ELIZABETH — The time was early morning, before dawn, on Aug. 28, 1781. Nearly 400 members of the Loyalist Militia, also known as Tories, were sound asleep in the encampment in the heart of Elizabeth (as it was known then). In their dreams, they expected to awaken to just another day.
And then the nightmare began.
A total of 69 local American militia men came across the Cape Fear River and surprised the slumbering Tories. Despite being severely outnumbered that day, the Patriots hollered and yelled instructions to the likes of Gen. George Washington and others — none of whom were there — making the King’s sympathizers believe they were being attacked by a force much larger than theirs.
When the smoke cleared, the Patriots had driven the Loyalists into the ravine, where they quickly scattered and never returned. Their leader, Col. Slingsby, was killed along with 16 other Tories. There were no Patriot fatalities and only four minor casualties — and Elizabeth was once again under the control of the new nation, one of several American victories in the Carolinas that helped lead to the British surrender in the Revolutionary War.
That scene, including the brave venture into the Tory encampment by Sallie Salter, was recreated Saturday afternoon in Tory Hole Park in downtown Elizabethtown.
The cloudy and grey day began with canon fire as part of the opening ceremonies, and when the smoke cleared away there were a number of events taking place for visitors to enjoy. Among those was a tar-pitch-turpentine making demonstration on the hillside, a children’s militia drill, bluegrass music under the pavilion, food cooked by Boy Scout Troop 622 of Dublin, face painting, doll making and a demonstration of a pistol duel.
Sunday Allen also gave a talk about the role Salter played in the Battle Of Elizabethtown.
Organizers of the fourth annual re-enactment were pleased with how the day went.
“I think we’re all pretty happy,” said Seth Lewis. “The crowd kept trickling in and we didn’t get all the rain we thought we would.”
In fact, only a light mist fell for about an hour before stopping.
Folks came from all over the Carolinas for the event, either to participate or to observe.
“We’re trying to celebrate and recreate our state’s early history,” said re-enactor D.S. Jackson of Spivey’s Corner. “I really love it, and this event is nice.”
Also there Saturday were a few folks whose sixth-generation grandfathers were one of the 69 to fight for the Patriots in the Battle of Elizabethtown. That number included Seth and Bobby Lewis, Allen — all of whom participated in the event — along with Miranda Adams, whose two sons, Emery and Jonathan, also participated.
“My (sixth-generation) grandfather who fought here was a White,” said Adams, who is from Gray’s Creek. “I think this is very educational and empowers local people to explore possible connections to the war. And both my boys are really fired up about participating.”
Before the re-enactment began, a Ring of Honor — or tolling of the bell for the Patriots who fought in Elizabeth — was held.
Once the re-enactment began, dozens upon dozens of people lined the edge of the trees in the back of Tory Hole Park as about 40 re-enactors fought through the woods. As they wound around deep in the woods, the Patriots began to push the Tories backward and soon captured the Loyalists. The British troops’ surrender followed soon after.
About 15 individuals camped in Tory Hole Park on Friday and Saturday night, with another battle re-enactment to be held Sunday afternoon. According to Bobby Lewis, re-enactors came from Elizabethtown, Dublin, Bladenboro, Lumberton Avresboro — many were members of the Backwoods Militia from Harmony Hall Plantation Village.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.