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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Preface to Volume 14 of the State Records of North Carolina
Clark, Walter, 1846-1924
Volume 14

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The failure of the militia to respond with spirit to the call for troops to repel the invasion of South Carolina was a great disappointment to the State authorities. Gov. Caswell did not attribute it to a cooling of patriotic ardor, but rather to the influence of local leaders in the different parts of the State, who disapproved of sending the militia beyond our own limits, and who thought there was no need at that juncture to do so. But when the Assembly met in its third and last session at Halifax about the middle of January, 1779, there was no longer doubt that the British commander was bent on serious work in the Southern States, and the Governor was empowered to order out at any time so many of the militia as the nature of the occasion required, and to march them under proper officers wherever they might be needed. Indeed, in addition to preparing against foreign invasion, the Assembly had to take steps to suppress domestic insurrection. The disaffected portion of our population had for some time been quiet, but now that Savannah had fallen and Charleston was threatened, British emissaries were actively stirring the people to sedition, and movements were observed that caused much apprehension to the patriot leaders. The British commissioners who had come into the Cape Fear under a flag for the purpose of distributing proclamations offering terms of settlement with the people, without regard to the Continental and State authorities, were promptly arrested and thrown into jail, and energetic action was taken by the Assembly to prevent an outbreak. The Assembly directed the Governor to send a force of 250 men and 25 light-horse to Cumberland County to apprehend all persons known to be disaffected and believed to be ringleaders among the Highlanders, and they were further ordered to disarm all persons in Cumberland, Anson, Guilford, Tryon, and other counties from whom any injury might be apprehended to the American cause from their being allowed to retain their arms.

Col. McLean, writing from Crowder's Mountain in Tryon early in February, reported on information that John Moore, a Tory,

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had embodied three hundred men, and claimed that there would be two thousand at the enrollment. To quell this insurrection a force of two thousand militia and seven hundred and fifty lighthorse were called out and directed to assemble at Salisbury. Gen. Allen Jones, the Brigadier-General of the Halifax District, was appointed to the command of the light-horse, and because Gen. Rutherford was absent in South Carolina, Matthew Locke, Esq., was appointed general of the Salisbury district pro tempore.

There was also trouble on the Western frontier, and Col. Robeson with 200 men was directed to go over the mountains and join Col. Shelby in Washington County, and an additional force had to be raised and sent with the commissioners who were running the dividing line between this State and Virginia in the west.

But the Legislature still found time to consider matters of only civil import. The condition of the currency was examined into, steps were taken to arrest its further depreciation, and the salaries of public officers were increased. The Granville Academy was incorporated, with many public men as Trustees; a proposition to establish a Court of Chancery was discussed, but the bill eventually failed, and a commission was appointed to select a site for a permanent seat of government in either Johnston, Wake or Chatham counties.

The British privateers that hovered along our coast interfered with our importations, but did not entirely arrest our commerce, while on our side the business of privateering was pushed with vigor. Among other such ventures, in the spring of 1779 Capt. Charley Biddle sent out the “Eclipse,” 14 guns and 70 men; Capt. Snoaye had the Brig “Rainbeau,” 14 guns, and the “Fanny,” also 14 guns, while Mr. Ellis had three ships at sea taking prizes and a fourth nearly ready. On May 22d, Mr. Craige wrote that he had heard that five vessels had arrived at New Berne with valuable cargoes.

The Legislature, realizing the necessity of more systematic efforts to obtain military supplies, raised a commission to purchase or hire swift ships for the State, and appointed Col. Benjamin Hawkins State agent to conduct the trade. He was directed to buy and export tobacco and pork, and proceeding abroad was to purchase arms, ammunition, clothing and military supplies for the return cargoes of these ships. Nor does it seem that the State

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was without credit abroad, for in the course of his business Col. Hawkins was subsequently directed to barter 1,000 barrels of pork for salt, and to borrow twenty thousand pounds sterling in the West Indies for the State.

Importations of munitions of war, however, continued to be made to some extent on private account, and we find the Legislature directing the payment in tobacco of the amount due for the purchase of twenty-three large cannon brought in by the ship “The Holy Jesus,” doubtless a Spanish vessel, for Spain was now very friendly to us, and was on the eve of declaring war against Great Britain, much to our comfort. Indeed, every confidence was felt, in this the fifth year of the war, that independence would at length be gained, and that all that was necessary to secure it was to maintain our armies in the field and continue to hold the British in check. To this end great efforts were now to be made.


Soon after the militia detachments under Ashe and Rutherford had marched to the South, Gen. Sumner succeeded in collecting a considerable number of the nine-months' Continentals who were at their homes waiting orders, and he pushed on with them to the Savannah, reaching Moultrie's camp about the end of March. In May he reported 757 men on his rolls, of whom 421 were present fit for duty, divided about equally into two regiments, which he designated as the 4th and 5th Continentals. The period for which the militia had been drafted expired on April 10th; and although positive orders had been originally given Gen. Ashe not to detain them longer than that date, yet on application he had been authorized to ask them to volunteer for a longer term of service. His efforts in that direction, however, were unavailing, and the whole militia force returned to North Carolina when their time was up. Nor were they alone in this action. The South Carolina militia under Gen. Williamson did the same; and even when the British forces were marching on Charleston the South Carolina militia disappeared from their camps in squads without much regard to the period for which they had been called into active service, and apparently indifferent to the fact that their State was invaded.

To replace the North Carolina militia the Governor was directed to make drafts from the different districts to the number

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of 2,000 men, and orders for that purpose were issued in February, while the levies and light-horse were being raised to quell the trouble in Tryon County. The latter force was to assemble at Salisbury, and the troops to aid Gen. Lincoln were directed to meet at Charlotte, the command being given to Gen. John Butler of the Hillsboro District. The occasion seemed so important that Gov. Caswell determined to repair to Charlotte and be on the ground to give counsel in case of difficulty. Calling his council together, he proceeded with them, along with the troops from the east, first to Campbelton, and then on to Charlotte. Leaving Kinston on March 25th, he reached Charlotte early in April, and the disaffected people in that section being readily overawed, on April 11th Gen. Butler marched with some 700 militia for Augusta.

A fortnight later Gen. Butler reached his destination, and Gen. Lincoln again felt strong enough to make the campaign he had proposed in upper Georgia, to shut off communication between the British and the back country and to overcome the Indians, who were being incited by British emissaries to fall upon the border settlements.

Hardly, however, had Lincoln passed over near Augusta when the British, seizing the opportunity, themselves crossed lower down into South Carolina, driving before them towards Charleston Gen. Moultrie and his corps of a thousand men. Lincoln hastened in pursuit, and on June 19th 1779, occurred the sharp battle of Stono, in which the commands of both Gen. Sumner and Gen. Butler were engaged.

The North Carolinians were on the left of the line under Gen. Sumner, and all behaved admirably, Gen. Butler reporting to Gov. Caswell that he could with pleasure assure him that the officers and men under his command behaved better than could be expected of raw troops. Lt. Charleton, of the N. C. Continental Brigade, was killed; Maj. Hal Dixon and Capt. W. R. Davie were wounded.


The new Assembly elected in April was to have met at New Berne, but because the small-pox was then raging there Gov. Caswell requested the members to assemble at Smithfield, where they convened on May 3d and continued in session nine days.

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Penn and Harnett were elected delegates to the Continental Congress, along with Whitmel Hill, Burke, Hewes and Sharpe, and because the expense of attending at Philadelphia was so great as to render this honorable service extremely burdensome and undesirable the Legislature agreed to pay the actual expenses of the delegates and leave it to a succeeding Assembly to make them suitable recompense for their time and services.

Gov. Caswell was again chosen Governor, and Gen. Bryan having resigned upon his return from the Briar Creek expedition. Col. William Caswell was elected Brigadier General of the New Berne District in his stead, and to fill the vacancy caused by Gen. Butler's absence at the South Gen. Ambrose Ramsey was elected Brigadier of the Hillsboro District pro tempore.

Early in May a large British force entered the Chesapeake, landed without opposition at Portsmouth, sent a detachment to Suffolk, where a great quantity of stores was burnt, and threatened an invasion of Eastern Carolina. The Virginia authorities seemed utterly unprepared to meet these marauders, and apprehensions were felt for the safety of the Albemarle section, and even of New Berne. A part of the Currituck and Camden militia, without waiting for orders, promptly embodied, and joining a few Virginians took post at Great Bridge to prevent any excursion to the southward through that region. Gov. Caswell ordered the “State Regiment,” probably the one just returned home from the Northern Army, to take possession of Ft. Caswell, two miles below New Berne, and called out some of the local militia to aid them in case of an attack; but fortunately no expedition entered the Sound, although the forts at Ocracock had a sharp encounter with some British gunboats.


About the middle of December, 1778, the North Carolina Brigade being at West Point, Gen. Hogun was ordered to conduct his regiment to Philadelphia, and after a trying march during very severe weather he reached that point and went into barracks there in January. The brigade continued during the winter and succeeding summer in the vicinity of West Point under the immediate command of Washington. In April the nine months expired for which the men of the third (originally the 7th) Regiment, organized by Gen. Hogun at Halifax, had enlisted, and Col. Mebane

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was ordered to march it from Philadelphia back to the State. He reached Halifax on May 10th, and the regiment was soon disbanded. It was the intention of Congress that Col. Mebane and his officers should raise a new Continental regiment for service at the South, but his health was so badly broken that he had to seek temporary retirement, and later he joined Gen. Hogun at Charleston and was taken prisoner there.

The officers of the Continental line indeed had suffered severely at the North for the want of clothing. While Congress and the State authorities made provision for the men, the officers had to depend on their pay for supplies, and because of the depreciation of the currency and the scarcity of cloth their condition became insupportable. They complained bitterly that the Legislature paid but slight attention to their distresses; and at length, in the spring of 1779, they held a meeting at West Point and resolved that they would resign to a man unless the General Assembly supplied their needs.

This action was not without effect. The General Assembly directed that they should have provisions furnished them at the following prices:

Rum, eight shillings a gallon; Sugar, three shillings a pound; tea, twenty shillings; soap, two shillings; tobacco, one shilling, and that they should have a complete suit at what it would have cost at the time they first went into service; that they should have half-pay for life, and the lands granted to them and to their soldiers should be exempt from taxation while owned by them or their widows.

This provision was declared to be entirely acceptable, and the storm that was brewing passed away.

On the night of July 17th occurred one of the most brilliant strokes of the war, the storming of Stony Point by Gen. Anthony Wayne. With unloaded arms and fixed bayonets, at 12 o'clock at night he advanced on that strongly fortified post, and overcoming the greatest difficulties succeeded in capturing it. Maj. Murfree with two companies of the 2d N. C. Battalion took part in the assault and won imperishable laurels. Among others, Capt. John Daves was sever ly wounded in the assault.

On September 20th the brigade was directed by Congress to report to Gen. Lincoln for service at the South; but Washington

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countermanded the order temporarily, and it was not until November 23d that the brigade broke camp on the Hudson and began its long march to South Carolina. About the middle of February Gen. Hogun reached Wilmington, and on March the 3d went into camp at Charleston. The brigade numbered about 700 men.

The time for which the militia Gen. Butler was called out was to expire in July, and the Assembly directed that 2,000 new men should be sent to replace that force; and it being evident that Continental troops, trained and disciplined in long continuous service, would be more effective than short-time mili tia, called from their fields to action and anxious to return to cultivate their farms, unusual efforts were made to have this force largely composed of Continentals. To that end it was proposed that any ten militia men who should furnish one Continental recruit to serve eighteen months should themselves be exempt from all military service for 18 months, except only in case of actual invasion or insurrection. By this means, together with a liberal bounty, it was hoped that 2,000 Continentals could be recruited by July. But instead of that only about 600 were raised, and in July Gov. Caswell was obliged to make a call on the militia districts for their respective quotas for a force of 2,000 to relieve Gen. Butler, the command of the new levies being given to Gen. Lillington. And now it was found that the proposition of exemption above noted had a disorganizing effect that had not been anticipated. Many of the militia officers had furnished Continental recruits and become exempt, and the militia organization which had been perfected with care was thus rendered so imperfect that it was with great difficulty that the drafts were made. Fortunately, before the detachments could be collected, a large force from Virginia passed to the aid of Gen. Lincoln, relieving his necessities, so that Gen. Lillington's orders to march were countermanded, his men returning to their homes, but holding themselves in readiness to assemble when needed. Indeed, there were other considerations that pressed Gov. Caswell to defer this expedition. On the line of the counties of Edgecombe, Nash and Johnston certain ringleaders who had harbored deserters had signed articles of association or enlistment whereby they

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had obligated themselves to prevent the militia from being drafted, and they had inaugurated a reign of lawlessness requiring a military force to restore the civil authority. Besides, provisions were scarce. Gen. Rutherford reported that there were no provisions at the west that could be furnished the troops. He further reported that in Burke a band of men publicly robbed the friends of America, had murdered three of them, and that a conspiracy was forming for a rising immediately after harvest, when the tories were to slay the principal friends of the cause and march off to the enemy, and that British officers were actually recruiting in that county. To prevent this rising Gen. Rutherford was ordered to call out a part of his militia, and seize the ringleaders, and restore order there.

In July, after the British had retreated from their demonstration against Charleston, Gen. Sumner marched his regiments to Camden, and being in ill-health he was ordered to return to North Carolina and aid in obtaining Continental recruits. The enlistments of many of his men expired in August but others were being sent to his camp, and about the first of August, Col. Lamb led from the east quite a large detachment to Camden, where he was joined by others from Salisbury. They went into camp in the Sand Hills of the Pee Dee, but about the last of August new companies having been formed, they were marched to Charleston.

The Assembly reconvened at Halifax on the 18th day of October. It directed that a force of three thousand men should be sent to South Carolina, and towards the end of December Gen. Lillington led the drafts made under this order, numbering about 2,000, to the aid of Gen. Lincoln. Gen. Jones having been elected a delegate to Congress, Col. William Eaton was appointed Brigadier General of the Halifax District in his absence, and Col. Isaac Gregory was elected to succeed Gen. Skinner of the Edenton District, who resigned.

The new Assembly met at New Berne April 17, 1780. Gov. Caswell having now been elected Governor three successive years was no longer eligible, and Abner Nash was chosen to succeed him.

Charleston was threatened from the enemy, who had made a lodgment on the neighboring islands, when Gen. Hogun arrived early in March, and Gen. Lincoln now called for all the aid that

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could be given him. Brigadier Gen. William Caswell was hurried to its relief with a force of 700 militia, and Col. Buford passed through the State with nearly as many Virginians. But before they had reached Charleston the British invested it by land as well as by water, and on the 12th of May Gen. Lincoln surrendered his entire army, among them 814 North Carolina Continentals, including Gen. Hogun and Colonels Clark, Patton and Mebane, and 59 other officers.

The Continentals, organized by Col. Lamb under Gen. Sumner, had been thrown into a new regiment under the name of the 3d Battalion and the command given to Col. Robert Mebane, and it formed a part of the surrendered garrison. Thus the entire North Carolina Continental line fell into the enemy's hands, only the officers who happened to be at home escaping. Besides four regiments of militia, one of which at least was from North Carolina, were also surrendered. By the articles of capitulation the militia were to return to their homes as prisoners of war on parole; but the Continentals were confined in the harbor, the men on board the prison ships, the officers in quarters at Haddrell's Point. After an imprisonment of nine months an exchange of the officers was effected, and those who had not died in captivity were landed on the James River and returned to the army.


Towards the end of April, 1780, Brig. Gen. Wm. Caswell with his militia detachment and Col. Buford with his Virginians were below Lanier's Ferry on the Santee, where Presdt. Rutledge was concentrating the South Carolina militia. But ten days after the fall of Charleston a British column marched up the Santee, and Caswell and Buford fell back towards Camden. As each of these corps consisted of only about 400 effective men, they could make no stand against the superior British force, and Caswell retreated to Cross Creek, reaching there safely on June 2d, while Buford was ordered by Gen. Huger to Charlotte. Three days after the corps separated below Camden; Buford was overtaken by a force of 700 British, three hundred light infantry being mounted behind 400 cavalrymen. They fell suddenly and unexpectedly on his main body and completely destroyed it, only the advance guards, being in front, escaping. Col. Buford himself escaped, and soon marched the

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remnant of his command back to Virginia. The British corps proceeded at once to Charlotte, where they had an encounter with a detachment under Col. Porterfield, who retreated to Salisbury.


In April Gov. Caswell who had been created a Major General by the General Assembly and made Commander-in-chief of the militia, and a draft of 4,000 militia had been ordered for the relief of Charleston, that was then besieged. But the men were slow in turning out, and in some cases they declared they would not leave their homes until their bounty was paid, and no money had been provided for that purpose. Caswell had directed the eastern drafts to assemble at Kinston, but now, under the changed conditions, they were ordered to concentrate at Cross Creek, where Gov. Caswell hastened to join his son, the Brigadier General. Congress, also fearing that Gen. Lincoln would be hard pressed, had in April sent forward troops to assist him, under Col. Buford, Col. William Washington and Col. Armand, and following them the 1st and 2d Maryland regiments, and a regiment of artillery, all under Maj. Gen. DeKalb. The first detachments, as we have seen, arrived too late to render Lincoln any assistance and were cut to pieces at Waxhaw. These Maryland troops then reached the vicinity of Hillsboro towards the middle of June; and about the same time, information being received by Congress of the surrender of Gen. Lincoln, Gen. Gates was ordered to succeed him at the South, and Col. Morgan, whose illness had led to his temporary retirement, was urged to again enter upon active service and aid in defending the Southern States.

The surrender of the Southern army at Charleston and the destruction of Buford's corps caused great dismay among the patriots in North Carolina, while on the other hand the loyalists were jubilant and active. The arrival of DeKalb with his Regulars, well supplied with ammunition, however, tended to restore confidence, but yet all military movements were delayed and hampered by the want of provisions that could not be supplied.

Cornwallis wrote to Sir Henry Clinton June 30, 1866: “In regard to North Carolina, I have established the most satisfactory correspondence and have seen several people of credit and undoubted

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fidelity from that Province. They all agree in assurances of the good disposition of a considerable body of the inhabitants and of the impossibility of subsisting a body of troops in that country till the harvest is over.” Proposing to postpone his operations until about the end of August, he sent “emissaries to the leading persons amongst our friends, recommending in the strongest terms that they should attend to their harvest, prepare provisions and remain quiet until the King's troops were ready to enter the Province.” Notwithstanding these precautions, he says he “was sorry that a considerable number of loyal inhabitants of Tryon County encouraged and headed by a Col. Moore, whom I knew nothing of, and excited by the sanguine emissaries of the very sanguine and imprudent Lt. Col. Hamilton, rose on the 18th inst. (June), without order or caution, and were in a few days defeated by Gen. Rutherford with some loss.” He hoped that “that unlucky business would not materially affect the general plan or occasion any commotion on the frontiers of this Province.”

A fortnight later he reported that since his arrival at Charleston he had kept up a constant correspondence with the frontier and the interior parts of North Carolina, “where the aspect of affairs is not so peaceable as when I last wrote.” He noted “that DeKalb is certainly at Hillsboro with 2,000 Continental troops; Porterfield is in the neighborhood of Salisbury with 300 Virginians and Rutherford with some militia with him. Caswell, with 1,500 militia, marched from Cross Creek to the Deep River between Hillsboro and Salisbury and Sumpter, with about the same number of militia, is advanced as far as the Catawba settlement.” “The government of North Carolina,” he said, “is likewise making great exertions to raise troops and persecuting our friends in the most cruel manner, in consequence of which Col. Bryan, although he had promised to wait for my orders, lost all patience, and rose with about 800 men on the Yadkin, and by a difficult and dangerous march joined Major McArthur on the borders of Anson County.” He thought “it would be needless to take any considerable number of the South Carolina militia with us when we advance. They can only be looked upon as light troops, and we shall find friends enough in the next Province of the same quality, and we must

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not undertake to supply too many useless mouths.” Indeed Cornwallis entertained no doubt that North Carolina would be “perfectly reduced.”


On June 14th Gen. Rutherford, who with his command was below Charlotte watching Lord Rawdon at Hanging Rock, learning that Col. John Moore had embodied some thirteen hundred Tories at Ramsour's Mills near Lincolnton, directed Col. Locke, Capt. Falls and other partisan leaders to raise their men and attack them. They acted promptly, and on the 20th of June Col. Locke, after a severe fight, succeeded in dispersing this formidable body of Tories. But this rising, and the 800 men who joined Col. Bryan, were manifestations of widespread defection that gave cause for grave apprehensions.


Towards the end of June DeKalb, finding that provisions could not be supplied at Hillsboro, purposed moving into the Pee Dee section, where there was a greater abundance, and forming a camp there for the better organization of the army. But on reaching Deep River his progress was arrested by the want of necessary subsistence. He had to put his troops on a short allowance of bread until he could accumulate enough to last them while crossing the sand hills. About the middle of July he took post at Coxe's Mills on the Deep River, where Gen. Caswell with his militia joined him, while Gen. Rutherford and Gen. Harrington cautiously moved down near the Cheraws, Gen. Sumpter being still further in advance. On July 31st Caswell's forces united with Rutherford's at the Cheraws, and Gates, who had joined DeKalb, was about to make a junction with them. Col. Porterfield, with 300 Virginians, was also coming up, and Gen. Stevens, with 700 Virginians, was at Coxe's getting supplies to subsist his troops while en route to the advanced forces. A few days later the junction was made, and Gen. Gates at once directed the march towards Camden, where the British had established their headquarters. Since the defeat of Buford, all that region had been harried by strong bands of loyalists. The Tories had joined their partisan leaders, and those persons who sympathized with the American cause had either fled from their homes or had been

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captured and carried away by their enemies. The country was deserted. It was with great difficulty that food could be obtained from day to day.

Gen. Gates, with all his troops, having reached the vicinity of Camden, determined to take an advantageous position, which had been carefully selected, about five miles from that place, and on the night of August 15th moved forward, his army being all together, for the purpose of occupying it. About half-past 2 o'clock that night, while still on the march, his column came in collision with Cornwallis' army that had moved out to surprise him. The meeting was unexpected to both; and after a brief encounter, the hostile forces lay on their arms, awaiting the approach of day. Before dawn Cornwallis attacked with his Regulars so strongly that the militia who were posted in the centre could not withstand the assault, and broke, leaving the Continentals on the two wings exposed to a flank and rear attack from the British horse that had passed between them. The Continentals and some of the militia, notably, Gregory's brigade, fought with desperation, but being aban doned by the others were too greatly outnumbered to prevail. Nine hundred were reported as killed in the action and a thousand were taken prisoners. Only six hundred of the Continentals survived. Gen. Gates and Gen. Caswell sought without avail to rally the militia, and when the battle was lost, apprehensive that Cornwallis would follow up his victory by pushing on into North Carolina, they hastened to Charlotte, where Caswell remained to collect new troops, while Gates continued on to Hillsboro to plan for the future. Gen. Smallwood, who was n command of the rear detachments of the army, took charge of the retreat, and after a march memorable for its horrors brought his remains of his Continentals regiments to Charlotte; but learning that Sumpter's troops, the only considerable body that had not joined Gates' army, had been surprised and dispersed by Tarleton, he withdrew to Salisbury and subsequently to Guilford C. H. Not only was the army that had been collected at great pains and expense for Gates destroyed, but nearly all of the military stores sent by Congress to the South were entirely lost. In addition the brave and skillful DeKalb was killed, Rutherford was severely wounded and captured, as also were Col. Porterfield, Gen. Pinckney

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and many other valuable officers. Such a terrible disaster, following so swiftly the loss of the entire Continental Line at Charleston, was an immeasurable calamity to the State. The dark hours that try men's souls had indeed come. But the resolution of the North Carolina patriots never wavered.

Caswell and Summer remained at Charlotte, forming a camp of militia there; Davie, with his company of light horse, passed back into South Carolina to watch the movements of the enemy, and Gov. Nash and the men in every part of the State rose to the height of the occasion and redoubled their efforts in the cause of independence.


The Editor, in closing the Prefatory Notes of this volume at this point, has to express his regret that the Journals of the General Assembly for the year 1780 could not be found although diligently searched for. The matter contained in the volume is, however, thought to be of unusual value and interest. With great labor, collections of manuscript letters in many States have been examined, and those throwing light on North Carolina matters in that obscure period were secured for publication. Attention is particularly called to the valuable series obtained from the correspondence of Gen. Gates, as also to the Proceedings of the Board of War.