- Moores Creek Battlefield
The battle at Moores Creek was among one of the first battles in the American Revolutionary War that took place near Wilmington in North Carolina. Along with the history of the battle, the actual site includes historical links to many aspects of colonial life in North Carolina before and after the revolution.
Before the battle
During the mid 1770s the colony of North Carolina was divided between the Loyalists and the Patriots. The Loyalists, colonists who remained true to Great Brittan, included the crown’s officials, wealthy merchants, tidewater planters, and Scottish Highlanders. The first rebellion in the colony occurred in 1771, when the Patriots unsuccessfully staged a coup to overthrow the colony’s royal legislature.
The battle of Lexington and Concord, April 1775, sparked another series of rebellions within the colony that forced the Royal Governor, Josiah Martin, to abandon the capital at New Bern. He fled to Fort Johnson and later was forced out of the fort on to a British ship the Cruizer. After the incident, Governor Martin proposed to raise an army of 10,000 men to meet with the Loyalist army under Lord Cornwallis, Henry Clinton, and Sir Peter Parker in order to restore the authority of the colony back to the crown. On February 15, 1776, Martin raised his army only consisting of 1,600 Scottish Highlanders.
During this time, the Patriots set up a Provincial Council in September of 1775 to raise two regiments of North Carolina’s First Continental Army and battalions of minutemen and militia; they assembled the army at Cross Creek, modern day Fayetteville, under the command of Colonel James Moore and Colonel Richard Caswell.
The Patriots raised their army according to ancient Greek city-states where a man must own a shield, spear, and sword and defend the State when necessary. The idea of this “citizen soldier” was fully grasped in 1789 when an act was passed to ensure that militias had control over the colonies when in times of emergency. In North Carolina, the militia was organized by county and under the command of the Governor. The county divisions were under the command of high-ranking officers usually colonels that were appointed by the elected Assembly. Within a county, the militia was divided into companies, and then specialized into infantry, artillery, and cavalry. All free males between 16 and 60 served in the militia, and most had no training, in fact, battle knowledge came from reading or experience, and only the officers were professionally trained. They were also required to provide their own weapons which during that time included muskets like the British “Brown Bess” and the American “Committee of Safety”. Because the muskets were .75 caliber, the muskets were able to fire eight times within two minutes. After firing on the enemy in unison, the militiamen would engage in hand-to-hand combat. Unlike today’s flag, the militia used the pine tree and rattlesnake as symbols on their flags.
The Loyalists devised a plan to march along the Cape Fear River to the coast under General Donald McDonald; however, they were blocked at Rockfish Creek by Colonel Moore. Afterwards, MacDonald marched eastward towards Col. Caswell’s army expecting little opposition. The bridge at Moores Creek was the last chance the loyalists had to stop the advancement of McDonald’s army.
Moore sent another army under Colonel Lillington to help with the offensive at the bridge. Being the first to arrive at Moores Creek on February 25, Lillington quickly assessed the swampy terrain the creek ran through to plan his defensive strategy. Knowing that the bridge on Negro Head Point Road was the only way to cross the creek, Lillington had his men build earthworks overlooking the bridge from the East and set up artillery, so that the Loyalists would walk into an ambush. Colonel Caswell’s men made their camp on the other side of the bridge.
Meanwhile, the Loyalists forces, only six miles away, sent scouts to deliver a letter offering Moore a last opportunity to surrender and pledge to the Crown. When the request was denied, the scouts reported back to McDonald that patriot troops were outnumbered and vulnerable not knowing about the earthworks on the other side of the bridge. McDonald decided to attack at the next day, February 27, one hour past noon. During the night, Caswell’s men abandoned their camp on the other side of the bridge also removing the bridge planks and greasing the girders.
Discovering the abandoned camp, the loyalists decided to regroup and wait for daybreak; however, fire erupted at the bridge just before dawn. When the loyalists rushed the bridge, they were fired upon by a line of musketry and artillery from the patriot earthworks forty paces away. Within minutes, the advancing loyalists were cut down and the whole force retreated. The loyalists lost over thirty men and over forty were wounded- only one patriot had died in the battle. The retreating loyalists were captured and spoils were including 1500 rifles, 350 shot bags, 150 swords and dirks, and 15,000 sterling. The leaders were imprisoned or banished-some returned to Nova Scotia or Scotland. Although the battle was small scale, it provoked successful revolution in the Carolina Colonies.
The Halifax Resolves
After the victory at Moores Creek, the Fourth North Carolina Provincial Congress met in Halifax and adopted the Halifax Resolves on April 12, 1776. The Halifax Resolves ordered North Carolina delegation to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to form alliances and to vote for independence from Great Britain. The Halifax Resolves made North Carolina the first of the colonial governments to call for total independence, and it became a factor leading to the Declaration of Independence.
Resolved, that the Delegates for this Colony in the Continental Congress be empowered to Concur with the Delegates of the other Colonies in declaring Independence and forming foreign alliances reserving to this Colony, the Sole and Executive right of forming a Constitution and Laws for this Colony, and of appointing Delegates of the other Colonies for such purpose as shall be hereafter pointed out.
The Park Itself
Negro Head Point Road
This historic road is feature through out the park, and is the road that the Loyalists traveled in their route. The road itself started at Negro Head Point, a peninsula in the Cape Fear Rive. This point was the site of wharves, taverns, and held slaves before and after auctions in order to reduce contact with free blacks. There were often head counts to make sure that no slave had escaped hence the name Negro Head Point. The actual road began at the peninsula and wound through Campbelltown and Cross Creek. Negro Head Point Road was used for a variety of purposes-transportation of goods, military use, and an escape for runaway slaves. The remnants of the road, dating back to 1743, are protected in the park.
The Tar Heel Trail
North Carolina’s major industry in colonial times was the tar industry, and it is partly why the state was nicknamed The Tar Heel State. They would collect turpentine, tar, and pitch from trees such as the longleaf pine and would distil it into products that could be used. Turpentine could be used as lamp oil, paint, medicine, and rubber goods. Tar was used in the shipbuilding industry to protect rope rigging and to grease axels. It was also used for hair dressing, to “tar and feather” individuals, and to cauterize bleeding, sterilize wounds and aid in amputations.
In order to collect tar and pitch, a tarkel (tar kiln) and lightwood (longleaf pine) was needed. To remove the tar from the lightwood, colonists would dig a round dirt platform, put a hollowed log in the center to serve as a drawn to the edge of the platform. Then, they would set the lightwood on fire and the tar was released from the log and collected by the drain. The tar kilns could not be reused, so there are many remnants of tar kilns remaining in the woods of North Carolina. A tar kiln can be seen on the Tar Heel Trail within the park.
The History Trail
It is a one mile trail that follows Negro Head Point Road and features a boardwalk through the creek that leads to Caswell’s campsite, the Moores Creek Bridge, the patriot earthworks, and memorials commemorating the battle and its participants. The monuments include: The Patriot (Grady) Monument commemorating Private John Grady, the only Patriot killed in the battle, the Loyalist Monument dedicated to the supporters of Britain who did their duty, the James Moore Monument dedicating honoring the president of Moore’s Creek Battleground Association, and a Republican women’s monument honoring the women of the Cape Fear region and the American Revolution.
Moores Creek National Battlefield is a link to North Carolina’s colonial history before and during the American Revolution. The park itself is a symbol of North Carolina’s imitative to refuse tyranny and to preserve independence. From Negro Head Point Road to the Tar Kiln, the park allows citizens to learn and to interact with history.
- Congress, The Fourth North Carolina Provincial. Moores Creek:Halifax Resolves. 1776.
- Moores Creek. The National Battlefield National Park Service US Department of the Interior, 2007.
- Moores Creek: Naval Stores. The National Battlefield National Park Service US Department of the Interior, 2007.
- Moores Creek: Negro Head Point Road. The National Battlefield National Park Service US Department of the Interior, 2007.
- Moores Creek:In Defense of Liberty. National Battlefield National Park Service US Department of the Interior, 2007.
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