Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ramsour’s Mill in Early Histories of the War

As described previously, the battle of Ramsour’s Mill was seldom mentioned in surviving correspondence from the summer of 1780. Nevertheless, the battle did not escape the notice of early chroniclers of the war.

Below is a selection of passages referring to the battle in some of the earliest works on the war. Common themes in these works is that a force of Loyalists organized in North Carolina in June, 1780, and that this force was soon attacked and dispersed by the Americans (Whigs). Few details about where or how the Loyalists were defeated were available to the authors of these accounts.

Charles Stedman. (1794). The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, Vol. 2.

Comments: Charles Stedman was a British officer who served in the southern theater (but not at Ramsour's Mill). In his account, the North Carolina Loyalists under John Moore rose up in anticipation of a British invasion of their colony. However, the "insurrection" was premature and Moore's force was dispersed by Griffith Rutherford.

“A correspondence had been kept up with the loyalists in North Carolina: And, as the expedition into that province was necessarily delayed, his lordship [Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis] sent emissaries amongst them to request the well affectect to attend to their harvest, collect provisions, and remain quiet till the king's troops were ready to enter the province, which would not be till the end of August, or beginning of September. But, unfortunately, this prudent and necessary admonition was not attended to. A number of loyalists in Tryon County having prematurely assembled in arms under a colonel More [Lieutenant-Colonel John Moore], towards the end of June, were quickly routed and dispersed by a provincial force under general Rutherford [i.e., Brigadier-General Griffith Rutherford]. This unsuccessful insurrection furnished a pretence for persecuting the loyalists in other parts of the province their gaols were filled with loyalists, and every day added a victim to their gibbets.”

William Gordon. (1801). The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the United States of America, Vol 3.

Comments: Reverend William Gordon of Roxbury, Massachusetts, was an avid chronicler of the war. His account provided additional detail as to how Moore's Loyalists were dispersed by the American Whigs. He noted that it was Francis Locke, not Griffith Rutherford, that commanded the American force that fought Moore, that Locke's men were greatly outnumbered, that a charge by a party of mounted Americans threw the Loyalists into confusion, and that the battle ended when the Loyalists fled during a temporary cease-fire.

“A large body of them [i.e., Loyalists] collected under the command of col. Moore, in North-Carolina, on the 22d of June. The greatest part had taken the oath of allegiance to that state, and many had done militia duty in the American service. Their premature insurrection... subjected them to an immediate dispersion. Gen. Rutherford instantly marched against these insurgents, but was so short of lead that he could arm only 300 men. Col. Lock [i.e., Colonel Francis Locke] advanced with this detachment twenty-five miles a-head to observe them, while the main body halted for a supply of ammunition. The colonel, though greatly inferior in force, was reduced to the necessity of attacking or being attacked. He chose the former; and capt. Falls [Captain Gilbraith Falls], with a party of horse, rushed into the middle of the royalists, and threw them into confusion. Twenty-two of the whig militia were killed or wounded; among the former were six of their officers, who were singled out by riflemen among the insurgents. The captain was one of the slain. Col. Moore proposed to col. Lock a cessation of all hostilities for an hour, which being agreed to, the former ran off with his whole party.”

David Ramsay (1811). The History of the American Revolution, Vol. 2.

Comments: David Ramsay was a South Carolina doctor turned delegate to the Continental Congress, and later, historian of the war. Ramsay was captured when the British took Charleston in May, 1780. He was imprisoned at the time of Ramsour's Mill.

“The precautions taken to prevent the rising of the royalists in North-Carolina, did not answer the end. Several of the inhabitants of Tryon county, under the direction of Col. Moore took up arms, and were in a few days defeated by the whig militia, commanded by Gen. Rutherford.”

Henry Lee. (1812). Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States.

Comments: Henry Lee fought in the southern theater of the war as a lieutenant-colonel commanding an American partisan corps. He and his corps arrived in the southern theater months after the battle of Ramsour's Mill. His account appears to have been based on that of William Gordon, described above. Lee, however, named the site of the battle (although it is misspelled).

“A large body of loyalists collected under colonel Moore at Armsaour's [sic] mill on the 22d of June; among whom were many who had not only taken the oath of allegiance to the state, but had served in arms against the British army. Rutherford lost no time in taking his measures to bring Moore to submission. But so destitute was he of ammunition that only three hundred men could be prepared for the field. This detachment was intrusted to colonel Locke, who was ordered to approach the enemy and watch his motions, while Rutherford continued to exert himself in procuring arms for the main body to follow under his own direction.

“Moore, finding an inferior force near to him, determined to attack it, in which decision he was gallantly anticipated by Locke, who, perceiving the enemy's purpose, and knowing the hazard of retreat, fell upon Moore in his camp. Captain Falls with the horse, led, and rushing suddenly, sword in hand, into the midst of the insurgents, threw them into confusion which advantage Locke pressed forward to improve, when he suspended the falling blow in consequence of colonel Moore proposing a truce for an hour with the view of amicable adjustment. During the negotiation, Moore and his associates dispersed, which appears to have been their sole object in proposing the suspension of hostilities.”


  1. This is certainly something I had never heard about before, very fascinating excerpt!

    Thank you for sharing this , I enjoyed reading about it!

  2. @ Uneekdolldesigns:

    Thanks! FWIW, I should have a good deal more on this battle posted later this month.