Revolutionary War (1776 to 1783)

The loyalties of the Sandhill’s Scottish community were divided during the Revolutionary War. Most immigrants from the Lowlands of Scotland sided with the Patriot forces. Many Highland Scots sided with the British forces in part because of their oath to never take up arms against England forced on them after the Battle of Culloden.

In 1775, Royal Governor Josiah Martin was so sure of the loyalty of most North Carolina citizens to the Crown, he decided to create a company of armed Loyalists. However, rumors spread that Martin was establishing a company of soldiers to use against the local people. When Patriots surrounded Tryon Palace at New Bern, Martin fled to Fort Johnston on the Cape Fear River, and onto a British sloop of war anchored in the harbor. From this precarious position, Martin directed his efforts to restore the Royal Governorship.

Martin sent a plan to London and received approval. He raised a company of 1,600 Highlanders under the command of General Donald McDonald. McDonald and his men were to travel to Wilmington where they would meet up with 2,000 Regulars from Boston under the command of General Henry Clinton, seven regiments of Regulars under Lord Charles Cornwallis, and a fleet under the command of Sir Peter Parker sailing from Ireland.

However, every move of this plan was known to Patriot commander Colonel James Moore who arranged a welcoming party of 1,100 Minutemen under Colonels Richard Caswell and John Alexander Lillington. The Minutemen met McDonald’s Loyalists at Moore’s Creek Bridge on the Cross Creek and Wilmington road on February 26, 1776. The Highlanders were routed, 880 men were taken prisoner, and 1,500 rifles, a sum of gold, medical supplies, and a number of wagons were confiscated.

Men from the Sandhills fought on both sides at the Battle of Camden (South Carolina) in 1780, and the battles of Kings Mountain and Guilford Courthouse (North Carolina) in 1781. The area around Fort Bragg was used as a temporary headquarters by Francis Marion, the legendary “Swamp Fox,” and as a bivouac by General Horatio Gates.

In 1781, a group of British Loyalists attacked a group of Patriot militiamen under Nathanial Green who had fled the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and were camped at Piney Bottom Creek. Nine Patriots were gunned down in their camp. Local Patriots retaliated by hunting down and killing seven men who may or may not have been responsible. The incident became known as the Piney Bottom Massacre. Although it is believed the skirmish area is located on Fort Bragg, the exact location is unknown.

General Cornwallis may have stayed at the home of Colonel Duncan Ray located on the Yadkin Road. The house was known later as Cornwallis House and became part of Fort Bragg in 1918. The abandoned house was burned by the military soon after it was acquired as part of the Fort Bragg land purchase. Today the ruins of the house, which include a cellar and chimney, are preserved as archaeological site 31CD62. Recent research suggests this is not the home where General Cornwallis stayed. It is likely he stayed at the home of John Monroe which was located on the Lower Little River. Today archaeologists believe the home site is located under the airfield runway complex at Pope Army Airfield.