As Told By the Wife of A Militia Man
A Crucial Victory Turns the Tide In Favor of the ‘Liberty Men’ of North Carolina
by Ann Brownlee
The following account is “historical fiction” – the author assumes the persona of Mistress Magdalena Hauser (pronounced Hoozer), who indeed lived at the time, as she might have told of the historical events which unfolded around her.
Magdalena Schor was born on June the 8th, 1758 into an upstanding family that had come to the American Colonies from Switzerland. She married George Hauser (Jr.) on March the 3rd, 1778. She and her husband were neighbors to the Moravians who had settled the town of Bethania in the Wachovia Tract in North Carolina. Bethania, along with its sister towns Bethabara and Salem, were on land which now comprises Winston-Salem. When we join her late in the year 1780, we find this twenty-two year old woman carrying her second child, as she might have told of the nearby battle in which her husband fought.1
I am asked to tell you of the battle near the Shallow Ford of the Adkin [Yadkin] River. It was a most fearsome fight between the Tories – those colonists loyal to the King – and the Whigs, also colonists, or Liberty Men as the Moravians call them, and occurred on October the 14th last. My husband fought in the battle, and I have heard the story often times from himself, his comrades, and many militiamen who have come to our town since.
This war for independence has been a most grievous struggle. The colonies, now calling themselves the United States, have their army, and, of course, the King has his. But those armies have not come near to this place, but have fought to the north and to the south. In our locale, the fighting has been between colonists taking one side or the other. It has been a difficult matter of conscience. The Crown has been good to many, who owe even their lands to the benevolence of His Majesty. But King George has also made many unreasonable demands, and neighbor has taken up arms against neighbor. The Moravians of my town, the Quakers at New Garden [Greensboro], and some others of the colonists wish not to fight at all, and are besieged by trouble from both camps.
My husband has gone out many times as a Lieutenant for the cause of liberty. He is in a company organized as minute men – ready to start at a moment’s notice. 2 Often times he has indeed been called upon with but a moment’s notice, even in the dark of night, when there was a pounding at the door, and me in nothing but my shift!
The Liberty Men did not fare well in the war this summer past. In May, they suffered a terrible loss in Charleston [South Carolina], and more than 1000 good and true men from North Carolina were surrendered there. Lord Cornwallis, who is the southern commander of His Majesty’s forces, advanced northwards from Charleston with no difficulty. In August, he won a victory at Camden [South Carolina], then continued on north, arriving in Charlotte Town, in our state, in late September. As His Lordship neared Charlotte Town, one of his Colonels, Patrick Ferguson by name, ranged throughout the countryside of South and North Carolina, gathering men and supplies from those loyal to the King. At the same time, the Liberty Men were hard pressed for supplies: “there [were] not arms sufficient for [the] men; there [was] plenty of powder and lead, but neither moulds or paper to make up cartridge. The Officers and soldiers [were] in a most wretched situation for want of cloaths of all kinds, particularly shoes and shirts, as also tents, camp kettles, equipage, &c.”3 I always provided my husband well when he left home, but after having been gone for months on end, he returned in a distressed state.
As Lord Cornwallis and Colonel Ferguson neared North Carolina, all the militia of this and the surrounding counties were ordered out. Most went west to rendezvous in readiness to meet Colonel Ferguson. A good number from Virginia also were to join them. The citizens of the country fled in consternation. Daily they passed through our village, from this side of Salisbury and beyond, bringing with them their small store of goods and chattels, and going to Virginia. It is said that thousands took refuge there. 4
On October 3rd a band of about 30 Tories attacked Richmond Town, site of the Surry courthouse, near the bend in the Adkin River. They killed one Hedgspeth, the Sheriff of the County. They took several prisoners, 5 and raided the home of one of the Whigs, Capt. William Shepperd, and ruined it. 6
By October 8th, the Tory band had increased in number to 300, and were headed by the brothers and Colonels Gideon and Hezekiah Wright. There has long been strong sentiment in these parts for both the Whig and the Tory causes. In the absence of the local Whig militia, the county was left exposed.7 The Tories lost no time in taking advantage of the situation, and again attacked Richmond. I know that at least Capt. John Crause was wounded as he stood guard. My husband’s company was in the town, but they were forced to flee.8
I bring to your attention several other facts of note. First, it has been rumoured for some time that there have been great conflicts, both political and personal, between the Tory Wright brothers and the County Whig leaders, especially Martin Armstrong and William Shepperd. Gideon Wright had courted the Royal Governor’s favor, and the first county courthouse had been established on his land. Several years later, with the Royal Governor no longer in power, Martin Armstrong obtained permission to move the county seat to Richmond, to land that he and William Shepherd owned.9 Secondly, in early September, Hezekiah Wright had been captured and severely whipped by a company of Tories in Bethania, though several of the Moravian men tried to intercede for him.10 Thus, it is the opinion of many in the county that the Tories were inflamed by injustices done them by the Whigs, and not solely by their passion for the King.
The Tory force continued to grow. On October 13th, 500 of them were seen in our sister city, Bethabara.11 Other reports counted their number as high as 900,12 and feared that they intended to march south to join the British army in Charlotte Town.13 On Saturday morning, October the 14th, marching in a lengthy, spread-out column, they crossed the Adkin River from the east and moved westward on the Mulberry Fields road, approaching a small creek a bit after 9 o’clock.14
The impressive numbers of the Tory force, and their actions against Richmond Town, brought considerable concern to the Whig forces. The first to react was Andrew Carson, who lives about 15 miles west of the Shallow Ford. Upon hearing the first reports of the Tory uprising, about the first of October, he mounted his horse and rode to the headquarters of General William Lee Davidson, commanding North Carolina militia near Charlotte Town. General Davidson gave him command of 52 men, and this company sought out the Tories for the next two weeks, before meeting them in the battle of the Shallow Ford.15
According to reports I have heard, and I have this on very good authority, accounts of the first attack on Richmond Town reached another patriot General, Jethro Sumner, camped near Salisbury, on October 4th. General Sumner had already dispatched a company of thirty infantry under Captain Jacob Nichols to the fork of the Yadkin and Deep Creek in search of the Tory band. Upon hearing the news of the attack on Richmond, he detailed a second company of about thirty horse, under one Capt. Miller.16
It is of interest that General Sumner directed his companies to Deep Creek, which empties into the west side of the Adkin River a short distance above the Shallow Ford crossing. I do not understand his tactical reasoning, though I am sure it was brilliant, for the Tory danger had previously been confined to the east side of the River. Perhaps there was a rendezvous on Deep Creek, as it flowed through Abraham Creson’s land, for he was known to support the cause of independence. Perhaps the General instructed the Liberty Men to expect the Tories to cross the Adkin River on their way south to join Lord Cornwallis in Charlotte Town, and to block their way. In any event, his directions sent these companies to a place very near to where the battle would be fought.
In the meantime, those Surry Liberty Men under arms who remained in the county, with those men they could entice to join them, formed to face the Tories. I think that this was an odd band, composed of parts of various companies. My husband was with these, under Captain Henry Smith. Also with the Surry militia were Captain David Humphreys, Lieutenant John Blalock, and others, as the record will undoubtedly show. My husband was gone 10 days this time.17
The North Carolina militiamen poised to meet the Tories numbered approximately one hundred and fifty strong, hardly enough to overcome the Tory force. However, they were to receive aid from an unexpected quarter.
In southwestern Virginia, in the county of Montgomery, Major Joseph Cloyd commanded four companies of the finest militiamen of that county, in number, about one hundred and sixty. Their Captains were: Isaac Campbell, Henry Francis, George Pearis/Parris, and Abraham Trigg. A large contingent from that county had left earlier to subdue Col. Patrick Ferguson. According to one of their number, they “performed a most fatiguing march up the New River nearly to its source, through a most rugged and mountainous country with the purpose of joining the residue of our regiment commanded by Col. [William] Campbell, but could not affect a junction before the battle of Kings Mountain.” In western North Carolina, they learned of the victory of the Liberty Men over Col. Ferguson’s forces at Kings Mountain. They got an express informing them that there was a large body of Tories imbodied at the Shallow Ford of the Yadkin River, and then marched to that place.18
I know not how the various troops from Virginia and North Carolina joined together. I think it most likely that they rendezvoused on Abraham Creson’s land by Deep Creek. I must remember to ask my husband about this matter. But join together they did, and, on Saturday, October the 14th, at a bit after 9 in the morning, they found themselves on the Mulberry Fields Road, about a mile west of the Shallow Ford crossing of the Adkin River, on the west side of a small creek now called the Battle Branch, in force a few more than 300, commanded by Major Cloyd of Virginia.19
Those of their number who looked eastward across the branch unexpectedly and suddenly saw the head of the approaching Tory column as it rounded a bend in the road and came into view. A single cry of “Tory! Tory!” was quickly echoed among the ranks. From across the branch came cries of “Rebel! Rebel!” Officers on both sides shouted commands as the men hastily formed ranks and readied their rifles. All at once the sounds of gunfire split the air, fire shot from rifle barrels, and smoke swirled around the soldiers, Whig and Tory alike. The Tory Captain Bryan was the first to fall, five rifle balls having passed through him and his horse.20 Captain Isaac Campbell, of the Virginia militia, fled ignobly, leaving his men to preserve themselves by their own individual valor or perish.21 The Whigs advanced as the Tories fell back and formed again. Rifle fire again filled the air. The Virginian Cap’n Henry Francis was shot through the head and fell dead on the ground, but a few steps from his son Henry.22 His other son, John, took careful aim and fired at the Tory who had killed his father.23 Though outnumbered, the Liberty Men fought valiantly and quickly gained the advantage, taking a toll of the Tories. After exchanging several rounds, the Tories fled.
A negro, named Ball Turner, fought on the side of the Tories from ambush near the creek. After the main body of the Tories had fled, he continued to fire at the Whigs, who, discovering his lurking place, charged upon him and riddled his body with bullets.24
George Kimbrough has told me that “he was fishing at the Shallow Ford at the time of the fight and heard the battle going on. All the Tories had not yet crossed the Shallow Ford, when the main body came rushing down to the ford crying out to those still crossing, ‘We are whipped, we are whipped!’ Such a scattering of men he never saw, both up and down the river, and those in the river whirled about and made hast their retreat to the East bank.”25 They were well-mounted, and made good their escape.
As the smoke began to clear, the casualties of the battle became clearer. Of the Whigs, Cap’n Francis had been killed, Cap’n George Parris was gravely wounded,26 and three others of their number had been shot. Of the Tories, 15 lay dead or dying. Only one of these would survive.27 The sounds of the battle had carried for several miles, and those who lived nearby began to arrive to tend the soldiers. Of these was Colonel Joseph Williams of Panther Creek. He came upon the scene just as one of the Whigs had raised his gun to club a wounded Tory, named Skidmore, in the head, and thus make certain of his death. Colonel Williams interposed to prevent this, and ordered the Whig to the creek nearby to bring some water for the wounded Tory in his hat.28
The hoofbeats of the retreating Tories had barely died out to the east, when sounds of approaching infantry were heard from the south. The Whigs once more readied themselves, and sent several to reconnoiter in that direction. Distant cries of “Victory for Liberty! Huzzah! Huzzah!” reached their ears, and they again relaxed their vigil. The infantrymen came into view, 300, with a few horse, under Colonel John Peasley, sent out 2 or 3 days before by General Sumner from Salisbury.29
The Liberty Men were jubilant at their rout of the Tories. They presented the sword of the slain Tory Captain Bryan to Cap’n Parris, “he being considered the best marksman in the detachment and also having received a wound in the engagement.”30 They buried their own, Cap’n Henry Francis, to the side of the Mulberry Fields Road. Those of the dead Tories who were not taken home were buried in a nearby field. Most of the soldiers departed for the Moravian towns, leaving a contingent to guard the wounded.
That night, and the next day, saw a cold rain fall upon the exhausted soldiers. Those who had gone to the Moravian towns built fires and camped around the buildings. The Moravian physician, Dr. Bonn, was asked to go to the battle ground to bind up the wounded. He sent his apprentice, Joseph Dixon, the next day.31 Also the day following the battle, General William Smallwood with about 150 horsemen, 30 foot soldiers, and 3 wagons arrived in Salem. He had set out from near Guilford Court House the day previous, intent upon containing the Tories. Finding that the Liberty men had already prevailed in battle, he ordered the militia in pursuit of the Tories who had fled.32
On October the 17th, the Board of War, met in Hillsborough, sent the following letter to General Smallwood: “Yours of the 16th to Mr. Penn was Yesterday received by the Board containing the Interesting Intelligence of the Defeat of the Tories at the Shallow Ford. We congratulate you on this occasion, as also Major Cloyd & the brave men under his command who effected this important Stroke. The ready attention you have paid to this part of the State, long distracted by these Miscreants, but at length happily subdued, demand the Acknowledgments of this Country, and we receive it as an Earnest of those future Advantages which, we flatter ourselves, will be derived to it from your command.”33
The day following, the Board of War wrote to the North Carolina Delegates in Congress: “Inclosed you have the account of Lord Cornwallis’s Retreat from Charlotte with precipitation, by reason, as we suppose, of Ferguson’s Defeat; as also the killing and dispersing a Number of Tories at the Shallow Ford by Major Cloyd of Virginia. These events are truly interesting to this State, and give a Sprightly Countenance to our affairs, so lately clouded and embarrassed.”34 That same day Brother Bonn, the physician, was called to the Atkin to tend one of the wounded, and some of the Virginians passed through our town on their way home.35
The 19th of October, the five wounded soldiers were moved from the battle site to Bethania, to Michael Hauser’s old house (my husband’s uncle),36 where they would recover. The keeper of the Salem diary reported that the Virginia Major “had treated Br. Bonn most politely and by his advice had left only three men in Bethania to wait on the wounded instead of the proposed twenty. We see in this the gracious hand of God.”37
Also on the 19th, a Council of Officers met at camp at Abraham Creson’s, under Colonel Martin Armstrong, commanding. By order of this Council, the following proclamation was issued: “Agreeable to an order of Council of the Officers present in Camp at the Shallowford, October 19th, 1780, I hereby give this Public Notice, Requesting and Commanding all those deluded people in the Cot’y of Surry who have been Concerned in the late Insurrection and taken up arms against their Country, in Open Violation of the Laws thereof, to Come to Richmond on or before the first day of November Next and Deliver up all their Arms, Ammunition, Shotpouches, Horses, Saddles, Bridles, &c, which they or any of them have taken from the good people of the said County, or had in the field of Battle at the Shallowford or elsewhere; Give Security for their Good behavior, be Subject to Such Other Rules, orders and Regulations as the Commanding Officer shall think Requisite for the better Security of the Lives and properties of the peaceable Inhabitants of Said County and the Service of this and the United States; then and in such Case I promise to make Use of my Influence with the General Assembly of this State to Obtain for all such A pardon.” Signed, Martin Armstrong, Justice of the County of Surry.38
Many of the Tories surrendered and received the promised pardon, with the provision that they were required to serve under arms for the United States for 3 or 6 months. There were reports of violence during that time, and Hezekiah Wright was shot and wounded in his own home. It was supposed that he intended to give himself up, as many were doing.39 His brother Gideon fled to the safety of Charleston, still under royal command. [He would die there on August 9, 1782.]40
This fall has seen the tide turn for the beleaguered Liberty Men in North Carolina. Firstly, they won a victory at Colson’s Mill, near the confluence of the Rocky River into the PeeDee, in September. Many of the Tory Bryan clan from our vicinity were among those vanquished there. Secondly, they defeated Col. Ferguson at Kings Mountain, a glorious victory destined to be remembered in history. Following this defeat, the British forces retreated from North Carolina. Thirdly, a week exactly to the day after Kings Mountain, they routed the Tories near the Shallow Ford. The momentum of the war was now in their favour.
Perhaps more importantly to the inhabitants of Surry County, the threat posed by the Tory forces was ended, and they returned to their homes and their lives in safety. The Tories of the County were never again to gather in such numbers.
I hope and pray that this dreadful war will soon come to a close, that my husband will return home safely, and that the outcome shall provide that we, of the colonies, shall live with respect, dignity, and freedom. We have given so much for our cause, and it is fitting that liberty be bought by the blood that has been shed by our fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons.
(Copyright 1994-1997 Ann Brownlee)
1 – Shore, 67-70
2 – NARA: George Houser/Hauser
3 – W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 580-581
4 – Fries, 1569
5 – W. Clark,Vol. XIV, 667
6 – Fries, 1570
7 – W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 675-676
8 – NARA: George Houser/Hauser; and Fries, 1571
9 – Carter, 17-18
10 – Fries, 1643
11 – Fries, 1571
12 – W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 698-699
13 – W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 692-693
14 – Furches; and W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 790
15 – W. Clark, Vol. XXII, 113-114
16 – W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 669; and NARA: James Holmes
17 – NARA: George Houser/Hauser; Henry Smith; David Humphreys; Henry Ward
18 – NARA: Henry Trolinger
19 – Furches
20 – NARA: Henry Trolinger
21 – NARA: Henry Francis [Jr.]
22 – NARA: Henry Francis [Jr.]
23 – NARA: John (Nancy) Francis
24 – Draper MSS: 8C42
25 – Draper MSS: 8C42
26 – NARA: Henry Walker
27 – W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 790
28 – Draper MSS: 8C42
29 – W.Clark, Vol. XIV, 790
30 – NARA: Henry Trolinger
31 – Fries, 1571-1572
32 – W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 698-699
33 – W. Clark, Vol. XIV, 421
34 – W.Clark, Vol. XIV, 429
35 – Fries, 1644
36 – Fries, 1644
37 – Fries, 1573
38 – W. Clark, Vol. XV, 123-125
39 – Fries, 1575
40 – M.J. Clark, 356
Carter, William Franklin, Jr., and Carrie Young, Footprints in the “Hollows”, Elkin, NC: Northwest Regional Library, 1976.
Clark, Murtie June, Loyalists in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War, Volume I, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981.
Clark, Walter, The State Records of North Carolina, Volumes XIV, XV, XXII, 1896; Wilmington, NC: Winston, 1993.
Fries, Adelaide L., ed., Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Volume IV 1780-1783, Raleigh: Historical Commission, 1930.
Furches, D. M., “A Leaf of History: A Reminiscence of the Revolution – Battle of ‘Shallow Ford'”, The Landmark, Statesville, NC, 1887.
National Archives (NARA), Revolutionary War Penson and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (on microfilm): Henry Francis [Jr.] R3739; John (Nancy) Francis R3746; James Holmes W5697; George Houser/Hauser W10118; David Humphreys W9047; Henry Smith S32525; Henry Trolinger W4087; Henry Walker S31459 Henry Ward R11114.
Shore, Leo Jane, The Frederick Shore Family 1570-1980 From Switzerland to North Carolina, 1983.
State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Draper Manuscripts: Boone Papers, (microfilm) 8C42.