Pender County By Michael E.C. Gery
hese days, the swamps of southeastern North Carolina have little strategic value for anyone other than snakes, birds, bats and their allies. So it’s interesting to consider that on a cold night in February 1776, a swamp near Black River in Pender County pretty much prevented the British from taking control of the South and maybe even all of America. Local patriots used a cannon like this, fondly called “Mother Covington,” to stop troops The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge on Feb. 27, 1776, is commemorated in one of loyal to the British crown. 22 National Battlefields of the American Revolution preserved by the National Park Service. In less and called themselves the 1st North Carolina Continentals. than two hours here, you can get a good idea of how impor- The patriots soon determined that an area around Widow tant this swamp really was. Moore’s Creek would be a good place to fend off the loyalists who had to pass through here while advancing to Cape Fear. THE IMPORTANCE OF A SWAMP On February 26, Gen. MacDonald sent a messenger to Not much was going on in this part of Pender County in James Caswell’s 800-man militia encamped near the Moore’s early 1776. In fact, runaway slaves found relative safety in Creek bridge, suggesting they give up. Caswell refused, and the swamps. MacDonald ordered an attack. Caswell’s militia and another In the surrounding area, influenced by the port at 150-man force with Alexander Lillington meanwhile built Wilmington and the agricultural trading center of Cross an earthworks to defend themselves. They also performed a Creek and Campbell Town (now Fayetteville), residents had series of maneuvers to confound the loyalist troops, includtaken sides in the upheaval caused by British rule. Those ing deplanking and greasing the bridge. When loyalists loyal to the Crown (known as loyalists) were connected to moved forward at night, their drums rolling and bagpipes or protected by the provincial government. These included moaning, they became bogged down in the swamp and Scottish Highland emigrants in today’s Cumberland County decided to await daylight. region who had been granted certain promises of prosperity At first light on February 27, the loyalists tried crossing in return for their loyalty. On the other side were the patrithe bridge, slip-sliding this way and that, and met fire from ots, who figured they would be better off without any cona cannon (named “Mother Covington”) from behind the nection to Britain whatsoever. By that winter, the patriots earthworks they had never detected. They gave up after had been emboldened by victorious uprisings at Lexington more than 30 were killed, 40 wounded, and others lost in the and Concord in Massachusetts the previous spring. creek and swamp. One patriot died. Meanwhile, exiled provincial Gov. Josiah Martin, inside Less than two months later, North Carolina became the a fort at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and later on a first colony to vote for independence. Rebuffed at Moore’s ship offshore, plotted to restore British control of North Creek, the British never again made significant progress Carolina. He figured that a rejuvenated loyalist fighting force toward taking over the South. from interior North Carolina could trample anything in its The national battlefield park contains 87 acres, including way and meet up with the approaching British navy forces at a 1-mile trail with markers explaining what happened. You Wilmington, later to retake the province. can see reconstructed earthworks and original weaponry Martin overestimated the strength loyalist forces and and imagine the batunderestimated the cunning of local patriots who knew tle. Open daily from 9 Moores Creek National Battlefield the countryside, the waterways and the swamps. The loyala.m. to 5 p.m., there’s 40 Patriots Hall Dr. ists recruited a good number of Scottish Highlanders and no fee, an introducCurrie, NC 28435 assembled with British Gen. Donald MacDonald at Cross tory film, artifacts and (910) 283-5591 Creek that winter. The patriots had their own militias, resource information www.nps.gov/mocr composed of citizens who mustered under James Moore at the visitor center.
SOUTHERN COASTLAND ADVENTURES
Michael E.C. Gery
14 MOORES CREEK NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD
Carolina Country APRIL 2008 71
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20 Carolina Country Adventures Your Vacation Photos Literary & Culture Trails The 2008 Touchstone Energy Travel Guide—pages 45–82 INSIDE...