There are many among us who exhibit great knowledge and detail concerning the battles fought during the American Revolutionary War. There are museums and statues that proclaim the sacrifice of so many. Symbols of freedom and democracy survive today because of a thought in one’s mind that populated throughout the region and became the reason for war and independence. The significant dates, the battle ground sites and the graves are all equally important as we reflect back to this era. The thousands upon thousands of stories passed down through the generations are just as important. These stories contain great loss, great victories and heroism. They were recited near the end of a day, while enjoying the crackling of the fire with children’s eyes beaming filled with anticipation on each word spoken. They were shared at family gatherings among the men while sipping corn whiskey, proclaiming battle details and the death of so many. They were shared at church as mothers wiped away their tears, not knowing the ground upon which their loved one laid eternally. The American Revolutionary War was necessary for our ancestors to complete in order to provide a freedom that had not been known to anyone in their family before. It was a chance for a new beginning, it was worth fighting for, it was worth dying for. Our daily lives differ today compared to the year of 1780. The lives of today cannot ever know the real feelings our ancestors were experiencing, but we can trace their footsteps. Genealogy is so much more than dates, censuses and tombstones. Each name holds within itself a life that endured the hard times and enjoyed the happier times. We can only hope that the future generations will find us just as interesting as we find our 18th century pioneers. Let’s travel onward and discover the passion of liberty in the Carolina frontier.
During the years before 1776, Governor William Tryon was representing Britain and maintaining the respect from the citizens to King George. The Stamp Act of 1765 along with the Townsend Act and the Sugar Tax all brought dismay to the lives of the Carolina pioneers. Tryon employed several men who upheld the taxes and collected them. If someone was unable to pay, items would be taken to offset the balance. It simply didn’t matter how important the items were to the survival of the family unit, the taxes must be paid. Oxen and horses were often taken from the settlers along with food, spices and clothing. Tryon also imposed additional taxes on the Carolina pioneers. These taxes would provide living quarters for the governor and his personnel. In some cases, men were beaten or imprisoned. In North Carolina, the loyalist outnumbered the patriots during the early years of the Revolution. The settlers who were new to the area felt threatened if they supported liberty. Many homes were burned, small skirmishes between neighbors happened often as people tried to persuade others to respect the King or to fight for liberty. As we all know and understand, the majority rules and this was the case in frontier Carolina during this time period.
During the year of 1775, a small group of early settlers located in Surry County formed a safety committee which was designed to protect their families and their homes during the crisis of events happening throughout the area. A journal kept by William Lenoir states the members concerns of mistreatment by King George and his parliament. The committee calls for ammunition and guns in preparation of a battle near their homes. They felt threatened and they felt outnumbered. In public, Benjamin Cleveland proclaimed, “GOD Save The King” but in the committee, he helped to store and organize the ammunition that was stockpiled for future use. Committees similar to this one were becoming numerous all throughout North Carolina. Citizens were organizing themselves and preparing for battle as they learned from events happening in Boston and elsewhere.
The North Carolina Loyalist promised it’s neighbors that no harm would ever come to women and children in the area. But, this was not the end result. Many women received beatings and even death. Children were also victims of war. Hundreds of homes were burned simply because the word had been spread that they supported the liberty effort. Brutal tactics were used throughout North Carolina and in most cases, the British commanders ordered these acts upon their men. A patriot, John Sparks, proclaimed on May 13th of 1776 near Wilmington, the British attacked a plantation and found the feathered beds lying on the ground. He also found no livestock on the property and bread slaughtered in pieces lying in the dirt. At the back of the house, he found women crying and one woman dead from a bayonet wound.
With the men often away for months at a time, women were forced to manage all operations of the farm and the household. Children were expected to do more work and help out. The women longed for a letter or a word about their husbands and many received bad news. Some women left their homes and resided with other family members or lived with neighbors. This left the land and the home open to robbers and the British army. William Gibson, a settler living in Rowan County, returned home after being away for 6 months. During his absence, he learned that his mother had been tied and beaten by the Tories. His house was burned and all of his property was destroyed. Mary Whitfield stated at the age of 87, that her husband and 4 brothers were often away from home fighting the Tory parties. The home was often visited by Tory members and they were robbed numerous times, all of their cattle were killed and one woman would stay awake all night while the others would sleep. Mrs. David Caldwell would proudly show people her prized tablecloth for years after the war. She was able to hang onto this precious item despite the Tory’s visits to her home. Mrs. Elizabeth Forbis was riding a horse when she was approached by a Tory. With a hoe in her hand, she raised her arm high and instructed the Tory that she would split his head open if he tried to seize her horse. She was able to ride away and tell her story.
These stories are only just a glimpse into what life was really like during the war years. People were often anxious to hear about loved ones and desperate for relief from the extended arms of King George. Liberty meant so much to the early settlers due to the sacrifices they all endured to be where they were for the moment. Traveling from their homeland to a new land was no small quest and to arrive only to be taxed to the point that prospering for the future could not be seen for themselves or their offspring was disheartening. Many of these settlers left their homelands for this very reason, they no longer wanted to be ruled by a tyrant that resided over 3,000 miles away. A tyrant who demanded respect but yet gave very little gratitude or acknowledgment to the colonies livelihood. When the settlers heard about the events that were happening elsewhere, they became concerned, but they also became fully aware that in order to achieve in this new land, it would have to be conquered and diminish the problems that prohibited it’s growth. This explains the enlistments of so many who pledged allegiance to a new democracy and proclaimed liberty from King George in 1776 and 1777.
Each and every family was affected by the war in some way or another. Even the Moravians, who tried so hard to stay out of the battle zone, felt it’s presence on several occasions. Lord Cornwallis stayed in Salem while he was marching through the area to confront Nathaniel Greene. The Quakers who were totally against war, also proclaimed liberty for all. Many children witnessed the war with their own eyes. The scars that were left behind is hard for us today to comprehend. The blasting of cannons in the distance, the screams of panic from the neighbors and the glimpse of redcoats in the woods as they marched onward. All of the settlers had their stories to tell and share. Future generations would recite them on special occasions, but as the years drifted by, the stories would be told less and less. The settlers prevailed and welcomed victory when it finally arrived. They mourned for the ones lost, but were now able to hope for the future. A new beginning had arrived and tomorrow was what they could make of it through liberty and justice for all.
The above photo shows Henry Horton(circa 1940). He is the 3rd great grandchild of Nathan Horton(1757-1824). If you look closer, you will see that Henry is wearing a uniform. He proclaimed the uniform belonged to his great great great grandfather, Nathan who fought during the American Revolutionary War. Experts later determined that the actual uniform dates to the War of 1812 and belonged to Henry’s great great grandfather, Phineas Horton. Nevertheless, Henry felt the importance of sharing his family’s history and wanted others to know that his family fought for liberty.
I encourage all of you to locate the stories of your ancestors during the years of the American Revolutionary War. There are many treasures that dwell in the most unlikely places, so think outside of the box and explore all of your leads. You just never know what you might stumble across as you walk in the footsteps of long ago. Thank You all for your support of Piedmont Trails and wishing you great success with your research and your journey into North Carolina history.