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Chapter 23

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of North Carolina

The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York, 1919
Volume I by
R. D. W. Connor

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 25
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. I
Chapter 24
Military Affairs

From 1775 to the close of the Revolution military affairs were of course the most urgent concern of the government and people of North Carolina. The Indians on the frontier, ever ready to take up the hatchet; the Tories in the interior, always lying in wait for favorable opportunities to revolt; the British on the coast, constantly threatening invasion from the sea, menaced the State from three directions. Besides providing for her own defence against these dangers, North Carolina was expected to contribute her proportionate part to the common defence. The chief problems of the new State, therefore, during the first seven years of its existence were those which concerned the raising, organizing and equipping of troops, their maintenance in camps, and their operations in the field.

For home defence North Carolina depended chiefly upon her minute men and militia. Organizations of these classes of troops were first authorized by the Congress of August, 1775, which provided that the colony should be divided into six military districts in each of which should be raised one battalion of minute men. Their field officers were to be elected by the Congress, their company officers by the companies. The minute men were placed under the orders of the Provincial Council and when in active service were to be subject to the same discipline as soldiers on the continental establishment. They were enlisted for six months only and at the expiration of their term were disbanded by order of the Provincial Congress. In that brief time, however, they fought and won the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. The Provincial Congress also authorized the organization of companies of independent volunteers, light horse troops, rangers, and artillery. All these organizations, however, like the minute men, were temporary, existing only during the period of the provisional government.

North Carolina's first line of defence was her militia. The right to bear arms in defence of the State is one of the  p438 fundamental rights secured to the people of North Carolina by their Bill of Rights, adopted in 1776. Accordingly Chapter I, Laws of 1777, passed by the first Assembly held under the new Constitution, is "An Act to Establish a Militia in this State." Several other acts relating to the militia were subsequently passed during the Revolution but they did not materially change the main features of the first act which was based largely upon the militia law of the colonial government. Under its terms all effective men in the State from sixteen to fifty years of age, inclusive, were embraced in the militia, and subject to draft. When called into service each man was to be "furnished with a good Gun, shot bag and powder horn, [and] a Cutlass or Tomahawk."

The basis of the organization of the militia was the county. Every county was required to enroll its militia into companies of not less than fifty men each, exclusive of commissioned officers. The men of each company were divided by lot into four classes, each of which was to be called in its turn into active service. Company musters were required to be held at least once a month. All the companies of each county were organized into one or more regiments, or battalions which were required to hold two general musters a year. In each of the six military districts the battalions formed a brigade under the command of a brigadier-general. All general and field officers were elected by the General Assembly. Under the Constitution the governor was the commander-in‑chief of the militia with power, during the recess of the Assembly, to call them into active service. No accurate muster rolls of the militia during the Revolution were kept, and the records of their services are very meager. In 1782, Governor Alexander Martin reported the total militia of the State at 26,822, but how many of these saw active service it is impossible to say. As a rule during the Revolution the militia justified the contempt which professional soldiers have always felt for militia; yet justice requires that it be said that when well led the militia often displayed fighting qualities which might well excite the envy of veteran regulars. No troops ever fought better than Dixon's North Carolina militia at Camden, while it must not be forgotten that it was the militia of Virginia and the Carolinas that struck the blow at King's Mountain that turned the tide of the Revolution and assured the ultimate triumph at Yorktown.

In 1775 the Continental Congress determined to raise a Continental Army to which it asked the several states to contribute in proportion to their populations. At first the men  p439 were to be enlisted for one year only although Washington repeatedly pointed out the folly of such a policy, warning Congress that "no dependence could be put in a militia," or other short-term troops and expressing his earnest conviction "that our liberties must, of necessity, be greatly hazarded, if not entirely lost, if their defence be left to any but a permanent army." His warnings made but little impression until reinforced by the military disasters of the summer of 1776, which culminated in his defeat on Long Island, on August 27th. Alarmed by these events, in September, Congress resolved to raise a regular army enlisted "for the war," to be composed of eighty-eight battalions.

North Carolina's quota was nine battalions. Six of these had already been organized by authority of the Provincial Congress. As we have already seen the Congress of August, 1775, raised two battalions of 500 men each on the continental establishment, and placed them under command of Colonel James Moore and Colonel Robert Howe. They became the first and second North Carolina Continentals. Four additional battalions were provided for by the Congress of April, 1776. The third was placed under command of Colonel Jethro Sumner, the fourth under Colonel Thomas Polk, the fifth under Colonel Edward Buncombe, and the sixth under Colonel Alexander Lillington. To complete the State's quota, the Congress of November, 1776, authorized the raising of three more battalions to be commanded by Colonel James Hogun, Colonel James Armstrong, and Colonel John Williams. These three completed the quota on paper. Nevertheless, in April, 1777, the General Assembly directed the raising of a tenth battalion to be commanded by Colonel Abraham Sheppard and requested the Continental Congress to place it on the continental establishment. The request was granted and Sheppard's became the tenth battalion of the North Carolina Continental Line.

North Carolina Continentals saw their first service outside their own province in the defence of Charleston in the summer of 1776. As soon as Sir Henry Clinton's purpose to strike a blow at the South became known the Continental Congress created the Southern Department consisting of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and assigned the command to General Charles Lee. Lee, who was at New York when notified of his assignment, set out immediately, March 7, 1776, for his department, arriving at Charleston almost simultaneously with Clinton. He was accompanied by Howe who, together with Moore, had been promoted  p440 to the rank of brigadier-general and ordered to report to Lee. Moore himself remained at Wilmington to keep watch over a small British fleet which still lingered in the Cape Fear, but he dispatched four of his continental battalions to the defence of Charleston. An account of the brilliant defence of that city, and the disastrous repulse sustained by the British fleet and army on June 28th, forms no appropriate part of this narrative. Of the 6,522 troops which Lee gathered there under his command, 1,400 were North Carolina Continentals. These troops bore a conspicuous part in the battle winning high praise from their commanding officer. "I know not which corps I have the greatest reason to be pleased with," wrote Lee to the president of the Virginia Council, "Muhlenberg's Virginians, or the North Carolina troops; they are both equally alert, zealous, and spirited." To Washington he reported that Thompson's South Carolina rangers, "in conjunction with a body of North Carolina Regulars," twice repulsed determined attempts by the enemy to land on Sullivan's Island, adding: "Upon the whole, the South and North Carolina troops, and the Virginia rifle Battalion we have here, are admirable soldiers."

Upon their promotion, Moore and Howe were succeeded in command of their battalions by Francis Nash and Alexander Martin. Lee having been recalled, Howe succeeded him in command of the Southern Department. He retained under his command the third and some companies of the first and second North Carolina continental battalions; the others rejoined Moore at Wilmington. The troops under Moore were organized into a brigade and in January, 1777, ordered to join Washington's army in Pennsylvania. While preparing for this movement, Moore died and Nash, who had recently been promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, was assigned to the command of the brigade. Nash immediately marched northward and joined Washington on July 1st. His brigade took part in the maneuvres which led up to the battle of Brandywine, September 11, 1777. Only a small part of the brigade took part in that battle. The first battle in which the brigade participated as a unit was the battle at Germantown, October 4, 1777. Its heavy losses bear witness to its gallantry on that field. Nash himself while leading his men into action fell mortally wounded. He died three days later universally lamented as an officer of ability and a sincere patriot. The brigade passed the winter at Valley Forge and in the summer of 1778 formed part of the army with which Washington pursued  p441 Clinton across New Jersey into New York. On June 29 it participated with credit in the battle of Monmouth.

Nash had been succeeded by Gen. Lachlan McIntosh of Georgia under whose command the brigade passed the winter at Valley Forge. By the spring of 1778 losses in battle, from disease, and by desertion had so decreased the enrolment in the brigade that Congress resolved to reduce the six battalions to three by consolidating the sixth, fourth, and fifth with the first, second, and third. A little later Colonel Sheppard arrived with the tenth thus adding a fourth battalion to the brigade. The appointment of General McIntosh had wounded the state pride of the troops and hurt their morale, because they felt that the appointment of any one other than a North Carolinian was a reflection on the State. "They imagine," declared Harnett, "that they appear contemptible in the eyes of the Army, not having one General Officer from our State." "Our troops are uneasy," he wrote at another time, "at not having a General Officer of our State to command them. * * * Our Officers are exceedingly anxious about it. Colonel Sumner writes to me that it is absolutely necessary." Nevertheless more than a year passed before the Assembly acted. Finally on January 9, 1779, upon the nomination of the Assembly, Congress promoted Colonel Sumner to the rank of brigadier-general, assigned him to the command of the North Carolinian brigade, and ordered him south to the defence of Georgia and South Carolina.

In the meantime some of the officers who had lost their commands by the consolidation of the battalions in May, had been at work in North Carolina raising and organizing four new battalions of nine months' Continentals which the Assembly, in April, 1778, had directed to be enlisted. The first of these new battalions, numbering 600 men, was placed under command of Colonel Hogun who in the fall of 1778 marched it to join Washington at White Plains. The others were sent south to reinforce Sumner. On January 9, 1779, Congress promoted Hogun to the rank of brigadier-general and placed him in command of a new brigade composed of all the North Carolina Continentals then in Washington's army. On July 19th 200 volunteers from the brigade, under command of Major Hardy Murfree, took part in the storming of Stony Point. In this assault, one of the most brilliant episodes of the war, they won high praise from their commanding general, "Mad Anthony" Wayne, for their "good conduct and intrepidity" in action. As the summer of 1779 advanced the  p442 situation in the South became so critical that on September 20th the Continental Congress requested Washington to send Hogun's brigade, numbering about 700 effectives, to the aid of General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston. Hogun reached Charleston on March 3, 1780, and shared the fate of that unhappy city. Its surrender carried with it North Carolina's entire Continental Line except a few officers, including General Sumner, who happened to be absent at the time on other duties.

North Carolina was never able to recruit her Continental Line up to its full strength. Some of the reasons for this failure — viz., the weakness of the executive authority, the divided counsels of the Whigs, the presence of the Tories, and the financial breakdown of both State and United States — have already been pointed out. Another cause was the generosity with which the State permitted South Carolina and Georgia to recruit their battalions in North Carolina. As early as December, 1776, the North Carolina Council declared that the State was greatly handicapped "in making up her quota in the continental service" because so many of the militia she had sent to the defence of Charleston were enlisting, with the consent of their officers, in the service of South Carolina and Georgia; and the Council found it necessary to forbid such enlistments from the organized militia of the State except by express consent either of the executive or the legislative authority. A fifth cause was the influence of politics in determining military appointments. Governor Caswell, writing in April, 1777, says: "The recruiting service goes slowly, owing in a great measure to the negligence, want of abilities, or want of influence in the officers." But the chief cause of the thin ranks of North Carolina's continental battalions was the failure of the General Assembly to pass an effective draft law. In 1775, Moore and Howe had no difficulty in raising their battalions because they had the full advantage of the wave of enthusiasm which swept the colony into rebellion; but by 1777 that wave had spent its force. Recruiting officers, therefore, found it difficult to induce men to volunteer "for the war" when they could satisfy both the law and their consciences by an occasional brief service in the militia. Nor were men eager to enlist in units that would take them away from their homes to service in distant states. The North Carolina continental battalions, therefore, never went into battle with anything like their full complement of men. This fact occasioned great mortification to both the political and military representatives of the State.  p443 The delegates in the Continental Congress were urgent in their appeals to the General Assembly to adopt "spirited measures" to fill up the State's battalions. In December, 1777, Harnett begged his colleague, Burke, then at home attending the session of the legislature, to inform him "of the temper you find our Assembly in. Are they inclined to pursue spirited measures? For God's sake, fill up your Battalions," he exclaimed, "lay taxes, put a stop to the sordid and avaricious spirit which [has] affected all ranks and conditions of men. * * * All our foreign intelligence indicates that Europe will soon be in a flame. Let us not depend upon this. If we have virtue, we certainly have power to work out our own salvation, I hope without fear or trembling."

But the Assembly, though aware of the necessity, lacked either the wisdom or the courage to adopt and enforce the "spirited measures" required. It never gave the State a consistent, effective military policy. When it met in April, 1778, the returns submitted to it by the governor showed the North Carolina brigade short of its quota by 2,648 men. The Assembly declaring that since it was "absolutely necessary" to complete the battalions and experience had demonstrated that it was "impracticable to obtain that end in the common Mode of recruiting," made its first effort at a draft law. It provided that the men were to be drafted by lot from the militia, placed on the continental establishment, and enlisted for nine months. The act failed to accomplish its purpose because the machinery for enforcing it was defective. Accordingly when the Assembly met a year later, the State's continental battalions were still short 2,000 men, and the Assembly could think of no better way of filling the gaps than by offering to every ten militiamen who should furnish one continental recruit for eighteen months exemption from military service for that period except in case of actual invasion or insurrection. It is difficult to imagine a more vicious piece of legislation. It not only failed to raise the men needed, but it also thoroughly disorganized the militia. In order to secure the 600 continental recruits which it produced, it was necessary to exempt 6,000 other men from military service for eighteen months. Accordingly when it became necessary for the governor in the summer of 1780 to call out 2,000 militia, the organizations which had been built up with so much care and labor were found to be completely undermined by the operations of the act of 1779.

In 1780, the Assembly, again faced with the same problem, decided to try the effect of more liberal bounties. To volunteers  p444 in the continental service it offered $500 at the time of enlistment; $500 at the end of each year's service; 200 acres of land and one prime slave, or his value in currency, at the end of three years, or of the war; and it solemnly set aside and dedicated to this purpose immense tracts of the State's western lands. But the promise of liberal bounties brought no better results than the promise of exemption from service, and in 1781, the Assembly finding it impossible to fill up its continental battalions, adopted the advice of the Continental Congress, reduced their number to four, and again resorted to an ineffective draft to fill their ranks. But none of these expedients succeeded; the State's continental battalions were never full. At Germantown, Nash led to battle a brigade of less than 800 men. On December 23, 1777, the brigade, which should have numbered 6,552 officers and men, numbered only 881, of whom but 434 were present and fit for duty. The published roster of North Carolina's ten continental battalions contains a total of 5,454 names, and this number includes all those who had died, all who had been made prisoners, all who had been discharged, and all who had deserted; and this last class numbered not less than 10 per cent of the whole.

Throughout the Revolution the State retained immediate control over its militia and ultimate control over its Continentals. The militia were raised, organized, armed, paid and maintained solely by the State; their field officers were elected by the General Assembly; their commander-in‑chief was the governor. The authority of the State over its militia was complete whether in or beyond its borders. Over its Continentals it was only less complete. The State raised and organized them and appointed their battalion officers, but their general officers were appointed by the Continental Congress upon the recommendation of the legislature. When actually forming a part of the Continental Army under command of Washington, or other Continental generals, the State's continental troops were subject to the orders of the commanding general, but even then the commanding general exercised only a delegated authority. The State never surrendered its ultimate authority over them. It not only raised and organized them in the first instance, but recruited their ranks, created new units or consolidated old units as it saw fit, censured, suspended or removed officers and appointed new ones, punished deserters, and exercised all these and other powers over them even when they were under the immediate command of Washington himself. In 1777, the General Assembly  p445 conferred upon the governor authority "to give such orders as he may think necessary for the removal, marching or disposition of the Continental Troops in this State or any of them."

This assertion and exercise by the several states of the right of control over their continental troops was one of the most serious defects of the continental government. It possessed not that centralization of authority and power so necessary to secure military authority. The Continental Congress could suggest, advise, and request the use of the continental troops for continental purposes, but it could not command them. The ultimate authority lay with thirteen different states, each claiming and exercising the powers of sovereignty, jealous of their rights, and quick to resent any act of the general government that suggested encroachments upon them.

Throughout the Revolution, North Carolina troops, both Continentals and militia, in common with the troops of the other states, endured cruel suffering, hunger and sickness, and loss of physical vitality which diminished their fighting capacity by reason of the failure of State and United States to equip and maintain them properly. On January 31, 1778, out of a total of 992 men and officers enrolled in the North Carolina brigade at Valley Forge, 249 were reported unfit for duty for lack of clothes and shoes, and 323 were sick. This condition continued all the winter, reaching its climax on March 30th when the returns showed 360 on the sick list and only 352 present and fit for duty. "I am very sorry to have to report to you," wrote their commanding general to Governor Caswell, in March, "that the men of my Brigade here have suffered severely this winter for want of clothing and other necessities. Fifty of them died in and about Camp since the beginning of January last, and near two hundred sick here now besides as many more reported sick absent in different Hospitals of this State and Jersey, a most distressing situation!"

Valley Forge is, of course, the synonym for suffering and heroic endurance, and its story is known to all the world; but Valley Forge was not the only place at which men suffered and endured every extreme of cold and hunger and disease for the cause of American independence. When General Greene took command of the American army at Charlotte in December, 1780, he at once reported to Washington the condition of his army, "if," he adds, "it deserves the name of one. Nothing can be more wretched and distressing," he  p446 continued, "than the condition of the troops, starving with cold and hunger, without tents and camp equipage." The Virginia troops were "literally naked and a great part totally unfit for any kind of duty." "A tattered remnant of some garment," wrote Greene evidently depressed at the condition of his men, "clumsily stuck together with the thorns of the locust tree form the sole covering of hundreds, * * * and more than 1,000 are so naked that they can be put on duty only in case of desperate necessity." Moreover he found 300 of them without arms or ammunition. Nor were these conditions confined to the enlisted men. In 1779, General Hogun wrote that his officers were "in great want," it being out of their power to purchase clothes and other necessities "at the exorbitant prices" prevailing. On account of the depreciation of the currency in which their salaries were paid, the condition of the officers of the Continental Line became so desperate that they threatened to resign in a body unless the General Assembly came to their relief.

In general these distressing conditions were due less to official indifference or incapacity than to the inability of the government to mobilize the resources of the State. Before 1775 there were no manufactures in North Carolina, and when war broke out the provincial government of course found the source of supply of manufactured articles suddenly cut off. To encourage industrial enterprises in the colony, the Provincial Congress in September, 1775, offered premiums ranging from £25 to £750 to persons who would establish factories for making saltpeter, gunpowder, cotton, woolen and linen goods, and other needed articles. But in North Carolina the Revolution was a civil war which produced such internal conditions as made it impossible for such enterprises to be developed with any great success. As in the great Civil War of 1861‑1865, therefore, the State was compelled to look abroad for most of her supplies. But during the Revolution, North Carolina had no credit, and no such universally needed product as cotton on which to base a credit. In 1780, Benjamin Hawkins, the State's agent for purchasing military stores, bought at St. Eustatia​a several hundred stand of arms for the State for which he was obliged to pledge his personal credit. "I could procure nothing," he reported, "on the faith of the State." When these and other difficulties, some of which have already been discussed, are duly weighed and considered the thing which impresses one is not so much the failure as the astonishing success which attended the efforts  p447 of the State to equip and supply her troops in the Revolution.

As the war progressed the State established factories for making arms and ammunition, set up salt works, and employed large numbers of non-combatants to make shoes and clothes for the soldiers. Other means for raising supplies were purchases from private persons, impressments, and the levying of specific taxes. In every section of the State the government constantly had agents laying in supplies of pork, beef, flour, and other provisions for the army. In letters to Burke and Washington, both written February 15, 1778, Caswell gives us some idea of his activities in this work. To Burke he wrote: "I am to buy leather and skins, shoes and other clothing, procure manufactures, set them to work, purchase salt and provisions, and procure boats and wagons for sending those articles on. All this I am really constantly, almost busily [daily?] employed about myself." "The distresses of the Soldiery for want of clothing," he wrote to Washington, "are truly alarming, and the feelings of every man of the least sensibility must be wounded on receiving the information of their unhappy circumstances. Since I was favored with your Excellency's account of their sufferings, I have been happy in purchasing for our Troops about 4,000 yards of woolen Cloth, 300 Blankets, 1,500 yards of Osnaburgs, some Shoes and stockings. I have also purchased a considerable quantity of Tanned leather and Deerskins, all which will be sent on to the Clothier General as soon as I can procure wagons. A considerable quantity of salt and salted provisions have been also purchased under my directions."

Unfortunately many of the agents employed in this business were inefficient and corrupt. Money entrusted to them was squandered on their personal wants or lost at gambling tables; while large quantities of supplies which they purchased never reached the commissaries. In 1780, the General Assembly declared that "many persons have been intrusted with large sums of public money for the use of the State, and also public property, for which they have never accounted, but have abused the trust reposed in them by misapplying the same, to the great injury of the public credit," and created a board of auditors to investigate the accounts of all such agents and require them to settle with the State. Another species of corruption was practiced by "sundry persons who have lately," according to the Assembly of 1782, "stiled themselves State Commissaries, Quarter-masters, [and] Superintendents," and by such misrepresentations "committed  p448 great abuses and waste, by making unlawful impressments and misapplication of public stores." A special act was therefore passed to reach and punish this class of grafters and robbers.

The chief sources from which North Carolina, like many of the other states, received military supplies were the French, Spanish and Dutch West Indies. No sooner had war begun than the harbors of Ocracoke, Edenton, Beaufort, New Bern and Wilmington became white with the sails of merchantmen and privateers. "The contemptible Port of Ocracoke, "* * * has become a great channel of supply to the Rebels. * * * They have received through it and continued to receive at that inlet * * * as lately as the beginning of this month very considerable importations of the necessaries they most want for the purpose of carrying on their Warfare from the Ports of France and the French West Indian Islands." This trade though hazardous held out prospects of large profits. Enterprising merchants invested their fortunes in it. To seamen they offered "such exorbitant pay," that the State found it difficult to find crews for the public ships. The State itself engaged in this business on a large scale. It carried on its negotiations both through French agents and agents of its own. In 1779 the Assembly appointed Benjamin Hawkins agent to purchase military supplies both at home and abroad. The next year, in order to introduce more system in the business, it appointed Richard Caswell, Robert Bignall and Benjamin Hawkins commissioners for the express purpose of carrying on a trade for the benefit of this State," empowered them to hire, purchase, and build ships, to load them with naval stores, tobacco and other North Carolina products, "for the purpose of importing or procuring arms and other military stores for the army, as well as for the importation of salt and all kinds of merchandize" for general use.

This trade was a great stimulus to ship building. Shipyards sprang up at Edenton, Beaufort, New Bern and Wilmington and were busy throughout the war building and launching almost every kind of river craft and seagoing vessel. Some of the noted ships built at these yards were the armed brigs, King Tammany and Pennsylvania Farmer, which were built at Edenton for the State, and the Governor Burke, "a fine, fast sailing Brig," also built at Edenton; the Eclipse, a 14‑gun brig built at Beaufort; the armed brigantine, General Washington, built and fitted out at Wilmington; and the Betsey, the Heart of Oak, the General Caswell,  p449 the General Nash, and the Sturdy Beggar, "allowed to be the handsomest vessel ever built in America," all built at New Bern. These and many other fast sailing vessels slipped through the inlets of Eastern North Carolina, ran down to the West Indies, or crossed the Atlantic to France and Spain, sold their cargoes, and successfully eluded the British cruisers that patrolled our waters, returned to our ports laden with all manner of articles from heavy artillery and West Indian rum to French laces, silk stockings, and night caps. In June, 1776, the Polly and the Heart of Oak arrived at New Bern with "2,000 weight of gunpowder and 20 stand of small Arms, compleate with Iron ramrods [and] bayonets," which their owner offered to the province at "a reasonable profit." In March, 1778, several vessels arrived at New Bern from the Bermudas with cargoes of salt, "which 'tis hoped," said the North Carolina Gazette, "will bring down the extravagant price of that article." The next year the Holy Heart of Jesus imported from France twenty-three cannon for which the State paid 140 hogshead of tobacco. The Ferdinand, also from a French port, brought into Lookout Bay a large cargo including silk stockings, woolen and thread night caps, silk gown patterns, silk and thread handkerchiefs, "plumes for ladies and officers," and numerous other articles of equal military value.

Most of the vessels engaged in this trade were privateers sailing under letters of marque and reprisal. Although those who engaged in it were liable if captured to be hanged as pirates, the profits were so enormous, the life so stimulating and the results so invaluable to the country that many an adventurous youth, who preferred the excitement of the quarter-deck to the dull drudgery of the army camp, eagerly enlisted in this service. When the General Gates was lost in 1778 great anxiety was expressed at Edenton for the fate of "six young gentlemen of the first families and best expectations in this part of the country, who went [on her] volunteers to try their fortunes." The service was important not only for the supplies obtained, but also for the damage inflicted on British commerce. In the fall of 1777, the Lydia, 12 guns and 50 men, took a British slaver with a cargo of negroes just from Africa "worth between Twenty and Thirty Thousand Pounds." At about the same time the Nancy captured the Invermay bound from Jamaica to Pensacola "with Rum and Slaves, said to be worth £35,000 Proclamation," and the Severn, bound from Jamaica to Bristol, with a cargo valued at £40,000. In September, 1778, the Bellona, 16 guns,  p451 returned to New Bern "from a short cruize" with four prizes containing among other valuable commodities "a considerable sum in specie." The enormous losses of provisions and military stores occasioned by Gates' defeat at Camden, in August, 1780, was nearly made good in September by the arrival at Wilmington of the General Nash with two prizes containing almost everything needed by the army, one valued at £10,800 sterling, the other at £40,000. This latter prize was declared to be "the most valuable Cargo ever imported into this State." "The enemy," wrote Governor Nash, in December, 1780, "have not been entirely free of trouble off Charleston and on the coast in that quarter during this summer. They have suffered very considerably by our privateers, particularly by open row boats. These boats, with 40 or 50 men aboard, take in almost everything that comes their way. Two that went out in company returned here [New Bern] this week, after a leave of about 20 days, in which time they took and sent in 12 valuable prizes, besides burning, I think, four."


[image ALT: missingALT]

Cannon Purchased by Governor Caswell
During the Revolution

(Now in Capitol Square at Raleigh flanking Houdon's Statue of Washington)

Inscription on the Tablets

Bought in France by Richard Caswell

Mounted at Edenton, 1778.

Re-mounted 1861. Captured by U. S. Force

1862. Trunnion broken off.

Presented by Edenton to the

State of North Carolina, 1903.

All the victories, however, were not won, nor were all the prizes taken by the Americans. Early in the war British cruisers and privateers began to patrol our coast and keep vigilant watch over our inlets. They frequently crossed the bars, cut out merchantmen which had taken refuge behind them, landed raiding parties, and plundered the country almost with impunity. "The coast," so runs a report to Governor Caswell, in 1778, "is much infested at this time with the enemy which are constantly landing men and plundering." In April, 1778, a British privateer captured two French vessels which were loading behind Ocracoke Bar "with a considerable quantity of Tobacco." "Thus has a small sloop with 4 guns and 30 men," commented The North Carolina Gazette, lamenting the lack of protection to the inlets, "robbed this State of two fine vessels with more than 100 hogshead of tobacco and a considerable quantity of salt." In 1780 a vessel carrying 3,000 stand of arms to the American army in the South "was chased ashore in Virginia by one of the Enemy's privateers." The climax came in 1781 when Major James H. Craige with an insignificant force sailed up the Cape Fear River and occupied Wilmington without opposition.

Most of these disasters could have been prevented had the Assembly provided adequate coast defences. In 1777, after a visit of "some men of war" to the Cape Fear, during which they did "what mischief they transiently could," Samuel Ashe wrote to Burke: "These visits might be rendered disagreeable, if not altogether prevented, would your Western members  p452 lay aside their local prejudices, and consider the True interest of the whole State, and suffer us to have a fort here." 'God send our Assembly may have wisdom enough to fortify their seaports," wrote Cornelius Harnett from the Continental Congress. "I am distressed beyond measure," he declared in a letter to Caswell, "to find our seacoast so much neglected." "Mr. Maclaine writes me," he wrote at another time, "he had hopes of getting our river [Cape Fear] fortified, but I have despaired of it long ago; if the Assembly should agree to it, I shall believe that miracles have not yet ceased." But so far as the Assembly gave evidence to the contrary miracles had ceased. As so often happens, the people's representatives saved their constituents' money, and the people paid the price in blood and suffering.

One reason why North Carolina's battalions were always short of men and equipment was the liberality with which the State stripped herself in aid of her sister states. Whatever may be said of the public men of North Carolina of the Revolution, it cannot be denied that in their public conduct they were inspired by a spirit that knew no boundaries between colonies struggling in the common cause. And so we find that in the summer of 1779, at the very time North Carolina militia were fighting among the palmettoes on the Stono, North Carolina Continentals were storming the rocky promontory of Stony Point on the Hudson.

It was to her immediate neighbors that North Carolina rendered the greatest service in the Revolution. When Virginia threatened by the Indians in the West appealed to her for aid, she promptly sent 300 of her western militia to Virginia's assistance. In the East, too, as we have seen, North Carolina Continentals under Howe assisted the Virginia troops in expelling the British from Norfolk. In 1777, a British fleet of one hundred sails entered Chesapeake Bay and Lieutenant-Governor John Page, anticipating an immediate invasion, appealed to Governor Caswell for help saying, "we hope to receive considerable assistance from you, having on a former occasion experienced the readiness with which North Carolina furnished it." Caswell promptly ordered commanding officers of the first and second brigades "to hold themselves in readiness to march at the shortest notice." In other chapters of this history something has been said of the bad feeling which existed between North Carolina and Virginia in early colonial times; it is a pleasure, therefore, to be able to record now the incidents that obliterated the last traces of such feelings between the two commonwealths and laid the  p453 foundation for that mutual esteem and respect in which they have now for nearly a century and a half held each other. Acknowledging Governor Caswell's prompt action, Governor Page wrote: "I cannot refrain from acknowledging the obligations I think the State is under to you, Sir, for the orders you issued for one third of your Militia to hold themselves in readiness to march to our assistance on the late alarming occasion, and to the good people of North Carolina for the readiness they have always shown to assist us. May an affectionate mutual attachment between Carolina and Virginia ever increase, to the Honor and security of the United States in general, and of these contiguous sister States in particular."

From the beginning of the war both South Carolina and Georgia drew legally upon the superior resources of North Carolina. In 1776, President Harnett of the North Carolina Council of Safety assured President John Rutledge of South Carolina that North Carolina would "upon all occasions afford South Carolina every possible assistance." This promise was made good. During the invasion of 1776, North Carolina poured troops, arms, ammunition and supplies into South Carolina with a liberality that "left this colony almost in a defenceless state, defenceless and very, very alarming," declared the Council, "as we have every reason to expect General Clinton's return here should he fail in his Expedition against South Carolina." Early in the war both South Carolina and Georgia sought permission to recruit their battalions in North Carolina. The Convention of 1776, considering that "the Defence of South Carolina is of the last Importance to the Well being of the United States," not only granted the request, but also offered to raise two additional brigades of volunteers to be sent to her assistance. A similar response was given to Georgia's request. "We have given every facility and assistance to the recruiting officers from the State of Georgia," wrote the Council of Safety to the North Carolina delegates in the Continental Congress, "and have the pleasure to acquaint you that they have met with great success." Indeed, so great was their success that John Penn thought it would "be prudent to stop the officers of the neighboring States from inlisting any more men in North Carolina untill we have compleated our Quota."

But such prudence did not appeal sympathetically to the men then directing the affairs of North Carolina. They cared little whether the men were enlisted in the service of North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia, provided only they  p454 were in the service of the United States. Consequently North Carolina became the "recruiting ground for the entire South," and many a soldier who followed the flag of another State thought, as he struck down his country's enemies, of his little cabin nestling among the pines of North Carolina. It was the manifestation of this spirit that led Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, during the invasion of that colony in 1779, to write with pardonable exaggeration: "As to further aid from North Carolina they have agreed to send us 2,000 more troops immediately. We have now upwards of 3,000 of their men with us, and I esteem this last augmentation as the highest possible mark of their affection for us and as the most convincing proof of their zeal for the glorious cause in which they are engaged. They have been so willing and ready on all occasions to afford us all the assistance in their power, that I shall ever love a North Carolinian, and join with General Moultrie in confessing that they have been the salvation of this country."

But North Carolina's policy toward her sister states was not altogether altruistic. Her statesmen of course realized that her fate was involved in the fate of all and recognized the wisdom of the policy of defending North Carolina on the soil of Georgia and South Carolina. Harnett gave expression to the general feeling when, urging that the utmost exertions be made to aid Georgia and South Carolina, he said: "I am one of those old Politicians who had much rather see my neighbour's house on fire than my own, but at the same time would lend every assistance in my power to quench the flame." The progress of events proved the wisdom of this policy. When it finally came North Carolina's turn to suffer invasion the enemy was so exhausted by his efforts to conquer Georgia and South Carolina that after his Pyrrhic victory at Guilford Court House he was unable to maintain the struggle and soon departed from the State. Thus was North Carolina saved from the unhappy fate which had befallen her two neighbors.

Thayer's Note:

a The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatia (or St. Eustatius) was a major source of supply during the American Revolution: see "St. Eustatius in the American Revolution", American Historical Review, VIII.683‑708 — an interesting article; in which North Carolina is mentioned once, but in connection with a different purchase, of 4,000 pounds of gunpowder in 1780.

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