Tory’s Den

Patriots Punish Tory Thieves

Location


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Coordinates: 36.4016, -80.2997.

Type: Stop
Tour: Wachovia
County: Stokes

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The trail to the Tory’s Den has rough ground, sometimes steep with uneven steps, and thus is inaccessible for most people with mobility issues. However, an information board can be viewed from the parking lot above the cave’s mouth, as can the house at our second stop.

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

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

 

Description

Tory’s Den

Evidence is limited for the Tory’s Den stories on this page. The first seems based only on local traditions, repeated in two sources. The second comes from a single source that is generally based on eyewitness accounts, but does not list its specific sources. Believe with caution!

Photo of a trail leading into woods from a parking lot
(AmRevNC photograph)

Walk to the Tory’s Den Trail head at the far end of the parking lot—not the one across from the first lot entrance, though a sign there bears the name, too. Take the trail approximately a quarter-mile to its end at a small cave.

Much of the fighting in North Carolina during the American Revolution was a civil war between people backing independence (Patriots or “Whigs”) and those supporting Great Britain (Loyalists or “Tories”). Two skirmishes of that “war within a war” may have occurred here.

Oral tradition holds that in 1778, Tories forced out of their homes by Whig attacks were living here. They raided the home of John (“Jack”) Martin, visited later on this page, for supplies. Martin fought as a Patriot throughout much of the war. Along with supplies, the Tories kidnapped a woman. Sources differ on whether it was Martin’s daughter or an employee’s.

Martin and another man gathered neighbors to hunt for the Tories. One night they spotted a fire the Loyalists had set here. (Notice the black soot stains on the ceiling from fires burned inside.) Martin supposedly took a compass reading so they could find the spot in the daylight. Maybe the Tories thought they could safely risk a fire in the back of the cave, knowing it could only be seen at night if someone happened onto a direct line of sight.

Photo of a narrow cave opening in a large outcrop of rock, with trees to the left
(AmRevNC photograph)

The rescuers managed to surround the cave without being noticed, and launched a surprise attack. They may have killed a few of the Loyalists, but captured most, and rescued the woman without any Whig casualties.[1]

The information board suggests 100 people were living here, which seems unlikely given its size. Perhaps some slept on the flatter ground above the cave and hid here during the day.

For people unable to visit: The cave, roughly 12 feet high at the entrance, is perhaps 20 feet deep. But it quickly narrows to 6 feet or less in width starting about two-thirds of the way back. The total floor area is around the size of a modest living room.

In February 1781, perhaps emboldened by the presence of a British army in the region, seven Loyalists supposedly broke into the home of a Patriot farmer named Blackburn. They stole everything—even the clothes off his back! Led by a Capt. Stanly, they took refuge in this cave.[2]

Blackburn made his way to the home of the commander of the Surry County militia (part-time soldiers), Lt. Col. Joseph Winston. Winston loaned him a pair of pants and sent for help. With the men who responded quickly, they went searching, and learned a boy had taken bread to the Tories. Winston hung the child to learn where they were, cutting him down before he died.

The Patriots continued to the cave. They attacked, and the Tories ran. Stanly escaped, but four were killed and one captured. One other man initially escaped but was tracked down. He shot the Patriot’s horse in the eye. Then on turning to run, he received a bullet in the back, from which he later died.[3]

The Rock House

To see Martin’s intriguing “Rock House” a few miles away, return to your vehicle and:

  1. After turning right out of the lot, keep making left turns to arrive at NC 66.
  2. Turn right, drive 1.6 miles, and turn left on Taylor Road.
  3. Drive 0.3 miles, and turn right on State Road 1175.
  4. Drive 1.6 miles, and turn left on Flat Rock Road.
    Note: The graves of Martin and his wife are just before the turn, on the right.
  5. Take the next right, Col. Jack Martin Road.
  6. Turn right into the pullout at the remains of the stone house.

Walk to the house if you wish.

There is some debate over when Jack Martin was born to James and Mary Martin.[4] He was raised about 6 miles to the north. If the birth year of 1756 is correct, he was only 14 when he picked out this site for his future home and began working on it around 1770. By 1776 when American independence was declared, it was two stories high.

Photo of the roofless ruins of a house of light-brown rocks, with vertical stabilizing poles around it and a black security fence
(AmRevNC photograph)

That year Martin joined the Surry County militia in a campaign against Cherokee villages to the west. In that campaign he rode on horseback over mountain gaps, down trails, and across streams as far as modern Delano, Tenn.—674 miles round-trip on modern roads! For the next few years he primarily fought Tories and Native Americans, rising to lieutenant. Then in the summer of 1780, a British corps occupied a base near modern Rutherfordton to suppress Patriot activity, and its commander threatened to cross the Appalachians. “Overmountain Men” from there and others in this region responded by marching on him, including Martin. He probably mustered with the county militia in modern Elkin and repeated the first part of his Cherokee campaign route toward today’s Morganton. However, at some point he was wounded while scouting ahead, and he missed the decisive Battle of King’s Mountain (S.C.).

He recovered to fight again when the British invaded N.C. a second time in early 1781. Martin was at the Battle of Clapp’s Mill near modern Burlington, and then on the American first line at the climactic Battle of Guilford Court House in today’s Greensboro. At some point in the war he was wounded a second time, and carried buckshot in his temple for the rest of his life.[5]

He married Nancy Shipp in 1784, prompting him to finish the house here. Martin raised it to three stories, plus a basement with a fireplace large enough “‘to roast an ox.’”[6] As you can still see, the walls were two feet thick, reportedly covered with white stucco and visible for miles. The house may have been used as a militia muster point and fortified blockhouse during the war.

Closeup photo of the rear wall from the left corner, showing the wall thickness in the door and window openings
(AmRevNC photograph)

In later years, it was a social center for the area. While raising 10 children, the Martins ran a large plantation growing various crops and horses using an unknown number of enslaved people. Martin was also a magistrate and was elected to the House of Commons of the state General Assembly. Meanwhile he remained in the county militia nearly 20 years after the war, rising to colonel.

Martin died while fighting a forest fire with his wife, enslaved workers, and neighbors in 1822, around age 66. He reportedly lay down on a flat rock to rest while Nancy took over the fight, and when she returned, he was dead.[7] She lived another 19 years, and they are both buried in the family cemetery nearby.

If you want to visit the graveyard, you can walk down the open part of the slope, to the left facing away from the house, and back to the intersection of SR 1175. The graves are to the right.

More Information


[1] Information Board; The Danbury Reporter.

[2] Tory’s Den Cave and Waterfall Trail.

[3] Lewis 2010.

[4] Not to Joseph Martin as reported in some sources, according to DNA testing (per “John ‘Jack’ Martin…”).

[5] Stokes County Historical Society.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Danbury Reporter.

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