The American Revolution in North Carolina

NC Government During the American Revolution - 1779

On January 19, 1779, the North Carolina General Assembly convened at Halifax until February 13th. This was considered to be the third seating of the 1778 General Assembly since so much work of 1778 had to be postponed.

The Indians were causing new troubles on the frontier, and the governor of Virginia requested that North Carolina send military assistance to that troubled area. On January 21st, the Legislature appointed Charles Robertson of Washington County as Lt. Colonel in command of 200 men from that county to assist the Virginians in their campaign against the Chickamauga Towns.

During this session of the General Assembly, eight new counties were authorized: Franklin, Gates, Jones, Lincoln, Montgomery, Randolph, Rutherford, and Warren. A new court house and jail were authorized for Brunswick County at the mouth of the Lockwood Folly River. The extension of the NC/VA line was approved, with military assistance to guard the surveyors.

At this time, the newly-created Randolph County was assigned to the Hillsborough District instead of the Salisbury District where Guilford County remained.

John Williams resigned as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and on February 4th, the NC General Assembly elected Joseph Hewes and William Sharpe as new delegates. On February 5th, an Academy in Hillsborough was approved.

Since so many Militiamen and their leaders marched to assist South Carolina and Georgia at the end of the previous year, the General Assembly authorized commissioning Matthew Locke as a Brigadier General (Pro Tempore) to raise 1,000 more men from the Salisbury District, of which 300 were to be Light Horse. The Hillsborough District was ordered to raise another 700 men, of which 100 were to be Light Horse. The Halifax District was to provide 200 Light Horse, and the Wilmington District was to provide one-fourth of their numbers, of which one-fourth of those to be Light Horse.

Major General John Ashe, commander of all North Carolina Militia, led many of his troops to their ruin at the battle of Briar Creek in Georgia on March 3rd. Ashe was court-martialed for his actions at Briar Creek. He was cleared of any cowardice, but was found guilty of negligence in command of his troops. He returned home in disgrace to Wilmington. This large Militia contingent returned home on April 10th having fulfilled their term.

In the meantime, Governor Richard Caswell called for a new Militia draft. Brigadier General John Butler, of the Hillsborough District Brigade of Militia, was to assemble the next group at Salisbury and proceed to Charlotte. On April 11th, he marched 700 men towards Augusta, Georgia, taking about two weeks to reach his objective. However, the British seized an opportunity near Purrysburg, SC and bypassed Brigadier General Butler and Major General Benjamin Lincoln - their objective was to take Charlestown, South Carolina.

Major General Benjamin Lincoln caught up with the Redcoats at Charleston Neck on May 12th and the British smartly decided on a strategic retreat along the South Carolina coast. Before they could effect their withdrawal, Major General Lincoln met them at Stono Ferry on June 20th. Brigadier General Jethro Sumner and his North Carolina Continentals, and Brigadier General John Butler and his Militia joined Major General Lincoln at Stono Ferry on the left side of the Patriot line. Both performed admirably.

Meanwhile, on May 3rd, the new 1779 General Assembly convened at Smithfield - the appointed location of New Bern was quarantined due to Smallpox. The Senate elected Allen Jones as their Speaker; the House of Commons elected Thomas Benbury again as their Speaker. For the third and final time, they also elected Richard Caswell as governor. Delegates to the Continental Congress were John Penn and Cornelius Harnett.

As agreed to prior to assembling, this session of the Legislature was dedicated to resolving "public issues" that had been cast aside in previous sessions.

In early May of 1779, a large British force entered the Chesapeake Bay and landed without opposition at Portsmouth, Virginia - eastern North Carolina was now threatened. A group of Currituck County and Camden County Militia, without waiting for orders, promptly assembled, and joining a few Virginians, took post at the Great Bridge to prevent the British from going southward.

Governor Caswell ordered the newly-created "State Regiment" to take possession of Fort Caswell - two miles below New Bern - and called out the Craven County Regiment of Militia to assist them in case of an attack. Fortunately, an attack never came.

The term of Brigadier General John Butler's Militia expired in July. In hopes of encouraging more recruits, it was resolved that every ten men who furnished one Continental recruit to serve eighteen months - these ten men would be exempt from duty for eighteen months - unless there was an actual invasion or insurrection. The Legislature expected that this would bring forth about 2,000 new Continentals, but it only turned out about 600 - and it had an adverse effect on Militia recruitment.

These new recruits were assigned to Brigadier General Alexander Lillington of the Wilmington District Brigade of Militia in anticipation of being sent to assist South Carolina. However, they were recalled when Virginia sent a large contingent to Charlestown. Those now under Brigadier General Lillington were now needed to thwart Loyalist uprisings that were now springing up as the British were now very active in the South.

On October 18, 1779, the General Assembly convened in Halifax through November 10th.

As had been the case for most of the year, the pressing issue was the British invasion of South Carolina. Savannah, GA had been taken in December of 1778, and the Redcoats made several incusions into the Palmetto State, which were repelled by a considerable Patriot force that included many Militiamen from the Old North State.

Since there were time limits for Militiamen serving out of state, there was an almost revolving door trying to keep sufficient numbers under the command of Major General Benjamin Lincoln and his Continentals. Towards the end of December of 1779, Brigadier General Alexander Lillington led approximately 2,000 Militiamen towards Charlestown - once again the Old North State fulfilled its obligation to her sister state to the south.

Needless to say, the Legislature had other business to transact. A proposed division of the Salisbury District was rejected at this juncture, as was a proposal to divide Tyrrell County. Conversely, the General Assembly did approve the creation of three new counties - Richmond, Sullivan, and Wayne. It also approved the establishment of five new towns - in Franklin County, Martin County, Surry County, Warren County, and Washington County. For some unknown reason, a proposed town in Lincoln County was rejected.

Three new delegates to the Continental Congress for next year were elected - Whitmelll Hill, Thomas Burke, and Allen Jones - to work with the existing three, John Penn, Cornelius Harnett, and William Sharpe. Two new members of the Council of State were chosen - Waightstill Avery and Edward Starkey.

In Bladen County, Elizabeth Town was authorized a new court house and jail. So was the county of Montgomery (county seat not named as yet).

Mecklenburgh County was divided into two separate regiments of Militia. And, a new Company of State Troops was authorized to guard Ocracoke Inlet.

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