Black Swamp Campsite

A Guilford Casualty Succumbs

Location


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Coordinates: 34.6856, -78.7843.

Type: Stop
Tour: Tory War
County: Bladen

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The triangle in the southwest corner of NC 131 and Perdie Church Road, at the coordinates, can accommodate any passenger vehicle. Park facing the highway if you want to stay inside your vehicle.
 

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

 

Description

Walk near the highway if you wish, and look north (to the right when facing it).

Hoping to recover from damage inflicted on his army at the Battle of Guilford Court House in modern Greensboro, British Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis took his army to Cross Creek (today’s Fayetteville). However there weren’t enough supplies or Loyalist allies there, so he decided to continue to Wilmington, occupied by a British force. On the way, his army of perhaps 1,800 plus followers arrived from the north and camped here near Black Swamp, the waterway to the left, on Monday, April 2, 1781.

Photo looking up a rural two-lane road past a field and between trees
British approach route (AmRevNC photograph)

From here, as at other stops along the route, the British sent out foraging parties to collect food. Helping were people who had escaped slavery by joining the march. A British major complains some cannot resist “‘Plunder’g and Using Violence to the Inhabitants’” in these early days of their freedom.[1]

In this camp Lt. Col. James Webster, whose right knee and thigh were badly wounded at Guilford, finally succumbs to his wounds. He had been traveling two weeks in a litter, probably a blanket slung between two horses, no doubt in agony. On hearing of his death, a British sergeant writes later, Cornwallis “looked on his sword, and emphatically exclaimed, ‘I have lost my scabbard.’”[2] Three weeks later, from Wilmington, Cornwallis would write the terrible news to Webster’s parents, saying:

“It gives me great concern to undertake a task, which is not only a bitter renewal of my own grief, but must be a violent shock to an affectionate parent… You have for your satisfaction, that your son fell nobly in the cause of his country, honoured and lamented by his fellow-soldiers; that he led a life of honor and virtue, which must secure to him everlasting happiness.”[3]

Webster was buried in an unmarked grave at the next campsite, exact location unknown, between Elizabethtown and Brown’s Creek to its south. A bizarre but scientifically possible story is told about him by Rev. E.W. Caruthers in 1854, who collected stories from eyewitnesses and veterans:

“A few years ago some gentlemen in the neighborhood, undertook to find the place, and ascertain in what condition were his remains.” An elderly African-American “pointed out the precise spot. One of the gentlemen stuck the point of his cane in the ground, and, discovering that it readily gave way, ordered a servant to take a spade and cautiously remove the earth. He did so, and it was discovered to be a grave. They continued the operation, and soon came on what appeared to be the body of a soldier.  It seemed to be perfect, and the ornament on the cap was entire. All gazed in mute silence on the spectacle, and were surprised to see how little change had been made in half a century; but the illusion was soon at an end; for the corpse at first so life-like in appearance, on being exposed to the atmosphere, soon crumbled into dust. They filled up the grave again, and retired with a feeling of regret that they had disturbed the ashes of the dead.”[4]

What to See

The camp would have extended from here south toward Black Swamp on the far side of the farm fields, on both sides of the road, covering up to two square miles. There likely was a mill near where the road crosses the swamp, at which the troops could grind (and/or steal) flour.[5]

Photo of a two-lane road passing in front of a farm field
(AmRevNC photograph)
Small boy in a blue shirt that says, "Do Whig Out!"

[1] Dunkerly, Robert M., Redcoats on the Cape Fear: The Revolutionary War in Southeastern North Carolina, Revised (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012).

[2] Babits, Lawrence, and Joshua Howard, Long, Obstinate, and Bloody: The Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

[3] Haynes, Kenneth, ‘Lord Charles Cornwallis’s March Down the Cape Fear River’, NCGenWeb, 2006 <http://ncgenweb.us/cumberland/1776revolution.html> [accessed 24 January 2020].

[4] Caruthers, E. W. (Eli Washington), Revolutionary Incidents and Sketches of Character, Chiefly in the ‘Old North State’ (Philadelphia, Hayes & Zell, 1854) <http://archive.org/details/revolutionaryinc00caru> [accessed 17 April 2020]; also told with other details that suggest different primary sources, supporting the basic facts, in Oates, John A., The Story of Fayetteville and the Upper Cape Fear (Fayetteville, N.C.: Woman’s Club of Fayetteville, 1950) https://archive.org/details/storyoffayettevi00john.

[5] In addition to the other footnoted sources, “Stop” information comes from one of two guidebooks; NCpedia; and related Sight pages (see “About Sources“).

Cross Creek | Tory War Tour | Elizabethtown