk, to curve around a triangular sailor’s battery across today’s Fourth Street. Its near corner was almost directly across the street. The forward point of the battery faced southeast. (You were walking south, so southeast is toward your left.) One or several cannons are on each outward-facing side. Next the breastwork made a long curve, passing near the intersection ahead of you and out of sight past the battery.

Continue to, and turn right on, Nun Street. Walk halfway down the block.

The southwest corner of the battery is to your right. Off it begins a line of housing the 1781 map calls “quarters.” On that map, these are drawn as a line of small squares. Whether these refer to tents—which Craig probably had, but Cornwallis didn’t—or crude huts, or actual barracks built by Craig’s men, is unknown. Regardless, they run behind the houses to your right, slowly angling away from them and then crossing modern Third Street.

You are standing partway into a narrow ravine, drained by a creek that runs downhill to the river. The battery and nearby quarters, labeled as belonging to the “Light Corps,” are on the near side of the hilltop. A “light corps” was made up of fitter men trained to move fast, serving as scouts, a screen to protect the main army, and a rapid-strike force.

Continue to Third Street, and turn left without crossing it. Walk half a block.

You have crossed the valley and are standing in a square redoubt angled to face southeast. Across today’s street is the east end of the “Grenadiers quarters,” which parallels the Light Corps quarters across the valley. Grenadiers, originally larger soldiers capable of throwing the grenades of the 1600s, had evolved into elite attack units by the Revolutionary era. Off its far end begins the quarters for the Marines.

The abatis angle across Third just short of the modern intersection, so you will cross and re-cross them as you turn the corner.

Go to Church Street and turn right. Walk one block to Second Street. Turn left without crossing that, and walk down the block.

Just past today’s Craig Alley on the left, the breastwork catches up to you again. It takes a turn in the direction you are walking to get around the last, triangular, sailor’s battery, which again points southeast. The battery’s east corner is across the street from the alley. The breastwork angles across until it gets around 518 Second Street. There it takes a sharp right turn and runs straight toward the river for most of that block.

Photo of a residential street that drops down on the far side
View along Second Street toward possible earthwork crossing at far edge of hilltop (AmRevNC photograph)

Continue to Castle Street, and turn right. Walk two blocks to Surry Street.

As you walk, the abatis move toward you again from the right. They cross Front Street at a slight angle just this side of the modern apartment high-rise, and continue into Castle directly in front of it. On the high ground occupied by that building, overlooking Surry Street, is another redoubt. This one provides protection from a Patriot approach along the river, or on the river road Craig’s force used. The river was closer to these heights than it is now, so the breastwork ends somewhere on the near side of today’s Dram Tree Park at the 1781 water’s edge.

Turn right on Surry, and then right again on Church, to return to Front Street. Turn left and walk a block to cross Nun. Stop about halfway down the next block. You may well be standing in Craig’s “Head quarters” per the 1781 map. Continue to Ann Street and face Front.

Return to the previous section, “The Occupation Ends.”

Historical Tidbits

As president, George Washington spent the night in Wilmington during his 1791 tour of the southern states. He came down what now is US 17 into Market Street and spent the night at a home on the southeast corner of Dock and Front streets (a small monument marks the location). He had dinner with town officials at a tavern where now sits the parking garage between Front and Second streets north of Market.[33]


Mug saying, "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll


More Information

  • Barefoot, Daniel, Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1998)
  • Butler, Lindley, North Carolina and the Coming of the Revolution, 1763-1776 (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1976)
  • Butler, Lindley, and John Hairr, ‘Wilmington Campaign of 1781’, NCpedia, 2006 <> [accessed 17 January 2020]
  • ‘Black Soldiers in Red, Blue and Grey’, Cape Fear Historical Institute, 2006 <> [accessed 11 May 2020]
  • De Van Massey, Gregory, ‘The British Expedition to Wilmington, North Carolina, January-November, 1781’ (unpublished Master’s, East Carolina University, 1987)
  • Drane, Robert Brent, Historical Notices of St. James’ Parish, Wilmington, North Carolina (Philadelphia, Pa.: R. S. H. George, 1843) <>
  • Dunkerly, Robert M., Redcoats on the Cape Fear: The Revolutionary War in Southeastern North Carolina, Revised (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012)
  • Dunkerly, Robert M., ‘Overlooked Wilmington’, Journal of the American Revolution, 2014 <> [accessed 17 January 2020]
  • Ganyard, Robert L., The Emergence of North Carolina’s Revolutionary State Government, North Carolina in the American Revolution (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1978)
  • Hooper, et al., William, ‘Resolutions by Inhabitants of the Wilmington District Concerning Resistance to Parliamentary Taxation and the Provincial Congress of North Carolina’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, 1774 <> [accessed 11 September 2020]
  • Ingram, Christine, Burgwin-Wright House, In-person interview with tour, 10/7/2020
  • Ingram, Hunter, ‘The House Built on Wilmington’s First Jail’, Cape Fear Unearthed <> [accessed 6 August 2020]
  • Lamberton, Christine, Burgwin-Wright House, Phone interview, 11/3/2020
  • Lee, Lawrence, The Cape Fear in Colonial Days (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1965)
  • Lewis, J. D., ‘The Evacuation of Wilmington’, The American Revolution in North Carolina, 2012 <> [accessed 17 January 2020]
  • Lewis, J. D., ‘Wilmington’, The American Revolution in North Carolina, 2011 <> [accessed 17 January 2020]
  • Lossing, Benson John, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution: Or, Illustrations by Pen and Pencil of the History, Biography, Scenery, Relics and Traditions, of the War for Independence (New York : Harper & Bros., 1851) <> [accessed 25 November 2020]
  • McGeachy, John, Revolutionary Reminiscences from the ‘Cape Fear Sketches’ (North Carolina State University, 2002)
  • Norris, David, Wilmington Fortifications, E-mail, 10/13-14/2020
  • Rankin, Hugh F., ‘The Moore’s Creek Bridge Campaign, 1776’, The North Carolina Historical Review, 30.1 (1953), 23–60
  • ‘Reminiscences of an Old Fort Built by the British in Wilmington 1781’, The Daily Review (Wilmington, N.C., 11 November 1881)
  • Russell, Phillips, North Carolina in the Revolutionary War (Charlotte, N.C.: Heritage Printers, Inc., 1965)
  • ‘Travel through History: African American Placemaking on the Lower Cape Fear’, African American Heritage Museum of Wilmington <> [accessed 17 February 2020]

[1] Reproduced in Butler 1976.

[2] Dunkerly 2012.

[3] The Regulators coordinated across counties in the 1760s, but their complaints were specific to the N.C. colonial government, not the British king and Parliament.

[4] Hooper, et al., 1774.

[5] ‘Resolutions by Inhabitants of the Wilmington District Concerning Resistance to Parliamentary Taxation and the Provincial Congress of North Carolina’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, 1774 <> [accessed 17 December 2020].

[6] Butler 1976.

[7] Dunkerly.

[8] Rankin 1953.

[9] Ibid.

[10] At the time of the war this was called Negro Head Point. One explanation for the name is that the head of a man executed for trying to escape slavery was displayed there, to warn others against seeking their freedom.

[11] Story transcribed in McGeachy 2002; caveats from Dunkerly.

[12] Bloodworth Street in Raleigh is named for him.

[13] Dunkerly.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Lee 1965.

[16] Dunkerly.

[17] Ingram 2020.

[18] Hunter Ingram.

[19] Lamberton 2020.

[20] Contrary to local traditions, Cornwallis did not stay in the house; Patriot prisoners were not held in the old jail; no floorboards were damaged by guards’ muskets; and a soldier did not scratch his eventual wife’s name in a windowpane (Hunter Ingram; Ingram 2020; Lamberton 2020).

[21] Ingram 2020.

[22] Norris 2020.

[23] Reproduced in Butler.

[24] Drane 1843. One doubt raised about this story is why the British would desecrate an Anglican Church. Norris reports St. James hadn’t had a minister or services for five years, so maybe the British did not consider it consecrated anymore. However, the story may also be anti-Tarleton propaganda, since many negative stories about him proved untrue.

[25] Greenfield: Dunkerly.

[26] Norris.

[27] Dunkerly.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Based on an overlay of the 1781 map on the modern street grid; speculations by two modern scholars (De Van Massey 1987, Dunkerly); a local historian who has studied the war period (Norris); typical military practices of the time; and the current landforms. Though the hill has been altered over the centuries, the primary changes made the top flat. The edges appear to retain the shape of the colonial period.

[33] Dunkerly.

[a] Russell 1965.

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