David Fanning

Tory Leader who Kidnapped the Governor


Cover of David Fanning's memoirDavid Fanning was born to a landowning farmer in Virginia, but his father drowned, and the family moved to what now is Wake County. Then his mother died when he was around age 9. He eventually became a ward of a county justice, who neglected Fanning to the point that he got a disease leaving him bald for life. Fanning was taken in by a kinder family in Orange County for a period, gaining a reputation as a horse tamer. Eventually he moved to Upstate South Carolina and became a farmer, He joined local Loyalist (“Tory”) militia in May 1775 that suppressed early rebels (“Whigs”). For three years Fanning fought alongside the Cherokees during their attacks on the frontier, led Loyalist units, or was in jail: He claimed he was captured 14 times, either escaping or being released each time.[1] In August 1779 he took a parole from the South Carolina governor on condition of serving with the Patriots, which he did until the British captured Charleston the next May. He then returned to the King’s cause. The next month he joined Maj. Patrick Ferguson briefly to help recruit and train local Tories.[2] But after the British/Loyalist disaster at King’s Mountain, S.C., where Ferguson was killed, he moved to Chatham County and laid low. When the British army occupied Hillsborough in 1781, he returned to activity, fortifying a base camp near today’s Ramseur after the British retreat to Wilmington. His militia began a yearlong campaign of mutual terror against Patriots. He wrote Patriot Gov. Thomas Burke: “‘I will retaliate blood for blood and tenfold for one and there shall never an officer or private of the rebel party escape that falls into my hands hereafter but what shall suffer the pain and punishment of instant death.’”[3] Over time he built up an army of more than 900 men. Among his exploits were the capture of dozens of Chatham County officials near the courthouse, kidnapping of the Patriot governor, two wins in open battle with Whig forces, and numerous attacks on individual Patriot homes. In April 1782, he escaped to British-controlled Charleston and eventually moved to Nova Scotia. There he served in, but was kicked out of, its Provincial Congress; was convicted of rape but pardoned; became a mill owner and ship builder; and died at age 69.

More Information

[1] Fanning 1865.

[2] Sherman 2007.

[3] Mayr 2014.

Ad for our online store showing a mug, tote bag, and cap