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Battle of Wahab’s Plantation

A Captain Wins, then Loses


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Tour: Hidden
County: Union

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The map marker points to the general area where Patriot militia surprised a Loyalist unit prior to the British invasion of Charlotte in 1780.[1] The tract remains private property, and the exact battle location is lost to history.

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An Early Morning Trap

Most of this story comes from the Patriot commander involved. Where sources differ, we defer to his eyewitness account. But believe details with caution!

After defeating the Continental Army badly at the Battle of Camden (S.C.), the British moved into a camp in this region, known as “the Waxhaws” for the Native American tribe that lived here before Europeans arrived. Most of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis’ army camped on both sides of the state border along the north bank of Waxhaw Creek, starting about a mile to the west of the map location. However, one regiment, the 71st of Foot (infantry), was on the south side, protecting the right end or “flank” of the army. It camped on heights perhaps a mile southeast of a mill on the creek near the map marker.[2]

Photo looking up a recently logged hill covered in branches, with standing trees in the background
View toward hill occupied by the 71st, from near Waxhaw Creek (AmRevNC photograph)

Loyalist (“Tory”) militia from South Carolina took over the house of the mill owner on the north side, and began raiding area homes for supplies. The army was here longer than Cornwallis planned, because malaria and yellow fever broke out. Among the sick was Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, commander of the feared cavalry unit named the British Legion.

North Carolina Patriot (or “Whig”) militia, part-time soldiers, had moved into Camp New Providence in the southern part of today’s Charlotte to monitor Cornwallis. Col. William Davie, the new 24-year-old commander of the state cavalry, decided to attack the Tories. He doesn’t say why in his memoirs. It helped that he knew this land, having grown up in the Waxhaws. His men and some riflemen, mounted either separately or doubled up behind the cavalrymen, took a circular, eastern route so they could approach from the British flank. They arrived around 2 a.m. at a plantation where the Tories had been spotted. But their quarry had moved. After trying two other places, they were told the Tories had gone to the plantation of one of their captains, James Waughub—apparently pronounced without the “g,” because he was known as Capt. “Wahab.” The family changed it to “Walkup” sometime after the war, hence today’s Walkup Road on the west side of the site.[3]

Photo of the signature of James Waughub
Signature from Capt. Waughhub’s will

The Waughubs had roots in Scotland, but moved from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1724. James was probably born there, raised in Southwest Virginia, and moved again as part of the migration that brought many Scotch-Irish to N.C., probably in 1751. He was among the first European-Americans in the Waxhaws. (The Waxhaw people had been destroyed decades earlier by European diseases, though some may have been absorbed into the nearby Catawba nation.) Waughub married Margaret Pickens about five years later. By 1761 he had received royal grants totaling 1,035 acres.

The sun was barely peeking over the horizon on Wednesday, September 20, 1780, when Davie’s unit arrived with Waughub. His home was somewhere near the map marker above. A lane led past the house, perhaps going down to the mill. (Most veterans applying for government pensions years later called this skirmish “Wahab’s Lane.”[4]) A field full of mature corn was on the east side of the house and lane. Another was on the north, extending nearly to the house. The Tory camp was probably on unplanted land on the west side.[5] By the house as the Patriots neared were about 60 mounted Loyalists, getting ready to go on patrol. Because of that, they had probably pulled in the sentries that guarded the camp overnight, giving the Whigs a lucky break.

Photo of a harvested field with the remains of corn stalks sticking up, and trees in the background
Cornfield near the battle site (AmRevNC photograph)

Davie sent some of his rifleman to sneak through the north-side corn in a line facing the house. He and about 40 others entered the eastern field and formed one parallel to the lane, extending past the house. Finally when close enough, the two forces charged. On the south side, meanwhile, a trap closed: Davie had sent cavalry around the east field, and it now entered the lane on the far end after waiting for the infantry to fire. The three units converged on the startled Tory cavalrymen from three sides.

Imagine the confusion and fear as men fell to the ground, and those still mounted tried to figure out where to go. Somehow the latter got past the Patriot cavalry to the far end of the lane, only to suffer a blast of gunfire from the cornfield on that side. More of the Tories dropped, and the remainder were forced back toward the Patriots nearer the house.

At least one Whig was wounded—by his own side. Davie notes that since militia did not wear uniforms, he was mistaken for the enemy.[6] Unfortunately, the only two sources providing details give completely different stories. One says Jack Barnett was on horseback, rode to the fence around the cornfield and spotted a Loyalist he knew, who dropped his gun and ran. Barnett dismounted to grab the gun, the story goes, and just then the cavalry charged the Tories. His well-trained horse charged with them! So Barnett took cover behind a tree, and when he tried to rejoin his fellow soldiers, was struck in the side by three Whig bullets.[7] Despite this, he supposedly recovered at home in Charlotte.

However, according to Thomas Spratt’s grandson, Spratt took Whig buckshot through the muscle of his right thigh, clipping his femur. He was helped back to camp by two other men holding him on his horse. Family stories published in the 1850s claimed the British later camped at Spratt’s farm, and one of their surgeons treated his wounds.[8] Since drafted soldiers and volunteers flowed in and out of militia forces, and record-keeping was imperfect, it is possible both men were wounded and their officers did not realize it!

As for the Tories, Davie says, “they fluctuated some moments under the impressions of terror & dismay.”[9] Finally they jumped some fences on the west side of the house and escaped.

Then, a new danger to the Patriots was heard: drums beating on the heights across the creek. They realized this was the British readying to march to the Tories’ support. Davie ordered the Loyalists’ extra horses and gear to be gathered.

Photo of a small, grassy clearing surrounded by trees
Clearing in the general area of the skirmish (AmRevNC photograph)

One man did not help. Waughub was greeting his wife and children, who were inside the house during the fight. “They gathered round him in tears of joy and distraction… and he could only embrace them,” Davie writes, before the Patriots had to take off.[10] Waughub “in a few minutes afterwards turning his eyes back towards his all… had the mortification to see their only hope of subsistence wrapped in flames.”[11] The 71st had set the house ablaze, along with the outbuildings and fences.

Davie says the entire Tory unit was either killed or wounded. Other sources suggest 15-20 were killed, 40 wounded, and possibly 1 captured. But the greater impact may have been the 50-96 horses captured with their tack, along with as many as 120 muskets, much needed by Patriot forces.[12] No Whigs were killed or captured.

One veteran adds, “On this occasion several balls passed through the clothes of Colonel… Davie, but none of them struck the skin.”[13] Davie does not confirm that, but it was a common enough experience for officers that he may not have thought it rated mentioning! The Patriots rode all the way back to camp, completing a 60-mile march—and a firefight—in less than 24 hours.

Not lost in the battle, perhaps, was some of the Waughub’s tableware. In modern times, someone bought at a yard sale a brass Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) marker claiming, “This pot was used to hide the silver and pewter of… (Waughub) in his mill pond…”[14] The fate of the pot is unknown, however.

Photo of two tomsbstones embedded side by side in a concrete monument, with two small American flags in front
(AmRevNC photograph)

The Waughubs lived out their lives on the plantation, holding 10 people in slavery including Dina, Prince, and Sum.[15] James died in 1798 at 74, about four years after Margaret at 53. They are buried at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church, under tombstones using the Walkup name with a coat of arms and the motto, “Sola Juvat Virtus,” which means “Virtue Alone Delights.” Margaret’s also bears the epitaph, “Freely she left this mortal shore for lands where sorrows are no more. Where her reanimated dust shall dwell and shine among the just.”

If you wish to pay your respects, the coordinates are: 34.79037, -80.83141. Davie is buried nearby, in a walled section next to the church.

Two days after the skirmish, Cornwallis broke camp and began marching north, leading to the Battle of Charlotte. There Davie’s men faced down the entire British army!

An Ill-Fated Home and Monument

Photo of a two-story white, wooden home with a two-story porch four columns across
(AmRevNC photograph)

Waughub had a new home built after the war. However, according to a 1905 article, it burned down while owned by descendant Col. William Walkup, taking three children with it. William and his wife Jane “had no children, but raised some ten or fifteen orphans,” the article says. “On what is known as ‘Windy Friday…’ (on) March 9, 1855, Union County was swept by wind and flame, which destroyed thousands of acres of timber and scores of buildings and residences.”[16] The family moved into a log cabin near the creek before rebuilding in 1869, probably on the same spot as the burned home, at the intersection of today’s Walkup and JAARS roads.[17] That house still stands. At the time it was the largest home in the county.

The house passed out of family hands in 1906, but James’ great-grandson William Belk bought it 13 years later. Belk was co-owner of The New York Racket store in Monroe, the first of what became the Belk Brothers stores, now the Belk department store chain. After again leaving the family for a time, the house is once more owned by Waughub/Belk descendants.

Gray metal plaque stating in part, "To honor the brave patriots who participated in the Battle of the Waxhaws fought on the plantation of Captain James Waughup"
(AmRevNC photograph)

A DAR chapter placed a monument to the battle south of the house in 1941. “Made of mortared stone and fitted with a proper brass plaque, the large and impressive monument sat on Walkup Road,” a local historian wrote. Sometime after mid-1998, it was destroyed. “Various locals shared that the resident of the home at the time of the destruction said the marker was ‘blown up’ by vandals, (and) that he gave chase in his car causing him to have an accident.” Theft apparently was not the motive, for the plaque was recovered and mounted in the home. It remains attached to the wall near the bottom of the front staircase.[18]

More Information

  • ‘A Welcome for Cornwallis | Charlotte Mecklenburg Story’ <> [accessed 16 August 2021]
  • Allison, John, Skirmish at Walkup’s Plantation, September 21, 1780 (Columbia, S.C.)
  • Baxley, Charles, ‘Wahab’s Plantation (Printout from Defunct Web Page, Http://Gaz.Jrshelby.Com/Wahabsp.Htm)’, 2008
  • Blythe, LeGette, William Henry Belk: Merchant of the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press)
  • Burke, William, ‘The North Carolina Loyalists: Faulty Linchpin of a Failed Strategy’ (unpublished Master’s thesis, The College of William and Mary, 1988)
  • Engelberger, Ann, ‘To Patricia Poland: Walkups of Arkansas’, 8 April 2013
  • Engelberger, Chuck, ‘The Yell County Walkups’, Yell County, Arkansas, Historical & Genealogical Association, 2012
  • Gamble, Harry, ‘Backgrounds and Beginnings of The Walkup Family’
  • Gerhart, Angela, ‘Colonel William Walkup House, Union County, North Carolina’, Local History Room, Union County Public Library
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of James McAdow, S2760’, 1832 <> [accessed 18 August 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Joseph Patten, S3632’, 1832 <> [accessed 18 August 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Samuel Van Eaton (van Etten), R10861’, 1844 <> [accessed 18 August 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Thomas Cummings (Cumming), S6780’, 1832 <> [accessed 18 August 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of William Kerr, R5892’, 1835 <> [accessed 18 August 2021]
  • Hawfield, S. O., ‘Walkup Family Genealogy’, The Monroe Enquirer (Monroe, N.C., 28 November 1957)
  • Lewis, J. D., ‘Wahab’s Plantation’, The American Revolution in South Carolina, 2012 <> [accessed 16 August 2021]
  • ‘Marker: L-94’, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program <> [accessed 16 August 2021]
  • Mellwaine, C. C., ‘The Walkup Family’, The Monroe Journal (Monroe, North Carolina, 30 May 1905), p. 4
  • O’Kelley, Patrick, Nothing but Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, Volume Two, 1780 (, Inc., 2004)
  • Pancake, John S., This Destructive War: The British Campaign in the Carolinas, 1780-1782 (University, AL : University of Alabama Press, 1985) <> [accessed 13 October 2020]
  • Pilon, Mike, Walkup Home Tour and Interview, 3/4/022
  • Poland, Patricia, Battle of the Waxhaws, September 20, 1780:  Keeping the Name of a Revolutionary War Event Straight (Monroe, N.C.: Dickerson Genealogy & Local History Room, Union County Public Library, 2008a), p. 7
  • Poland, Patricia, ‘Buford’s Massacre? Battle of the Waxhaws? Aren’t They the Same Thing? No!’, 2008b, Local History Room, Union County Public Library
  • Pope, David, ‘Wahab’s Plantation, Battle Of’, NCpedia, 2006 <> [accessed 16 August 2021]
  • Poquette, Nancy, tran., ‘Pension Application of Thomas Cumming, # S6780’, in Pension Applications of the Guilford County, NC Soldiers of the Revolutionary War (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements) <>
  • Quarles, Anne, ‘(Headline Missing)’, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C., 21 September 1941), Local History Room, Union County Public Library
  • Robinson, Blackwell, Battles and Engagements of the American Revolution in N.C. (Raleigh, N.C.: LaFayette Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution (by Bynum Printing Co.), 1961)
  • Robinson, Blackwell, The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1976)
  • Sherman, Wm. Thomas, Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781, Tenth Edition (Seattle, WA: Gun Jones Publishing, 2007) <>
  • Syfert, Scott, Eminent Charlotteans: Twelve Historical Profiles from North Carolina’s Queen City (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2018)
  • The Wysackyola Historical Review, 1967
  • Walker, Bill, ‘Battle of the Waxhaws: Attack Catches British by Surprise’, The Enquirer-Journal (Monroe, N.C., 26 July 1992)
  • Walker, Bill, ‘Cornwallis Comes to the Waxhaws: British Army Stays Longer Than Expected After Fever Strikes Most of the Troops’, The Enquirer-Journal (Monroe, N.C., 26 July 1992)
  • ‘Wauchope/Walkup Website’ <> [accessed 16 August 2021]
  • ‘Where Was a Revolutionary War Battle Fought in Waxhaw?’, Museum of the Waxhaws, 2017 <> [accessed 18 August 2021]
  • ‘Will of James Waughub, Mecklenburg County Wills Book G, Page 23’, 1795

[1] Many sources assume the battle was fought at a later house described in the last section, where the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a monument. However, Waughub’s great-grandson William Belk said the battle and house were downslope nearer Waxhaw Creek (in Blythe, undated), as have local historians.

[2] With permission from the property owner, JAARS, AmRevNC searched the area for physical evidence of a mill or the home described further down. None was visible. We are grateful nonetheless to JAARS for its cooperation.

[3] Genealogical sources list modern descendants going by Wauchop, Wahab, Waugh, and other versions of the name. However, James signed his will “Waughub” (Will of James Waughub).

[4] Though more of a skirmish, this action is also known as the “Battle of the Waxhaws,” as declared on the DAR plaque pictured farther down in the text. However, other sources use that name for what also is called “Buford’s Defeat” or “…Massacre” in S.C. The author of a comprehensive report on Camp New Providence pointed out there was a third skirmish just across the border that could also be given the Waxhaws name, and recommended the more specific term we use here (Anderson, John, “Speaking of battle names,” E-mail, 12/26/2021). The former librarian at the Dickinson Local History Room of the Union County Public Library leaned that way as well, though ultimately sticking with Waxhaw’s, apparently because of  the monument (Poland 2008b). She said all of the older sources she found called the battle “Wahab’s Plantation.” As mentioned in the text, the majority of pension applications mentioning it used Wahab’s “lane.”

[5] Sherman 2007. Some sources indicate Tarleton’s British Legion was camped there as well, but it numbered 300-400 men, and later events make this doubtful. Also, all pension applications mention only Tories; though the Legion was mostly Loyalists, they wore British uniforms and are generally called “British” in such applications.

[6] This incident, and the likelihood at least some of the British Legion would have reacted in time to change the course of the battle, adds to the sense the Legion was not there. Will Graves, transcriber of many of the pension applications, notes that the temporary commander of the Legion does not mention being at this skirmish.

[7] O’Kelly 2004.

[8] Syfert 2018.

[9] Robinson 1976.

[10] Robinson.

[11] Robinson.

[12] Robinson; Sherman quotes Davie’s commander Brig. Gen. William Davidson as giving the lower numbers in these ranges.

[13] Pension Application of Samuel Van Eaton.

[14] Two pictures of the plaque, one dated 2017, were in the vertical files at the Dickinson Local History Room as of 2022.

[15] Per his will, transcribed in Quarles 1941.

[16] Gerhart.

[17] Pilon 2022.

[18] AmRevNC is grateful to family member Mike Pilon for providing a tour of the home and permission to take pictures.

Battle of Colson’s Mill

A Surprise Leads to Dire Wounds


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Tour: Hidden
County: Anson
Coordinates: 35.1255, -80.090.

One of John Colson’s mills was probably at or just to the west (left) of the coordinates, where today’s Pinkston River Road crosses Buffalo Creek.[1] A small but significant skirmish occurred nearby.[2] Some participants likely passed by the mill, either retreating or trying to capture prisoners. However, the exact locations of the mill and battle are unknown, so this site remains “Hidden History.”

Man in a white tee shirt that says, "Just a Regulator Guy"
Computer with a sticker of the AmRevNC logo on it, a state map with pins in it on a 13-star American flag


John Colson, Entrepreneur

John Colson left England and landed in Wilmington around 1740, along with other family members.[3] Six years later King George III granted him 400 acres on both sides of the Rocky River at its junction with the Yadkin River, a mile-and-a-half north of the coordinates.[4] A two-room building that stood in the fork between the rivers was probably an “ordinary” owned by the family, a tavern that also provided food and perhaps lodging.[5] It served stagecoach and horseback travelers on roads passing north-south and east-west. Together the Colsons operated ferries across the rivers, and two mills. The peninsula between the rivers was such fertile farmland, some call it the state’s “Granary of the Revolution.”[6]

Photo of a wide area in a creek
Possible site of Colson’s Mill Pond in Buffalo Creek (AmRevNC photograph)

Colson was a magistrate—combination judge and county commissioner—in Anson County, which was much larger at the time.[7] But he apparently leaned Loyalist (“Tory”), because at some point he was forced by Patriots to go to the Anson Courthouse and swear allegiance to their cause. In an example of how the war divided families, his son William was a rebel. William had been named register of deeds for the county in 1772, the same year he either took over the ordinary or added his own.[8]

Patriots and Tories Skirmish

Loyalist Col. Samuel Bryant lived west of modern Winston-Salem, at the Shallow Ford far up the Yadkin River. Boosted by British victories in South Carolina, Bryant had raised nearly 800 part-time militia soldiers. They were moving down the river toward South Carolina, trying to catch up with a British regiment headed in the same direction. Bryant heard about a major defeat of Tory militia at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill in today’s Lincolnton, and that the victorious Patriot (or “Whig”) militia were coming after him!

Indeed, Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford had learned about Bryant’s force, and was trying to march around it from the west to prevent the British-Tory rendezvous. He sent Col. William Davidson ahead with about 160 men to slow Bryant down. Davidson headed for Colson’s ordinary and ferries.

While in the fork, apparently, Davidson learned[9] another Tory unit of 250 men was in a farm field near John Colson’s Mill. Revolutionary forces almost always camped near mills if possible, to grind (or take) grain for bread. On Friday, July 21, 1780, Davidson marched his men across the Rocky River toward the mill and then split his force. About half were sent around to his right (west) unseen, hoping to cut off the Tories’ escape route. The other half formed a line facing south toward the mill. Both Patriot groups had white pieces of paper in their hatbands. Davidson had ordered this as a precaution to keep them from firing on each other, since they were entering the battle from different directions. Militia soldiers on both sides did not wear uniforms.

Photo of a grass-covered field on a hilltop with farm buildings on the left
Field near likely Colson’s Mill site (AmRevNC photograph)

The line facing south moved forward at a trot. Per Davidson’s order, they did not stop to shoot even after the Tories spotted and began to fire at them. Davidson was in front, and stood out: Once a regular Continental Army officer, he was wearing his old coat of blue, and Tory marksmen targeted him. His son reported later, “A ball entered the umbilical region (around his navel) and passed through his body near the kidneys.”[10] But Davidson’s line kept coming, now firing and reloading as it did.

Photo of a two-lane road running downhill between trees, with bridge railings at the bottom
Pinkston River Road at possible mill site (AmRevNC photograph)

Suddenly, the other 80 or so Patriots appeared out of woods to the Loyalists’ left. Scattered men on that side of the camp began to shoot at them. However, the Tories quickly realized they could not hold, and retreated. Some likely passed by the mill either along the road or through the creek. A 1904 biography of Patriot then-Lt. Joseph Graham explained, “Being in their own neighborhood and where they knew the country, most of them escaped.”[11] In fact, John Colson was probably among those who took off. His property was confiscated by the state, like that of most Tories, and he died in South Carolina a few years later.[12]

Two Loyalists were killed in the skirmish, five wounded, and 10 captured. One other Patriot besides Davidson was wounded.

The Patriots somehow learned, perhaps from a prisoner, that they had arrived too late: Bryant’s troops had already joined the British. They went back to Rutherford’s force, which he then took to join the Continental army at Cox’s Mill (south of today’s Ramseur). Davidson, of course, was not with them. His wounds kept him out of commission for two months.[13]

Although it was a small skirmish, one historian comments, “The significance of Colson’s Mill lies in its being one of the first victories against the N.C. loyalists following the fall of Charleston and to that extent bolstered and reinforced the benefit gained by Ramseur’s (sic) Mill in helping to win the state over to the American cause.”[14]

Given the pattern of units camping at mills, and the sharp slope climbing north from the creek—which would have prevented camping right by the mill—it is tempting to think the Tory camp “near” the mill was on top of that hill. However, per Footnote 1 the records are not clear, and no archaeology has been done to test this idea.

Colson’s Supply Depot

Map showing a marker to the right of the V-shaped junction of two rivers
Site of Colson’s Depot (Depot map: © 2022 May not be reproduced in any form without permission. Base map: © OpenStreetMap contributors)

Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, who took over the southern Continental army five months later, coordinated with the state government to collect supplies and food for his planned confrontation with the British army. In January he ordered N.C. militia Brig. Gen. Alexander Lillington to build “‘a fort for the provisions’” across the Yadkin roughly a half mile above the river junction.[15] Col. Tadeusz Kościuszko (KOSH-tchoosh-ko[16]), a volunteer from Poland, soon was designing small forts or “redoubts” to protect the depot. He also probably had Lillington’s men add a wooden wall and trenches around it. Atop a steep hill, the depot held a commanding position over the main road leading from the east to Colson’s Ferry over the Yadkin.[17] Greene also ordered trees felled across fords in the region, to prevent the British under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis from using them, should they come that way from South Carolina.

Kościuszko estimated it would take 12 days[18] to build the depot, but a statewide tool shortage caused delays. Lillington wrote on the last day of the month that “‘a lack of axes has slowed the work,’” though they had begun putting up logs that day. Cornwallis’ second invasion of North Carolina, now known as the “Race to the Dan,” halted the effort. Lillington and his men, driving “‘300 hogs, very slowly,’” headed for Greene’s rendezvous point at Guilford Court House in modern Greensboro.[19]

Greene retreated to Virginia, resupplied, and returned to battle Cornwallis at Guilford. Cornwallis won, but his army was badly damaged. Then Greene chased the weakened British as far as Ramsey’s Mill, 70 miles to the northeast. On Wednesday, April 11, 1781, Greene’s army arrived near the depot. Greene had broken off the hunt and veered in this direction to access the depot’s supplies on the way to South Carolina.[20] The army began crossing using the ferries. With few boats in the area, it apparently took two days, since they did not leave until Sunday.

The depot operated for the rest of the war, occasionally hosting Patriot militia. The site became known locally as “Fort Hill.” A local historian says it is on the modern tract marked on the map in this section, out of view on private property.[21] Another wrote in a 1952 newspaper article, “Cannonballs about two-inches in diameter and round bullet balls of one-quarter to one-half inch in diameter are reported to have been found frequently in the grounds of the area… Shallow trenches and deep holes are still perceptible around the crest of the hill.”[22]

More Information

  • ‘Anson County, NC Map (William H. James)’, North Carolina Maps, 1878 <> [accessed 10 July 2021]
  • Barefoot, Daniel, Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1998)
  • Cross, Jerry, ‘Colson’s Supply Depot’, NCpedia, 2006 <> [accessed 10 February 2020]
  • Dann, John, ed., The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1980)
  • Dunaway, Stewart, Colson’s Ferry, Mill, Ordinary, Fort: A Revolutionary War Overview, Issue E, 2010
  • Dunkerly, Robert M., Redcoats on the Cape Fear: The Revolutionary War in Southeastern North Carolina, Revised (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012)
  • Graham, William A. (William Alexander), General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards & Broughton, 1904) <> [accessed 27 March 2020]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Charles Paine (Payne), S4643’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters, 1833 <> [accessed 20 December 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Henry Carson, S1506’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters, 1833 <> [accessed 20 December 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Jacob Hilsabeck, S7013’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters, 1832 <> [accessed 20 December 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of James Neill, S38256’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters, 1832 <> [accessed 20 December 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Richard C. Swearingen, S31402’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters, 1833 <> [accessed 20 December 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of William Lee Davidson [Jr], NC20’, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters <> [accessed 20 December 2021]
  • Hartley, Michael, The Ordinary in the Fork: The Search for Colson’s Ordinary (Albemarle-Stanly County Historic Preservation Commission, 1989)
  • Historical Report of the Colson Family in North Carolina (Albemarle, N.C.: Stanly County History Museum [Vertical files])
  • Lassiter, Jeff, Colson’s Depot location, Phone interview, 7/8/2021
  • Lewis, J. D., ‘Colson’s Mill’, The American Revolution in North Carolina, 2012 <> [accessed 10 February 2020]
  • ‘Marker: K-39’, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program <> [accessed 10 February 2020]
  • ‘Marker: L-51’, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program <> [accessed 10 February 2020]
  • Reynolds, G. D. B., ‘Letter to Dr. Crittendon’, 15 April 1952, Stanly County History Museum (Vertical files)
  • Reynolds, G. D. B., ‘Revolutionary War Battle of Colson’s Mill’, Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, N.C., 14 April 1972)
  • Rhodes, Robin, The Colson’s Ordinary Project: Final Report (Stanly County Historic Properties Commission, 1 July 1985)
  • Sherman, Wm. Thomas, Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781, Tenth Edition (Seattle, WA: Gun Jones Publishing, 2007) <>
  • Stanback, Jeffrey, ‘Fort Hill Was Fortified Storage Point for General Greene’s Army,’ Stanly News and Press, (Albemarle, N.C., 21 October 1952[d])
  • Stanback, Jeffrey, ‘Letter to Edwin Mills, Researcher, N.C. Dept. of Archives & History’, 19 March 1952(a), Stanly County History Museum (Vertical files)
  • Stanback, Jeffrey, ‘Revolutionary Camp Sites Along Pee Dee River No Longer Known’, Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, N.C., 20 June 1952[b])
  • Stanback, Jeffrey, ‘Study Reveals Much Information Concerning Old Colson Property’, Detached Newspaper Article (Stanley County History Museum [Vertical files]), 14 October 1952(c)

[1] Apparently working independently in 1952, when the state was deciding where to place its historical marker for the battle (Marker K-39), two local historians identified the point where the road crosses Buffalo Creek as the possible site of John Colson’s Mill (Reynolds 1952a, Stanback 1952a). Reynolds included a 1902 deed whose tract followed the creek eastward “to the River Road at Colson’s old mill,” then turned north along what likely is Pinkston River Road. An 1878 map shows this road as part of a route coming from Colson’s Ferry over the Rocky River. AmRevNC found two spots, one just to the west of the bridge and another a short distance upstream (both on private property) with groups of rocks that appear to be hand-shaped to fit together, like those in mill foundations and dams from the 1700s. But no expert has investigated them, so the evidence is not conclusive.

[2] Graham (1904) says the fight was “at a farm in the vicinity of Colson’s Mill, near the junction of Rocky River with Pee Dee.” (The Rocky and Yadkin become the Pee Dee there.) Local tradition holds the skirmish was in the fork between the Yadkin and Rocky rivers to the north. But three applications filed by veterans for government pensions state that Davidson’s force crossed the Rocky River to make the attack, after marching down the Yadkin (Hilsabeck, Neill, Paine). AmRevNC reviewed all pension applications mentioning “Colson,” including those in which transcribers added that word in notes. Of those about the battle, 27 merely said it was at “Colson’s” or variants. Another 11 indicated it was at or near the mouth of the Rocky River. The more specific references vary widely. The largest number said Colson’s “Mill” or “Mills” (11 applications). Others included Colson’s “Ferry” (5, 2 of which say “near”), and Hill or Creek (1 each). Four of the 7 that say Farm, Field, or Plantation add “old.” None mention the tavern/ordinary. Military forces of the day almost always camped near a mill if they could, for food and water. This was the only mill across Rocky River from the fork, but near the mouth, on land owned by John Colson.  

[3] “Historical Report of the Colson Family.”

[4] Dates: Ibid.

[5] Stanback 1952d.

[6] Barefoot 1998.

[7] Historical Report…

[8] Ibid.

[9] Graham.

[10] Pension Application of William Lee Davidson [Jr], NC20.

[11] Graham.

[12] Stanback 1952d.

[13] Graham.

[14] Sherman 2007.

[15] Dunaway.

[16] The modern Polish pronunciation, according to a Polish linguist. He notes that Kościuszko came from a region now part of Belarus, so there is no way to be sure how he pronounced his name (Gliński, Mikołaj, ‘What Is the Correct Pronunciation of Kościuszko? And Is There One?’, Culture.Pl, 2016 <> [accessed 6 January 2022].

[17] Marker: K-39 essay.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Quotes from Dunaway.

[20] Sherman.

[21] Lassiter 2021.

[22] Stanback 1952c.

Harrington Graves

A Romantic Brigadier and His Courageous Wife


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Type: Hidden History
County: Richmond

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The two homesites of Brig. Gen. Henry Harrington and Rosanna Auld Harrington have disappeared under the forest floor. His grave at the map marker above is out of public view on private property.[1] Please respect the owners’ property rights.

Mug saying, "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll
Red tote bag with a picture and list of female patriots


Escaping Disasters

London-born in 1747, Henry William Harrington emigrated to Jamaica, supposedly at age 13,[2] and then to South Carolina. He ended up near modern Cheraw by the early 1770s. He became a deputy clerk of court, and as the American Revolution broke out, he was named a judge by the royal government—perhaps an attempt to keep him loyal.[3] Around the same time, however, he was named captain of a militia company by the rebellious South Carolina Provincial Congress, and he accepted. That same year he bought his first tract of land just across the border in North Carolina, along the east side of the Pee Dee River.

Photo of a small cemetery surrounded by a square of bricks within woods
The Harrington Family Cemetery (AmRevNC photograph)

The next year, 1776, was a big one for him. As the colonial government fell apart, the congress named him Sheriff of Cheraw County.[4] His militia company of 120 part-time soldiers[5] marched to help defend Charleston from a British attack, though it did not fight. Sharing his dangers then and throughout the war was an enslaved personal servant named Toney. Toney was said to be a man of “’remarkable character.” After the war he transported by himself, all the way to New Bern on the coast, the money for a land purchase Harrington had made.[6]

Before the war Harrington bought more N.C. land next to his first tract. Soon after the United States declared independence, he married Rosanna Auld, the daughter of a planter in the region. They probably moved into an existing house on his first tract.[7]

North Carolina soon named him a colonel. After Richmond County was created in 1779, he was put in command of its regiment.[8] The regiment served in the second British attack on Charleston the next year. Fortunately for Harrington, he had been elected to the N.C. General Assembly. He left for New Bern the month before the Siege of Charleston began, to take his seat and to carry a request from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln for more N.C. militia.

A glimpse of the romantic comes through in Henry’s letter to Rosanna telling her he was leaving Charleston: “I have permission on my way (back) from Newbern to the Army, to feast my Eyes with the finest sight in the Universe; cannot my Love guess who I mean? She can; it needs no explanation, for She will know & will readily acknowledge it, that nothing on Earth, is so pleasing to the Sight, as her lovely self & her dear little Girls. On the Wings of Patriotism I fly to Newbern and from there on those of Love, to the happy Place of ye Residence of my Charmer…”[9]

The New Bern trip saved him from the imprisonment suffered by almost all N.C. militia when Lincoln surrendered Charleston. Not so lucky was Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, who commanded the multi-county district including Richmond County. The state ordered Harrington to take his place temporarily, promoting him to brigadier general, until a more experienced officer could be found.[10] He made his headquarters in Cross Creek (now Fayetteville), joined by Rosanna[11], where he was responsible for gathering and protecting supplies with about 400 men.[12] He avoided a second Continental disaster in August 1780, when he marched his troops toward South Carolina to join the regular Continental Army of Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates. They got as far as the Anson County Courthouse up the Pee Dee before learning Gates had been trounced at the Battle of Camden (S.C.). They eventually returned to Cross Creek.

Photo of a flat, grave-length marker broken in the middle
Henry Harrington’s grave (AmRevNC photograph)

A story from this period, told by his son years later, gives an indication of Harrington’s character.[13] He had gone to visit his family, and was nearly back to Cross Creek when he sent his aides ahead while he went to see a friend. The next morning, “he was suddenly accosted by a man, very near him, who, protected by a tree…  presented his gun, and ordered him to dismount.” The general complied. The man demanded his money, and Harrington put down “five guineas,” worth around $200 in modern money.[14] “Upon which, having eyed alternately for a moment or two the general and the money, turning the latter about in his hand, he returned three of the guineas, with the remark, that their owner looked like a man who would need some money to get along with.” The robber then let the general go.

Months later, the man was captured for a different crime and happened to be brought to Harrington’s camp. They recognized each other, but Harrington said nothing until the man had been tried and convicted. Then he pulled the prisoner aside and questioned him. The man “said that he lived in a neighbourhood where all… were Tories (Loyalists), and that it was impossible for him to remain there and be anything else, pleading extreme necessity for the robbery.” Harrington asked him if he would be willing to swear allegiance to the United States and serve under Harrington for the rest of the war. The man said yes, and lived up to his promise.

In September 1780, a new district commander was named, to Harrington’s disappointment. He wanted to resign, he wrote Gates from Cross Creek. But a Loyalist force was threatening the region, and he “could not support the thought of abandoning the Brave, the Generous, the Distressed, in the three Peedee Regiments, to the fury of a cruel and vindictive Foe as long as there was the least probability of its being in my power to assist them…”[15] Under orders from Gates, in mid-October Harrington moved his unit to occupy Cheraw. There they helped with recruiting militia troops, gathering cattle and hogs for the army, and suppressing Tory activity.

Finally he felt comfortable resigning the next month, saying as long as “this my country is but faithfully served, it is equal to me whether it be by me or by another.” Though Gates asked him to stay, Harrington’s response suggests his removal from district command still stung: Being a brigadier general without a brigade, he said, “‘cannot with honor be held.’”[16]

By this point Harrington had arranged for his family to move temporarily to the Roanoke River in the northeast part of the state, likely to get away from the fighting. In mid-December, with the enlistments of many of his men apparently coming to an end, he finally left to join his wife and children.[17]

Rosanna’s Travels and Travails

Rosanna had a harrowing and eventually tragic adventure in 1780 before the fall of Charleston, though it turned out well for people the Harringtons enslaved. Tories raiding N.C. from Cheraw approached the house. According to an 1867 author who knew the Harrington’s son, Rosanna had time to hide a horse in an outbuilding. The Loyalists took the livestock and freed the slaves, escorting them away. Rosanna rode after the Tories and talked to the commander, a Maj. McArthur. She asked for the people back, and McArthur said she could have them if they agreed to go. Only one woman and her family did.[18]

Rosanna apparently then took her children to Charleston. Regardless of why she went there, the family got trapped by the same British victory her husband escaped! By July, Harrington had sent an officer under a flag of truce, which the British honored, to bring them home.[19]

Photo of a tombstone with an angel's face and wings in the rounded top
Baby Harriet’s tombstone (AmRevNC photograph)

In August the British won their resounding victory at Camden, 70 miles southwest of the Harrington homestead. Henry, apparently predicting they would invade North Carolina (which they did), urged Rosanna to take the children and remaining slaves to friends or relatives in Maryland. They didn’t get far. A Tory band under Col. John Leggett attacked her party on the other side of today’s Scotland County, the next county east. The Loyalists destroyed what they could, took any enslaved people who hadn’t escaped, and stole the horses. “The books, and a valuable library which General Harrington was particularly anxious to preserve, were scattered along the road, and not a few, with many valuable papers, were lost or destroyed.”[20] Rosanna turned back west to her father’s home in Anson County.

But the worst loss was their baby, Harriet. She became sick from exposure during the journey, perhaps getting pneumonia. She is buried in the family cemetery within 100 yards of the family’s wartime homesite.[21] Her gravestone reads: “This little Innocent in Flying with her Fond Mother from the British Tyrants being Exposed to the inclemency of a fickle Season fell a Sacrifice to the Cruelties of a vindictive Foe and Departed this life the 16th of September 1780. Aged 10 Months & 18 Days.”[22]

After the War

Location of Beausejour’s foundation, now buried on private property (Credit: Cox 1979)

Henry, who went by “Harry” among friends,[23] took a trip back to his English homeland in 1788, just five years after the war officially ended. He had returned to the life of a planter and speculated in land here, eventually owning 15,000 acres. Soon afterward he had a new home built, which he named “Beausejour,” French for “Beautiful Stay.”[24] It was on a hilltop near the original wagon road to Cheraw. There is no description from the time. But in the early 1900s it was 52 feet by 60, wood-framed, with a central hall lined by rooms on each side, plus a large porch.[25]

Harrington sued Leggett for the wartime attack on his family and won. Leggett was forced to sell his land to get the money, and Harrington bought it at auction. But after learning Leggett’s family would be poor and homeless as a result, Harrington gave the land to Leggett’s daughters.

He was known as an innovative farmer, and was the first in North Carolina to have cotton planted on a large scale. Gov. Benjamin Smith wrote him, “‘from the great profit and your readiness to embrace every improvement… I regard you as the first farmer in the State’” (meaning the best!).

In thanks, Harrington sent Smith enough cotton seed to fill two wagons, with instructions: “‘plant the seed in hills four feet equidistant.’”[26]

Harrington’s enslaved workers also grew indigo, a plant used to create blue dye. Vats for fermenting the color out of the plants and turning it into solid “bricks” were built next to a creek between the house and river, because the process required water. From there the bricks could be loaded onto boats on the river, bound for Charleston and export beyond. To get an idea how much that was worth, he traded 150 pounds of it for 300 acres of land in 1795.[27]

A grain mill built for Harrington on Mark’s Creek, about four miles to the south along today’s U.S. 1, used a millpond that later was expanded into Everett’s Lake. As of 1790, 60 people were forced to live and work at the plantation, and probably far more in later years.[28] Some didn’t live long, because “the chemicals used to manufacture the dye were so toxic that an indigo worker might be dead after just five years in the trade.”[29]

Photo of a stone foundation wall about four feet high
Likely remains of Harrington’s Mill (AmRevNC photograph)

In addition to many county government roles he took on, Harrington also became a University of North Carolina trustee and was on the commission that chose the location for the new capital city of Raleigh. A street there is named for him.

The Harringtons lost not only baby Harriet, named for Henry’s mother, but a second Harriet at age 3, who was buried in the same grave. A third Harriet finally carried the name into adulthood.[30] They also lost the first Henry, Jr., at age 10, and he lies next to the first Harriets.

Harrington died at 62 in his Beausejour bedroom, in 1809. Rosanna apparently did not like the house afterward, considering it too big and isolated. Though she returned there for a time when her son owned the home, she later moved to Wadesboro, and died there in 1828.

Photo of a flat tombstone
Rosanna Harrington’s grave (AmRevNC photograph)

Historical Tidbit

The remaining history of the plantation come mostly from a report by a state archaeologist in the 1980s.[31]

Photo of a flat, grave-length marker with a break line across the middle
Henry Harrington, Jr.’s, grave (AmRevNC photograph)

The second Henry, Jr., who fought in a sea battle with a British warship during the War of 1812, took over the plantation after he retired from the Navy. By 1860 it had “a cotton house, cotton gin, wheat thresher, blacksmith shop, turpentine distillery, at least two sawmills, a flour/gristmill, a springhouse, stables, crushing mill,” and 20 homes for enslaved people. Henry played the flute and often conducted fox hunts, owning as many as 40 hounds. Given that he left money in his will for an enslaved woman he called “his little favorite” and her children, he may have been the father of some or all of them.

He never married. But he had what today we would call a “domestic partner” for 34 years, Cynthia Cole, which was highly unusual in those days. Henry became deeply attached to her niece Mary Ella, only to have the four-year-old die in his arms. He had her buried in the family cemetery to the left of the plot in which he now rests, and wrote, “‘I feel the loneliness of life, and, too sensibly, that there is not one left that loves me with the sincere and unbounded affection of the little heart that now lies cold as death.’” The loss depressed him for the rest of his life.

Her epitaph reads:

Gravestone with a tree and monument engraved at the top
Mary Ella’s grave (AmRevNC photograph)

The Young, the loved, the beauteous fair,

With deep blue eyes and yellow hair,

Of kindly heart and mind most bright,

Her grieving friends may wish in vain,

To call her back to life again;

For that long sleep will ne’er be o’er,

Till fleeting time shall be no more.

But when in that great promised day

The loud last trump shall call away,

O, then again they’ll meet above,

In never ending perfect life.

The estate’s work buildings were burned and its enslaved people finally freed by U.S. forces in 1865, during the Civil War. But the house was spared, perhaps because Henry had been too old to fight for the Confederacy. After his death, he left Beausejour to Cole. No one lived there after her, and the house apparently burned down in 1907.

More Information

[1] AmRevNC is grateful to the owners’ representative, Philip Meade, for permitting us to visit the cemetery, and to the owners for ensuring it is maintained.

[2] MacCallum 2015.

[3] Gregg 1867.

[4] Robertson 1988.

[5] Sherman 2007.

[6] Gregg.

[7] Cross 1984.

[8] Robertson.

[9] Harrington, Apr. 1780.

[10] Robertson.

[11] Campbell (2012), based on a letter he quotes from her; see Footnote 25.

[12] Sherman.

[13] Gregg.

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

[15] Harrington, Sept. 1780.

[16] Robertson.

[17] Sherman.

[18] Gregg.

[19] Most sources just say she was in Charleston, without indicating why she went there. Letters Henry wrote on July 21 suggest she may have been back in Cheraw by then, and that he had to get permission for her to leave Charleston from British authorities (Harrington, July 1780a-b).

[20] Gregg.

[21] Campbell.

[22] Cox 1979.

[23] Gregg.

[24] Cross.

[25] Campbell (2012), a local historian who found the foundation, repeats the description from an aunt who visited the house when young. AmRevNC researchers followed his directions to the site, but could find no trace a mere 10 years later. He also debunks the claim by some modern sources that Rosanna said Beausejour was a “brick palace.” The complete quotation from her letter shows she was talking about the first home they had in Cross Creek (Fayetteville).

[26] Cross.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Per docent Wally Zeddun of the Rice Museum at Georgetown, S.C., indirectly quoted in Philbrick, Nathaniel, Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy (New York: Viking, 2021).

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

The Crossing of the Dan

Continentals Make their Escape


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Other maps: Bing, Google, MapQuest.
Coordinates: 36.6918, -78.9041.

Type: Sight
Tour: Guilford Battle
County: Halifax, Va. (Closest in N.C.: Person)

Access LogoPartial

The coordinates mark our second stop, because most visitors will prefer to start there.

The first stop, Irvine’s Ferry, is a 5-mile roundtrip walk beginning nearby. All of the stories known about the actual crossing probably happened at Irvine’s. The trail, on a former railroad grade, is wide and flat with light gravel. If up for that, use these coordinates to go to where Lomax Avenue ends at the Tobacco Heritage Trail: 36.6958, -78.9165. Then see the directions under “Irvine’s Ferry” below.

Otherwise, park at the map coordinates above for Boyd’s Ferry, where a dirt road ends at the Dan River, and walk over to the monument to read the stories from both ferries. (Or just stay in your vehicle.)

The third stop can be partially seen from a sidewalk, but a view of the ford it describes requires going down a few steps without handrails.


After losing many men as prisoners at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina almost a month earlier, the British Army has chased the Continental Army across North Carolina and is trying to trap it against the Dan River in Virginia.



The British army of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis was camped near modern Greensboro, N.C. Cornwallis knew the Patriots were trying to get across the Dan, so they could resupply and gain reinforcements. He sent forward the brigade of Brig. Gen. Charles O’Hara to try to delay or trap the Patriots, and ordered the rest of his army to follow behind.


Maj. Gen. Daniel Morgan, the victor at Cowpens, had barely escaped at two major river crossings in North Carolina with help from his commander, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene. The forces of the two men combined at Guilford Court House (now in Greensboro). Greene hoped to make a stand against Cornwallis there, but could not collect enough troops and supplies. He and his officers crafted a plan in a “council of war.” Greene formed a “light corps” of cavalry and infantry soldiers that could move quickly to screen his actions. Morgan, badly ill, went home, so the corps command passed to Col. Otho Williams.[1] Greene then sent the main army toward the Dan.


Wednesday, February 14, 1781.


Ad showing a mug commemorating the Crossing of the Dan

Imagine the Scene

Irvine’s Ferry

If you are going to Irvine’s, walk past the gate, turn right, and take the Tobacco Heritage Trail to these coordinates: 36.6893, -78.9609. (Despite the gate’s “No Trespassing” signs, the trail is open to the public.) The ferry location is not marked on the trail. The coordinates are at a short bridge, however.

For those reading at Boyd’s Ferry in South Boston, translate “here” to a rural area about 3 miles to your right when facing the river, with a wooded slope to the right; wide, flat bottomlands to the left; and the far riverbank barely visible beyond them in the distance. 

Eyewitness accounts written years later contradict each other and accounts from the time on the dates and locations of these events. We defer to Greene’s orders and letters in those cases.[2]

James Irvine, Sr., established a ferry here in 1755, the same year his son James, Jr., was born at their home on the far side of the river.[3] What looks like a very wide ditch uphill of the trail bridge, with high banks on either side like a creek, is the northern access road for the ferry.

Photo of a lightly wooded depression looking downhill toward a trail with thicker woods in the distance
View toward the trail from the access road (AmRevNC photograph)

The ferry was probably a flat-bottomed wooden boat or barge wide enough to carry a wagon, attached via loops to a rope that was secured to trees or posts on both banks, to keep the boat from drifting downstream. By 1781, James, Jr., and his two brothers had taken it over, along with the land. (Some modern sources and signs call this “Irwin’s Ferry,” because Greene did in his letters, but he got it wrong!)[4] James filed many claims with the new Commonwealth of Virginia to be paid for ferry crossings related to the war, and for meat, grain, and pastures for horses.[5]

Photo of an 18th-Century wooden ferry boat, with low sides and a short bow
Small-scale replica of a ferry boat at Boyd’s Ferry (AmRevNC photograph)

The ferry boat is not alone today, a cold, drizzly Wednesday, February 14, 1781. Probably crowded on the far side are several others, either large rowboats or perhaps more flat-bottomed barges like the ferry boat. With them on that side is the man in charge, Lieut. Col. Edward Carrington, Greene’s quartermaster-general (chief supply officer). Carrington lived in this region, but was in Hillsborough, N.C., the prior October when Greene passed through on the way to taking over the southern Continental Army. Greene ordered Carrington to survey the Dan as a possible supply route. Carrington wrote Greene later that he had a man canoe up the river to do so.

In the war council at Guilford, Carrington told Greene there was a ferry near today’s Danville, Va., but Cornwallis was about as close to that as the Continentals were. Carrington reported there were only four other large boats between that one and Boyd’s Ferry, and suggested gathering all to cross here and at Boyd’s instead.[6] A militia unit was sent ahead to collect the boats, and maybe store them somewhere upstream so they would not give away the planned location for the crossing.[7] Now most are probably in the river below you, though it is possible one or more were sent to Boyd’s to join the ferry boat there.

Depending on the time of year, you may get a better view of the riverbank and bottomlands a little further down the trail.

Finally around mid-day on the 14th, the first of the Continentals arrive and flow down the opposite side into the ferry and nearest boats. The wagons are sent across first, the last arriving on this side around 2 p.m. Then the men, numbering around 900, begin to cross. Almost all are regular army soldiers from Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, including dozens of African-Americans. Only around 80 of the part-time soldiers called “militia” came with them, of the roughly 1,000 with the army just five days earlier.

No records leave an exact description of the crossing. Lee hints in his memoir that multiple boats could leave at once.[8] Perhaps as the first boats clear the far bank full of soldiers others move into place, more men file in, and a ballet of boats dances before you.

Photo of a river and riverbank on the far side of a meadow
The Dan River from the access road (AmRevNC photograph)

On this side the men flow uphill into the woods and set up a temporary, tentless camp alongside the road. Greene writes Williams at 4 p.m., “I have not slept four hours since you left me, so great has been my solicitude to prepare for the worst.” Finally, at 5:12, he writes again: “All our troops are over and the stage is clear.” When Williams gets the message and informs his troops, they cheer so loudly that the nearby British hear them!

Painting of a man in a fancy military uniform with epaulets
Otho Williams

Williams’ corps had been faking as if headed to Dix Ferry near modern Danville, 25 miles upstream from Irvine’s (to your right when facing the river). After allowing what he hoped was enough time for the main army to escape, Williams had turned directly this way. Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Henry Lee’s cavalry trailed behind to protect the foot soldiers.

Greene orders Williams to send his infantry here to cross over. Lee was to cross at Boyd’s Ferry. Greene posts artillery on this bank facing across, and some troops get behind earthworks thrown up by men sent ahead. Remains were still visible on this side into the early 1900s.[9] More soldiers are on the other side, possibly behind more earthworks,[10] ready to defend against the British if they show up before the light corps can escape.

The light corps arrives just before sunset, perhaps 45 minutes after Greene’s order was sent.[11] In 24 hours Williams’ 100 men had marched 40 miles. The crossing process restarts, continuing into the moonless night by torch- or firelight. Perhaps never getting his orders, Lee arrives here as the last of the infantry reaches this side.[12] Carrington tells him to have the horses swim across. Some flee in fear, but are rounded up and pushed into the dark water. Not until 9 p.m. do Carrington and Lee cross over in the last boat, Lee says. Carrington orders any boats still on the far side brought to this one and secured to trees.

Photo looking down a wide river under a cloudy sky with low trees on the left side and a brush-covered bank on the right with a large machine at right-center
Irvine Ferry crossing site; south end was around modern machine at right (AmRevNC photograph)

After the war, Carrington served in the Continental Congress and was the jury foreman in the treason trial of Aaron Burr, who had killed Alexander Hamilton in a pistol duel.

The British Fail Again

Photo of British soldiers in red coats marching behind an officer and two flags
British reenactors marching (Credit: Tommc73 / CC BY-SA (

Soon after, more sounds float across the river. O’Hara’s men have marched the same 40 miles in 24 hours as the light corps, in hopes of catching it. But the troops on this side cheer, and the Redcoats realize they are yet again too late to catch Greene’s army. What now is called the “Race to the Dan” is over.

The main body of the British army stops short of the river, camping roughly four miles southwest (across and to your right).[13] The regiment of a Scottish unit notes it had marched a total of 169 miles in 10 days.[14] The next day, Cornwallis decides to move off. He seems unsure what to do, zigzagging[15], but ends up heading south to Hillsborough in hopes of gathering more Loyalist militia. He also may feel exposed here against the river, as a South Carolina militia force approaches from the west and North Carolinians from the east.

James Irvine, Jr., reports that at some point he “returned home and found that the British had reached the ferry… kept by himself & his Brothers & had destroyed their farm, burnt their fences, destroyed their crop, killed their stock and at that point had turned back into North Carolina.”[16]

Leaving behind a guard, the rest of the Continental army moves on to our last stop on the 15th. Before leaving, Greene writes of their success to the Continental Congress and Gen. George Washington.[17]

The army returns to its earlier campsite here on the evening of Tuesday the 20th. The next day it reverses the scene from exactly a week earlier, with wagons, cannons and men lining up where you stand to await their turns in the boats. With it are hundreds of Virginia militia, and more are heading south.

The Continental army, formerly the hunted, has become the hunter.

If you walked to Irvine’s Ferry, return to where you started.

On the way back, consider stepping off the left side of the trail into the small clearing at these coordinates: 36.6897, -78.9307. Veer right and take the trail to and past the small metal sign for Diamond Hill Cemetery up the slope. Covering the knoll beyond is a graveyard for enslaved people, with some of the anonymous graves marked by simple field stones.

Once back to your vehicle, use the “Location” coordinates at the top of the page to get to the second stop.

Boyd’s Ferry

Walk past the monument to the edge of the park near the railway bridge. Look across the river.

The colonial government granted John Boyd the right to place a ferry boat here in 1749, which his wife Margaret took over when John died, according to a local history book.[18] Run in 1781 by George Boyd, a colonel of the Virginia militia, it probably crosses at or just this side of the modern bridge. Boyd made payment requests like those of the Irvines for ferrying soldiers and wagons throughout the war.[19] He also has a farm, plus a tavern on the far side about a three-quarters of a mile southwest of the ferry.[a] Further south along the approach road is Carrington’s land.[20]

Photo of a railroad bridge across a river
(AmRevNC photograph)

Likely near the tavern are buildings for clothing and other supplies for Continental forces, plus a “magazine” used to store powder and ammunition. Men who only served for short stints would come there to “muster in” as militia and be discharged. Various units might be in the area at any time awaiting orders. That’s probably why Greene’s order to collect the boats was brought there.[21]

When James Irvine applied for a government pension years later, he reported that the prior November, Col. Boyd put him in charge of 12 men guarding the stores. Probably just before the Crossing, you could have watched from here as Irvine’s men had five wagons ferried across, taking supplies to safety.[22]

Photo looking across a river with a low bank on the far side
View of the Boyd’s crossing from the south (AmRevNC photograph)

Some portion of the main army crossed here on the 14th. The men likely moved up the near bank and set up a temporary camp like the one at Irvine’s to await orders. The next day, Greene writes Virginia Gov. Thomas Jefferson from “Boyd’s Ferry Camp” that they are, “On the Dan river, almost fatigued to death, having had a retreat to conduct for upwards of two hundred miles, manoeuvring (sic) constantly in the face of the enemy, to give time for the militia to turn out and get off our stores.”[23] He tells Jefferson he is prepared to cross the Staunton (“STAN-ton”) River, north and east of here (to the left when facing the river) if Cornwallis crosses the Dan further upstream. Then he heads north himself, with or trailing this part of his army.

It’s unclear how or when Greene passed through this area to write the Jefferson letter. Then as now, there was no direct road from Irvine’s to Boyd’s. Maybe there was a trail from Irvine’s, which Carrington would have known about, that he took to pick up the men here after sending on the other forces. Or he could have turned off the road from the north to get them. The exact routes taken by the two groups to our next stop are unknown.

Boyd’s Ferry operated until 1854, when it was replaced by a covered bridge just the other side of today’s highway.[24]

A Second Crossing

Go to your car and use these coordinates to reach the next stop, at King’s Bridge Landing: 36.7764, -78.9176.

On the way, consider visiting the South Boston-Halifax County Museum of Fine Arts and History, to see exhibits on the Crossing and other local history. After your mapping app takes you onto Broad Street (U.S. 501 North), drive 0.9 miles to Webster Street and turn left. Drive one long block and turn into the museum lot just past Wilborn Avenue (U.S. 501 South).

At King’s Bridge Landing, park and take the pavement to the canoe launch. Walk down the steps until you can see up the river past the old bridge abutments on the left.

Most of the army continued here to the Banister River from the Dan on the 15th. Unless the river is flooded, you can see water rippling over a shallow section just to the left of the abutment on the far side. This is likely the ford used by the army to cross the Banister on the way to the old Halifax County Courthouse. A road is still visible in woods on private property across the river, leading to Cole’s Ferry on the Staunton. What appears to be a ditch on the near side (again on private property) may be the southern approach road to the ford.

Photo looking upstream to ripples in a narrow river and a high, bush-covered bank
(AmRevNC photograph)

The wagons and cannons are pushed across and up. Hundreds of men exhausted from the rapid travel of the last few days, many barefoot because their shoes have worn out, trudge through icy February water and scramble up the far bank. The effort may have taken three hours or more.

A militia unit is left on the far side to guard the ford, while the light corps camps a mile-and-a-half away. The latter moves back across the morning of the 20th, followed by the main army an hour or two later.

Into Camp

The likely location of the main army camp is approximately a 10-mile roundtrip drive. To read about it at the site, return to your vehicle and go to these coordinates: 36.845, -78.9138.

On the way, after crossing the river, and turning left on Howard P. Anderson Road, look for the first public road on the right, Marion’s Trail. The light corps camped at a plantation just up that road.

As you approach the coordinates, a small cemetery comes into view on the left, past a line of trees near the road that ends at a farm lane. Slow down, and when the shoulder on the left flattens out, pull across the road to park by the cemetery. There is a sharp drop for some distance after the farm lane, so don’t pull off too soon.

Walk near the railroad, or remain in your vehicle. Look into the field on the far side of the tracks, beyond the trees there.

The 1768 Halifax County Courthouse[25] stood about 500 feet west of the modern road and somewhat to your left.[26] The building was a refinished barn! Nearby in 1781 is a food-serving tavern called an “ordinary.”

Photo of a raised railroad with a thin line of trees behind it and uneven fields in the distance
Ferry road route with courthouse area in background (AmRevNC photograph)

The railroad basically marks the route of Cole’s Ferry Road at this point. Given that armies of the day often camped along roads, you are probably in the camp. Another portion may be in the cleared area around the courthouse. Also in the camp are the captives from the Battle of Cowpens that Cornwallis had hoped to rescue. British or Loyalist captives from various places were held near the courthouse at times, usually before getting marched to prisoner of war camps farther north.

On the 15th, as the army settles to bed, Greene writes from “Camp Halifax Courthouse” to the North Carolina legislature. He reassures them he will follow Cornwallis if the British head for Hillsborough, part-time capital of the state. But he warns them to be more careful about whom they draft. One N.C. militia cavalry unit has deserted. He advises, “You must not put arms into the hands of doubtful charactors [sic]: depend upon it they will deceive you in the hour of difficulty.”

Here the soldiers rest over the next few days while Greene sends a flurry of orders and letters. Some go to militia commanders in Virginia and N.C. asking them to raise troops. He also orders a unit down the Dan (which becomes the Roanoke) to destroy any boats Cornwallis could use to cross.[27] Yet he writes someone else he has camped here “in order to tempt the Enemy to cross” the Dan.[28]

Lee and his cavalry get little rest. Greene sends them back across by a different ferry on the 19th, to join up with the South Carolina militia approaching Cornwallis in North Carolina. Lee sends back a message that day informing Greene that Cornwallis is headed for Hillsborough.

Probably among other supplies arriving here during the army’s stay are a big portion of the impressive totals provided to the Patriot cause by 25 women in Halifax County over the course of the war. A local historian calculates these included “380 pounds of bacon; 152 pounds of pork; over 5,681 pounds of beef; over 5,800 pounds of corn; about 397 pounds of corn meal used for making hoecakes for the troops; over 1,000 pounds of fodder and 100 sheaves of oats for animal consumption, and 38 gallons of brandy.”[29]

Lewis Morris, son of a general by that name, writes his father from here that news of the withdrawal “‘will be very alarming to those at a distance, and no doubt censured as a very unmilitary step… (but) I am convinced it was dictated by necessity and conducted with the strictest military propriety.’” He adds it was done without loss, “not even a broken waggon (sic) to show that we were hurried.” Morris complains that the militia were no help, “‘more intent upon saving their property by flight (home) than embodying to protect it.’”[30]

Virginia militia commanders call out their men and Jefferson orders more. Hundreds arrive here or pass through shortly after the army leaves, while others from western counties head directly south.

Greene’s plan to attack Cornwallis is bad news for his wife, Catherine. Up north, she had traveled with him in Washington’s army. A general in Philadelphia writes on the 21st that Catherine learned about Greene’s promotion and move south a few months earlier while at that general’s home in Providence, Rhode Island. It took a “‘good deal of Address’” (talking) to calm her down, he reports.

“‘However, she wisely contrasted the Sensation of Tender Disappointment with all conquering Views of Glory and Heroism.’”[31] Those are indeed the views many have of Nathanael Greene, architect of a strategic withdrawal ending here that is still studied in war colleges today.

Crossing Map

Map showing the march routes
Crossing map: © 2022 May not be reproduced in any form without permission. Base map: © OpenStreetMap contributors.

The Crossing of the Dan: March routes are approximate. 1) Main Continental army crosses Dan River at Irvine’s and Boyd’s ferries, daytime, Feb. 14. 2) Light corps and cavalry cross at Irvine’s in the evening; boats are secured to north bank; British vanguard arrives soon after. 3) On Feb. 15, Continental army moves north to Halifax Courthouse and camps. 4) British destroy Irvine properties and withdraw.

Historical Tidbits

  • Archaeologists found a Native American village near the wastewater treatment plant northeast of South Boston, one source says. Skeletons had been buried in the fetal position with beads below them. Also found were pottery pieces and food remains indicating residents were growing corn as early as 1400, using hoes of stone. They lived in round, thatch-roofed homes more than 20 feet wide within a stockade.[32]
  • Enslaved people in Halifax County planned a revolution in 1802, according to a local history book. The leader, Sancho, tried to recruit a man named Abram, saying the plan was for groups to gather at a tavern and store upon the sounding of a horn on the Christian holiday of Good Friday. Those with weapons were to bring extras for those who didn’t have them, and ammunition would be taken from the store. Planning had begun as early as the prior summer, when Sancho supposedly approached another man and said, “‘Bob, you are a valuable man and I wish for you to join me” to revolt. Bob declined, pointing out that an earlier rising in Richmond had ended with the rebels “destroyed” (37 were hung). Someone revealed the plot, and 18 men and women were tried at the new courthouse near the current one in Halifax on Saturday, May 15, 1802. Sancho and five others were found guilty and hung immediately.[33]
Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women
White capy saying, "My other hat is a" and showing a tricorn hat
Red tote bag with a picture and list of female patriots

More Information

  • ‘A Map of the State of Virginia: Reduced from the Nine Sheet Map of the State in Conformity to Law’, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, 1827 <> [accessed 4 November 2021]
  • ‘John Martin of Halifax County – Part 1’ <> [accessed 27 October 2021]
  • ‘The Crossing of the Dan’ <> [accessed 30 October 2021]
  • Aaron, Larry, The Race to the Dan: The Retreat That Rescued the American Revolution (South Boston, Va.: Halifax County Historical Society, 2007)
  • Abercrombie, Janice, and Richard Slatten, trans., Virginia Publick Claims: Halifax County (Athens, Ga.: Iberian Publishing Company)
  • Buchanan, John, The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997)
  • 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]
  • Cecere, Michael, ‘Race to the Dan: “Pushed with Great Expedition”’, Journal of the American Revolution, 2014 <> [accessed 7 December 2021]
  • Cook, Kenneth, ‘History of Halifax County Courthouses’, Mountain Road Walking Tour, 1972 <> [accessed 22 November 2021]
  • Dodson, Roger, Property Lines from an Old Survey Book: Halifax County, Virginia 1741 to 1901 (Danville, Va.: VA-NC Piedmont Geneological Society, 1998)
  • Eanes, Greg, ‘Public Service Claim Statistical Analysis: Halifax County in the American Revolution as Reflected in Public Service Claims and Other Documents’, 2021
  • Eanes, Greg, Cole’s Ferry Road and ‘Old’ Halifax Courthouse in Greene’s Campaign (Halifax, Va.: Town of Halifax, 23 March 2021)
  • Edmunds, Pocahontas Wight, History of Halifax, Vol. 1, Narration, Undated
  • Edmunds, Pocahontas Wight, History of Halifax, Vol. 2, Documentation, Undated
  • Espy, Carl, ‘Greene’s Campsite-“Camp Halifax Court House” North of the Banister’, E-mail, 26 October 2021
  • Espy, Carl, Knight’s Bridge Ford and Cole’s Ferry Road and Tour, In-Person Interview, 2021
  • Fuller, West, ‘Irwin’s Ferry: Traces Remain Today of Historic Crossing’, The Gazette-Virginian (South Boston, Va., Undated), Local History Room, Halifax-South Boston County Library
  • Fuller, West, ‘War’s Turning Point Said at Boyd’s Ferry’, The Gazette-Virginian (South Boston, Va., Undated), Local History Room, Halifax-South Boston County Library
  • Gordon, William, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the Independence of the United States of America (New York: Printed for Samuel Campbell by John Woods, 1801) <> [accessed 29 October 2021]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Ashur Reaves, S17649’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Dudley Gatewood, S6873’, 1832 <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Evan Thompson, W2975’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1833) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of James Adams, S16306’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of James Irvine, S4422’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of John Atkinson, W5650’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1834) < .pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of John Rainey, S4035’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Matt Martin, S2726’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1833) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Richard Oldham, W6887’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Robert Mims, S30590’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1834) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of William Hatcher, S31727’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of William Lesley (Leslie), S31821’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of William Lorance (Lowrance), S31217’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Greene, George Washington, The Life of Nathanael Greene: Major-General in the Army of the Revolution (G. P. Putnam and Son, 1871)
  • Haiman, Miecislaus, Kosciuszko in The American Revolution (New York, NY: The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences, 1975)
  • Harris, C. Leon, tran., ‘Pension Application of Isaac Grant, S4305’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Harris, C. Leon, tran., ‘Pension Application of John Dupuy, W7060’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Harris, C. Leon, tran., ‘Pension Application of John O. F. Martin, S30569’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1834) <>
  • Harris, C. Leon, tran., ‘Pension Application of William Burchett, S1179’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1832) <>
  • Harris, C. Leon, tran., ‘Pension Application of William Everett, S3342’ (Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements, 1833) <>
  • Haynes, Kenneth, ‘Questions Concerning the North Carolina Campaign of 1781 and the Race to the Dan in Particular’, 2005, Halifax County (Va.) Historical Society
  • Headspeth, W. Carroll, and Spurgeon Compton, A Masterful Maneuver: The Retreat to the Dan (South Boston, Va.: Green’s Printing Shop)
  • Holland, Samuel, and Thomas Jeffreys, ‘Jeffery’s 1776 Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia Containing the Whole Province of Maryland with Part of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina – Southern Section’ (The American Atlas: Or, A Geographical Description Of The Whole Continent Of America, 1776), Map Geeks <>
  • Johnson, William, and Nathanael Greene, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, Major General of the Armies of the United States in the War of the Revolution (Charleston, S.C.: Printed for the author, by A.E. Miller, 1822) <> [accessed 13 December 2021]
  • Kalmanson, Arnold W., ‘Otho Holland Williams and the Southern Campaign of 1780-1782’ (Salisbury University, 1990) <> [accessed 13 May 2020]
  • Kirkwood, Robert, and Joseph Brown Turner, The Journal and Order Book of Captain Robert Kirkwood of the Delaware Regiment of the Continental Line (Wilmington, The Historical Society of Delaware, 1910) <> [accessed 1 February 2022]
  • Lee, Henry, The Campaign of 1781 in the Carolinas (Philadelphia, E. Littell, 1824) <> [accessed 28 January 2022]
  • Lee, Henry, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States, Second Edition (Washington, D.C.: Peter Force, 1827)
  • 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]
  • MAAR Associates, Inc., and Hill Studio, P.C., ‘Historic Architectural Resources Survey of Halifax County, Virginia’ (Virginia Department  of Historic Resources and Halifax County, 2008)
  • Morrill, Dan L., Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution (Baltimore, Md.: The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1993)
  • Morris, Lewis, ‘Lewis Morris, Jr., to His Father, General Lewis Morris’, in The Spirit of ’Seventy-Six, ed. by Henry Steele Commager and Robert Morris (New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975)
  • O’Kelley, Patrick, Nothing but Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary  War in the Carolinas, Volume Three, 1781 (, Inc., 2005)
  • Pancake, John S., This Destructive War: The British Campaign in the Carolinas, 1780-1782 (University, AL : University of Alabama Press, 1985) <> [accessed 13 October 2020]
  • Perkins, Cary, In-Person Interview, Halifax-South Boston County Library, Local History Room, 2021
  • Powell, Douglas, ‘Halifax Gateway Project Material: “Gen. Nathanael Greene North of the Banister River”’, 2016
  • Rankin, Hugh F., The North Carolina Continentals (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1971)
  • Seymour, William, A Journal of the Southern Expedition, 1780-1783 (The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1883) <> [accessed 19 November 2021]
  • Sherman, Wm. Thomas, Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781, Tenth Edition (Seattle, WA: Gun Jones Publishing, 2007) <>
  • Showman, Richard K., Dennis M. Conrad, and Roger N. Parks, eds., The Papers of General Nathanael Greene: Vol. VII: 26 December 1780-29 March 1781 (UNC Press Books, 2015)
  • Stedman, C., Patrick Byrne, and Patrick Wogan, The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War (Dublin: Printed for Messrs. P. Wogan, P. Byrne, J. Moore, and W. Jones, 1794), ii <> [accessed 31 January 2022]
  • Tarleton, Banastre, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America (London : Printed for T. Cadell, 1787) <> [accessed 19 September 2020]
  • Tuck, Faye Royster, Yesterday—Gone Forever (Halifax, Va.: Halifax County Historical Society, 2004)

Note: All pension applications on the “Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters” website ( mentioning Boyd, Irvine, Halifax, and their spelling variants were reviewed. Only those with significant inputs to this page are listed above.

[1] A preacher who traveled North Carolina collecting war stories in the mid-1800s, Rev. E.W. Caruthers (1856), incorrectly reported that Morgan came here, which some later sources repeat. Suffering from sciatica and diarrhea to the point that he traveled much of the way from S.C. lying down in a wagon, Morgan was granted a leave of absence by Greene at Guilford Court House and left for home in Virginia (Graham 1859).

[2] Quoted in Showman et al. 2015.

[3] Tuck.

[4] See the quotation further down the page from James Irvine in his application for a veteran’s pension (1832). Deeds for the brothers’ tracts all say Irvine (Dodson 1998), and the majority of applicants in a large database ( call it “Irvine’s.”

[5] Claims.

[6] Lee (1824), who quotes a Carrington letter.

[7] Lorance (1832) says he was in the unit; Johnson (1822) says the boats were stored away from the crossing sites.

[8] Lee 1827.

[9] Haimen 1975.

[10] British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton (1787), who was with O’Hara’s brigade, reports finding “some works evacuated” (though at “Boyd’s”; see Footnote 13). Fuller says he found traces here in the mid-1900s.

[11] Lee and other sources claim the light corps crossed the day after the main army. But both Williams (quoted in Sherman) and Capt. Robert Kirkwood (1910), assigned to the corps, report crossing on the 14th. Lee, writing 40 years later, is known to have gotten his dates and places wrong at times.

[12] Some modern sources claim Lee crossed at Boyd’s, because he was ordered to, and he says in his memoir that he took to road to Boyd’s (Lee 1827). However, from his starting point, the road to Boyd’s was also the road to Irvine’s Ferry. No records indicate Carrington moved from Irvine’s to Boyd’s. Lee does not specify where he actually crossed, but he states his cavalry arrived as the last of Williams’ infantry got across, and Greene and Williams confirm Williams crossed at Irvine’s. This makes sense, given that the cavalry was acting as a rear guard for the infantry. Lee does not mention receiving Greene’s order. Taken together, these points suggest the order never reached the highly mobile cavalry, so Lee continued protecting Williams’ force all the way to Irvine’s.

[13] Caruthers 1856. Tarleton says the British went to Boyd’s. However, Stedman (1794), a commissary officer under Cornwallis, specifies, “The light army, which was the last in crossing, was so closely pursued, that scarcely had its rear landed, when the British advance appeared on the opposite banks…” It is possible Tarleton was sent on to Boyd’s, but no other records support that or indicate earthworks were built at Boyd’s (see Footnote 9). The only record of British damage to property was at Irvine’s (per the James Irvine quote in the next section).

[14] Sherman.

[15] Johnson.

[16] Irvine.

[17] Unless otherwise footnoted, all letters and orders quoted or described on this page were found in Showman.

[18] Tuck.

[19] Headspeth & Compton.

[20] Tuck.

[21] Oldham 1832.

[22] Irvine 1832.

[23] Quoted in Caruthers.

[24] Headspeath and Compton.

[25] Some sources suggest the camp may have been in modern Halifax at a later courthouse built near the current building. A contract for a new building at that site was awarded by the county in 1774. A local history book says court sessions were being held there by August 1777, at what was still called the “new” courthouse into the 1780s (Tuck). None of the records related to the crossing specify “new,” and a deed from 1785 states that court sessions were still being held at the old courthouse in today’s Crystal Hill. Greene mentions in a Feb. 15 letter to Baron Friedrich von Steuben his plans to cross the next river north, the Banister, while supplies will be sent across the Staunton River in case they have to retreat further (Showman). Also, a pension application places the camp at “Halifax old Court House,” stating it was 12 miles from Cole’s Ferry over the Staunton, which is about that distance from here (Adams 1832). Williams (in Showman) and his subordinate Kirkwood (1910) state they crossed the Banister. Their position keeps the light corps between the British and the army only if the army is at Crystal Hill. Other pension applications specify actions that happened at the “old” courthouse throughout the war. Most modern-era accounts from local sources, and most local historians AmRevNC contacted, said the old courthouse was the campsite.

[26] A 1909 deed map (in Cook 1972) places it here when overlaid on a modern road map. A different, somewhat skewed map appears to do so as well. Finally, a 1941 article says the old courthouse was within a few hundred yards of a historically black church, which describes Crystal Hill Baptist Church across the road (quoted in Cook 1972.)

[27] Martin 1833.

[28] To Joseph Clay, Feb. 18 (Showman).

[29] Eanes 2021, based on claims for reimbursement.

[30] Morris.

[31] From James Varnum, Feb. 21 (Showman).

[32] Edmunds Vol. 2.

[33] Tuck.

[a] Al Zimmerman, owner of part of the former James Irvine property, saw the tavern near the southwest corner of US 58 and Old Cool Springs Road before its destruction (interview and tour, 2/17/2022).

Troublesome Ironworks | More Tours

The Gourd Patch Affair

A Tory Conspiracy Fails


View Larger Map

Other maps: Bing, Google, MapQuest.
Coordinates: 35.8758, -77.4050.

Type: Stop
Tour: Rebellion
County: Edgecombe

Access LogoFull

Park on either corner of Roberson School Road and Mooring Road, or in the entrance to the gated farm lane across from Mooring. Please respect the property owner’s signs and clear the lane if they need access, but the road shoulders are in the public right-of-way.

You may stay in your vehicle if you wish.

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

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



A Conspiracy Rises

Photo of a creek reflecting the sky below overhanging bushes
Conetoe Creek (AmRevNC photograph)

Button for audio tourJohn Clifton of Anson County, in the south-central part of modern North Carolina, rode to this region in mid-May of 1777 to visit his brother and friends. Some of them asked him along to meet James Rawlins.[1] Little did he know what he was in for.

Rawlins made Clifton swear he would not reveal anything he was about to hear. Then he told him people loyal to King George III had written their own constitution for North Carolina, to counter one recently created for the new state by the rebels known as Patriots or “Whigs.” Rawlins said Loyalists or “Tories” were plotting to defeat the Whigs and put the Tory constitution in place. If someone Clifton met showed him a stick with three cuts in it, he should ask what it was for. That would lead to this exchange:

“A sign.”

“What sign?”

“The sign of a secret.”

“Have you that secret?”

“I have. ”

Then, the two people would take turns speaking this set of letters: “B-E T-R-U-E.”

The next day the group met another man, tailor Daniel Legate, at a schoolhouse.[2] There Legate showed Clifton a copy of the Tory constitution, and Clifton took an oath that “insisted on fidelity to King George, opposition to the (state’s military) draft, refusal to take the whig government’s oath, the protection of army deserters, and the defense of… Tories.”[3] He was told to keep gunpowder and bullets on hand.

Clifton was given a copy of the constitution to use in recruiting others back in Anson County. However, he later claimed he burned the paper and took no action. On returning to this area in late July, he went with his brother to tell the Patriot court what he knew about what today is called, “The Gourd Patch Affair.”[4]

The Leader’s Land

Button for audio tourFace the fields across from Mooring Road, where the farm lane leads.

You are almost certainly on land once owned by John Llewellyn,[5] probably near his homesite. Around 63 by 1777, he and his wife Mary had moved here from Virginia 16 years earlier. There he had been a shipbuilder, but here he ran a farm.

His 630 acres stretched all the way across those fields to Conetoe (“ka-NEET-a”) Creek, and behind you across Robeson School Road. At the time the creek was Conetoe Swamp, covering a large area beyond the fields and downhill to the right.[6] This land was in Martin County when it was formed, and Llewellyn was named as one of the original justices of the peace. In those days his duties included those of modern county commissioners.[7]

Photo of an unplanted farm field with trees in the distant background, under an overcast sky with the sun hanging low
(AmRevNC photograph)

Llewellyn became concerned after some delegates to the convention creating the new state’s constitution in late 1776 proposed what today we would call “separation of church and state.” They did not get all they wanted, but the constitution did remove the official status that the Church of England, known here as the Anglican Church, had enjoyed under the colonial government.[8] Taxes no longer supported the church, and Catholic priests—along with other Protestant pastors—now were allowed to marry people. The budding alliance between the United States and Catholic France likely added to the worries of Anglicans like Llewellyn.

They began to organize and took the name of “the Brethren.” In early 1777, Llewellyn, Rawlins, and a dozen others began traveling the back roads of the state to spread their fears about the possible rise of “‘popish religion.’” Rebel leaders threatened to arrest them.[a]

Rawlins later told the court the movement picked up speed after a muster of the county’s part-time “militia” soldiers in Plymouth, 40 miles east (to the left) around Friday, March 28th. He, Llewellyn, and a third man were riding home. Llewellyn remarked that “‘the Country was like to become subject to popery,’” meaning the Catholic Church, and there ought to be a way to “‘seek relief.’”

On that ride home, Llewellyn suggested that a document supporting the Anglican Church be written up for people to swear to, and outlined the contents. A few days later he and his son William came to Rawlins’ house, and Llewellyn dictated to him the Tory or Anglican constitution and some oaths. William then hand-wrote copies to distribute—carefully, as you’ll see.[10]

The Plot Thickens

Button for audio tourThey began recruiting. Some people were contacted at wheat harvests, including a recruit named Bird Land. Many were approached with the question, “‘will you stand up for the Protestant religion?’”[11] During one effort, the plotter “‘picked up a Sugar box which seemed to be concealed in a private part of the barn and took out a paper which he read very low, as if he had been afraid of being overheard…’” It was the Loyalist constitution.[12] As a security measure, one historian says, only Llewellyn, Legate, Rawlins, and one other could actually share it.[13] Everyone else determined a recruit’s interest and then arranged meetings with one of those four.

Constant call-outs of the militia, combined with a lack of pay and supplies, may have helped the effort. Also, some people who supported independence thought the new state government as tyrannical as the Crown, or did not accept the state’s authority on all matters.[b]

The most notable recruit was William Brimage. Owner of 10,000 acres between Edenton and New Bern on which he held at least 30 people in slavery (probably far more), Brimage was president of the British Vice Admiralty Court for the colony. He was elected to the rebellious Provincial Congress in 1775, but did not attend. The state appointed him a court justice in Edenton anyway, where he drew “resentment” in April because he refused to take action against Tories.[14] His home was in Bertie County near a bend of the Cashie River, about 35 miles east.[15]

Photo of a blue river bending left, with trees growing from it in the left foreground and a line of them across the river
Cashie River (AmRevNC photograph)

On a two-day ride in January from Bath to New Bern, Brimage told a companion, “‘he did not like our present form of government… and never thought it any more than a mob government.’” He predicted that if the U.S. won the war, within 20 years the southern states would choose to have kings again! His companion reported him to Patriot authorities, though they apparently took no action.[16]

Prior recruit Thomas Harrison was in his son’s wheat field when Brimage appeared and called him over. He asked where Legate was, and Harrison led him to Legate’s house. Brimage had heard about the plot. The three went to the woods by Harrison’s house, where Legate swore them in as “‘members of this Conspiracy.’” Legate then suggested Brimage serve as the “Senior Warden” of Bertie, the title given to county leaders of the plot. Brimage agreed.[17]

The recruiters were not beyond stretching the truth… quite a bit. Legate told someone the plot arose in Virginia, perhaps partly true—there was a similar one around Norfolk.[18] But he said it had spread as far west as Haw River (beyond modern Raleigh/Durham) and south all the way to Georgia! One man was told recruiters had traveled 1,000 miles to spread the word.[19]

It worked. Eventually 100 men joined in Martin and two nearby counties, and witnesses said there were more in four others.[c]

Actions Threatened and Taken

Button for audio tourOne day around the beginning of May, Llewellyn ran into a neighbor, Capt. James Mayo. The Brethren had tried but failed to recruit Mayo’s brother William. Mayo accused him of being “an enemy of the people,” and threatened to name him to the local Committee of Safety as a Tory.[d] Llewellyn asked Peter Tyler and Rawlins to waylay Mayo and kill him. Rawlins claimed he refused to help, but Tyler waited by a road Mayo often took. However, Mayo did not appear.

Llewellyn turned into an rabid Loyalist within weeks. The threat of arrest was likely one cause, but he also had family reasons to support Britain: He was a cousin of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis, a British commander who had already raided North Carolina once. Regardless, Llewellyn’s hatred of the rebellion became well-known. He was quoted as saying the rebels were “‘the rag-tag and bob-tail of humanity’” and that Gov. Richard Caswell was “‘an infidel and didn’t believe in the Holy Trinity.’”[9] This referred to the Christian concept of divinity having three aspects: God, the son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Rawlins said that as the conspiracy gained numbers, Llewellyn listed off a group of names whom, “‘if they could destroy… then the Country would soon be settled.’”[20] Among them were Mayo and his brother, Col. Nathan Mayo, whose land was next to Llewellyn’s.

Llewellyn also had an idea to take advantage of slaveowner fears of an uprising by the people they held captive, a frequent event in early N.C. history. He recruited a “patroller,” someone whose job was to stop African-Americans and make sure they were either free or had permission to be where they were. The plan was for the patroller to spread rumors of a revolt. This in turn would trigger the local militia to search for the freedom-seekers, leaving unguarded the army gunpowder supply in Halifax and Gov. Caswell, who was scheduled to visit there.[e] The Tories could destroy the former and kill the latter.

Look up Mooring Road.

At some point, some sources claim, Llewellyn and one or two other men decided they had enough momentum to notify the British commander in North America, Sir Henry Clinton. They rode off toward New York, probably up a dirt road where Mooring Road is today.[21] But they supposedly only got as far as Scotland Neck, about 20 miles away, before turning back.[f]

Around June 20, a group met at a gourd patch near Tarboro.[g] One of the conspirators had been caught with the plot’s papers. He and another member were in the town jail. The group began planning to free them.[22]

Lt. Col. Henry Irwin of the regular Continental Army later wrote Caswell that 30 men attacked the jail. Irwin had been wounded in South Carolina and was convalescing, one source says.[23] However, he and 25 men, perhaps militia soldiers, were easily able to drive the group off.[24] Sadly, he was killed a year later at the Battle of Germantown (Penn.).

The shift among the Brethren toward violent Loyalism led to their downfall, because some recruits began telling what they knew. The slave patroller was among them.

No Escape

As witnesses began naming conspirators, Caswell ordered Maj. David Barrow to find Brimage on “the Tory Brig” in New Bern. This was a ship bought by Alexander Telfair, whom Caswell had given permission to leave the state with other Tories. Barrow wrote back that Telfair promised not to allow Brimage onboard, and sent Lt. Shedrick Fulcher with a few men to find Brimage.

Tipped off by the justices in Edenton, Brimage fled. He headed for the ocean but was captured by militia. Before Fulcher could get to Ocracoke to take custody, Brimage, a man named Campbell, and one other convinced two boys to row them north to Roanoke Island. Then Brimage offered more money to go farther. According to one of the boys, once landed on a beach, Campbell “‘took out a Handkerchief with two pistols in it’” and revealed himself to be a lieutenant in the British navy! With a mix of force and extra pay, the fugitives made the brothers push off toward Currituck Inlet, but a storm forced them beyond it. There, as the rain came down, the brothers escaped, one running down the beach and the other taking the boat. They must have met up down the shore.

Campbell stole another boat and disappeared. By means unknown, the other two men made it back south, but they were recognized and detained.[h] Militia then transported them to the jail in Edenton, where Brimage was chained to the floor next to the courthouse where he formerly presided.[25] Other plotters were eventually forced to join him there, including Llewellyn.

Rawlins fled down the Pamlico River with his family in a small sailboat on July 5. A man downriver thought he might, kept watch, and captured him.[i]

Trials and Surprising Outcomes

Photo of a two-story brick building, five windows wide, with a white cupola on top
The 1767 courthouse in Edenton (AmRevNC photograph)

Button for audio tourOnly Llewellyn was charged with treason, a crime punishable by death. The governor had a problem finding a judge to replace the former one: Brimage, who would now be on trial! Finally someone was found, and James Iredell, later a U.S. Supreme Court justice, served as the prosecutor.

Llewellyn was convicted in September of high treason, and 17 others of a lesser charge. The fact these lesser penalties were accepted, despite many legislators calling for men to be hanged, helped establish the authority of the courts in this state.[j]

Legate wrote a desperate letter from jail to Caswell in early December, “‘as an humble advocate to plead in Some Measure that So it May abate the Severity of your Just Displeasure & Appease that Stroke of Justice that I have incurred upon Myself by My horrid transgression & folly…’” He begged for bail until the court session, “‘the winter being very cold & I being Destitute of my Necessarys…’” Eventually all but Llewellyn were allowed out on bail because of terrible conditions in the jail.

Oddly, many Whig leaders supported going easy on the plotters. Mary Llewellyn rode to the home of their neighbor Nathan Mayo—yes, the same man her husband threatened—and asked him to speak on John’s behalf. Not only did Mayo agree, he escorted her to Hillsborough 90 miles away to gain her an audience with the governor.[26] Caswell agreed to a pardon. But the legislature called for Llewellyn’s immediate execution, unless the trial judge thought otherwise. The judge did so, pointing out Llewellyn didn’t try to escape when he had a chance one time, and mentioning the effect his death would have on Llewellyn’s family. Caswell issued the pardon.

The land you are on had been seized, but was restored to the Llewellyns, who bought more and people to work it. By 1793, they held captive 26 enslaved people, including Chane, Nance, Toney, and Neptune.[27] John died that year around age 80, and Mary passed away 14 years later. Nathan Mayo was an executor of Llewellyn’s will. His son married a Llewellyn daughter, who in turn married another son after the first died.[k]

Half of Peter Tyler’s property was taken by the state due to his conviction. Later he may have served in the British Army. Post-war he was harassed by Patriot neighbors to the point of filing a lawsuit. It failed, and he moved to Kentucky.

As for Brimage, the court decided there was not enough evidence against him. He refused to take the state’s loyalty oath, however. Finally the next April, Brimage left for New York, where he was greeted by the last two royal governors of North Carolina. He became attorney general of Bermuda, but went to Charleston during the 1781 British invasion of this state, hoping to return to his family. That invasion’s failure kept him there, and he sailed for Britain the next year.[28]

More Information

  • ‘Captain John William Llewellyn’ <> [accessed 23 June 2021]
  • Crow, Jeffrey J., ‘Tory Plots and Anglican Loyalty: The Llewelyn Conspiracy of 1777’, The North Carolina Historical Review, 55.1 (1978), 1–17
  • Hathaway, J. R. B. (James Robert Bent), ed., The North Carolina Historical and Genealogical Register ([S.l. : s.n.], 1901) <> [accessed 16 July 2021]
  • Huff, Joe, ‘Self Guided Tour of the Navigable Portion of the Cashie River’, 4
  • ‘John William Llewellyn II (-1794) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree’ <> [accessed 16 July 2021]
  • ‘Lineage of the Llewellyn Family of Martin County, N.C.’, in Families of Martin Co., Edgecombe Co., Nash Co. (Binder, Halifax County Library, Halifax, N.C.), Undated
  • Manning, Francis, and Booker, W.H., Martin County History, Vol. I (Williamston, N.C.: Enterprise Publishing Company, 1977)
  • McConville, Brendan, The Brethren: A Story of Faith and Conspiracy in Revolutionary America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2021)
  • McRee, Griffith John, Life and Correspondence of James Iredell: One of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, Vol. I (New York: Appleton, 1857)
  • ‘Nathan Mayo (1742-1811)’, WikiTree FREE Family Tree <> [accessed 2 August 2021]
  • Perishow, Andrea Musgrove, ‘Our Tylers–Loyalists in Llewellyn Conspiracy in the Revolutionary War?’, After Toil Comes Rest-Genealogy Musgrove, Holder, Buckmaster, McIntire, 2013 <> [accessed 23 June 2021]
  • Russell, Phillips, North Carolina in the Revolutionary War (Charlotte, N.C.: Heritage Printers, Inc., 1965)
  • Smith, Claiborne, ‘Lewelling, John’, NCpedia, 1991 <> [accessed 16 July 2021]
  • Smith, Claiborne, ‘Telfair, Alexander’, NCpedia, 1996 <> [accessed 2 August 2021]
  • The Edgecombe County Heritage Book Committee, Edgecombe County Heritage, North Carolina, 1735-2009 (Waynesville, N.C.: Walsworth Publishing Company, 2009)
  • ‘The Grimes-Llewellyn Families, 1635-1972, Martin Co, NC’ <> [accessed 16 July 2021]
  • ‘The Lewellen Family’ <> [accessed 15 July 2021]
  • ‘The Llewellyn Family’, in Families of Martin Co., Edgecombe Co., Nash Co. (Binder, Halifax County Library, Halifax, N.C.), Undated
  • Troxler, Carole, and David Norris, ‘Llewelyn Conspiracy’, NCpedia, 2006 <> [accessed 23 June 2021]
  • Turner, J. Kelley, and John Bridgers, Jr., History of Edgecombe County (Greenville, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1997)
  • ‘What’s in a Name? Conetoe, NC’, North Carolina Map Blog, 2017 <> [accessed 16 July 2021]
  • Williams, Ruth, and Margaret Griffin, Abstracts of Wills, Edgecombe County, North Carolina, 1733-1856, 1956

[1] Troxler 1976 calls Rawlins a preacher, leading later sources to repeat the error, but the most comprehensive source on these events (McConville 2021) says he was only a lay reader for his church.

[2] Daniel’s name is spelled various ways, most often “Leggett,” but McConville says it was Legate.

[3] Crow 1978.

[4] Clifton deposition: Hathaway 1901.

[5] Some sources use “Lewelling,” as it appears in some public records from the time and in later generations. But all eight genealogical sources found by AmRevNC said John’s name was Llewellyn at the time.

[6] A backwards deed search hit a dead end, so AmRevNC could not confirm this was Llewellyn’s land. Of all the modern tracts north of Conetoe Creek (then “Swamp”), where his 1778 land grant said his property was located, this is the only one whose outlines partially match the oddly shaped map on the grant (State Archives of N.C., Microfilm Call #S.108.824, Frame 44). The new state issued its own grants to replace colonial deeds, but this one may simply have restored ownership after his pardon (Claiborne 1991). The hand-drawn grant map is skewed, making an exact match impossible. Allowing for that, 8–10 of 15 points on the 1778 shape roughly align with a 1930 map of Harrell Farm that was here (Edgecombe County Map Book 4, p. 17). That has been subdivided since. This area is also between land owned into the 1800s by Legate/Leggett descendants to the northwest and to at least 1930 by Mayo descendants to the east. The intersection of Roberson School Road and NC 42 is known as Mayo’s Crossroads. A deed granted by Nathan Mayo specifies that Lewellyn land was to his west across Conetoe Swamp. And again, at the time this land was in Martin County. A post-war shift in the county line placed it in Edgecombe (supposedly prompted by Nathan Mayo and his grandfather living in the same district, but both wanting to be in the legislature!).

[7] Manning & Booker 1977.

[8] Crow.

[9] “Captain John William Llewellyn.”

[10] Rawlins deposition: Hathaway.

[11] Troxler.

[12] Hathaway.

[13] Troxler.

[14] Crow.

[15] As with Footnote 6, a deed search hit a dead end. But a deed from the early 1900s calls the land north of the last major bend in the river the “Middle tract of Brimage,” running along the river from “Brimage landing.” Brimerage Road runs through the property today, which is in Bertie County. A local river guide states without citations that was Brimage’s land and mentions the conspiracy (Huff). Finally, this puts Brimage within a few hours’ horse or boat ride of Edenton, where he served in periodic court sessions.

[16] Per a January 1778 deposition quoted in McCree 1857.

[17] Harrison deposition: Hathaway.

[18] Claiborne 1991.

[19] Hathaway.

[20] Ibid.

[21] In 1930, Mooring Road was called the Scotland Neck and Bethel Road. Bethel can be reached by going in the opposite direction down Roberson School Road.

[22] William Wallace deposition in Hathaway.

[23] Turner & Bridgers 1997.

[24] Hathaway.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Claiborne.

[27] Williams & Griffin 1956.

[28] Crow.

[a] McConville.

[b] Ibid.

[c] From McConville, who adds that most wardens’ records did not survive, and the loose structure of the Brethren makes it impossible to know exactly how many people were involved.

[d] McConville.

[e] Ibid.

[f] McConville reports that William Tyler of Martin County was indicted for agreeing to go “‘with two other Persons to General Howe.’”

[g] Location: McConville.

[h] Quote and escape details: McConville.

[i] McConville.

[j] Ibid.

[k] Ibid.

Hogun Homesite | Rebellion Tour | T. Blount Home

Bruce’s Crossroads

A Bugler Loses his Horse and his Life


View Larger Map

Other maps: Bing, Google, MapQuest.
Coordinates: 36.2009, -79.9033.

Type: Sight
Tour: Guilford Battle
County: Guilford

Access LogoFull

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.

Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women


Button for audio tourThe 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 "More than a minute-man," with a drawing of a Continental officer

Imagine the Scene

Breakfast is Interrupted

Button for audio tourMost 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 support for independence. 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 an 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.

If you wish, visit the 1923 Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) monument across the street to Gillies and Bruce.

Surprise and an Attack

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

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.

Button for audio tourThe 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]

The Bugler Falls

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.

Button for audio tourHere 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

Button for audio tourThe 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)
Mug saying "250 Years" with scenes and a map from the Battle of Alamance
Computer with a sticker of the AmRevNC logo on it, a state map with pins in it on a 13-star American flag

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 earliest telling of the incident, in Garden (1828) based on Johnson, only says Gillies was “a gallant youth, yet in early life.” The next mention of his age after Caruthers appears to be a newspaper article from the 1920s that says he was 15, without citing evidence (Whitaker, ca. 1920s); twenty years later the age has dropped another year in articles on the DAR monument to him, again without evidence (e.g., Donnell 1941). 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.

Mug with a fortifications map saying, "Wilmington 1781"


Mug with a fortifications map saying, "Wilmington 1781"


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

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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.


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.


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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 brothers William and Thomas had mills 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 met briefly at the mill on Monday, May 30, 1768, but for unknown reasons moved to Thomas’s, where they issued another of their series of petitions to the governor.[i]

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, running right to left.

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

Spreading up the slope from the left on Wednesday, July 19, 1780, are regular Continental Army troops setting up camp. Maj. Gen. Baron Johann de Kalb has brought them here from downriver 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 stretch 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 right 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] A sergeant-major wrote in his memoir, “what was procured after this manner could scarce keep the troops from starving, which occasioned a vast number of men to desert to the enemy.”[ii]

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 farther 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. Walk onto the north (right) side, and look to the right. The ford was 100 yards upstream, the length of an American football field. Local tradition holds that buffaloes used to cross here, and Native Americans following their path turned it into a trail, which European-Americans later built into a wagon road. A local historian says it remained in use supporting a road bridge until 1945, when that was washed away by a flood. The road was realigned to here the next decade.[d]
  • 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]

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


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 a frequent wartime campsite for various forces at Willcox’s Mill farther down Deep River.

[d] Hairr, John, ‘The Old Buffalo Ford: A Forgotten Place Along Deep River’, in Stories of Deep River (Erwin, N.C.: Averasboro Press, 1999). Hairr was wrong about Tryon’s army using the ford, however (see Tryon’s March).

[i] ‘Minutes of the Committee of the Regulators, Volume 07, Pages 766-767’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, 1768 <> [accessed 24 February 2022].

[ii] Seymour 1883.

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.

Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women

Small boy in a blue shirt that says, "Do Whig Out!"



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 map pointer, 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]

Mug saying "250 Years" with scenes and a map from the Battle of Alamance
Red tee shirt saying "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll


A Seven-Year Warrior

Col. William Graham was born in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1742 and moved to N.C. soon before the war. He was a Tryon County justice of the peace, and signed a petition against British excesses called the Tryon Resolves in 1775, the same year he was elected to North Carolina’s Third Provincial Congress.

As commander of the Patriot militia in Tryon County, he participated in a South Carolina campaign against Loyalists later that year.[2] In his application for a veteran’s pension decades later, Graham said he was “on continual duty” during seven years of war, conducting no personal business. He noted that he was “the oldest Colonel in the frontier parts of North Carolina”—in his mid-30s! His next campaign was against the Cherokees in 1776. Then he became responsible for selecting fort sites for protection against both Cherokees and Loyalists, and assigning militia to them on a rotating basis. Sometimes he took command at Fort McFadden west of modern Rutherfordton. He said he led regular scouting missions, collected reports from spies, and directed “Flying Camps” of soldiers where needed.

Tryon County was split in 1779, so his command was switched to the new Lincoln County. Like many militia, Graham’s units struggled with supplies, he said: “We had no camp equipment. We had no munitions of war (except) by accident. We had no commissary. We, in general, had to find ourselves everything we had.” He was part of a force that arrived at Ramsour’s Mill just after that June 1780 battle against Tories. While monitoring the British in South Carolina, his militia fought in the Patriot victory at Wofford Iron Works in August, but were driven off by the advance of Maj. Patrick Ferguson’s corps into N.C.

A Revolutionary Home Invasion

Most of this story comes from a single source written decades later.[3] Believe details with caution!

Title page of "King's Mountain and Its Heroes," 1881
Source of the Graham’s Fort story

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 Ferguson’s “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.

Graham was in his home with his pregnant wife Susannah, their children, two of his men, and some number of civilian neighbors. It was a large, heavily built log cabin, perhaps with wooden siding.[4] Like some other homes on the frontier, it had 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.

Family Comes First

Photo of an old handwritten document
Order granting Graham’s pension (Credit: Graham 1832)

The next month, Graham helped chase Ferguson in the Overmountain Campaign that led to the Battle of King’s Mountain (S.C.). Shortly before the battle, Graham had to return home after getting word that his wife was sick. He did not want to go, but in those days doctors were few and far between, and he was granted leave. Despite that, some veterans held it against Graham, in part because the major who took over for him was killed in the battle.

After the war he returned home to farm, built a new house on the First Broad River, and held various political positions.[5] But the war, Graham said, took everything he had. “In fact when the Revolutionary War commenced, I was wealthy. I was stout. I had a firm constitution. I have lost all. I served my Country with my strength and my fortune.” At 91, he described himself as “old and Blind, not able to support myself.”[6]

He received a pension, but died two years later, ten years after wife Susannah. Susan lived until 1825, dying at 62; the brother she saved survived King’s Mountain but died at 55.[7]

More Information

[1] Barefoot 1998.

[2] Simpson 1972.

[3] Draper 1881.

[4] Siding (“weatherboarding”): Griffin 1977.

[5] Our Hertiage 1976.

[6] Graham 1832.

[7] Griffin.