NORTH CAROLINA IN 1776

The articles on this page were published August 15, 1860 Issue: in the Weekly Standard, a Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper. W. W. Holden, Editor.     Extracted by Myrtle Bridges March 07, 2003

The expedition to the Carolinas never met the approval of Howe, who condemned the activity of the southern 
governors, and would have had them avoid all disputes, till New York should be recovered. When Lord Dunmore 
learned from Clinton that Cape Fear River was the place appointed for the meeting of the seven regiments 
from Ireland, he broke out into angry complaints, that no heed had been paid to his representations, his 
sufferings, and his efforts; that Virginia, "the first on the continent for riches, power, and extent,"
was neglected; and the preference given to "a poor, insignificant colony," where there were no pilots, nor 
a harbor that could admit half the fleet, and where the army, should it land, must wade for many miles 
through a sandy pine barren before it could reach the inhabited part of the country.

But Martin, who had good reason to expect the arrival of the armament in January or early February, 
was infatuated with the hope, that multitudes, even in the county of Brunswick, would revolt "from their 
new-fangled government;" and "his unwearied, persevering agent," Alexander Maclean, after a careful 
computation of the numbers that would flock to the king's standard from the interior, brought written 
assurances from the principal persons to whom he had been directed, that between two and three thousand 
men, of whom about half were well armed, would take the field at the governor's summons. Under this 
encouragement he was sent again into the back country, with a commission dated the 10th of January, 
authorizing Allan Macdonald of Kingsborough, and eight other Scots of Cumberland and Anson, and seventeen 
persons who resided in a belt of counties in middle Carolina and Rowan, to raise and array all the king's 
loyal subjects, and to march with them in a body to Brunswick by the 15th of February. Donald Macdonald, 
then in his sixty-fifth year, was to command the army as brigadier; next him in rank was Donald Macleod.

The first return to Martin represented that the loyalists were in high spirits; that their force would 
amount even to six thousand men; that they were well furnished with wagons and horses; and that by the 20th 
or 25th of February at furthest they would be in possession of Wilmington, and within reach of the king's 
ships. On receiving their commission, Wm. Campbell, Neil MacArthur, and Donald Macleod issued circular 
letters inviting all their associates to meet on the 5th of February at Cross Creek, or, as it is now 
called, Fayetteville. At the appointed time all the Scots appeared, and four only of the rest. The Scots, 
who would promise no more than seven hundred men, advised to await the arrival of the British troops; the 
other royalists, who boasted that they could bring out five thousand, of whom five hundred were already 
embodied, prevailed in their demand for an immediate rising. But the Highlanders, whose past conflicts 
were enobled by their courage and fidelity to one another, whose sorrows, borne for generations with 
fortitude, deserved at last to find relief, were sure to keep their word' from a blind instinct of kindred, 
they took up arms for a cause in which their traditions and their affections had no part; while many of the 
chiefs of the loyalists shrunk from danger to hiding places in swamps and forests. Employing a few days to 
collect his army, which was composed chiefly of Highlanders and remnants of the old regulators, Macdonald, 
on the 18th, began his march for Wilmington, and at evening his army, of which the number was very variously 
estimated, encamped on the Cape Fear River, four miles below Cross Creek.

On that same day Moore, who, at the first menace of danger, took the field at the head of his regiment, 
and lay in an entrenched camp at Rockfish, was joined by Lillington, with one hundred and fifty minute men 
from Wilmington, by Kenan with two hundred of the Duplin militia, and by Ashe with about a hundred volunteer 
independent rangers; so that his number was increased to eleven hundred.

On the nineteenth the royalists were paraded, with a view to assail Moore on the following night; but 
his camp was too strong to be attempted; and at the bare suspicion of such a project, two companies of 
Cotton's corps ran off with their arms.-On that day Donald Macdonald , their commander, sent Donald Morrison 
with a proclamation, prepared the month before by Martin, calling on Moore and his troops to join the king's 
standard, or to be considered as enemies. Moore made answer instantly, that "neither his duty nor his 
inclination permitted him to accept terms so incompatible with American freedom;" and in return, he besought 
Macdonald not to array the deluded people under his command, against men who were resolved to hazard every 
thing in defense of the liberties of mankind. "You declare sentiments of revolt, hostility, and rebellion 
to the king and to the constitution." Was Macdonald's prompt answer; "as a soldier in his majesty's service, 
it is my duty to conquer, if I cannot reclaim, all those who may be hardy enough to take up arms against the 
best of masters."

But knowing that Caswell, at the head of the gallant minute men of Newbern, and others to the number of 
six or eight hundred, was marching through Duplin county, to effect a junction with Moore, Macdonald became 
aware of the extremity of his danger; cut off from the direct road along the Cape Fear, he resolved to leave 
the army at Rockfish in his rear, and by celerity of movement, and crossing rivers at unexpected places, to 
disengage himself from that larger force, and encounter the party with Caswell alone. Before marching, he 
urged his men to fidelity, expressed bitter scorn of "the base cravens who had deserted the night before;" 
and continued: "If any amongst you is so faint-hearted as not to serve with the resolution of conquering or 
dying, this is the time for such to declare themselves." The speech was answered by a general huzza for the 
king; but from Cotton's corps about twenty men laid down their arms. The army then marched to Fayetteville, 
employed the night in crossing the Cape Fear, sunk their boats, and sent a party fifteen miles in advance to 
secure the bridge over South River. This the main body passed on the twenty first, and took the direct route 
to Wilmington. On the day on which they effected the passage, Moore detached Lillington and Ashe to re-enforce 
Caswell, or, if that could not be effected, to occupy Moore's Creek bridge. 

On the following days the Scots and Regulators drew near to Caswell, who perceived their purpose and changed 
his own course the more effectually to intercept their march. On the twenty-third day thought to overtake him, 
and were arrayed in the order of battle, eighty able-bodied Highlanders, armed with broadswords, forming the 
center of the army; but Caswell was already posted at Corbett's Ferry, and could not be reached for want of 
boats. The royalists were in extreme danger; but at a point six miles higher up the Black river a Negro 
succeeded in raising for their use a broad shallow boat; and while Maclean and Fraser, with a few men, a 
drum and a pipe, were left to amuse Caswell, the main body of the loyalists crossed Black River near what 
is now Newkirk Bridge.

On the twenty-fifth Lillington, who had not as yet been able to join Caswell, took post with his small 
party on the east side of the bridge over Moore's Creek. On the afternoon of the twenty-sixth, Caswell 
reached its west side, and raising a small breastwork and destroying a part of the bridge, awaited the enemy, 
who on that day advanced with-in six miles of him. A messenger from the loyalists, sent to his camp under 
the pretext of summoning him to return to his allegiance, brought back word that he had halted upon the same 
side of the river witthemselves, and could be attacked with advantage; but the wise Carolina commander, who 
was one of the best woodsmen in the province, as well as a man of superior ability, had no sooner misled his 
enemy, than lighting up fires and leaving them burning, he crossed the creek, took off the planks from the 
bridge, and placed his men behind trees and such light entrenchments as the night permitted to be thrown up.

The loyalists, expecting an easy victory, unanimously agreed that his camp should be immediately assaulted. 
His force at that time amounted to a thousand men, consisting of the Newbern minute men, of militia from 
Craven, Johnston, Dobbs, and Wake counties, and the detachment under Lillington. The army under Macdonald, 
who was himself confined to his tent by illness, numbered between fifteen and sixteen hundred. At one o'clock 
in the morning of the twenty-seventh, the loyalists, commanded by Donald Macleod, began their march; but it 
cost so much time to cross an intervening morass, that it was within an hour of daylight before they reached 
the western bank of the creek.-There they had expected to find Caswell encamped; they entered the ground in 
three columns without resistance, for Caswell and all his force had taken post on the opposite side. The Scots 
were not within less than twenty miles of Wilmington; orders were directly given to reduce the columns, and 
for the sake of concealment to form the line of battle within the verge of the wood; the rallying cry was, 
"King George and broadswords;" the signal for the attack, three cheers, the drum to beat and the pipes to 
play. It was still dark; Macleod, who led the van of about forty sentinels, asking at the bridges by the 
Carolina sentinels asking: "Who goes there?" He answered: "A friend." "A friend to whom?" "To the king."
Upon this the sentinels bent themselves down with their faces towards the ground. Macleod then challenged 
them in Gaelic, thinking they might be some of his own party who had crossed the bridge; receiving no answer, 
he fired his own piece, and ordered those with him to fire. Of the bridge that separated the Scots and the 
Carolinians, nothing had been left but the two logs, which had served as sleepers; only two persons therefore 
could pass at a time. Donald Macleod and John Campbell rushed forward and succeeded in getting over; Highlanders 
who followed with broadswords, were shot down on the logs, falling into the deep and muddy water of the creek. 
Macleod, who was greatly esteemed for his valor and his worth, was mortally wounded; and yet he was seen to 
rise repeatedly from the ground, flourishing his sword and encouraging his men to come on, till he received 
twenty-six, or as some say thirty-six galls in his body. Campbell also was shot dead. It was impossible to 
furnish men for the deadly pass, and in a very few minutes the assailants fled in irretrievable despair. The 
Americans had but three wounded, one only mortally; of their opponents, about thirty, less than fifty at most,
were killed and mortally wounded, most of them while passing the bridge. The routed fugitives could never 
be rallied; during the following day the aged Macdonald, their general, and many others of the chief men, 
were taken prisoners; amongst the rest, Macdonald of Kingsborough and one of his sons, who were at the first 
confined in Halifax jail and afterwards transferred to Reading, Pennsylvania. Thirteen wagons, with complete 
sets of horses, eighteen hundred stand of arms, one hundred and fifty swords, two medicine chests just received 
from England, a box containing fifteen thousand pounds sterling in gold, fell to the victors; eight or nine 
hundred common soldiers were taken, disarmed, and dismissed.

A generous zeal pervaded all ranks of people in every part of North Carolina; in less than a fortnight 
more than nine thousand four hundred men had risen against the enemy; and the coming of Clinton inspired no 
terror. They knew well the difficulty of moving from the sea into their back country, and almost every man 
was ready to turn out at an hour's warning. Moore, under orders from the council, disarmed the Highlanders 
and Regulators of the back country, and sent the ringleaders to Halifax jail. Virginia offered assistance, 
and South Carolina would gladly have contributed relief; but North Carolina had men enough of her own to crush 
the insurrection and guard against invasion; and as they marched in triumph through their piney forests, they 
were persuaded that in their own woods they could win an easy victory over British regulars. Martin had 
promised the king to raise ten thousand recruits; the storeship, with their ten thousand stands of arms 
and two millions of cartridges, was then buffeting the storms of the Atlantic; and he could not supply a 
single company. North Carolina remained confident, secure, and tranquil; the terrors of a fate like that 
of Norfolk could not dismay the patriots of Wilmington; the people spoke more and more of independence; 
and the provincial Congress as its impending session, was expected to give an authoritative form to the 
prevailing desire. [From Bancroft's U. S. History, Volume 8]

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