The bumpy, dirt, Lillington Lane can only get you close to Alexander Lillington’s grave, which is out of sight on private property, past a gate where the lane turns right (at the coordinates 34.50, -77.80). Their home was nearby, but the exact location is unknown. If you visit, please respect the property owners’ rights by not trespassing beyond the gate, even if open.
Call Him Alexander
John Alexander Lillington—who preferred his middle name—was born to a planter and politician in the Brunswick Town area. Orphaned, he was raised by his uncle, but Lillington, too, became a planter and politician. He was also a justice of the peace, and a surveyor.
Lillington’s first combat was against the Spanish during their raid on Brunswick Town in 1748. He was the assistant quartermaster (supply officer) for Royal Gov. William Tryon in defeating the Regulators at the 1771 Battle of Alamance. But four years later he joined the rebellious Committee of Safety, and was elected to the Third Provincial Congress in Hillsborough.[a]
He gained fame leading units in the Patriot militia to victory at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. Later that year, Lillington was named a colonel in charge of one of North Carolina’s Continental Army regiments, and he marched to South Carolina with it in 1777. The regiment saw no major combat, and Alexander resigned his post before it was moved north to join Gen. George Washington’s army. Back home, he was elected to the state House of Commons.
By 1779 he was brigadier general in command of the multi-county Wilmington District. He was sent to aid in the defense of Charleston, with 1,248 men camped just outside town. They spent much of their time building fortifications. Fortunately for him, the terms of enlistment for his men ended before it fell to the British in May 1780. So he escaped becoming a prisoner of war, as happened to most NC troops there.
Lillington remained in charge of the district till the end of the war. In that capacity he organized ongoing harassment of the British forces who occupied Wilmington for most of 1781, including two battles at Heron’s Bridge north of town.
His home, Lillington Hall, was not destroyed during British raids through the region. But he lost most of his possessions, and the Redcoats freed people he held in slavery. After the British left Wilmington, he reoccupied it, and returned to his life as a plantation owner. In 1783, with the war over, the commander of the Southern Continental army, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, returned to his Rhode Island home from Georgia by carriage. He visited here on Sunday, August 24.
Lillington and his wife Sarah raised four children, one of whom served in the regular Continental Army. He was buried in the family graveyard near his home after dying around age 60. The town of Lillington, the Harnett County Seat, is named for him, and he makes brief appearances as a character in the Outlander book and TV series.
Home and Final Resting Place
The site of Lillington Hall is unknown, but clues suggest it was within view of the modern gate where Lillington Lane takes a hard right, possibly just past the fence on the left (on private property). A magnolia tree old enough to have lived in Lillington’s time is visible to the right of the gate. Its trunk and lower branches seem to align to the tree on the right in the 1849 drawing above, which would place the house in that spot. There was a second nearby, as if they were planted as a decorative pair. Local residents have found bits of old pottery and glass in the driveway. And the original driveway must have been on or near the modern lane’s route, given that the area is surrounded by a creek on the north side and swamps to the south and east.
The family cemetery is off the driveway to the right about 400 yards beyond the gate, partly surrounded by what remains of a brick wall. A marker embedded in the front says “Lillington Cemetery.” Instead of a gate, there are brick steps on the back side that allowed visitors to step over the wall.
Lillington lies in a brick tomb engraved with:
Beneath this stone
lie the mortal remains of
John Alexander Lillington
a soldier of the Revolution who died in 1786. He commanded the
American forces at the battle of Moore’s Creek on the 27th
February 1776 and by his military
skill and cool courage in the field
at the head of his troops, secured
a complete and decisive victory.
To intellectual powers of a high order
he united an incorruptible integrity
and a devoted and self sacrificing
patriotism. A genuine Lover of Liberty
he perilled (sic) his all to secure the
Independence of his country,
and died in a good old age,
bequeathing to his posterity the
remembrance of his virtues.
The marker may exaggerate his role at Moore’s Creek. Though he was in charge of the first Whigs to arrive, he probably gave overall command to Col. Richard Caswell after Caswell arrived with a larger force. Regardless, the earthworks he had built were key to the overwhelming Patriot victory. His son John, who lies to the left of him, served under his father there, and apparently again the last three years of the war, rising to colonel in the state militia.
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) <http://archive.org/details/pictorialfieldbo02lossuoft> [accessed 25 November 2020]
Tryon, William, ‘Order Book for William Tryon’s Regiment in the Military Campaign Against the Regulators, Volume 08, Pages 659-676’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, 1771 <https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr08-0260> [accessed 8 September 2021]
Type: Hidden History County: Randolph Coordinates: 35.84, -79.8514
Martha Bell’s grave at the coordinates is surrounded by a privately owned farm field and can only be reached between fall harvest and spring planting. The remains of Bell’s Mill existed into the 21st Century, on Muddy Creek where it entered the Deep River. But it was flooded when the river was dammed to create Randleman Lake. Thus we consider the sites mostly “hidden.”
The cemetery is owned by a church, and can be driven to in winter, though getting to the grave requires walking over uneven and possibly muddy ground. Please respect the farm owners’ rights by not entering the field between plowing and harvest.
A Successful Businesswoman
Unless otherwise footnoted, information in this section comes from a single source, a biography written by a direct descendant of Martha Bell based on good documentation..
Martha MacFarlane was born in Virginia in 1735, and married North Carolina land speculator John McGee at 24. McGee also owned a store, a mill, and an ordinary (food-serving tavern) near modern Julian, N.C., on the Great Trading Path from Petersburg, Va.
McGee was one of the sheriffs on the wrong side of the pre-Revolutionary protesters known as the “Regulators.” He may have used his position to pressure small landowners to take loans from him when they were unable to pay the taxes he was supposed to collect. When McGee died in 1773, 560 people owed him money, and he left an estate worth £7,769 ($1.2 million today). Martha had him buried in a cornfield, against his wishes, probably to prevent his grave from being desecrated.
She ran the business for six years on her own, a “Gen. Gray” who knew Bell 10 years after the Revolution wrote Caruthers. When she needed more goods, having “‘incidentally learned from (McGee), during his life time, the names of all his lodging places on the road,’” she made supply runs to Petersburg. One time she got caught in a snowstorm on the way back, “‘but, having learned… that the largest and heaviest limbs of the pine tree are always on the south side, she took that for her guide; and without going much out of her way, she arrived at her… place of lodging.’”[a]
Martha likely met William Bell through business. She was 44 when she married him in 1779. Nothing is known of Bell’s early life. When they married, he owned 4,000 acres of land and the mill on the east side of the creek, which was 4,500 square feet and 15-feet tall. Before being flooded by Randleman Lake, part of the remaining foundation wall was still three feet thick! Bell was also a commissary officer, providing supplies for Patriot (or “Whig”) forces. State “militia” soldiers were posted at the mill to guard it and escort supply trains for much of the war.
Martha also worked as a midwife, traveling alone on increasingly dangerous roads “well armed with dirk and pistols” when called. “‘She had a tender feeling for the sick and afflicted, administered to their wants, and, by her medical skill and attention, relieved many without fee or reward,’” Gray wrote. Accosted once by an infamous Loyalist (“Tory”), she took him prisoner and marched him home, though he escaped later.
The Bells found themselves in a new county, Randolph, the year they were married. Bell was named one of the first magistrates, a combination judge and county commissioner, and sheriff. The Bell home, on a hill across the creek from the mill, served as the second courthouse for the county.
Just prior to the British invasion of North Carolina now called the “Race to the Dan,” a Whig colonel wrote the southern Continental commander Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene that 4,000 pounds of salted beef, plus large amounts of flour and horse feed, were stored at the mill. During the Race, Greene’s main army picked up these supplies on its way from South Carolina, as it headed to Guilford Court House (in modern Greensboro) to meet up with the rest of the army and Greene himself.
Most modern sources refer to a single 1850s source that provides most of the information and the quotes on this page. Rev. Eli Caruthers interviewed multiple witnesses, read available documents, and did not appear to make up stories like some of his contemporaries. Modern historians have been able to corroborate basic facts about Bell from other original documents. Still, believe details with caution!
The British stopped at the mill weeks later while hunting the Continentals, after Greene had crossed the Dan River to Virginia and then returned to N.C. Finding no provisions, they moved on the next day. But their visit exposed the man who ran the mill for the Bells as a secret Loyalist, because he welcomed the British. Martha fired him.
William made himself scarce to avoid capture. Three children, from 13 to 20, were living at home, along with some number of enslaved people. Cornwallis told Martha he was going to use the mill to grind grain for the troops and would occupy her house. She asked if he was going to burn them. Cornwallis said no, and asked why she had asked. Bell supposedly replied that if he “‘intended to burn our mill, I had intended to save you the trouble by burning it myself before you derived much benefit from it…’”
She told several neighbors afterward that Cornwallis first claimed he had wiped out the Continental army. But he kept opening the back door that looked onto the road to Cross Creek (now Fayetteville). When she asked why, he admitted, “‘Well, madam, to tell you the truth, I never saw such fighting since God made me, and another such victory would annihilate me.’”
During the encampment:
A British officer insulted her while passing the house to water his horse. She yelled back that she hoped it threw him and broke his neck. Because he was riding recklessly, a few minutes later it did! As viewed in 2001 before the lake covered it, the hillside from the house to the creek featured a sharp drop leading to a roughly 40-degree slope with large rocks, evidence this story could be true.
Bell hid her money under a large rock that served as the bottom step to her door when the army first approached, thinking the camp would be further off, and the soldiers wouldn’t look there. When they camped at the mill instead, she wandered the area one day, asking generic questions and inspecting tents, until the soldiers became disinterested in her. On the way back inside, she safely grabbed her money.
When Cornwallis was absent, some soldiers came into the house demanding the cider she kept in the basement. She stood her ground and made them leave.
A family tradition claims Cornwallis and his officers planned their retreat with maps spread on the dining table, so Martha was able to learn their plans and pass those to Patriots.
After two days the army marched east toward Dixon’s Mill at Snow Camp, taking with it all of the Bells’ grain, bacon, cattle, and other provisions—but not her cider! Continental Lt. Col. Henry Lee showed up shortly afterward. Whether he asked her to do this, or she volunteered, is unknown, but Bell mounted up and went to the new British camp. She complained to Cornwallis about damage she only learned about after they left. In fact, she was spying, and returned to Lee with what she had learned.
Sparring with Tories
Sometime later a Whig scout approached her, saying he had heard of a Tory militia force forming nearby. Bell went with him to try to find it. In the guise of a midwife afraid of being attacked, she asked questions of everyone they met as to the Tories’ whereabouts until the pair succeeded. They had ridden 30 miles when they got back. The scout informed Lee, who broke up the encampment.
At some point when her Patriot father was visiting, two Loyalists broke in intending to kill him. Her pistols were not handy, so she grabbed an axe and held it over her head. Caruthers reports that she said, “‘If one of you touches him, I’ll split you down with this axe.’” They wisely backed off.
That autumn, Loyalists learned William was back home from a trip north. They approached the house, wounded him when he stuck his head out the window to investigate, and prepared to burn the place. Martha yelled outside to their enslaved servant, Pete: “‘Run as hard as you can to Jo Clarke’s and tell him and the light-horse to come as quickly as possible, for the Tories are here.’” Clarke was a cavalry militia officer who lived a mile away. Again the Tories decided to leave.
Finally, infamous Tory Col. David Fanning showed up at the house with 25 mounted men in home-made uniforms the night he had murdered Patriot Col. Andrew Balfour near today’s Asheboro. By this time, eight to 10 Patriots from the area regularly stayed at the house for Martha’s protection when William was in hiding. She called to them—loudly enough to be heard outside—to open the windows, but not to fire until they had a sure aim on someone. Even David Fanning thought better of challenging Martha Bell, and he moved on.
After the war, William returned to the family business and was elected to the state legislature. Marth died peacefully at 85, in 1820. When William died four years later, his will kept a promise to a friend, Thomas Lytle. Lytle left legal rights to his enslaved people to Bell, asking Bell to free them and give them Lytle’s land. In his will, Bell did so and appointed trustees to ensure the people got the property. However, Bell only freed one of his own slaves, Susannah, who was old. He did provide for her care. Bell lies by Martha, his grave unmarked.
Associated Press, ‘DAR Office Questions Martha Bell Heroics’, The Courier-Tribune (Asheboro, N.C., 3 April 1997)
Type: Stop Tour: Race to the Dan County: Davidson/Rowan
The Trading Ford is surrounded by private or railroad property, preventing direct access to it and the sites of events described on this page. Otherwise this would be one of our more detailed “Sight” pages, given the importance of what happened here.
A decent though distant view of the island in the middle of the ford is available from the paved pedestrian path over the US 29/70 bridge. The coordinates take you to a parking area of the adjacent Yadkin River Park.
Walk onto the bridge and down to the second covered bench. Look to your left at the island on the far side of the I-85 bridge.
What earlier was called “Island Ford,” for obvious reasons, was a relatively shallow part of the Yadkin River on either side of the island you see. The ford was part of a major Native American “Trading Path,” and artifacts indicate people lived here 10,000 years ago. Later wagon roads were built to it from Salisbury toward points east and north.
A Spanish exploration from a colony at modern Parris Island, S.C., led by Capt. Juan Pardo, built Fort Santiago downriver from the island with the help of Guatari Native Americans in early 1568. This was 17 years before the first English settlement in N.C., on Roanoke Island. The Spaniards were soon driven out or killed, and the site is underwater now.
Like the Spaniards, Englishman John Lawson walked here from the coast in 1701. He was making an exploration of the Carolina colony, mostly on foot, in an arc from Charleston to Washington, N.C. He had followed the Trading Path along the route now covered by US 29/70 further south, and arrived on Wednesday, January 29. He stayed with Sapona in their village on the north (left) bank on the far side of the island, for several days. He wrote, “This most pleasant River may be something broader than the Thames at Kingston, keeping a continual pleasant warbling Noise, with its reverberating on the bright Marble Rocks… One side of the River is hemm’d in with mountainy Ground, the other side proving as rich a Soil to the Eye of a knowing Person with us, as any this Western World can afford.”
He notes that the Sapona “king” was holding five prisoners for an unpleasant fate: “The Fire of Pitch-Pine being got ready, and a Feast appointed… the Sufferer has his Body stuck thick with Light-Wood-Splinters, which are lighted like so many Candles, the tortur’d Person dancing round a great Fire, till his Strength fails, and disables him…”
In early 1781, Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan’s Continental Army corps had defeated a British wing at the Battle of Cowpens (S.C.), capturing hundreds of prisoners it was now marching north. A British army under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis was racing to trap Morgan against this river. The Americans had camped at Salisbury and then moved out to try to cross the Trading Ford ahead of Cornwallis’ arrival. This was part of the campaign later named the “Race to the Dan.”
The prior autumn, Continental commander Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene had ordered Gen. Edward Stevens of the Virginia militia “‘to explore carefully the (Yadkin) river, the Depth of the Water, the Current, & the Rocks, & every other Obstruction that will impede the Business of Transportation…'” That foresight paid off this night, Saturday, February 3. The river was high and the current strong after days of rain that plagued both armies. But the Patriots were ready. From here you might have caught glimpses of small boats crossing back and forth across the river by the far end of the island—rowboats, flat-bottomed “bateaux,” even canoes. It’s unclear where these boats came from. Morgan’s commander, Greene, had discussed the possibility of carrying some on wagons. Some sources believe Morgan had done that , and that Greene arranged for others to be gathered while still in his main army camp in S.C. days before. If so, he helped himself personally, because Greene was here that night!
The corps of around 800 part-time soldiers called “militia” and regular Continental troops, plus the prisoners, were hurrying in fear of the British cavalry. It took hours, but they succeeded, and the boats were tied up on the left side of the river. The Americans camped on the heights above.
The British had tried but failed to cut off Morgan at the crossroads that now is Mooresville, and then chased him through Salisbury. By dark they arrived roughly four miles east of Salisbury and 15 miles from the ford, the best over the Yadkin in this region. Cornwallis sent a portion forward to try to catch the Continentals, while the rest of his army set up camp.
Among the distant trees on the right side of the river, perhaps a half-mile past modern I-85, a large number of civilian refugees failed to make it. Around midnight, Brig. Gen. Charles O’Hara’s Redcoats arrived to find 100 Virginia militiamen and 50 cavalry apparently guarding refugee wagons stuck in river mud.
Instead, it was an ambush. Greene’s medical chief, Dr. William Read, wrote that after crossing and visiting the camp, he came back to the riverbank. (It’s unclear how soon afterward he wrote up these events, so believe quotations with caution.) Some officers were there watching the approach of the British “column after column” as the light faded. Morgan approached and said, “‘I have laid an ambuscade of 120 Virginia men for the British; we hope to do them some harm.”
According to Patriot militia Col. Joseph Graham, “The militia were drawn up near a half mile from the ford, where a branch crosses which was covered with small timber and bushes, and there was an old field along the road in their front… The American position was low along the branch, under shade of the timber; that of the advancing foe was open and on higher ground, and between them and the sky, was quite visible.” With the British “within sixty steps,” the Patriots opened fire, which the British returned.
As the firing broke out, Read quotes Morgan to say, “’There are my rifles; there the British pistol.’” Dogs added to the noise.
Graham says the Redcoats formed a line and extended to the right, until they began to turn back the militia on the end of the American line. After firing two or three rounds, the militia easily retreated into the night toward another ford. Looking across the river near this end of the island, however, Read saw a gunshot and the dark shape of a man falling off a horse.
Graham continues, “They passed down the river two miles and crossed over, abandoning the baggage and other wagons which could not be gotten over, to the enemy, after taking out the horses.” The British went on to the Trading Ford but “found the water was too deep to ford, and still rising, and that General Morgan, encamped on the other side, had with him all the boats and canoes.”
The British captured the wagons, adding to the refugees’ misery. The Redcoats lost 10–12 killed or wounded, but none were captured. Two of the militia were killed, an unknown number wounded, and 10 captured.
The next morning, Read, Morgan, and the officers were back at the riverbank trying to see what happened. Some of the Virginians, wet and fatigued, appeared on their side of the river walking in your direction from beyond the island. Read told them what he saw. A young soldier stepped forward to say he fired the shot. “‘I was pursued by a dragoon (while) running across that field; he overtook me, and I wheeled about and shot him; I think he fell. At the moment he gave my rifle a heavy cut,’” which he showed to Read.
Two men volunteered to check on the British. They rode their horses down the sharp bank on the left and across the near end of the island to the right side. On returning they said they saw the Redcoats burying the dead in large pits.
The rest of the British army arrived, now totaling 2,000 men. But Cornwallis realized he has been foiled not only by the Continentals, but by nature. The floodwaters made the ford completely impassable.
Greene Ignores Cannon Fire
Return to your car and:
Take the parking exit leading downhill, away from the highway, onto Trading Ford Way.
At the first intersection, Sowers Road, turn right. Note: There is no information there, but if you want to visit a monument about these events, go straight across. It is on the right after a short distance. Then come back and turn left.
At the frontage road, Wil-Cox Way, turn left.
Take the first right, NC 150 East, toward the highway.
Continue straight across the interchange, as the road becomes Seven Oaks Drive, and all the way to the no-trespassing signs near a barely visible railroad yard.
Park in the turnaround on the left.
Stay within the road, which is a public street up to this point, or the turnaround. You may get a visit from railroad security if you get too close to the no-trespassing signs!
Look at the distant, forested high ground the road appears to point to.
You are likely standing in or near Morgan’s campsite, looking at Gowrie’s Heights across the river. Right after arriving, Dr. Read walked into the camp to check on Morgan. He found him in his tent, “‘very sick, rheumatic from head to feet.’” He advised the general to leave camp for someplace warm and safe. Morgan supposedly replied, “’‘I do not know where that is to be found until I reach Virginia.’”
The British mounted cannons on the heights, and fired a few rounds. Read reports: “‘At a little distance from the river was a small cabin in which General Greene had taken up his quarters. At this the enemy directed their fire, and the balls rebounded from the rocks in the rear of it. But little of the roof was visible to the enemy. The General was preparing his orders for the army and his dispatches to the Congress. In a short time the balls began to strike the roof, and the clapboards were flying in all directions. But the General’s pen never stopped, only when a new visitor arrived, or some officer for orders; and then the answer was given with calmness and precision, and Greene resumed his pen.” Meanwhile, another source says, Catawbas with the Patriots took potshots at the British.
The 1871 book in which the Read quote appears adds that Greene’s “cabin stood about two hundred yards east of Holtsburg depot, and a rod or two to the north of the county road, at the foot of the hill.” The road you are on led to the depot, located where the tracks still run today. So the cabin was the distance of two American football fields to the left along this side of the tracks, under the lip of the terrace ahead of you (probably at a railroad equipment parking area visible on satellite maps).
The next day the Continentals moved off to a safer location south of modern Winston-Salem. Cornwallis reluctantly withdrew his forces to Salisbury to await the river’s drop. But the day after that, he gave up and marched roughly 30 miles upriver to cross at Shallow Ford near modern Huntsville.
Barefoot, Daniel, Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1998)
Graham, William A. (William Alexander), General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards & Broughton, 1904) <http://archive.org/details/cu31924032738233> [accessed 27 March 2020]
Greene, George Washington, The Life of Nathanael Greene: Major-General in the Army of the Revolution (G. P. Putnam and Son, 1871)
Rumple, Jethro, A History of Rowan County, North Carolina (Salisbury, N.C. : Republished by the Elizabeth Maxwell Steele Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1916) <http://archive.org/details/historyofrowanco00rump> [accessed 5 February 2020]
The coordinates put you in the parking lot for the David Caldwell Historic Park, whose Visitor Center is closed indefinitely as of January 2021. However, you can visit the park year-round during the daytime (see their website for hours). A sidewalk gets you to our stop.
The Rev. David Caldwell—educator, pastor, and an outspoken Patriot—has a bounty placed on his head by the British during the war.
Loyalists (“Tories”) regularly come looking for Caldwell at his home. In March 1781, the British army under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis camped at various places in the region while chasing the Continental army.
That March, the Continental army of Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene had returned from Virginia and was maneuvering northeast of modern-day Greensboro, preparing to lure the British into a decisive battle at Guilford Court House a few miles north.
Although various sources report similar facts, they all appear to come from a biography written by one of Caldwell’s students, Rev. E.W. Caruthers, in 1842. Unless otherwise noted, the information and quotes from this page are taken from that source. Though an earnest historian for his day, Caruthers mostly relies on second-hand reports gathered decades after these events. Believe with caution!
Saturday, March 11, 1781.
Imagine the Scene
The Log College
From the lot, walk to the paved trail into the park that parallels Cornwallis Drive closest to the lot entrance. Turn right, and stay to the right, passing the rock outline of a foundation on the left. According to the most recent archaeological studies here, those piles most likely mark the Caldwells’ second home built sometime between 1790 and 1800.
Continue down the sidewalk to the rock monuments on the left. Go to the second one, for David, which incorrectly states their home was north of here. Face the lawn to your right.
Building materials and household artifacts found in this immediate area in 2009 suggest a domestic structure is in front of you in 1781, possibly the first home of the Rev. David Caldwell and his wife, Rachel. If so, it is “a double cabin, or a log house, with a chimney in the middle, an outer door to each apartment, and a communication from one to the other.” The second floor houses his 1767 “Academy,” later called the “Log College.” The college “served as a boarding-room academy, a college, a theological seminary, and one of the few schools on the frontier anywhere.” Caldwell was also pastor of the Alamance and Buffalo Presbyterian churches, and a physician.
Around the house are several small log cabins the students live in. A “large brick oven” is steps from the house, and a smokehouse is nearby. The house sits within a fence, probably made of vertical planks close together, with a front gate. Caldwell owns the 275 acres surrounding you, including several farms.
Eight or nine enslaved people took care of the buildings and students during the war. After Caldwell’s horse was stolen by three men claiming it was for the army, he asked one of those men, the enslaved Tom, to steal it back that night. He did!
A War of Words
Look directly toward the parking lot. The closest tree across the lawn, where the grass gives way to dirt, was in the center of a colonial road running left to right. If this is the house location, the gate would be within your view near the modern lawn edge in 1781.
Caldwell is a well-known Patriot (“Whig”), not only because he is an outspoken advocate from his pulpits for independence, but he had served in the 1776 convention in Halifax that created North Carolina’s first state constitution. There was an additional incentive for militia and Redcoat scouts to seek out Rev. Caldwell. Cornwallis put a £200 bounty on his head, today worth around $37,000.
Caldwell built a shack on North Buffalo Creek two miles from here to use as a hideout whenever Tories came looking for him. The stream running through the modern Bicentennial Gardens to the south feeds into Buffalo Creek, so named because wild buffaloes still roamed the region when Europeans first arrived.
In Fall 1780 a rider shows up at the door seeking a rest stop, Caruthers reports. He is carrying letters from Gen. George Washington to the Continental commander in the South.[a] Rachel tells him she will feed him, but he should sleep elsewhere, because she is under constant harassment by Tories. Sure enough, the food is barely out before Loyalist militia (part-time soldiers) show up, apparently having heard of the stranger’s arrival. Rachel quickly ushers the courier out the back door and tells him to hide in a nearby thickly leaved, but thorny, locust tree, perhaps to your left or behind you. The Tories surround the house. Once they are done searching, he climbs down the far side of the trunk and escapes.
Contrary to some sources, the British army did not approach and leave the Battle of Guilford Court House on the nearby road, much less camp here before the battle. (See the Battle of New Garden for the actual route.) But detachments roamed the area foraging and seeking out Patriot leaders with Tory help.
Caruthers says a domestic servant is working in the yard on Saturday, March 11, 1781. (Likely enslaved, her name is lost to history.) The servant hears a commotion in the distance and stands on the fence to see the cause. Soon after, a group of militia soldiers arrive at the gate. They ask her to get the landlady, claiming to be Patriots seeking David’s medical help. (Militia on both sides wore everyday clothes, not uniforms.) What this band doesn’t know is what she had seen in the distance from the fence: the red coats of some regular British soldiers traveling with them! Either this party was Loyalist militiamen, or Redcoats in borrowed clothing. Rachel comes out to greet them, but the servant manages to warn her. The soldiers repeat their request. Rachel says she must check on a child, goes back in the house, and warns visiting Patriot neighbors. They escape out the back door while she goes back to the gate.
The soldiers announce they are taking over the house. (Given that the main army was miles away, this suggests the men were probably Tory militia, though it could have been a British detachment.) Over her protests, they invade the house and either order or allow her and her eight children to move to the smokehouse.
Caruthers picks up the story: They “there passed a day with no other food than a few dried peaches and apples, till a physician interposed, and procured for her a bed, some provisions, and a few cooking utensils. The family remained in the smoke house two days and nights—their distress being frequently insulted by profane and brutal language. To a young officer who came to the door for the purpose of taunting the helpless mother, by ridiculing her countrymen, whom he termed rebels and cowards, Mrs. Caldwell replied, ‘Wait and see what the Lord will do for us.’ ‘If he intends to do anything,’ pertly rejoined the military fop, ‘’tis time he had begun.’” When she asks a soldier for protection, she is told “she could expect no favors, for that the women were as great rebels as the men.
“After remaining two days, the army took their departure from the ravaged plantation, on which they had destroyed every thing; but before leaving Dr. Caldwell’s house, the officer in command gave orders that his library and papers should be burned. A fire was kindled in the large oven in the yard, and books which could not at that time be replaced, and valuable manuscripts which had cost the study and labor of years, were carried out by the soldiers, armful after armful, and ruthlessly committed to the flames. Not even the family Bible was spared, and the house, as well as plantation, was left pillaged and desolate.” Presumably the stolen goods were taken to Cornwallis’ army, now camped at Deep River Meeting House, a day’s march to the southwest.
Two days later, the Battle of Guilford Court House was fought a few miles directly north, easily heard from here. Rachel apparently spent the day in prayer with women of the Buffalo Creek congregation in one of their homes. After the battle, David helped tend to the wounded. There is a monument to him on the battlefield.
Months before and after the two main armies left the area, Loyalist and Whig militias fought a civil war within the Revolutionary War. Caldwell was a hunted man.
One time he sneaks back home, Caruthers says, only to have Tory militia surround the house again. He is dragged out to the yard and held under guard while the Loyalists steal whatever they can find of value inside. A neighbor woman, a Mrs. Dunlap, comes out, leans down to him, and loudly whispers a question to him, “asking if it was not time for Gillespie and his men to be here.” One of the guards overhears her, as she intended, and demands to know what she meant. Apparently Gillespie is one of the Patriot militia commanders known to be vicious to Tories, most likely Capt. Daniel Gillespie of the Guilford County Militia. Panic ensues, and the Tories flee, leaving behind Caldwell and their plundered goods!
Another time a Loyalist decides to take a fine tablecloth Rachel especially likes. She grabs it and enters into a tug-of-war with the man. When he begins to win she asks if there is no man who, having wives and daughters of his own, will stand up for her. One is shamed into doing so and makes the thief let go.
Tories show up at the door late another night. They tell Rachel they are Patriots and need to find her husband to treat wounded peers. Erring on the side of compassion, she tells them where his hideout is. Almost immediately after they leave, she realizes they tricked her. She spends the night in fear and prayer. Fortunately, the reverend was away from the hut when they arrived. In fact, he was never captured despite the many attempts.
David and Rachel were buried about a ten-minute drive from here. To pay your respects, read the “Historical Tidbits” section below before you leave, and then:
From the parking lot, turn right on Cornwallis Drive.
Walk to the left of the sanctuary. Go through the arched walkway to the back of the building, veering slightly left around the rear. Turn left and walk to the parallel lines of low bushes, which outline their plot.
Rachel is on the far left, and David is to her right. They probably lie at normal depths below “table markers” put up by a son, common memorials of the day built to look like tombs.
After the war, Caldwell also served in the Hillsborough convention to consider the new U.S. Constitution in 1788. He turned down an offer to be the first president of the University of North Carolina, but received the university’s first honorary degrees. He is credited with preaching a sermon at the post-Revolution courthouse in Greensboro that convinced Guilford County men to volunteer for the War of 1812. He continued preaching in the churches until age 95, and died at 99 in their second home likely marked by the rock outline at the Historic Park.
Rachel largely disappears from the historical record except as assisting David with the college and raising their nine children, three of whom may have had mental illnesses. At least three others died as infants. Rachel died at 81, less than a year after David.
David continued to teach at the Log College until 1816, and the college remained open until 1824, taking over the entire first Caldwell home after the second was built. Into the 1790s, David still had not been able to replace the library the British or Tories destroyed. Regardless, the academy graduated many ministers and other state leaders, including later Gov. John Motley Morehead. In a letter years later, Morehead described how Caldwell “made me recite, from four to six hours a day, parsing every difficult word, and scanning nearly every line, when the recitation happened to be in any of the Latin poets. Indeed you could not get along with him, with any comfort, without knowing accurately and thoroughly every thing you passed over.’” On a lighter note, a student told Caruthers that at some point, the school “‘had a goat that possessed a strong taste for books, and if ever a student, from thoughtlessness, left a book exposed, this goat was certain, if he came on it, to appropriate the whole, or part, to his own use.’”
Like many of the Founding Fathers, Caldwell apparently disliked slavery but did not free his slaves. By 1810 the Caldwells held sixteen people captive, working at the college or his farms. A contemporary Quaker described him as a “lenient” slaveholder, and Caldwell gave him permission to hold a Sunday school for teaching his and other slaves to read. The Caldwells owned 832 acres in 1815, after purchases of tracts to the west and south, and a small grain mill. In 1818, a neighbor established in woods behind the buildings a starting point for the “Underground Railroad,” actually a series of safe houses for people escaping slavery. Caldwell surely knew about his neighbor’s activity, and one report suggests he allowed his slaves to help runaways in the woods.
Baroody, John, Archaeological Investigations at the Site of David Caldwell’s Log College, 1980
Brown, Gary, Caldwell Home Location, Phone interview, 12/9/2020
Robinson, Kenneth, Archaeological Testing and Assessment, Proposed Interpretive Center, David Caldwell Historic Site, Greensboro, North Carolina (Greensboro, N.C.: Greensboro Beautiful, Inc., 2003)
Robinson, Kenneth, Archaeology at the David and Rachel Caldwell Site: A Colonial and Federal Period Farmstead In the North Carolina Piedmont Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina (Greensboro, N.C.: Greensboro Beautiful, Inc., 2009)
South, Stanley A., ‘Searching for Clues to History Through Historic Site Archaeology’, The North Carolina Historical Review, 43.2 (1966), 166–73
 South 1966, Robinson 2009. Baroody 1980 concluded this was the first home, but depended on a later date of construction for the second home than the other sources found—the average age of the artifacts he and Robinson found here dates them to the late 1790s. Also, the foundation underneath the modern layout of rocks does not match Caruthers’ description of the first home as apparently rectangular and having chimneys on each end (Baroody, Robinson) instead of in the middle as described further down in the text. Robinson (2009), repeatedly calls the foundation the second home, as South had concluded earlier.
 Caldwell 2006. This source gives an incorrect size for the room, based on the 1980 study mentioned in Footnote 1.
 From the corner of Rachel’s rock nearest the sidewalk, the centerline was 70 feet directly west, where that tree now stands (Robinson 2009). From David’s rock the center was 76 feet away west, so the north-south road was curving slightly southwest toward the modern Visitor Center.
 As illustrated on many of these pages, a few militia leaders on both sides were known for their excessive violence. This story could refer to one of two other militia captains named Gillespie, both promoted later (Lewis, J. D., ‘The Patriots and Their Forces’, The American Revolution in North Carolina <https://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_patriot_troops_nc.html> [accessed 23 November 2020]).
[a] Caruthers identifies this as Greene in South Carolina. Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates was in command until early December, and the army was in North Carolina that autumn until literally the last day. Given that locust trees drop their leaves in the fall, this event had to happen when Gates was in command and the army still in N.C., assuming Caruthers is right about the year. The next fall, Greene was in South Carolina.
Saturday, October 19, 1765–Sunday, November 18, 1781.
Imagine the Scene
Go to and look into the intersection of Market Street and Front Street.
Rebellion: Before and during the war, the county courthouse is in the middle of this intersection. It is probably a log building, raised above head height on brick pillars. A farmers’ market is underneath. Above it is a simple tower with a bell.
Early resistance to British policies occurred here, according to the North Carolina Gazette newspaper of November 20, 1765:
Around 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 19, almost 500 people—a large percentage of the population—gather here. They hang an effigy of a failed former prime minister, Lord Bute, who remains a hated advisor to King George III and supports the Stamp Act, a tax on paper goods. They then burn the effigy in tar barrels. Next they go to all the homes and force the men not already with them to come out and drink to “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, AND NO STAMP TAX,” followed by “three huzzas” after each. They disperse around midnight.
The royal tax collector in North Carolina, William Houston, shows up in town on November 16 on personal business. Like all Sundays it is a market day, and a crowd of 300–400 gathers. Drums beat, flags wave, the bell is rung, and Houston is brought here to the courthouse. The crowd demands to know if Houston is going to enforce the Stamp Act. His slippery answer would make modern politicians proud. He says he “‘should be very sorry to execute any Office disagreeable to the People of the Province.’” They take him inside, where he resigns his office. His exit is more pleasant. The crowd carries him to each corner here in an armchair, giving him three huzzas at each, then further around town, and finally to his lodging.
Thus it is fitting that protesters from across the region meet in the courthouse nine years later, on Thursday, July 21, 1774, in the first attempt to organize resistance in N.C. to a new set of British laws. Called the “Coercive” or “Intolerable” acts, these are meant to punish Boston for the Boston Tea Party and other protests. The delegates decide to send a letter to other counties, calling for representatives to a convention that would elect delegates to the First Continental Congress. They proclaim “the cause of the Town of Boston as the common cause of British America and as suffering in defence of the Rights of the Colonies in general.” In November, local leaders meet at the courthouse as the “Wilmington Committee of Safety” for the first time, to coordinate area responses to Parliament.
A year later an open declaration of resistance is written or copied inside—details are fuzzy, including why this happened in Wilmington! On Tuesday, June 20, 1775, a small group from the Cross Creek area (now Fayetteville) create a document here later called the “Liberty Point Resolves.” The men pledge to defend their rights against “every foe” and support the Continental and Provincial congresses, the latter being the new rebel legislature. Eventually 55 property owners sign the Resolves in Cross Creek.
Most likely at the courthouse the next month, the committee of safety, now in effect the Patriot replacement for the local royal government, takes an action against liberty. It orders that all Africans and African-Americans, free or enslaved, be disarmed, and creates patrols to enforce the order. Slaveholders were terrified of slave rebellions.
The committee also takes harsh steps to enforce support for the growing cause of revolution. A Scottish visitor in 1775, Janet Schaw, reports that the committee’s supporters threaten “‘if you refuse, we are directly to cut up your corn, shoot your pigs, burn your houses, seize your (slaves) and perhaps tar and feather yourself.’”
She provides a vivid description of Wilmington at the time: “The people in town live decently, and tho’ their houses are not spacious, they are in general very commodious and well furnished… This town lies low, but is not disagreeable. There is at each end of it an ascent, which is dignified with the title of the hills; on them are some very good houses and there almost all my acquaintances are.” Still, it wasn’t her hometown of Edinburgh. She describes going to a ball “dressed out in all my British airs with a high head and a hoop (skirt) and trudging thro’ the unpaved streets in embroidered shoes by the light of a (lantern) carried by” an enslaved woman in rags.
Drama by the River
Walk toward the river on either side of Market to the near side of Water Street, the last road before the river. From that corner, look into Market.
At the time, the river bank started here. You are standing on a narrow dock extending along this side of today’s Market and into the river. Another narrow dock extends from the middle, and a third is on the far side, creating two slips of water. These are used for smaller boats; a larger single slip is in modern Dock Street (a block to the left when facing the river). Larger ocean-going ships, all sailing ships in the 1700s, cannot maneuver into the river due to the winds and a shoal above Brunswick Town. So large rowboats are often used to ferry goods to and from them. Perhaps one is near you, unloading goods into warehouses lining the dock and street behind you, while logs and barrels of tar are being loaded into the other for shipment. At the start of the war, Wilmington was one of the leading exporters in the world for these shipbuilding materials, and the British Navy was dependent on it prior to the Revolution.
However, the slips may well be empty instead. The British navy, and quasi-legal pirates called “privateers” supporting them, partially blockaded the Cape Fear starting in 1777.
Cross Water to the fence at the river overlook. During the war, you would be in the river. Look left (downriver).
Warships: Imagine you are shivering in a small boat on the river on Sunday, January 28, 1776. Wilmington is in an uproar, having learned two small British warships are approaching the town from the ocean, after a brief attempt to retake Ft. Johnston at the mouth of the river (today’s Southport). “Martial law was in effect, and all those who refused to take an oath to support the patriot cause were forced to work on the fortifications. Twenty professed Loyalists were taken into custody. Guns were mounted on the parapets; fire rafts were prepared; stores removed; and the women and children were sent to safety outside the town.”
Royal Gov. Josiah Martin, forced to flee New Bern the previous summer, is aboard one of the ships, the HMS Cruizer. He has been living on it ever since. Now he is trying to get past Wilmington to Cross Creek, where a Loyalist army of volunteers is forming. On your side of the river, though, are formidable breastworks—ridges of dirt—with cannons facing downriver, manned by Patriot militia (part-time soldiers). The ships draw off and try to go around Eagle Island, which you can see directly across the river. The Brunswick River runs along its far side and feeds into the main channel of the Cape Fear, so they would have come out upriver of the island.
The water is too shallow, though, so the ships reappear later in the day. In the far distance, out of range of the Patriot (or “Whig”) artillery, you see rowboats being lowered over the sides and British troops getting into them to raid the town. Patriot militia begin shooting at them from both sides of the river, so the exposed British give up. The troops and boats go back onboard, and the ships retire.
Walk up Water Street (to the right when facing the river). Stop at the broad steps on the right at the back of the federal courthouse, and go up them if you wish. Look across the river at the U.S.S. Wilmington. It rests in the continuation of the Cape Fear River. The water to your right is the North Cape Fear River. The land between the two, on the other side of the Cape Fear from the battleship, now is called Point Peter, for Peter Mallet, who owned it in the 1700s.
The point had pens for holding enslaved people before and after sales in Wilmington, if bound for elsewhere, according to the National Park Service. Separation from enslaved and free blacks in Wilmington reduced the chances of people escaping, as did the tragic practice of holding newly separated family members in different places. During the Revoution the area was called Negro Head Point, because the head of an executed man was supposedly displayed there as a warning to other slaves, but there is no evidence for that story.[i]
In March 1781, some of Maj. Craig’s troops massacred eight patriots at Rouse’s Tavern eight miles northeast of town, in today’s Ogden. A related story comes entirely from the son of a Revolutionary War soldier who collected memories from veterans years later. The star of the story, later a well-known politician, never wrote about it, nor are these events mentioned in British records. However, the author said he knew the son in the story well in later years, and the third man is identified in unrelated records. Still, believe with caution!
Craig: According to this story, Patriot militia leader Lt. Col. Thomas Bloodworth wanted revenge for the massacre, especially since one of those killed was a friend. One day while fox hunting, Bloodworth discovered a huge, hollow cypress tree on Point Peter. A gunsmith, Bloodworth made a long-range rifle and practiced shooting at a human figure drawn on his barn from the distance between here and the point. In July he canoed to the Point with his son Timothy and an employee, Jim Paget, with provisions and his rifle. They built a platform inside the tree and bored holes with a hand-drill for air and for shooting.
On Wednesday morning, July 4th, 1781, some British soldiers are gathered at “‘Nelson’s liquor store'” here or nearby. Suddenly one of the soldiers falls backward, followed by the sound of the gunshot. He is dragged into the store as a second soldier is dropped, followed again by the gun’s report. No doubt they scatter, but yet another man is hit.
A former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces who became a Revolutionary War re-enactor comments, “This would have been a tough shot, but not an impossible one. In today’s army every soldier must be able to hit a target at 400 yards with (normal) sights. With the weapons of the 18th Century it could be done.”[ii]
Boats are launched to scour the opposite river bank. None go as far as Point Peter, since a shot from that distance seems impossible. Around noon the next day, the shooting starts again. One cavalryman rides to the Market Street dock to water his horse and is knocked off of it.
This supposedly goes on for almost a week. Then a Tory visitor tells the British that Bloodworth is missing, that he saw him going somewhere with a big gun, and that the point was his likely destination. A unit is sent there and finds the empty tree, but too late in the day to cut it down. Bloodworth’s group is hiding. As the British camp overnight, the Patriots capture and tie up a Redcoat guard near their canoe and escape.
Prisons and Patriots
Walk back to the near side of Market, turn left, and go up past Front to Second Street.
Cornwallis/Craig: Where a parking lot now lies across Market Street, a rectangular wooden building you see from one end is used as an army hospital during the British occupation. Among its patients would have been some of the wounded from Guilford Court House. Those too weak to walk were floated across the Cape Fear by boat over the two days before the main army’s arrival, described below.
Cross Second and stop on the corner by the bank.
Craig: Here or perhaps a little farther along 2nd stands a place of misery during Craig’s time. In a low spot in the ground now covered by the modern bank building was a corral of sorts, a high fence of rails with no roof. Called the “Bull Pen,” Craig keeps captured Patriots here, exposed to the sun and rain.
Perhaps you see, through the slats, John Ashe huddled in a corner, shivering and covered in sores. Ashe had been a member of the Provincial Assembly, the colonial legislature, but became a leader of the Stamp Act protests in the 1760s. A Patriot officer at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, which ended Gov. Martin’s hopes of reclaiming the colony in 1776, he was appointed a brigadier general in the state militia later that year. When the British arrived, he went into hiding, but was betrayed and imprisoned here. During a long stay he got smallpox. Finally released due to the illness, he died on the way to his family in Hillsborough.
Another victim of the Bull Pen was political leader Cornelius Harnett, described below at his grave.
Continue another block until you are across from the Burgwin-Wright House at Third Street, and look further up Market.
Rebellion: During the war, you just walked the entire width of Wilmington proper, though homes are scattered throughout a larger area. The town only goes one more block to the left (to Chestnut Street) and two to the right where Orange is today, though there is no street there yet!
Around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 1775, a rider gallops into town from ahead of you, down the dirt road from New Bern that becomes Market Street at this intersection. He likely continues down to the courthouse. He announces that American militia fired on British troops in Lexington and Concord, Mass., on April 19. It has taken exactly two weeks for the news to get here, by horseback, of the first military action of the American Revolution.
Look left up 3rd Street.
Cornwallis: Cornwallis’ army arrives here from Guilford Court House over two days starting Wednesday, April 11, 1781. The army marches in along 3rd Street and eventually into the encampment past modern Orange Street. There his 1,700 men including 225 N.C. Loyalists, plus camp followers and people escaping slavery, crowd into Craig’s fortifications. A letter Cornwallis writes three days later, to his commander Sir Henry Clinton in New York City, both explains his decision and describes the men you see: “‘With a third of my Army Sick & Wounded which I was obliged to carry in Waggons (sic) or on horseback, the remainder without shoes & worn down with fatigue, I thought it was time to look for some place of rest & refreshment.’”
With them are “Hessian” mercenaries who fought alongside the Redcoats at Guilford. “A German soldier in the Von Bose Regiment recalled that they received double rations of rum each day and plenty of provisions of meat and ship’s bread (also called “hardtack,” long-lasting and cracker-like). Shoes, shirts, and breeches were replaced, welcome changes for the men in worn out clothing.”
Meanwhile, Cornwallis writes an officer friend, “Now, my dear friend, what is our plan?” As his army heals, he debates at least eight different options, according to his letters.[a] Eventually he decides—against late-arriving orders from Clinton—to move to Virginia. He hopes to join up with another British army there. Just two weeks after arriving here, they pack up camp, drums roll, columns form, and Cornwallis’ army marches back out 3rd Street to its eventual surrender at Yorktown.
The impact of his North Carolina campaign on that army shows in his “returns,” or troop counts. He entered the state in January with 3,224. He leaves three months later with half that number—1,723. Craig’s force remains behind, to keep the port open for supplies.
Cross Market to the Burgwin-Wright House.
Cornwallis: This home was built in 1770, atop the former county jail, for John Burgwin, the Royal Treasurer of the colony of North Carolina. This was intended only to be a showcase and guest home; he continued to live at his plantation “The Hermitage” in today’s Castle Hayne north of town, and use an older home near here as his “townhouse.”
An English immigrant at 19, Burgwin became a merchant and planter. He married into money, but his wife died before the war. Having served as the private secretary to previous royal governors, and also the register of deeds as war broke out, Burgwin was the highest-ranking British official in town. So he was probably a Loyalist.
A game of Blind Man’s Bluff turned out badly when Burgwin fell and broke his leg. He must have decided this was a good excuse to get out of town—all the way to England, supposedly for treatment. Burgwin returned to N.C. a couple of times during the war, however. He rented out this home at the start of the war to the Wrights, who would later buy it. Among his other “properties” were as many as 200 forced laborers, including at least 10 enslaved at this house.
Cornwallis is entertained here at least one night: A local writes of seeing him come down the wooden front steps after a party. The host is unknown, as records do not indicate whether any of the Wrights were here at the time, or whether officers were housed here. Also unclear is where his headquarters were, though it was not here, contrary to a nearby monument. Other intriguing stories told about the house are also sadly untrue.
Despite never openly declaring himself a Tory, Burgwin sought and received a pardon under the terms of the Treaty of Paris that ended the war, and returned with his English wife and children. They lived at his plantation and sold the house here, confiscated by the state like many Loyalist properties, after 10 years of petitioning to get it back.
You can learn more of the home’s fascinating history, and stand where Cornwallis did, by touring the house.
Cross Third Street, and continue up Market to the church graveyard at the corner with Fourth Street.
Rebellion: Like a ghost, you just walked through the wall of the original St. James Church! It ran from partly up the block to the far corner, and jutted out slightly into Market Street. The church’s design proved too big for the lot that was donated, so the legislature agreed to let the grounds extend 30 feet into the street.[iii]
The Gazette issue quoted earlier tells of a bit of political theater in the older part of the cemetery up Fourth Street, during the 1765 Stamp Act protests. Another large group “‘produced an Effigy of LIBERTY, which they put into a Coffin, and marched in solemn procession with it to the Church-Yard…’” Acting as if to bury it, “‘they thought it advisable to check its pulse…’” Then they gave it a place of honor in an armchair before a bonfire amid “‘great Rejoicings, on finding that LIBERTY had still an Existence in the Colonies.’”
Warships/Cornwallis: Some sources suggest earthworks were brought right up to the church by the Patriots in 1776. This seems possible given that at the time, it was part of the official Church of England, and the colonial pastor had resigned that year. Local traditions that the British desecrated it come from an 1843 church publication that doesn’t cite its sources. It claims, “The inclosure (sic) of the graveyard was removed and burnt, while the church itself was stripped of its pews and other furniture and converted, first into a hospital for the sick, then into a Block-house for defence against the Americans, and finally into a riding school for the Dragoons of Tarleton.”Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton was Cornwallis’ cavalry commander.
Look at the sidewalk behind the fence, running from the church building on the right and turning right behind that.
Just past the sidewalk corner is the grave of Cornelius Harnett, an area merchant. Harnett was perhaps the key political leader of the American Revolution in North Carolina. A long-time member of the colonial and then state legislatures, he led area protests against the actions of Parliament. These included an armed march on Royal Gov. William Tryon’s home in Brunswick Town in 1766, and the burning of Fort Johnston 10 years later. He presided over the creation of the Halifax Resolves that declared N.C. independent, and was the first person to read the U.S. Declaration of Independence to the general public in the state.
Harnett was captured by Craig’s troops and supposedly carried to the Bull Pen across a horse like a sack of flour. He died from illness contracted there at age 58. His epitaph, which he wrote on his deathbed, suggests he was a Deist rather than a follower of formal religion: “Slave to no sect, he took no private road/ But looked through nature up to nature’s God.” Harnett County is named for him, and Harnett Street in Raleigh. Read more about him.
Fortifications on the Hill
Go back to Third Street and turn left. As you pass the back of the Burgwin-Wright complex, notice the next home on that side, the Boatwright House, at 14 S. Third Street. Built in the 1760s, it thus was here during the war.
Walk two blocks to Orange Street.
Warships: In 1776, you would have been near, or standing on top of, an earth breastwork built by Patriot militia. Others are two blocks past the other side of Market (today’s Chestnut, not a road then), along the river, and on the heights north and south of town, as far south as modern Greenfield Park.
Craig: These are no barrier to Craig’s army of 300 regular British troops, mostly Scottish Lowlanders, as they arrive on Monday, January 29, 1781. They had sailed partway up the river from Charleston, landed at the Ellis Plantation about nine miles south, and marched the rest of the way using a road along the river. They are unopposed as they enter town, probably at Front Street; the local militia had only about 50 men under arms, so all have wisely left town.
Craig’s troops establish a fortified camp on the hilltop in front of you, then mostly empty with no streets. Over time, troops and escaped slaves from around the area build up a breastwork around the hill. According to an unsigned 1781 map of the camp, this is reinforced with large, sharpened wooden stakes called “abattis” jutting outward the entire length, in some cases two rows of them. The nearest section might be just on the other side of Orange, almost parallel to the street, though slowly angling into and across it to your left. The abatis point toward you. They probably turn right around today’s 5th Street, run less than a block south, and then cut back to the river in a rough diagonal along the hilltop. (See the map toward the bottom of the page.)
The soldiers camp, or perhaps build barracks, within the earthworks. Many officers in Craig’s and Cornwallis’ armies are hosted in private homes all around town. In some cases this was easy because the pro-Revolution owners had fled. Also, some percentage of the population were Tories who had lived in uneasy peace with rebels and neutrals. Realizing supplies are scarce, Craig soon orders Patriot women and children out of town.
Still, by summer, a resident reports prices have gone up by 300%. At one point the town is down to a two-week supply of flour, and the British do not have enough food for its prisoners. Craig admits residents are suffering.[b]
Turn left and walk about halfway up the block along Orange Street. Be careful—don’t prick yourself on abattis as you climb over the breastwork!
Look across Orange into the church parking lot.
Possibly directly in front of you, at the highest point of the modern parking lot, is a raised platform with a few cannons taken from a ship, manned by sailors. Shaped like part of a circle, the arc is on this side so the cannons can spread their fire. The 1781 map shows there also are two triangular “sailor’s batteries” elsewhere along the earthworks plus four square “redoubts,” very small forts.
Craig is known to have two brass “three-pounders” (referring to the weight of ball they normally fire) and two iron six-pounders in addition to the naval cannons; some or all may be on the redoubts.
If you want to tour the camp, a 14-block walk, skip to the “Fortification Tour” section below. You will end up at the Field Headquarters described next.
The Occupation Ends
If you aren’t touring the fortifications, go back to 3rd Street and turn left. Walk one block to Ann Street, and turn right. Walk two blocks to the corner with Front Street.
The best candidate for the location of Craig’s headquarters is in today’s Front Street, more than halfway up the block to your left. It could be a building shown on a 1769 map of Wilmington, or it may be a large round tent called a “marquee” with a small stockade around it. (The 1781 map shows a half-circle within a rectangle, but no physical description remains.) Regardless, this vicinity puts the headquarters roughly halfway between the British-occupied buildings in town and the back of the camp (see camp map below). Cornwallis could have used it as well.
The breastwork with abatis may cross Ann Street about halfway up the block from Front. It then is thought to take a hard right in Front below the headquarters, and line the top of the river bank back in this direction. (At the time, the sharp drop on the right continued up to the left.) Another redoubt is probably where now there is a multistory building down and across Front Street. The breastwork angles away from it along Front, leaving a gap. This might be used to create a protected entrance to the camp from town.
Turn right and walk one block to Orange Street. Look at the building on your right.
On the corner stands the 1740s Mitchell-Anderson House, much changed since the war. At that time it is owned by merchant Robert Hogg, part-owner of the largest salt importing business in the state. Though there were some salt works and mines in the American colonies, the majority of this vital commodity had to be shipped in. The British blockade no doubt hurt business, so the state supported new salt works like those in Beaufort.
Continue along Front Street.
Rebellion: Somewhere along the right side of this block, barracks were constructed for some of the new Continental (regular American army) soldiers during the build-up to war. Also in town was a storehouse for ammunition, used to supply N.C. Continental forces through most of the Revolution.
Three regiments are formed and trained in town, starting in March of 1776. The troops mutiny on July 14, tired of being stuck here with inadequate supplies, and wanting to be in the action in the North. Militia, better armed at this point than regular troops, surround this and other barracks in town to bring them under control. By ironic coincidence, this is also the day a copy of the new U.S. Declaration of Independence arrives and is read in town for the first time.
After the Continental regiments participate in several southern campaigns that first year, returning here each time, they finally march north to join the army of Gen. George Washington on Monday, April 7, 1777. When Craig invaded, some of his troops moved into the Continental barracks.
Go on to the near side of Dock Street and look across Front.
Craig: As noted earlier, during the war period a large slip is in the middle of today’s Dock Street, with wharves and warehouses on each side. Craig’s supply or “commissary” officers took over the warehouse that runs along the left wharf, the end of which you see from here in 1781. This location provides for easy transfers of supplies from the boats to the camp.
Walk another block back to Market Street.
By mid-November 1781, things are getting desperate for Craig. A Patriot militia army at least three times the size of his, under Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, has been marching to attack him. Rutherford, who led the 1776 campaign against the Cherokees, is camped at Heron’s Bridge about nine miles north. Craig has only two-weeks’ worth of flour left, but he cannot send out foraging parties with Rutherford so close. The British are forced to let their horses roam Eagle Island to find their own food.
Given the situation, perhaps Craig has mixed feelings when he receives word of Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown the month before, and his own orders to go back to Charleston. On Sunday, November 18, his troops form into a column in Market Street facing the river to the sound of fifes and drums. They and their baggage begin to load onto ships all along the wharves. As many as 1,000 Tory civilians from around the region have already fled to the British ships downriver, leaving most of their possessions behind.
The army is joined by camp followers and an unknown number of people escaping slavery. One of the escapees suffers tragic disappointment. Lavinia, held by Declaration signer William Hooper, is spotted by friends of his. They physically drag her back to Hooper’s house, near Princess Street between Second and Third.
From the far distance up today’s Third Street, dust arises. Continental and militia cavalry turn the corner into Market.[c] Some of the British troops are still waiting to board. The Patriots begin hacking at the end of the column with their swords. (Cornwallis’ surrender did not end the war.)
A man standing somewhere near the courthouse witnesses a gruesome act of revenge. A Tory lagged behind the column, not expecting any danger, and is clearly confused by the arrival of the cavalry. The fact that Continental cavalry wore green coats similar to those of the British cavalry may have played a role. When they approach, the man “‘in a state of apparent mental hallucination walked forth with his hand stretchd (sic) out, as if to salute the troop.’” One of the militia riders pulls his sword, rides toward the Tory, and “‘laid his head open, the divided parts falling on each shoulder.’”
The British return scattered fire. Sources differ on whether the Patriot forces retreat before cannon on the ships can turn on them, or the cannons get off a round. One of the Redcoats is killed and an unknown number wounded, while two or three cavalrymen are wounded. The last of the British speed aboard, and the ships sail away. Thus ends what is by far the longest British occupation of any town in North Carolina during the American Revolution.
Soon after, Rutherford’s army arrives down Third from Heron’s Bridge and has to restore order: Local Patriots have been attacking the few remaining Loyalists, taking out their frustrations after most of a year under British military rule.
Whigs and Tories continued to target each other across the state for months to come, and the British make one more appearance in 1782. But large-scale combat in the state comes to an end, seven years after it started with an attack on Fort Johnston launched from here.
You can circle the British camp, and see possible locations of its features, as shown on the 1781 map. The camp map below is an “educated best guess” of those locations relative to modern streets. For ease of reading, the section is written as if this map is accurate, but believe with caution!
From the sailor’s battery on Orange, continue up Orange across Fourth Street. As you take this tour, remember that none of these streets existed at the time.
About halfway up the block, back a bit from the street around 418 Orange, is one of the small square redoubts. The cannons faced east, the direction you have been walking, to protect against attack from that side. As you continue to Fifth Street, you will pass by it and over the breastwork to the outside of the camp.
Go to Fifth Street and turn right. Walk toward Ann Street.
Again halfway down the block, the breastwork and abatis on your right turn back toward the river, continuing in a straight, diagonal line all the way to Fourth Street. (Where the abatis or breastwork are mentioned below, remember the other is there, too.)
Turn right at Ann, and walk to Fourth Street. You cross the breastwork again and re-enter the camp about halfway down the block, which angles across the road. Turn left, cross Ann Street (not Fourth yet), and walk to where the sidewalk curves.
Around this point the breastwork turned slightly left away from the current sidewalk, to curve around a triangular sailor’s battery across today’s Fourth Street. Its near corner was almost directly across the street. The forward point of the battery faced southeast. (You were walking south, so southeast is toward your left.) One or several cannons are on each outward-facing side. Next the breastwork made a long curve, passing near the intersection ahead of you and out of sight past the battery.
Continue to, and turn right on, Nun Street. Walk halfway down the block.
The southwest corner of the battery is to your right. Off it begins a line of housing the 1781 map calls “quarters.” On that map, these are drawn as a line of small squares. Whether these refer to tents—which Craig probably had, but Cornwallis didn’t—or crude huts, or actual barracks built by Craig’s men, is unknown. Regardless, they run behind the houses to your right, slowly angling away from them and then crossing modern Third Street.
You are standing partway into a narrow ravine, drained by a creek that runs downhill to the river. The battery and nearby quarters, labeled as belonging to the “Light Corps,” are on the near side of the hilltop. A “light corps” was made up of fitter men trained to move fast, serving as scouts, a screen to protect the main army, and a rapid-strike force.
Continue to Third Street, and turn left without crossing it. Walk half a block.
You have crossed the valley and are standing in a square redoubt angled to face southeast. Across today’s street is the east end of the “Grenadiers quarters,” which parallels the Light Corps quarters across the valley. Grenadiers, originally larger soldiers capable of throwing the grenades of the 1600s, had evolved into elite attack units by the Revolutionary era. Off its far end begins the quarters for the Marines.
The abatis angle across Third just short of the modern intersection, so you will cross and re-cross them as you turn the corner.
Go to Church Street and turn right. Walk one block to Second Street. Turn left without crossing that, and walk down the block.
Just past today’s Craig Alley on the left, the breastwork catches up to you again. It takes a turn in the direction you are walking to get around the last, triangular, sailor’s battery, which again points southeast. The battery’s east corner is across the street from the alley. The breastwork angles across until it gets around 518 Second Street. There it takes a sharp right turn and runs straight toward the river for most of that block.
Continue to Castle Street, and turn right. Walk two blocks to Surry Street.
As you walk, the abatis move toward you again from the right. They cross Front Street at a slight angle just this side of the modern apartment high-rise, and continue into Castle directly in front of it. On the high ground occupied by that building, overlooking Surry Street, is another redoubt. This one provides protection from a Patriot approach along the river, or on the river road Craig’s force used. The river was closer to these heights than it is now, so the breastwork ends somewhere on the near side of today’s Dram Tree Park at the 1781 water’s edge.
Turn right on Surry, and then right again on Church, to return to Front Street. Turn left and walk a block to cross Nun. Stop about halfway down the next block. You may well be standing in Craig’s “Head quarters” per the 1781 map. Continue to Ann Street and face Front.
Return to the previous section, “The Occupation Ends.”
Only after peace negotiations were under way in Paris did the commander of the Southern Continental Army, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, make an appearance in Wilmington. On his way home to Rhode Island from Charleston by carriage, he arrived on Friday, August 22, 1783, and left two days later. While in town, he was honored by bonfires in the streets, the firing of guns, and illumination of houses in the evenings.[iv]
As president, George Washington spent the night in Wilmington during his 1791 tour of the southern states. He came down what now is US 17 into Market Street and spent the night at a home on the southeast corner of Dock and Front streets (a small monument marks the location). He had dinner with town officials at a tavern where now sits the parking garage between Front and Second streets north of Market.
Barefoot, Daniel, Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1998)
Butler, Lindley, North Carolina and the Coming of the Revolution, 1763-1776 (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1976)
Fonvielle, Chris, ‘With Such Great Alacrity’, North Carolina Historical Review, XCIV.2 (2017)
Ganyard, Robert L., The Emergence of North Carolina’s Revolutionary State Government, North Carolina in the American Revolution (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1978)
Hall, Wes, ‘An Underwater Archaeological Survey of Heron’s Colonial Bridge Crossing Site over the Northeast Cape Fear River near Castle Hayne, North Carolina’ (East Carolina University, 1992)
Hooper, et al., William, ‘Resolutions by Inhabitants of the Wilmington District Concerning Resistance to Parliamentary Taxation and the Provincial Congress of North Carolina’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, 1774 <https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr09-0285> [accessed 11 September 2020]
Howell, Andrew, The Book of Wilmington, 1959, Sampson County Public Library
Ingram, Christine, Burgwin-Wright House, In-person interview with tour, 10/7/2020
Lossing, Benson John, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution: Or, Illustrations by Pen and Pencil of the History, Biography, Scenery, Relics and Traditions, of the War for Independence (New York : Harper & Bros., 1851) <http://archive.org/details/pictorialfieldbo02lossuoft> [accessed 25 November 2020]
McGeachy, John, Revolutionary Reminiscences from the ‘Cape Fear Sketches’ (North Carolina State University, 2002)
O’Kelley, Patrick, Nothing but Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, Volume Three, 1781 (Booklocker.com, Inc., 2005)
Rankin, Hugh F., ‘The Moore’s Creek Bridge Campaign, 1776’, The North Carolina Historical Review, 30.1 (1953), 23–60
Rankin, Hugh F., The North Carolina Continentals (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1971)
‘Reminiscences of an Old Fort Built by the British in Wilmington 1781’, The Daily Review (Wilmington, N.C., 11 November 1881)
Russell, Phillips, North Carolina in the Revolutionary War (Charlotte, N.C.: Heritage Printers, Inc., 1965)
Schaw, Janet, and Evangeline Walker Andrews, Janet Schaw, ca. 1731-ca. 1801. Journal of a Lady of Quality; Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774 to 1776. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1921) <https://www.docsouth.unc.edu/nc/schaw/schaw.html> [accessed 7 January 2021]
 ‘Resolutions by Inhabitants of the Wilmington District Concerning Resistance to Parliamentary Taxation and the Provincial Congress of North Carolina’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, 1774 <https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr09-0285> [accessed 17 December 2020].
 At the time of the war this was called Negro Head Point. One explanation for the name is that the head of a man executed for trying to escape slavery was displayed there, to warn others against seeking their freedom.
 Story transcribed in McGeachy 2002; caveats from Dunkerly.
 Bloodworth Street in Raleigh is named for him.
 Contrary to local traditions, Cornwallis did not stay in the house; Patriot prisoners were not held in the old jail; no floorboards were damaged by guards’ muskets; and a soldier did not scratch his eventual wife’s name in a windowpane (Hunter Ingram; Ingram 2020; Lamberton 2020).
 Drane 1843. One doubt raised about this story is why the British would desecrate an Anglican Church. Norris reports St. James hadn’t had a minister or services for five years, so maybe the British did not consider it consecrated anymore. However, the story may also be anti-Tarleton propaganda, since many negative stories about him proved untrue.
 Based on an overlay of the 1781 map on the modern street grid; speculations by two modern scholars (De Van Massey 1987, Dunkerly); a local historian who has studied the war period (Norris); typical military practices of the time; and the current landforms. Though the hill has been altered over the centuries, the primary changes made the top flat. The edges appear to retain the shape of the colonial period.
[c] Multiple sources claim Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Henry Lee was with them. But in his memoirs (Lee 1827), Lee says he went from Yorktown to the “High Hills of the Santee,” in the piedmont of South Carolina, sometime after the surrender. He talks about Wilmington and Craig, but gives no indication he or his troops were ever in the area, which would have been far out of his way from Yorktown. Furthermore, he does not indicate his troops went from S.C. to Yorktown with him, so it seems unlikely this force was his.
[i] Moore’s Creek National Battlefield, ‘Negro Head Point Road’ (United States Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service); Angley, Wilson, Preliminary Findings and Observations Concerning the History of the Negro Head Point Road (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Division of Archives and History Research Branch, 20 August 1984), Pender Co. Public Library Vertical Files.
Park anywhere near the coordinates, at the intersection of King Street and Martin Luther King Drive in downtown Elizabethtown.
All stops are visible from a sidewalk or parking lots.
With a British Army corps camped in Wilmington in 1781, Loyalists have come to dominate the region between there and Cross Creek (Fayetteville) in their ongoing civil war with the Patriots.
A Loyalist (“Tory”) force of 300–400 men under Col. John Slingsby, many of them Scottish Highlanders, has been raiding Patriot (“Whig”) homes throughout the area. At Slingsby’s base camp in Elizabethtown, the Tories are holding Whigs captured at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Cross Creek. Meanwhile, another Tory unit under the infamous Col. David Fanning is returning to the area from Wilmington.
A group of 60–70 Patriots, including refugees from the Elizabethtown area, are hiding in the next county north (Duplin at the time). Sources differ on who was in command of the Whigs, or why. Most say Col. Thomas Robeson, because regular commander Col. Thomas Brown had either skirmish wounds or smallpox. Regardless, they decide to march on the Loyalists despite being outnumbered. Sources again differ on the reasons, suggesting it was to free the prisoners; to block Fanning; or simply out of desperation to stop the Tory raids. The men march two days with no tents or food, but find a secret weapon near their new camp.
Monday, August 27, 1781.
Imagine the Scene
A Spy, a Surprise, and Lies
Walk to the intersection of King Street and Martin Luther King (MLK) Drive.
Elizabethtown, founded to support the new Bladen County Courthouse, is only five years old in 1781 and growing slowly. (The old courthouse three miles upriver burned in 1768.) Plantations supplying materials used in shipping, like tar and wood, are springing up along the river around town. However, building supplies are harder to get during the war, so there are only around 20 property owners here. The town runs a couple blocks on either side of Poplar Street (a block southeast), along both sides of what still is the main road today, Broad Street.
In a February 1781 letter written here to Brig. Gen. Alexander Lillington, Brown expressed the frustrations of local Patriots since the British had taken Wilmington the month before (spellings original): “‘I will gard the river… as far as lies in my power, but the greatest part of the good people in this County is Engaged back against the Toryes, and seems Very Loth to go Against the British And Leive their Families Exposed to a set of Villians, who Dayley threattains their Destruction.'”[a]
Little has changed six months later. Tories are camped all around this spot on Sunday evening, August 26. They have posted sentries on all four sides of the camp.
Sallie Salter, 39-year-old unmarried daughter of an influential family, wanders the camp selling eggs. She had approached a ferry running where Poplar Street now crosses the river (visited later). The Tories had gathered all the boats in the area on this side, but she talked a sentry into bringing her over. When done, she goes back across.
The Patriots were camped by her family home. One secondhand source says she overheard their decision that someone should scout the camp and volunteered. She reports back with the information they need to plan a surprise attack. Nothing else is known about Salter, except that her father was supposedly a soldier away from home at the time, and she died in 1800 at age 58.
Despite deep hunger, the Patriots move that night, taking advantage of a bright moon. They approach the far bank southeast of town. Because they can’t find any boats, they march about a mile farther downriver (to the right when facing downtown). There they strip naked, and tie their clothes and ammunition to their heads. They wade across the wide river holding their guns vertically by the barrels, so the firing mechanisms are out of the water. Though only “breast deep” for some, it is nearly to the noses of others! After scrambling up the steep bank through thick canes, they get dressed and cross what now is NC 87, then the dirt King’s Highway. There they split into three groups and spread out. Two hours later, one source says, they were in position.
Look east, away from downtown, out MLK Drive.
Before daybreak, the moon has gone down, and the Tories are asleep in darkness. Suddenly you hear a shot from the woods in the direction you are facing. Another secondhand account says a Tory sentry fired a warning shot into the air when an unknown party did not answer his challenge: “Stand, who goes there?” A gunshot happened to be the signal prearranged among the Patriots to start the attack, the account says, so shots and shouts now fill the night. Sentries on all sides are pushed back. You see muzzle flashes throughout the woods on three sides.
Confused Tories, many half-dressed for sleeping through a summer’s night, scramble to their feet and try to return fire. From the trees they hear commands being yelled to various Patriot colonels—including some not there! The attackers are trying to sound like many different regiments. You also hear the word “Washington” shouted. Some Loyalists become convinced their attackers include the Continental cavalry of Col. William Washington, known to be in South Carolina, or even his distant cousin George Washington!
Turn around and face downtown.
Under pressure of the surprise attack, the Tories begin to fall back into town, hiding behind buildings and in houses.
Another threat is at hand. Fanning had warned Slingsby that he was holding too many Whig prisoners. Perhaps a sense of guilt accounts for Slingsby’s reputation as being lenient with Patriots, including those he is holding now: The Cross Creek merchant may have been violating two oaths. As a former Quaker, he must have sworn off violence at some point, since Quakers were pacifists. Also, he was captured after the Tory debacle at the 1776 Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge and imprisoned in Halifax. He is probably violating the parole terms for his release by fighting for King George again. Regardless, he pays for not keeping the prisoners tied up, as they begin to grab weapons and attack Tory officers in the rear of the camp.
About this time Col. Slingsby comes out of the house he is staying in, and both he and a captain are mortally wounded. The Tories panic. Some begin running toward the river. Others retreat northwest (to the left), firing as they go. After running out of ammunition, they flee. A few simply raise their hands in surrender.
The Tory Hole
Follow the retreating Tories by walking or driving toward downtown on MLK Drive. Where it ends at Broad Street, go straight across into the parking lot. Continue to the back of the lot, until you run out of earth at the edge of a deep ravine.
Many of the Loyalists fall headlong down this slope. The Patriots chasing them stop here at the edge and begin a turkey shoot of the trapped Tories, now fighting underbrush to get through to the river.
One Whig says years later, “‘I was so overjoyed that I did not feel the cravings of hunger any more than if I had just risen from the best meal I ever ate…’”
This slope and the flat below became known as the “Tory Hole.”
Continentals Raid the Courthouse
Go back to Broad Street and turn left. Walk one block to the intersection with Poplar. The new courthouse was in the middle of the intersection.
Move forward a year to September 1782, five months after peace negotiations began between Britain and the United States in Paris. Continental Army Capt. Robert Raiford and 30 soldiers burst into the courthouse, where a Tory is on trial. An historian says the men believe Tories are allowed to win too many property lawsuits. Raiford attacks lawyer Archibald MacLaine “‘at the bar with a naked sword, beat and dangerously wounded him… under the pretence that the said Maclain [sic] had given him sometime before abusive language, and was then defending a Tory.'” He also beats the court clerk for unknown reasons, though both victims apparently survive.
Raiford then leads his men in raiding Loyalist homes throughout the area. Indicted here after he was back with the army, he was tried upon returning a year later but acquitted.
To see the ferry crossing and Tory Hole, you can walk, but it is safer to drive. From the Broad/Poplar intersection:
Drive downhill. Note: Turn left if coming from the Broad/MLK intersection.
Just past the median and before the bridge, turn left.
Drive to the river at the Cape Fear Access Area.
In 1781, a ferry ran where the bridge is today. Sallie Salter came to the far bank expecting to use it.
This spot played a role in a dramatic chase in 1776, five months before independence was declared. Around 1,600 Loyalists were trying to make their way from Cross Creek to Fort Johnston at the mouth of the Cape Fear River (today’s Southport), to support British troops headed there. They were blocked by 1,000 Patriots under Col. James Moore and forced to cross the Cape Fear back at Cross Creek. Moore brought his men here hoping to cut the Tories off. You could have watched for hours as the men, and five cannons, crossed from this side on Friday, February 23. On learning the Loyalists had gotten past another Patriot force, though, Moore brought his men back here and loaded them on boats to take downriver. The delay caused them to miss by a few hours the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge.[b]
Go back partway up the hill, and turn right into Tory Hole Park.
The slope you visited from above is on the far side of the parking lot. At the end of the battle you would have seen dozens or hundreds of men dragging themselves free of the bushes on the slope, and then rushing into the trees and canes along the river to escape.
The Battle of Elizabethtown: All locations are approximate. 1) Spy crosses river, explores camp. 2) (Next day) Patriots cross downstream. 3) Patriots launch surprise attack. 4) Tories flee west, north. 5) Patriots continue fire at ravine edge.
Tory: 16–19 killed, wounded or captured.
Patriot: 2–4 wounded.
After the Battle
Though their losses were small, many of the Tories went home for good. This rout by a much smaller force finally broke the Loyalist hold on this region. But hostilities continued in the state for another year, as demonstrated above and on our Tory War Tour.
On the way from the Battle of Guilford Court House (in today’s Greensboro) to Wilmington, the main British army under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis camped somewhere south of Elizabethtown on Brown’s Creek, on Tuesday, April 3, 1781. There it had the sad duty of burying one of its wounded from the battle, Lt. Col. James Webster, who had died at their previous campsite at Black Swamp.
Barefoot, Daniel, Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1998)
Beasley, R.F., ‘The Battle of Elizabethtown’ (presented at the Annual Celebration at Guilford Battle Ground, Greensboro, N.C., 1901)
Brown, A.A., ‘Battle of Elizabethtown (2/21/1844 Letter), Reprinted from Wheeler, John, Historical Sketches of North Carolina’, in Elizabethtown Bicentennial, 1773-1973 (Elizabethtown, N.C.: The Elizabethtown Town Board, 1973)
Dunkerly, Robert M., Redcoats on the Cape Fear: The Revolutionary War in Southeastern North Carolina, Revised (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012)
Elizabethtown Bicentennial, 1773-1973 (Elizabethtown, N.C.: The Elizabethtown Town Board, 1973)
Hatch, Charles, The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge (Office of History and Historic Architecture, U.S. National Park Service, 1969)
Josiah Singletary (Veteran’s Pension Application), Bladen Co. Court of Please and Quarter Sessions, W. 60641833, 1833
Kemp, Joseph, ‘Memoirs of Joseph Richard Kemp’, n.d. [Vertical files, Bladen County Public Library, accessed 11 November 2020]
Park anywhere near Market Square at the coordinates, where Gillespie, Green, Hay, and Person streets meet. All stops in the downtown core can be viewed from sidewalks.
Cross Creek and nearby Campbelltown form a Patriot economic center after 1776, but start as Loyalist strongholds.
The first group of Europeans to occupy this region were Scottish immigrants of the 1739 Argyll Colony, built up in subsequent waves in the 1750s and ’60s. Cross Creek was founded in 1756 along the creek by that name. By the time of the American Revolution, it “had over forty buildings, including taverns, a brewery, mills, a tannery, the county jail, stores, and warehouses, making it a crossroads for trade and communication. Many craftsmen resided here, including merchants, coopers, blacksmiths, tailors, weavers, shoemakers (known as cordwainers), hatmakers, brewers, brickmakers, bridlemakers, joiners, wagoners, wheelwrights, rope makers, and wool combers.” These lived in 60–70 households.
Formally incorporated in 1762, Campbelltown was the farthest point up the Cape Fear River boats could navigate from the coast. Centered where Person Street now meets the river, its port facility helped the area becomes a critical point for the exchange of imported goods and inland products, though by the war it was down to a few warehouses and an old courthouse.
Though the towns merged in 1778, wartime sources still called it “Cross Creek” even though that part officially became “Upper Campbelltown.” Wagons regularly passed between here and distant Hillsborough, Salem (now Winston-Salem), and Salisbury throughout the war.
A devastating post-war fire mentioned below destroyed records and letters that might have answered many questions about Revolutionary events in Fayetteville. Stories and exact locations now often come from single sources or conflict with each other. Believe with caution!
Tuesday, June 20, 1775–Sunday, April 1, 1781.
Imagine the Scene
From Market Square, walk one block east on Person Street, to the triangle formed where Bow Street angles back to the left. The current park is only part of the “point” at the time. Person Street did not exist, so the point was formed by today’s Bow Street meeting an early, straighter version of Franklin Street further east (ahead of you).
After the Battle of Lexington and Concord (Mass.) in April 1775, “committees of safety” made up of property owners around North Carolina began issuing resolutions of support for the northern Patriots. At a tavern here or nearby, local men sign a document written in Wilmington on Tuesday, June 20, by local political leader and later militia officer Robert Rowan. (It is unclear why he wrote it there.) However, the text was mostly lifted from a June resolution by the South Carolina Provincial Congress. Officially named the “Cumberland Association,” the document mentions the Massachusetts battles and states in part:
“We therefore the subscribers of Cumberland County, holding ourselves bound by that most sacred of all obligations, that duty of all good citizens towards an injured country, and thoroughly convinced that under our distressed circumstances, we shall be justified before God and man in resisting force by force; Do unite ourselves under every tie of religion (and) honour and associate as a band in her defence (against) every foe, hereby solemnly engaging that whenever our continental or Provincial Councils shall decree it necessary, we will go forth and be ready to sacrifice our lives and fortunes to secure her freedom and safety…”
Eventually 55 men sign it. Among them are James Emmet, later the colonel in charge of the Cumberland Militia (part-time soldiers); James Gee, owner of one of America’s early hat factories; men who fought in both the Patriot militia and regular Continental Army; and two men who joined a Highlander army in support of the British government six months later.
The agreement has come to be known as the “Liberty Point Resolves.” Though it did not declare independence, it is believed to be the second-oldest mutual defense pact against the royal government in America, after the Mecklenburg Resolves from Charlotte. The monument in the triangle lists the signers.
If you wish to avoid a four-block round-trip walk to our next stop by driving, use these directions (walkers, skip to the next section):
Drive one block past Bow on Person Street to the roundabout at Cool Spring Street, and take it to the left.
Drive a little over a block, veering slightly left to cross Cross Creek.
Take the first left, Meeting Street.
Turn left and park in the lot.
Go to the fountain and skip the next set of walking directions.
A Loyalist Army Forms
Walk around the triangle and left up Bow Street. You are now on the original main street of Cross Creek, shown on a 1770 map as connecting to the road south to Wilmington and, in the direction you are walking, the western towns mentioned earlier. Go to the first intersection, Green Street, and turn right.
Take the bridge over Cross Creek and turn right (east) into Linear Park. After crossing the creek again on the walking bridge, go around the circle and take the sidewalk from the left side. Follow it across Ann Street and then right to the Cool Spring fountain.
Six months before the Declaration of Independence, the British government has already lost control of the Province of North Carolina. Royal Gov. Josiah Martin has fled New Bern and is living on a ship off the mouth of the Cape Fear River. At Martin’s suggestion, two British armies are converging there by sea to take the colony back, and Martin has called for loyal volunteers to join them.
Nearly 1,600, most of them Scottish Highlanders, gathered in the vicinity. At least one camp likely is here and in the open fields across the creek between the two towns, taking advantage of Cross Creek, distant Blount Creek, and the Cool Spring for water. (Surviving documents do not specify the campsite. Local traditions also suggest a plantation south of town or more in the modern downtown.)
As historians have noted, “These Loyalists were farmers, not fighters. The men were not a militia unit nor an army of experienced soldiers. They had not trained together nor fought together, and they were ill equipped and poorly supplied.” Some are here because they, to gain permission to immigrate, or their grandfathers after the 1746 Battle of Culloden in Scotland, had sworn an oath of loyalty to the king. Others are responding to the offer of confiscated rebel land and twenty years of no property taxes.
A few are ex-Regulators, former protestors against the colonial government who had sworn a loyalty oath in exchange for pardons after losing the Battle of Alamance five years earlier. However, one source says 500 of these turned around and left when they found none of the British soldiers they had been promised.[a] Another says only small groups remain, and their leaders point out their weapons were confiscated as part of the pardon agreement.[b]
On Sunday, February 18, 1776, the recruits march toward Brunswick Town to join the governor, via the Wilmington Road.
Contrary to local tradition, Scottish heroine Flora Macdonald, whose husband Allan was one of the Loyalist (“Tory”) army leaders, almost certainly did not address them prior to their departure. Perhaps she should have. The Tories never made it to the British. First blocked at Rockfish Creek south of town, they were badly defeated at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. Only a few made it back to Cross Creek before getting captured by Patriot militia.
Walk to the large monument on the left, and go to the far side. Turn around and face the grave to its left.
Believed to be from the Roanoke River valley, Isaac Hammond volunteered to serve with a North Carolina regiment in the regular Continental Army during the war. He became its fifer at age 15. He was just one of hundreds of African-Americans who fought for the new United States.
Fifers were not recruited for entertainment, though they provided that as well. Fife-and-drum units conveyed orders, with different tunes meaning specific commands. These instruments were chosen because the fife’s high pitch and the drum’s low pitch could be heard over the sounds of battle.
Hammond later earned his living as a barber. He and his post-war wife Dicey were among the 10% of blacks in Campbelltown who were free in the 1790 census. When a local militia company was formed in 1793, Hammond joined as its fifer and remained for 30 years. This area was the company’s parade grounds. Hammond was buried here at his request, with military honors, “in uniform with fife in hand.”
Walk back to Green Street and turn left back to Bow. If you drove, return to Bow Street, turn right, and park on it or across Green.
Either way, cross Green Street to Maiden Lane. Face Market Square a block south.
In late March 1781, about 500 Patriot (“Whig”) militia are trying to remove or burn supplies all over town, before probably pulling out to the east across the river at Campbelltown with whatever they can carry. They were ordered to collect all of the boats in the area as well.[c] Cross Creek, solidly in Patriot hands for the four years since Moore’s Creek, has become a major military supply depot for the Southern Department of the Continental Army. In 1781 the commander is Gen. Richard Caswell. This first state governor had taken the role after hitting the term limit of three consecutive terms per the first state constitution. The depot kept busy over the years “acquiring, storing and shipping salt, leather, beef, pork, wheat and (horse) forage” for both regular and militia troops from N.C.
Now, however, British Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis is headed this way. His army was badly hurt in its “victory” at the Battle of Guilford Court House (in today’s Greensboro) over the Continental army of Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene. It is coming here because Cornwallis thinks Cross Creek is under Loyalist control. On Friday, March 30, around 1,700 Redcoat infantry and cavalry, plus artillery, wagons, camp followers, and people escaping slavery, march down Maiden Lane from the right. They had crossed the creek a few hundred yards upstream.
The British probably set up along the banks of Cross and Blount creeks. Their camp would have covered all of the modern downtown area, overlapping the likely 1776 Tory campsite.
Turn around and go to the Linear Park sidewalk along the creek on this side of Green. Follow it left to the first overlook on the right.
Maps of the time suggest the far bank was an island and another channel of the creek ran on the other side, filled in since then. Cochran’s Mill crossed the creek onto this side from the island; you might be standing inside it!
Some evidence says Cornwallis stayed in the home of John Dobbin, facing the creek on that farther bank. The house was moved after the war, but existed until 1939. As described by people who saw it in later years, it was “a story and a half, with three dormer windows across the front, and also the back. The piazza (porch) extended across the front and was enclosed with balusters very thin and graceful. There was a large paneled entrance doorway” and “floor-length windows.” A visible brick foundation at this location enclosed a full basement.
The British begin foraging for food and clothing, but have little success. An 1854 pastor who collected stories from people alive during the war claims the town baker, Lewis Bowell, makes a clever escape. Bowell hides inside one of his empty barrels upstairs. Apparently his supplies had been evacuated. While the British are searching, they happen to pick up the barrel and send it down the stairs with a kick. On hitting a wall at the bottom, the barrel breaks open and Bowell emerges. At that point the stunned British just leave, empty handed.
That story illustrates the army’s desperate straits. Cornwallis writes that they had “‘but little provision & no forage; the army was barefooted & there is the utmost want of necessaries of every kind; and I was embarrassed with about 400 sick & wounded. These considerations made me determined to march down to Wilmington.’” He had assumed supplies could be sent from Wilmington by river. Only upon arriving did he realize “‘navigation of the Cape Fear River to Wilmington (is) impracticable, for the distance by water is upward of (a) hundred miles, the breadth seldom above one hundred yards, the banks high, and the inhabitants on each side generally hostile.” In other words, any supply boats would be slow-moving ducks for Patriot snipers.
Also frustrated were his hopes for aid from Tories, a problem plaguing his entire N.C. campaign. As he wrote to the overall British commander in North America, Sir Henry Clinton: “‘The Inhabitants rode into Camp, shook me by the hand, said they were glad to see us and to hear that we had beat Greene, and then rode home again. For I could not get 100 Men… to stay with us.’” Local Tories do bring some supplies, though, and some take advantage to destroy Whig property.
Some of the British wounded die and are buried somewhere in town. On Sunday the army marches down the same route taken by the Highlander army. But Cornwallis has not left without paying for Cross Creek’s “hospitality.” Col. James Emmett, the Liberty Point signer, whose regiment has been shadowing Cornwallis, reports to Greene on an outbreak of smallpox caught from the British. And a camp follower leaves behind a baby girl in a widow’s home. As an adult she was noted on the 1850 census as “left by Cornwallis.”
Loyalists Raid and Leaders Assemble
Go back to Green Street and walk across Maiden Lane.
In 1779, the Cumberland Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions meets for the first time in the new, unfinished courthouse here, possibly where you stand. In August 1781, a Tory army of 300–400 men, many of them Highlanders, capture Patriots here and around town in a raid. Emmett wrote Gov. Thomas Burke that month, “I am under the disagreeable necessity of informing your Excellency that, on Thursday last, the 14th… between nine and ten o’clock in the morning, this town was, in the most sudden manner imaginable, surprised by a party of the enemy… They entered the town in so sudden and secret a manner that it was out of the power of any man who was in it to make his escape.”[d] Emmett said he was a mile away and escaped over the river, but was caught after coming back to avoid capture by another force. He was freed, and some of the prisoners were rescued in the Battle of Elizabethtown 11 days later.
Continue one block to Market Square.
Here where the 1831 Old Town Hall stands today, town leaders built in 1778 a brick building they hoped would sway the General Assembly to name Cross Creek the permanent capital city.
Though a state convention after the war chose to build a new capital and capitol instead, the state assembly met here several times before Raleigh was ready to host it. A number of Revolutionary leaders had key roles in the assembly’s vote here to create the University of North Carolina in 1789, which became the first U.S. public university to open its doors. Many of the same men attended the state’s Second Constitutional Convention held in the building that year, which ratified the U.S. Constitution. Richard Caswell died during the convention, and his funeral was here (detailed at his grave on the Kingston page).
The State House was one of 600 buildings burned down by a catastrophic 1831 fire. The blaze started in the chimney of a house on the corner you are standing on.
Before going to the next section, look at the “Historical Tidbit” below.
Go back to your vehicle and:
Take Person Street to Cool Spring Street.
Turn right at the roundabout.
Drive four blocks (the second one is long), and turn right on Butler Street.
Park partway up the block, before reaching the first right turn, Hall Street.
Probably on or near the intersection ahead of you stood Council Hall. (The streets were not here then.) This home built around 1735 was named for its original owner, James Council, and bought by Peter Mallett in May 1777, a merchant and owner of several mills. One, a cotton mill, was downhill to your left on Blount Creek. Mallett served as a commissary (supply) officer in the regular Continental Army and probably later led a militia company. He was also on the committee of safety that became the local government, and a member of the state House of Commons. In addition to this house, he had a plantation downriver during the war.
In a letter or journal—the original form is unclear—Mallett recounts a scary and dramatic night just before Cornwallis’s arrival. About 40 Loyalists under “a Mr. Swain” approach the house and demand supplies for the British, though Mallett calls this a pretense to steal them. He refuses to let them in, but is outnumbered. His militia unit is away, and only one other man is at the house, an enslaved African-American, “Johnny.” Fortunately, he also has two women.
“‘After an hour or two parley, they forced (their way) into the lower part of the house, and my wife, myself, Johnny, and a (black) woman defended ourselves with arms; not only forced them from the stairway, but out of the house. One gun only was fired. My wife and servant Hannah were noble soldiers.’” He had married his wife, Sarah, just five months before. They went on to raise 14 children here and in a larger house to the west of town, including one child from his previous marriage.
The British army arrives a few days later, with some old friends. Mallett says he knew some of the officers from the “‘Canada War,’” part of the French & Indian War of the 1750s. He has gone into hiding somewhere across the Cape Fear. One of his aunts by marriage and another woman come to him to say Cornwallis visited the house with some officers, presumably the ones Mallett knows. They took his goods in Cross Creek, including items at the house. Mallett’s account is unclear on this point, but appears to say he was told he could keep the goods he had in Wilmington if he joined Cornwallis as a commissary officer. “‘This I absolutely refused, having been for years in the American army, I could not think of acting against them…’”
Moved and renovated by Mallett’s son in the 1830s, the house later was moved again to the campus of Methodist University on Ramsey Street. (Greene Street becomes Ramsey north of downtown.) Now called the Mallett-Rogers House, it holds university offices.
In 1783, greater Campbelltown became the first city in the United States to rename itself for one of the most famous figures of the war, the Marquis de Lafayette. This French volunteer officer in the Continental Army became a protégé and close friend of Gen. George Washington. In 1825, Lafayette made a tour through the southern U.S., and stopped here on March 4 and 5. Lafayette stayed at the home of Duncan McRae, located where the courthouse is now, one block south of Market Square.
Clark, David, ‘Additional Information Concerning the Liberty Point Resolves (Cumberland Association) [Memorandum for: Committee for Development of Historical Material, Cumberland County Bicentennial Commission]’, 24 October 1975, Cumberland County Public Library, Local & State History Department
Crane, David, ‘The Signing of the Liberty Point Resolves’, The Fayetteville Observer and the Fayetteville Times (Fayetteville, N.C., 22 June 1975)
Cumberland Association (handout), Fayetteville Area Transportation Museum [viewed 1 October 2020]
MacRae, John, ‘This Plate of the Town of Fayetteville North Carolina, so Called in Honor of That Distinguished Patriot and Philanthropist Gen’l La Fayette Is Respectfully Dedicated to Him by the Publisher’, North Carolina Maps, 1825 <https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ncmaps/id/127> [accessed 15 December 2020]
Mallett, Peter, ‘Peter Mallett’s Journal, 1744-1805’, Cumberland County Public Library files
 The story from a single source is highly unlikely, for reasons including the distance (140 miles round trip), the fact her husband left separately, and her possibly having three grandchildren in her care. See our Flora Macdonald page for the full explanation and sources.
 An 1854 source (Caruthers) says the British camped at Haymount Plantation, later the site of an arsenal and now of the Museum of the Cape Fear. He does not cite his source. The location may be a misreading of a report that they camped on a ridge one mile west of town. If the “town” was Cross Creek, he could be right; if the town was Campbelltown, the description fits the current downtown area. Exhibits at the museum (2020) make no mention of a camp. Also, Cornwallis did not typically make his headquarters far outside his camp, as would have been the case given what you will read next in the text.
 Fields, William, ed., Abstracts of Deeds of Cumberland County, North Carolina: Volume Two, Books 4-7, 1770-1785 (Fayetteville, N.C.: Cumberland Co. Public Library & Information Center).
 MacRae 1825; the mill and home were owned by Mallet’s son when this map was drawn in 1825. One source (Parker 2006) seems to say the home was across the hill, where an N.C. Department of Transportation district headquarters is today. More likely that area was just part of the Mallet property, and the location chosen for the family cemetery. Nicer homes were usually built on heights like the one here, with cemeteries placed some distance away from them.
Park anywhere near the intersection of Main Street and Innes Street at the coordinates, where our tour starts.
Our route uses sidewalks plus some drives, or can be entirely driven, though parking opportunities are limited in some places.
After defeating Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens (S.C.), a Continental Army corps under Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan marched rapidly north, escaped the trailing British army at the Catawba River, and then raced to get to the Yadkin River safely.
The British army under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis was delayed at Cowan’s Ford across the Catawba (now the base of Lake Norman), and at Torrence’s Tavern on the Salisbury-Charlotte Road east of there. Next it tried but failed to catch the Americans at the crossroads that today is Mooresville, west of Salisbury. It fell into their footprints in hopes of trapping the Americans against the river.
Morgan’s corps raced along the route followed now by NC 150 and into Salisbury, while Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene rode by himself up the Salisbury-Charlotte Road after conferring with the rear-guard leaders. The overall commander of the Continental Army in the South, he had hoped the British would be blocked at the Catawba long enough for his main army to arrive here to fight Cornwallis. He waited into the early morning hours at a rallying point seven miles north of Torrance’s until a messenger arrived, informing him the British had crossed the Catawba.
Salisbury was founded in 1753 to provide Rowan County a courthouse and jail, on a Native American trading path (now Innes Street) just uphill of its intersection with a second, likely where the railroad is today. Salisbury is a “major supply and manufacturing center for the southern Continental army,” from which the rebels “would need to evacuate the small garrison and many prisoners of war, as well as the artisans who worked in the military manufacturies located in the town.”
Monday, August 8, 1774–Monday, February 5, 1781.
Imagine the Scene
An Early Call for Resistance
Walk to the intersection of Main Street and Innes Street.
During the American Revolution, the courthouse is in the intersection, a typical practice of the day (like in Charlotte and Wilmington). Assuming the 1755 building fits the plans called for by the county court—which was also the county government—it is a wooden building “thirty feet long and twenty wide, a story and a half high, with two floors, the lower one raised two feet above the ground.” Inside is “an oval bar (meaning “rail”) and a bench raised three feet from the floor” opposite the door, with “a good window behind the bench, with glass in it, and a window near the middle of each side…” The building is in poor condition, but the court cannot raise enough money to fix it.[a]
Though no records from the time confirm this, the courthouse is likely where the Rowan County Committee of Safety meets on Monday, August 8, 1774. In response to an invitation to a colony-wide meeting from the Wilmington committee, this group of landowners is one of many in the Province of North Carolina formed to support Boston. That city had been targeted by the British Parliament with laws to punish it for rebellious acts including the Boston Tea Party.
The committee adopts what it titles, “Resolutions by inhabitants of Rowan County concerning resistance to Parliamentary taxation and the Provincial Congress of North Carolina,” now called the “Rowan Resolves.” While they profess loyalty to King George III, the men also insist that only the Provincial Assembly (legislature) has the right to tax them, as had been the practice in America until the 1760s. They descry the use of the British military against citizens in Massachusetts; support a boycott of English goods and imports of enslaved people (for economic reasons, not abolition); encourage domestic manufacturing and farming; appoint delegates to the planned colony-wide convention; and support the planned Continental Congress. They add, “it is the Duty and Interest of all the American Colonies, firmly to unite in an indissoluble Union and Association to oppose by every Just and proper means the Infringement of their common Rights and Privileges.”
Among the signers are later Revolutionary War Patriot leaders Matthew Locke and William Davidson, and possibly Charles McDowell. This is the first such declaration in North Carolina; though the title and some of the language is modeled on the Wilmington letter, Rowan’s is more radical in its complaints.
Many details about Revolutionary Salisbury come from a single source. An 1850 Davidson College graduate, school teacher, and preacher, Jethro Rumple, wrote a series of newspaper columns collected into a book for the centennial of the war in 1881. He consulted primary documents like memoirs, but admits his stories are mostly from oral histories. The quoted dialogs on this page are from him unless otherwise noted, and appear to be embellished for dramatic effect. Believe with caution!
Check the street signs and look down South Main Street.
More than six years later, Morgan’s Continental and militia soldiers begin to appear from the south on the afternoon of Friday, February 2, 1781. Nearly 800 men, wagons, and 500 British or Loyalist prisoners drag past you. They camp about a half-mile east of town (visited below). Greene had hoped the rest of his army would arrive from its camp in South Carolina in time to confront Cornwallis, but instead is forced to move across the river at the Trading Ford seven miles northeast.
The next day, Cornwallis’ army marches up this same street, arriving around 3 p.m. They continue past you through town, hoping to catch the Continentals. The cavalry and fast-moving (“light”) infantry corps go to the ford, while the rest camp four miles east of town after a 20-mile march this day. (Visit the Trading Ford to learn what happens next.)
Greene Makes a Lasting Statement
Walk up North Main Street on the northwest (left) side. As you near the end of the block, look down at the sidewalk near the street until you see the historical plaque for Elizabeth Steele. Face the nearest building.
An “ordinary,” a tavern with overnight rooms that serves food, stands from around here to the next street. In the mid-1760s, western landowners began complaining to the colonial government about corrupt county officials, unfair taxes, and other problems. Nothing was done by the royal governor and legislature, and by 1770 violence had broken out in Hillsborough. On Thursday, March 7, 1771, a group of these “Regulators,” including famous spokesman Herman Husband, meet here at the tavern with local officials. Among those are two who will play roles in the coming Revolutionary War: Francis Locke (brother of Matthew) and Griffith Rutherford. Unlike peers further east, these men agree to pay back any money “over and above what we… ought to have taken for fees, more than the law allowed or entitled us to receive…”[b]
After her second husband died in 1774, Elizabeth Maxwell Steel took over running the tavern and also successfully speculated in real estate. (Her first husband was scalped by Cherokees in 1760, during the French & Indian War.)
Dr. William Read, head of the medical service for Greene’s army, is in the tavern doing paperwork after Morgan passed through town. You may see Rumple’s embellished version of this story elsewhere, but based on Read’s account from an early biography of Greene, Read sees Greene arrive late that evening. “‘What alone, General?’” he asks.
“‘Yes,’” replies Greene, “‘tired, hungry, alone, and penniless.’” He has been riding for five days, at least 130 miles, from the main army camp on the Pee Dee River (lower Yadkin) in S.C., to camps on the Catawba (now under Lake Norman), to here. The last day’s ride was made alone, in fear of getting caught by British cavalry, and in fact they were within four miles of him at Torrence’s Tavern.
Steel overhears him, and invites him to a table. She brings him dry clothes and lays out dinner as Greene warms up. After he has eaten, she enters the room and holds out both hands, each with a bag of coins in it. She says, “‘Take these, for you need them, and I can do without them.’” The money is believed to have been used to purchase supplies for the army later in the campaign.
Before leaving, Greene spots prints of King George and Queen Charlotte on the wall, presents sent from London to Steel by her sister long before the war. Greene takes George’s down, and scrawls on the back in chalk, “O George! hide thy face and mourn.” He puts it back, face to the wall. The paintings and his words still exist, at Thyatira Presbyterian Church west of town.
As you can see on the marker, Steel later writes a relative that “the British were so kind as to pay us a visit” and she lost “all of my horses, my cattle, horse forage, liquors, and family provisions…”
A Place for Prisoners
Continue on Main, cross the next street, and walk one block to the corner with Liberty Street.
The modern street name is ironic, because sometime before 1770 the county jail was built here. It stretches across the current road, which did not exist at the time, along Main. A log cabin is about a third of the way up the current block and offset to the right, but slightly overlapping with the jail’s footprint. This chance arrangement comes in handy.
In December 1780, Greene sends a detailed letter ordering the construction of a prisoner-of-war camp behind the jail. He requires it to be a half-acre in size, and goes into specifics of construction starting with the “pickets,” meaning the logs making up the stockade wall:
“‘One half of the pickets should be cut eighteen feet long, and the other fifteen feet, and be about eight inches thick. They should be placed three or four feet in the ground, and close to each other, and secured by trunneling ribs on the outside, about half way up the pickets. The upper ends should be made sharp; they should be placed in such a manner that every one of the short ones will make a loop-hole through which the sentries might watch or fire upon the prisoners. The sentries should have a scaffold to walk on, on the outside, at a proper height to enable them to see the whole of the prisoners at one view. The prisoners will be able to erect huts within the pickets for them to cook and sleep in.’”
The jail is the only entrance, which suggests the stockade is behind the jail; the log cabin inside it; and an extension built off the back door of the jail to connect to the stockade. A lack of tools and labor prevent the stockade from being fully completed, though some prisoners are held here for a time. As the British approach, Greene orders them taken to Virginia.
Turn left, and walk one block “through” the edge of the jail and POW camp. Cross Church Street. Turn left and go to the Old English Cemetery entrance on the right. Face it or go in.
Cornwallis continues to the ford on Sunday, but fails again to catch Morgan. He also finds the river too flooded to cross, and that the Continentals have secured all the boats in the region on their side. He is forced to bring his army back to town to wait it out.
This cemetery exists in 1781, used by English settlers, not Germans and others. The name becomes very appropriate: The British camp stretches from perhaps a block to the right to at least a couple blocks left, past Innes, between Main and Fulton (the back side of the block you are on). Sources differ on the exact location, and underestimate how large Cornwallis’ camps were—more than two miles in a similar linear arrangement a couple weeks later. The Redcoats likely covered at least the western half of the modern downtown, extending out of sight to your right and left. They do not have tents, having burned most of their wagons at Ramsour’s Mill (in today’s Lincolnton) to move faster, so men settle in next to hundreds of campfires.
The British bury an unknown number of men who died on the trip somewhere here in the cemetery. American veterans later are buried here as well.
Continue south (the direction you were walking) on Church Street, across Council Street, and stop at the rear of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Face the church building.
The law office of John Dunn stands at the corner, and is occupied by the British commissary (supply) officers. His daughter, Eleanor Faust, has a home in the back yard, its site now covered by the sanctuary. Rumple says a commissary officer knocks on the door and asks to buy a favorite calf from Faust to serve to Cornwallis. She refuses. An officer orders his men to take it anyway, and “laid down a piece of gold before Mrs. Faust as pay. Irritated and indignant, she pushed away the money, and left his presence.”
Walk to the corner and turn right. Go partway up the block until you are near the driveway leading into the church parking lot.
For a moment, step forward in time one year. Both regular armies have left the state, and the Revolution in N.C. now is strictly a civil war between Patriots and supporters of the king called “Loyalists” or “Tories.” The most infamous of Tory leaders is Col. David Fanning, whose exploits include murders and the kidnapping of the state governor and other leaders.
According to Rumple, an Englishman named Joseph Hughes has an inn here in March 1782. Word comes that Fanning is headed this way over the Trading Ford. Though Hughes only had one arm, “he rolled some barrels of whiskey into the street in front of his inn, knocked the heads out, and placed a number of tin cups conveniently around. The bait took, and Fanning’s (followers) got beastly drunk, and so were disabled from doing the mischief they intended to do. Hughes seized the opportunity to escape through the thickets and brushwood in the rear of his house.”
Look further out Innes Street.
Back in 1781, though the river is dropping the next day, Cornwallis determines he cannot delay the chase. Giving up on the Trading Ford, the British march out Innes Street, then the road to Mulberry Fields (today’s Wilkesboro). They are headed for narrower Shallow Ford upriver, more than 30 miles north of town.
Go back to Church Street.Turn right, and continue down it across Fisher Street. Pause just past that and read the marker about the Macay Law Office.
N.C militia leader William Davie studied law here during the war, after being badly wounded at the 1779 Battle of Stono Ferry (S.C.). He returned to military service the next year after Charleston fell to the British.
Later President Andrew Jackson, wounded as a boy while defending his mother from a British officer, studied here after the war. Asked as president about his time in the village, Jackson replied, “‘Yes, I lived at old Salisbury. I was a raw lad then, but I did my best.’” That quote is from a 1953 county bicentennial program that adds, “contemporaries described him as being the most rollicking, horse-racing, dueling, lawless citizen in town.”
Walk a little further to the old well.
This later-era structure covers a well used by the British soldiers for water.
Go on to Bank Street and cross it to the marker on the far corner.
Cornwallis has taken over the home of Maxwell Chambers, a merchant and Patriot, who made himself scarce. Soldiers stand guard, while others regularly go in and out carrying messages and orders.
Turn left, and walk down Bank a block to Main Street. Turn left on Main and walk back toward Innes.
Somewhere along the other side of Main, Rumple says, Dr. Anthony Newnan’s family has been forced to house some officers. They have been joined for dinner by Tarleton, the British officer Morgan defeated at the Cowpens, who was chased off the field by Lt. Col. William Washington (a distant cousin of George). They briefly fought each other with swords.
Newnan’s two young boys are “playing a game with white and red grains of corn.” A couple games of the day use these, but this night the boys decide to make the grains Americans and Redcoats and recreate the Battle of Cowpens. Rumple says one of the boys forgetfully yells, “‘Hurrah for Washington! Tarleton is running! Hurrah for Washington!’” Tarleton tries to contain his anger but then curses at the boy.
If walking, go back to your car. Drive six blocks north on Main Street from Innes Street (in the direction you first walked), to Franklin Street on the right. Turn right, and park immediately. Look over your left shoulder to the far side of Main Street.
On the left side of Main just past the modern line of Franklin stands, in 1781, the James Beard home. James, a Patriot, has taken off. Mrs. Beard (no first name given) has been forced to host Tarleton, who makes himself at home. Rumple says, “When he wanted milk he ordered old Dick—the (enslaved) servant—to fetch the cows and milk them.” But his arrogance is repaid. “Mrs. Beard had a cross child at the time, whose crying was a great annoyance to the dashing colonel.”
Continue to the end of the block and:
Turn left on Lee Street.
Cross the tracks, and turn right on Railroad Avenue.
Where the road curves left, pause or park where you can see the commercial buildings across the railroad on the right.
Morgan’s corps probably camps in this area, near the route to the Trading Ford (current Main Street), the night it arrived in town, Friday, February 2.
Daniel Morgan is in so much pain from sciatica and arthritis, he has been making the trip in a wagon. The problem would soon force him out of the service, but he has done his part for independence.
Old Stone House
A couple of Rumple’s stories are associated with the Old Stone House outside of town. Take note of the first “Historical Tidbit” below, and then:
At the end of the curve, turn right onto Henderson Street.
Drive across the tracks, and turn right on Long Street. Note: Per the tidbit, you probably just crossed the trading path followed by Lawson.
Drive seven blocks and get in the left turn lane at Innes Street.
Turn left, and drive 4.0 miles (as Innes becomes US 52) into the town of Granite Quarry.
Just before the “Old Stone House” state historical marker on the left, turn left on East Lyerly Street.
Drive 0.5 mi. to the house on the right.
Walk to the near, front, door.
Old Stone House was built by Michael Braun, a German immigrant. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1737, spent 20 years there learning construction and other trades, and then bought land both here and in later Salisbury.
Look at the inscription to the right above the door. According to the essay written for the state historical marker, “it is inscribed with the names of Michael Braun and his wife and the lettering, ‘10-Pe-Me-Be-Mi-Ch-Da-1766.’ This appears to be an abbreviation of the German phrase, ‘Pensum Meines Bendigem Mit Christim Dank’ meaning ‘My undertaking completed thanks to God.’ The 10 and 1766 refer to the date of completion, October 1766.” The oldest standing house in the western part of the state, it was occupied by Braun descendants until 1911.
Braun owned an inn, tan yard, and rental houses. He also served as a constable, roads supervisor, and justice of the county court (the local government in those days). There’s no record of what he did, or which side he was on, if either, during the Revolution.
Some of Tarleton’s heavy cavalry called “dragoons” are said to have gone past the house while chasing Morgan’s army on Saturday, February 3, 1781. Rumple reports:
One story held that “an American officer, who was probably on a reconnoitering expedition, was nearly overtaken by British dragoons near this house. He turned and fled for life. As the party came thundering down the hill the American rode full tilt into the front door of this house, leaped his horse from the back door, and so escaped down the branch bottom and through the thickets, towards Salisbury.”
Another “tells of a furious hand-to-hand encounter between an American and a British soldier in the front door of the stone house. The deep gashes of the swords (were) still shown in the old walnut doorposts” in Rumple’s day, but those had to be replaced. A different source says the British were using the house as a prison and the American was trying to escape, but this seems unlikely given how far it was from the British camp.
In 1701, Englishman John Lawson, making an epic exploration of the Carolina colony mostly on foot in an arc from Charleston to Washington, N.C., walked up the Native American trading path along today’s railroad.
As president, George Washington stayed in Salisbury overnight on his tour of the southern states on May 30-31, 1791. The 1953 program quoted earlier says, “Barrels of tar were lighted, cannons boomed, hundreds of people gathered, speeches were made, parties were given and toasts were drunk to the great general.”
Babits, Lawrence, and Joshua Howard, Long, Obstinate, and Bloody: The Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009)
Barefoot, Daniel, Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1998)
Draper, Lyman Copeland, King’s Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thomson, Publisher, 1881) <http://archive.org/details/cu31924032752846> [accessed 31 March 2020]
Dunaway, Stewart, Colson’s Ferry, Mill, Ordinary, Fort: A Revolutionary War Overview, Issue E, 2010
Ervin, Samuel, ‘A Colonial History of Rowan County’, The James Sprunt Historical Papers, 16.1 (1917)
Graham, William A. (William Alexander), General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards & Broughton, 1904) <http://archive.org/details/cu31924032738233> [accessed 27 March 2020]
Greene, George Washington, The Life of Nathanael Greene: Major-General in the Army of the Revolution (G. P. Putnam and Son, 1871)
Rowan 200: Bicentennial, Rowan County, North Carolina, Souvenir Program, 1953
Rumple, Jethro, A History of Rowan County, North Carolina (Salisbury, N.C. : Republished by the Elizabeth Maxwell Steele Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1916) <http://archive.org/details/historyofrowanco00rump> [accessed 5 February 2020]
 ‘Resolutions by Inhabitants of Rowan County Concerning Resistance to Parliamentary Taxation and the Provincial Congress of North Carolina’, Documenting the American South: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, 1774 <https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr09-0293> [accessed 17 December 2020].
 A man by a nearly identical name signed, minus the second “l” in the last name. Spelling, even of names by the named person, tended to be loose in those days. McDowell’s property in Quaker Meadows, now Morganton, was in Rowan County at the time.
 Greene 1871; a modern historian who read Gen. Greene’s letters says his grandson was “scrupulous” in portraying them accurately (Pancake 1985). So this dialog is likely more accurate than Rumple’s.
The coordinates are at the end of a half-mile gravel road, State Road 2518 (Curtis Lane on maps, though there is no road sign). Park where the gravel ends, before the route takes a sharp left into a dirt farm lane on private property. You will hear traffic on Highway 421 in front of you. The continuation of this road on the north side, cut off by the highway, is named Herman Husband Road.
You may remain in your vehicle.
Look left across the farm field. Everything you see to the far horizon was part of Herman Husband’s “Cabbin (sic) or No. 1” tract, where his home was built. (Your view may be blocked by crops!) Two local historians were unable to find physical traces of his home or buildings, however, on any of his former lands. The home and one of his mills may have been destroyed by the highway’s construction.
He was a wanderer in body and spirit, Herman Husband of Maryland, one of a dozen children of former indentured servants turned wealthy slaveholders. Despite having no formal education, Husband was a bookworm who owned 800 pamphlets when he died and had corresponded with Benjamin Franklin. Raised Anglican, he was Presbyterian for a while, and then became a Quaker. From 1750 to 1762, Husband shifted from Maryland to Barbados to North Carolina and back to Maryland again, before settling down on 640 acres along Sandy Creek, a small part of the 10,000 he eventually owned in the colony. The creek runs right to left at the base of the plateau in front of you, marked by a line of trees.
Husband first raised concerns about colonial government practices as early as 1754, and formed a group to fight local corruption in 1766. Although Husband never formally joined the Regulators, protesters against corruption and unfair taxation, he wrote and spoke on their behalf.
For example, in 1770, he published anonymously a 104-page booklet called, “An Impartial Relation of the Rise and Cause of the Recent Differences in Public Affairs in the Province of North Carolina; and of the Past Tumults and Riots that Lately Happened in that Province.” Though hardly impartial, Husband retells the history of the Regulator movement to that point, quoting many of the original petitions and letters at length. Colony leaders, mostly eastern landowners, tried to claim backward westerners were the problem. In it he points out that eastern counties such as Halifax had raised similar concerns.
In his conclusion, he explains why correcting the record, as he saw it, was important. He writes, “The first slavery that men are generally brought under, is the slavery of the mind; for while the mind acts freely, and is kept clear of the chains of ignorance and prejudice, it would be very difficult to enslave them—It therefore requires the aid of false Teachers to reduce mankind before a state can deprive them of their civil liberties and privileges.” He closes with an attack on a range of such people for helping suppress liberty.
In 1768 Husband was jailed in Hillsborough as a suspected leader of the Regulators. A large group of them marched to town and forced his release. The next year, he was elected to the colonial legislature, and it seems right that he was named to a committee overseeing public finances. He read to the assembly a petition calling for an accounting of public funds from Orange County, the arrest of county officers extorting fees, and impartial juries. The 174 petitioners said juries were assigned by, and sometimes included, the people they accused of extortion![a]
Instead of taking action on the petition, in December of 1770 the House of Commons kicked him out. On the 10th, meeting in New Bern, it had authorized the governor to take action against the Regulators. Four days later, a letter was published in the local newspaper from a Regulator leader attacking the delegate that introduced the bill. Somehow the House decided Husband submitted the letter, lied to the house about it, and was a “principal mover” of the Hillsborough riots (despite the fact he was in jail during the first one!). They also complained that he had suggested if the House arrested him, the Regulators would free him.[b] He was jailed on a libel charge for the letter, but was acquitted.
With Royal Gov. William Tryon’s army approaching this region to quell the Regulators in 1771, Husband tried to arrange a truce, but left the field before the Battle of Alamance that destroyed the movement. (Though booted out of the Cane Creek Meeting over a disagreement about readmitting a rape victim, he retained the pacifism of most Quakers. The Regulators do not appear to have blamed him for leaving.) Knowing the governor would come after him, he fled through Bethabara using the alias “Toscape Death.” He escaped to Pennsylvania despite a substantial reward offered by Tryon: £100, worth about $18,000 today, and 1,000 acres of land.
During and after the Revolution, he served in county and state government there and wrote extensively on political and religious matters. After participating politically in the first armed resistance to the new United States, the Whiskey Rebellion, he was jailed yet again. Husband was acquitted and pardoned by Pres. George Washington at the urging of North Carolina politicians. However, he died in Philadelphia soon after his release, from pneumonia he contracted in jail.
Husband appears as a character in the Outlander books and TV series.
Tryon Takes Advantage
A road to the right of the farm beyond the trees was apparently built by Husband as a shortcut to Hillsborough, the site of the Orange County Courthouse. (This area was part of Orange at the time.) Along with selling land and raising wheat, Husband built several grain mills in the area. It’s unclear where his were, among half-a-dozen in the vicinity. One of his mills hosted meetings of the Regulators. Unusually for the time, he took a large loan to pay for part of his property, from a man named Gregg.
After the battle, Tryon’s army continued west to rescue another militia force, under Gen. Hugh Waddell, that Regulators had trapped in Salisbury. The army camped here on Husband’s plantation on Tuesday, May 21, 1771. Tryon describes it as 600 acres of “Excellent Land.” He says, “A large parcel of Treasonable papers (were) found in his Home, and some of his Stock, and Cattle, on or near the plantation.” He mentions they have no account of Husband after the battle.
The army was made up of company-sized volunteers from the existing county regiments of part-time soldiers called “militia.” Per his orders earlier in the campaign, the companies likely camp in two lines in the same order they used in the battle, 200 yards between them, and five paces between each company.
One of Tryon’s officers reported in a letter that Husband “had growing on his Plantation about 50 Acres of as fine Wheat as perhaps ever grew, with (a) Clover Meadow equal to any in the Northern Colonies…” The fields were likely downslope from you, nearer the creek. However, 400 horses turned out to graze by the army “in a few days left it without a Spear of Corn, Grass, or Herbage growing, and without a House or Fence standing!” Presumably it was the army, not the horses, which destroyed the house somewhere near you, and the fences probably became firewood.
Regulators come in to accept a pardon offered by the governor after the battle. They must agree to leave their guns here and pledge loyalty to the King, among other conditions. Also here during the army’s stay, according to Tryon’s collected orders, letters, and journal, on:
Wednesday the 22nd:
A court martial is held for a few prisoners, with Col. Samuel Ashe presiding.
Tryon offers a reward of $2 for, “Lost in the Field on the Day of Battle a blue Husar [sic] Cloak…” (“Hussar,” originally referring to cavalry in Hungary, came to mean any fancy-dressed cavalry officer.)
He sends out the Wake and Cumberland companies plus a “Light Horse” cavalry troop of volunteers to rescue wagons sent to two mills to the east to get flour. Quakers had informed him Regulators stopped a detachment sent to Lindley’s Mill, near today’s Eli Whitney.
Heavy rain and resultant flooding hold the army in place.
The flour wagons arrive, with three extra taken from Dixon’s Mill by modern Snow Camp, N.C., because of Simon Dixon’s support for the Regulators—he hosted at least one meeting at his mill. This makes for 70 barrels of flour. Tryon sends requisitions for different numbers of beef cattle and more flour from each town or region in the central part of the colony. They total 415 cows, and 293 barrels on top of those already delivered.
He gives rewards to all of the noncommissioned officers (like sergeants) and soldiers for the arms and horse tack they turned in after the battle.
In response to a letter from the commander of the Surry County Regiment, Tryon agrees he should move toward the army, but orders him to halt five miles short and send a messenger. (Perhaps this was a precaution against army scouts mistaking the regiment for Regulators.)
Friday, 24: Col. Edmund Fanning is sent with the Orange County Company to Harmon Cox’s Mill, below today’s Ramseur, to claim food. (Cox, too, hosted the Regulators.) More heavy rains soak the army all day.
Saturday, 25: Again rains prevent a march. The colonels are ordered to try Col. William Johnston of the Bute County Regiment for failing to raise the number of men Tryon required from it prior to the campaign. He is found guilty and removed from command.
Tryon threatens courts-martial if men keep firing off weapons in camp, against orders.
A “ranger” unit is sent to join the Orange detachment for an unexplained reason, but is blocked by flooding at Polecat Creek nine miles west of here.
Noting that 1,300 men from around the Deep River have come in for the parole, he writes Waddell that there is no “advantage” to Waddell staying near Salisbury. Tryon orders him to join the army “at the upper Ford of the Deep River where the Trading Path crosses,” near Randleman.
Deserters are court-martialed.
Tryon states the men have no tents, “or any thing to shelter them but Boughs and the Bark of Trees” from seven days of rain. Almost a hundred have fevers. (The lack of tents is unexplained. His orders before the battle explicitly stated tents were to be left standing. Possible explanations include their being left behind to free up wagons for flour, or that the constant rains have rotted them.)
Tuesday, 28: The army finally marches west at 2 p.m., presumably using the road pictured above.
A local historian wrote that, “It appears that all of Husband’s property was either confiscated or destroyed by Governor Tryon, and it isn’t clear whether Gregg’s mortgage was respected.”
Move exactly 10 years ahead in time to visit another army:
Return to Ramseur-Julian Road and turn left.
Drive to the first cross-street, Old Liberty Road, and turn left.
Drive a short distance to the one-lane bridge over Sandy Creek.
Park on the right, in the circular driveway of the former miller’s home, on the end of the drive nearest the bridge.
Both to respect the property owner’s rights and for your safety, please remain in your vehicle within the public right-of-way on the road shoulder.
Samuel Walker’s Mill was right next to you between here and the bridge. A dam and mill pond was to the left of the road. In March of 1781, the British army of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis had won, but been badly injured at, the Battle of Guilford Court House in today’s Greensboro. After spending time on or near the battlefield, Cornwallis moved to Bell’s Mill west of here. At some point he decided to go to Cross Creek (modern Fayetteville) to recover within the safety of a Loyalist region. On Thursday, March 22, 1781, the army stopped here.
More than 2,000 people would have camped over two square miles extending onto some of Husband’s land. They huddled around campfires, Cornwallis having ordered the army’s tent wagons destroyed before the battle to move faster. Besides the soldiers, many of them wounded, there were camp followers, and possibly some Loyalist refugees and people escaping slavery. They left the next day in the direction you are facing for Dixon’s Mill, mentioned above.
Walker’s Mill may have been replaced in the 1820s, and that building existed into the 1950s. The dam, still visible across the road when leaves are down, was purposely breached in that decade to prevent an uncontrolled break when a hurricane came through. To your right is the remodeled miller’s house, dating before the Civil War.
 Dixon 2020, Whatley 2020. Tract location confirmed by AmRevNC using an overlay of the original deed map (from Powell et al. 1971) on a modern road map, aligning the lower portion and upper forks of Sandy Creek. The hand-drawn map does not align perfectly, so the tract map boundary is approximate.
 People who committed to seven years (typically) of virtual slavery in exchange for passage to America plus room and board, and sometimes training in a craft.
 Dixon, based on two primary sources: the journal of a Hessian regiment (German mercenaries), and another from a Scottish officer. Contrary to local tradition, records found by Dixon prove this to be Walker’s Mill, mentioned in those sources, and not one of Husband’s.
The British army, camped at Deep River Meeting House to the southwest toward Salisbury, has learned of Greene’s location. It left camp before dawn to march on him, led by forces under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton had almost 600 cavalrymen and infantry, including German mercenaries called “Hessians.”
Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Henry Lee camped two to three miles from Guilford Court House toward the Quaker settlement of New Garden, to keep an eye on Cornwallis. He had Continental cavalry and infantry plus militia, again around 600 men. Lee sent a small unit on horseback under Lt. James Heard to watch the British overnight. After sending word in the early morning hours that the British appeared to be moving, Heard retired to the New Garden Meeting House to watch for them. (He actually heard a supply party, but the warning gave Lee’s men more time to prepare.) Greene ordered Lee to move toward the British, to give Greene more time to arrange the rest of the troops.
Thursday, March 15, 1781.
Imagine the Scene
Meetings at the Meeting House
Walk downhill near the “No Trespassing” sign until you can see into the modern intersection on the left.
The road alignments have changed a bit, but this was already a major intersection in 1781. The road from Salisbury to Guilford Court House comes up the route of today’s Friendly Avenue to your right. At the time, the meeting house is near you on the right (visited next in the cemetery). Unlike today, the road curves around it toward you. From the other direction, Friendly Avenue is instead New Garden Road, and intersects the Salisbury Road at more of a right angle, probably between the modern sanctuary and intersection. A little to the east (past the current intersection) the old New Garden Road splits off right from a road to Hillsborough, the biggest town between here and the coast at the time. (Today Friendly merges with US 70 past downtown, parts of which follow the original route to Hillsborough.)
Large trees surround the meeting house as far as you can see. The dawn has broken clear and cold, a light frost dusting the ground. In underbrush on either side of Salisbury Road, to the left of the 1781 intersection, is a line of pickets (guards). These are Heard’s men, dismounted and facing south. They have slowly retired here in front of Tarleton’s cavalry.
The curve, meeting house, and trees create a surprise for the British. When Tarleton’s pickets appear around the bend below you, Heard’s fire a volley. The British fire one back. The Continentals begin running up Salisbury Road, where New Garden Road now runs to your left. Perhaps wary of a trap, the cavalry “followed leisurely’” according to Lee, who runs into Heard in that direction and pulls back to set a trap.
That leads to a cavalry clash at our last stop several miles in that direction. Tarleton’s cavalry retreats this way at a gallop. He turns onto a small road across what today is the Guilford College campus, which then had houses of the New Garden settlement. Maybe he mistook it for the Salisbury Road, being unfamiliar with the area, or perhaps he was thinking the main army was closer, and he was getting out of its way. That road, likely a shortcut to the Hillsborough Road, came out on or near today’s Friendly Avenue in the distance. There Tarleton turns right and heads back this direction.
Bullets through the Trees
Take the nearest paved walkway into the cemetery—not downhill past the trespassing sign! Stop around the large memorial on the right for the Stout family.
A Quaker meeting house was on this site by 1742, but burned ten years later. The second, built in 1754 as an offshoot of the Cane Creek Meeting House near Snow Camp, was still in use in 1781. Gravestones were already in the cemetery.
The 25-year-old Lee, following close behind 26-year-old Tarleton, sees an opportunity. He leads his cavalry directly down today’s New Garden Road toward the meeting house here, hoping to cut Tarleton off from the main army. Now, however, the curve, trees, and sanctuary surprise Lee: The first of the British infantry has arrived at the intersection near you! The sun is peeking over the trees. The Redcoats lower their muskets, and the reflections off the barrels spook Lee’s horse. He falls about the time they open fire, and mounts another.
Just after this, Tarleton’s force charges into sight from beyond the intersection. Lee orders a retreat, and they start back up the road followed by the Redcoat infantry. Neither gets far. The Continental cavalry runs into its own infantry, who open fire on the British, halting them. Militia with more accurate and long-ranged rifles under Col. William Campbell arrive to the left of the Continentals, on what now is the college campus, and add their fire. (Campbell commanded the Overmountain Men at the Battle of King’s Mountain, S.C., five months earlier.) The two sides spread into loose lines, the British and Hessians on or near Friendly where it runs south of the meeting house, and the Americans here on the slope of the meeting house grounds. Some riflemen go into the meeting house. They use the window and door openings to shoot, and some knock out holes between the logs. Quickly more than a thousand men on the two sides are firing at close quarters in these woods. (The effective range of muskets of the day is less than 50 yards, half of an American football field.)
For 30–40 minutes, you are standing in a kill zone with lead balls flying by in both directions. The two sides charge and countercharge. Some sources suggest Tarleton loses two fingers here, but more recent research indicates that happened later in the day. Lee claims the British tended to overshoot his cavalry, “so that their caps and accoutrements were all struck with green twigs, cut by British ball out of large oaks in the meetinghouse yard…”
As more men begin to appear in the British line, Lee decides the main part of their army must be nearing. He stations his cavalry to your left to keep Tarleton at bay and orders a retreat. For the British, the Hessians take the lead in following him. The two sides continue a slow-moving fight up the road.
Walk uphill into the cemetery, to the rectangle of bricks in the ground, shown on the right in the picture above.
After the battles here and at the courthouse, the Quakers tend to hundreds of the wounded from both sides. The meeting house is turned into a hospital, and a number of the dead are buried here, as indicated on the memorial.
Just uphill is a marker to the “Revolutionary Oak,” a tree already hundreds of years old at the time, which stood until 1954. That marker claims the cornerstones of the meeting house are nearby, but those apparently were removed sometime after.
Read the following before you drive to the next stop.
Somewhere along the college parking lot that you will see as you drive, on the right before the main entrance onto the Guilford College campus, was the start of Tarleton’s “shortcut” discussed earlier. It probably ran between the buildings off the southeast corner of the lot, turned more easterly across the modern college quadrangle, and continued between the football and baseball fields on the far side.
Clash at the Cross Roads
Go back to your car and:
Return to New Garden Road and turn left. Note: The lot mentioned above is immediately visible to the right.
Drive 0.7 miles, continuing straight onto Fleming Road where New Garden curves right.
Drive to the other entrance on the New Garden side, and park where you can see the intersection you just passed through.
This intersection pre-dates the Revolutionary War, referred to by locals of the time as the “Cross Roads.” Back then Ballinger Road, across the intersection, continued straight instead of curving toward you. Thus it met New Garden at a right angle, to the left (south) of the modern intersection. Fleming Road to the right was the road to the settlement of Oak Ridge. New Garden, though a narrow wagon road, curved the same way it does today.
Lee’s forces formed lines across New Garden, facing the way you are. They were probably on the uphill side of a stream that runs through the modern woods behind you, below the credit union parking lot. The modern road has clearly been raised; at the time the wagon road would have dropped down to and forded that stream.
The British march up New Garden Road the same way you came and spread into battle lines diagonally across the intersection from you, in what may have been farm fields. They march close enough to exchange volleys with the Continentals, possibly where you sit now.
A curious teenager may single-handedly have prevented Lee from getting flanked. In a letter to the college president 100 years later, a local man passed along a story about a 16-year-old, last name Hunt, who lived on current college land near the Cross Roads. He reportedly sneaks to a fence, probably running east-west along a field on the other side of New Garden from the credit union, to watch the battle. But a British cavalry unit appears from the woods where the college is now, and the captain in front sounds the charge on his bugle. By leaping the fence, they could have attacked the side of Lee’s line.
On a dangerous whim, Hunt lifts his musket, fires, and fells the captain. Probably thinking Patriots lined the fence, the unit retreats. As evidence this story could be true, Tarleton later reported the death of one of his cavalry captains in this battle.
The Cross Roads combat continues for half an hour, until Lee sees the British 23rd Regiment of Foot (infantry) come up New Garden from the south. With these men entering the lines, most of Cornwallis’ army is now arrayed against Lee’s much smaller force! Lee wisely orders a withdrawal toward the main army at 11 a.m.
The Long Lane
The scene of the first major action of the day, after the picket skirmish at the meeting house, is a little further up the road:
From the nearby exit from the lot, turn left to New Garden Road. Note: During rush hour, it may be easier to go back the way you came, and turn at the stoplight.
Drive 0.6 miles to the Jefferson Elementary School sign.
Turn right between it and the Price Park sign on the other side.
Park along the road and walk back to the intersection. (Or to stay in your vehicle, read the following first, then turn around and pause at the stop sign if you can.)
Look to the right.
Here where it curves left, Lee describes New Garden Road as “‘a long lane, with high curved fences on either side of the road.’” It most likely runs where the median is today. Open farm fields must be on either side, which would explain the fences. In those days, ranchers could allow their animals to roam freely under state law, so farmers had to put up fences to protect their crops.
Lee’s cavalry and Heard’s men retire to this point after Heard’s exchange of volleys with the British pickets. Though unclear from the records, it seems that Lee has some of his men form lines within the lane near here.
Look left down New Garden Road.
The green-coated cavalry of Tarleton appears in the distance, sees the small force here, and attacks at a gallop. However, it cannot maneuver thanks to the fences, and the Whigs drive him off. A second attack fails as well, and then you hear thundering hooves from the other direction: Lee has ordered his horsemen, also in green coats, to charge. They may have started from past the fences on the far side of the road, because he mentions them wheeling right before attacking. The men in the lane take the “point,” the front of the attack, as all open fire and charge. Some of Tarleton’s men fall immediately. As the British try to turn around and retreat, Lee says most of those in front are knocked off their horses and some are taken prisoner, with no casualties among his men.
Tarleton retreats back to the shortcut and main action described earlier at the Meeting House. Lee’s force passes back this way after the fight at the Cross Roads, followed by the entire British army.
If you are visiting the Guilford battlefield next, just turn right and follow them!
Meeting House, The Battle of New Garden: All locations are approximate. 1) Not illustrated: Continental, British pickets exchange volleys; Americans withdraw, British cavalry follows. 2) After Long Lane skirmish, British cavalry retreats, takes side road. 3) American cavalry goes straight to intersection, finds British infantry, turns back. 4) Americans return with infantry and militia, exchange fire as British cavalry returns. 5) As more British arrive, Americans withdraw to Cross Roads.
Lane and Cross Roads, The Battle of New Garden: All troop and fence locations are approximate. 1) After initial skirmish at Meeting House, British cavalry attack Continentals twice. 2) Continental cavalry charges, drive British off. 3) After firefight at Meeting House, Continentals withdraw to heights above Cross Roads. 4) Teen’s shot drives off a British cavalry unit. 5) After delaying British infantry, Continentals retire.
British: 31 killed or wounded.
Continental/Militia: 17 killed or wounded.
After the Battle
In addition to those in the New Garden cemetery, bodies are buried along New Garden Road and in a plot on the heights behind the American position at the Cross Roads. At least into the late 1800s, people in England sent payments to the Ballinger family to maintain a small graveyard there. But those stopped, and all traces have vanished. (As president in 1792, George Washington breakfasted at John Ballinger’s home on New Garden Road on his way to the courthouse battleground, during his tour of the southern states.)
Historians mistakenly treated the events at New Garden as a single cavalry skirmish of no significance to the later battle. Research by Guilford College alumnus and history professor Algie Newlin in 1977, mentioned under “Location,” revealed the battle’s significance and gave it a name. Lee’s forces engaged the British for at least a couple of hours, including most of their army at the end; inflicted significant casualties; and fatigued them on top of their early morning march. Each of these factors no doubt played a significant role in the damage done to the British later in the day. Had this happened the day before, it surely would have been seen as a separate battle.
Dolley Payne was born in New Garden in 1768. Her parents moved back to their home state of Virginia when she was a baby, and eventually to Philadelphia. She married there, but her husband and one son died of yellow fever when she was 25. A Virginia congressman asked Aaron Burr—who later killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel—for an introduction, and in 1794, she married that man. James Madison went on to become president. Dolley Madison became famous for rescuing a painting of George Washington before the British burned the White House in the War of 1812. (Though her name is often spelled “Dolly,” her birth certificate said “Dolley.”)
The Meeting House and nearby Guilford College woods are considered the southern-most stop on the “Underground Railroad,” the series of safe houses that helped enslaved people escape to freedom prior to the Civil War.
Babits, Lawrence, and Joshua Howard, Long, Obstinate, and Bloody: The Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009)
Barefoot, Daniel, Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1998)
Hilty, Hiram H., New Garden Friends Meeting: The Christian People Called Quakers (Greensboro, N.C.: North Carolina Friends Historical Society, New Garden Friends Meeting, 2011) <http://archive.org/details/newgardenfriends00hilt> [accessed 4 August 2020]
Lee, Henry, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States, Second Edition (Washington, D.C.: Peter Force, 1827), Google-Books-ID: DpwBAAAAMAAJ
 Lee 1827. A reverend who collected war stories from eyewitnesses in the middle 1800s (Caruthers 1856) says Lee’s horse is captured by a local farmer the next day, who sells him to Tarleton. No independent source reports this story, however, including Tarleton’s memoir (1787).