ELIZABETHTOWN — With the fourth annual Battle of Elizabethtown re-enactment on the horizon, folks interested in local history should be reminded of the rich history, historic places and oral history that dates back to the time of the American Revolution in Bladen County.
“Cornwallis, after loosing several engagements in North and South Carolina, decided to travel to New York and came down the Cape Fear River going to Wilmington,” said Bobby Lewis, field marshall for Harmony Hall Plantation Village, and member of the Backwoods Militia.
He added that, in 1781, around Bladen County as we know it today, the Tories had a strong foothold that resulted in running the river planters along the Cape Fear off. Lewis said there was looting, burning and skirmishes that took place.
Lewis said Elizabethtown was the Tory stronghold with an estimated 400 Tories located in and around the town.
According to Lewis, Thomas Robeson and his brother, Peter Robeson, both had their homes burned in raids conducted by David Fanning’s troops. Lewis said it was these raids that led to their joining the Patriots in the battle.
According to Lewis, a decisive battle took place on Aug. 29, 1781, in Elizabethtown. According to historical records, about 180 men consisting of river planters banded together to run off the Tories — thanks to the information gathered by Sally Salter. Some of the more notable names among the group were Col. Thomas Robeson, Capt. Peter Robeson, Major Thomas Owen, and Major James Richardson.
Lewis said the gully that is known today as Tory Hole actually extended much farther into town than it does today.
“The gully at that time (1781) stretched to the vicinity of Affordable Tire,” said Lewis.
He said part of the gully where the Battle of Elizabethtown was fought has filled in over time.
Lewis said the band of Patriots came into town from the direction of Salter’s Farm located at what was known then as Little Sugar Loaf and crossed the river at Brown’s Landing. Lewis said the Patriots held their clothing, gun powder and rifles above their heads and waded across the river. Lewis said the Patriots then quietly divided themselves into three groups and encircled the town.
According to an account from Rev. Heller’s History of Bladen, the Tories were camped where the old Presbyterian Church once stood. A group of Patriots were able to catch the Tories unawares and fired a volley into the Tories that sent them scurrying and running, seeking shelter in the woods in the gully leading down to the Cape Fear River. Once the battle ended, the Tories were scattered and the Patriots were strengthened.
Folks can visit the Thomas Robeson house is at the edge of Tar Heel along N.C. 87, as well as Harmony Hall Plantation Village in White Oak.
—Erin Smith can be reached at 910-862-4163.