Lillington’s Grave

Patriot Leader at Moore’s Creek


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Type: Hidden History
County: Pender

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The bumpy, dirt, Lillington Lane can only get you close to Alexander Lillington’s grave, past where the lane takes a sharp right at the marker above. The family cemetery is out of sight on private property. Their home was nearby, but the exact location is unpublished, and perhaps unknown.

Red tee shirt saying "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll


Old drawing of a two-story wooden home with a wraparound porch, and two trees in front
Lillington Hall in 1849 (Lossing 1851)

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.[1] 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.[2] Back home, he was elected to the state House of Commons.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

Lillington and his wife Sarah raised four children, one of whom served in the regular Continental Army.[7] 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.

More Information

[1] Tryon 1771.

[2] Rankin 1971.

[3] “Minutes” 1777.

[4] Rankin.

[5] Watson 1991.

[6] Rankin.

[7] Watson.

[a] “Articles” 1775.