Dixon’s Mill

A Patriot Demands Her Pipe

Location


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Coordinates: 35.8846, -79.4406.

Type: Sight
Tour: Regulators
County: Alamance

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The coordinates take you to the remains of Dixon’s Mill. Though not marked, there is a grassy parking area to the right (if heading south from Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road) just before the bridge over Cane Creek. If you have a larger vehicle, you may want to continue across the bridge, turn left on Drama Road, pull off immediately, and park on the wide shoulder. If there, watch for traffic as you walk back to the mill, as there is no shoulder on the bridge.

Context

Badly damaged in its victory at the Battle of Guilford Court House in today’s Greensboro, the British Army under Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis is withdrawing to Cross Creek (now Fayetteville) to recover.

Situation

British/Tory

The army remained at the battlefield two days. Upon leaving it first camped at Bell’s Mill (north of Asheboro), and then Walker’s Mill near modern Liberty. Now it continues east toward another mill and water source.

Continental/Patriot

The Continental Army under Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene has retired to Troublesome Iron Works west of the battlefield to recover, and is not yet pursuing the British.

Dates

Thursday, March 22–Sunday, March 25, 1781.

Timeline

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

Imagine the Scene

View the foundation.

Photo of a wide, brown, wooden chair with a woven seat and ladder-like back support
Plaque reads: “Brought from Pa. to N.C. by Simon Dixon in 1751. Occupied by Lord Cornwallis March 1781 on his retreat from Battle of Guilford. Owned by T.C. Dixon 1871.” (Exhibits, Greensboro History Museum, 2020; photo by AmRevNC).

This was Dixon’s Mill, built in 1753 on Cane Creek. The mill race—channel dug to divert water for power—is up the small rise to your right. Cornwallis has taken over the home of Dixon as his headquarters, somewhere nearby, probably beyond the modern house uphill. A snow has fallen, and Cornwallis spends much of his time warming himself in a straight-back chair by the fire.

Simon’s wife Elizabeth and their children have been forced to live here in the mill. Other than one or more Redcoat guards on the door, and the sounds of Dixon’s family making do inside, there is none of the activity you might expect given that an army is trying to feed itself. That’s because Dixon and his sons, all rebels, jammed timbers into the millstones so the mill cannot be used.

At some point Elizabeth leaves the building, walks past you uphill, and approaches her home. There she is stopped by the sentries. She demands entry, they refuse, and an argument ensues. The door opens. It is Cornwallis himself. “What is the trouble?” he asks. Dixon explains that she wants her pipe and tobacco. He escorts her inside, helps her find them, and sends her back past you to the mill.

Foundation remains of mill
(AmRevNC photograph)

Go back to your car and:

  1. Turn north (from the mill, away from the creek) on Sylvan School Road.
    Note: The rock wall you will soon pass on the left was built by Dixon a year after the mill.
  2. Drive across the intersection with Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road.
  3. Turn right into the parking lot at Cane Creek Meeting House.
Old rock wall
(AmRevNC photograph)

Get out of your vehicle and face Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road.

The meeting house of the time was probably where the current building is today, basically a big log cabin. Quaker homes and outbuildings are within view in all directions.

The 2,000-man British army and its camp followers march past the mill and toward you on Thursday, March 22, 1781. They set up camp around the building on today’s cemetery and down toward the creek. They have no tents to ward off the cold, having burned their wagons to move faster prior to the battle. The worst of the wounded are moved into the meeting house.

Photo looking across a rural intersection along a road continuing downhill through fields
View toward the mill from the meeting house (AmRevNC photograph)

“The soldiers stacked their guns in two long rows between the mill and the Dixon house,” a meeting house history says. “The hillside was dotted with camp fires as the men rested. The smell of roasting meat filled the air. According to private records, the soldiers killed 250 sheep, fifty cows, and scoured the neighborhood for bee hives until they had about eighty.”[1] Over the course of their stay, soldiers tear down all of the fencing in the community to use in their campfires.

Photo of British soldiers in red coats marching behind an officer and two flags
British reenactors marching (Credit: Tommc73 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

“The cattle were butchered near the meetinghouse. The benches, which were single board seats with no backs, were carried into the yard and used as ‘butcher tables.’” When the first building burned and a new meeting house was built early in the 1800s, the benches were reused. “The benches continued to be used in the meetinghouse, still bearing axe marks and blood stains, until a fire in 1879 destroyed them.”

The Dixons are known to support the Revolution and thus Simon has taken refuge near modern-day Mebane. He makes the mistake of coming back too soon and is captured.[2] Because he owns the mill and much of the land around you, soldiers have been searching for his money. They torture him with tongs heated in a campfire to find it, but he will only say, “On the banks of Cane Creek.”

The Sunday after they arrived, the British pack up again and move out east (to the left) along what now is Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road.

Walk around the back of the buildings to what appears to be a round tombstone.

This is one of the millstones from Dixon’s Mill that was jammed by him and his sons. Three of the wounded soldiers died in the meeting house and are buried here.

Millstone with a plaque on it with gravestones in the distance
(AmRevNC photograph)

Look behind the marker and some distance away you will see another millstone. Walk to it.

Simon and Elizabeth Dixon lie here. While being held at the British camp, Simon contracted an unspecified “camp fever,” perhaps caused by his torture wounds. He died in their house three weeks after the British left—in the same chair Cornwallis had used.

Historical Tidbits

  • Dixon was a leader of the “Regulators,” pre-war protesters against unfair taxes and corrupt officials of the colonial government. In 1768, 500 men supposedly gathered on his land planning to march on Hillsborough, the closest government center. But they called it off after Royal Gov. William Tryon agreed to meet their demands. Tryon failed to do so, and three years later Dixon fought in the climactic Battle of Alamance between the Regulators and Tryon’s militia army. After the battle Tryon sent a detachment to take four wagon-loads of flour from the mill.
  • Fortune hunters have tried for years to find what is known locally as the “Long Stocking Treasure.” Dixon is said to have put his money in a stocking before burying it along the creek.
Mug saying "More than a minute-man," with a drawing of a Continental officer

More Information


[1] Teague 1995.

[2] There is no written documentation of this incident from the time, but several later sources record it based on oral histories.

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