"King George and Broadswords":
The Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge
By Mike Phifer
In early January 1776, Royal Governor Josiah Martin finally received the letter he had been waiting for. For months now he had been living aboard a Royal Navy sloop-of-war after he had been forced to flee his mansion in New Bern, North Carolina and later Fort Johnston located near the mouth of the Cape Fear River to avoid arrest by Patriot forces. Martin soon made a plan to not only subjugate North Carolina, but “every colony to the southward of Pennsylvania” for the Crown and sent it to London for approval. Believing that the majority of North Carolinians supported the King, Martin asked for 10,000 muskets and ammunition, some artillery and enough money to support his force he planned to raise.
Lord George Germain, the new secretary of state for the American colonies, in his letter to Martin not only agreed to send the arms the governor asked for, but also seven regiments of redcoats aboard a fleet that was to depart from Ireland. This fleet was to sail to North Carolina where it would rendezvous with Major General Henry Clinton sailing south from Boston who was to command the expedition. After securing North Carolina, Clinton was then to head for either South Carolina or Virginia. With aid on its way, Martin issued on 10 January a proclamation in North Carolina calling upon Loyalists to unite and help put down the rebellion.
Martin thought the nucleus of his Loyalist force would be made up of backcountry Regulators and Scottish Highlanders. Formed in the late 1760s, the Regulators were unhappy with the tidewater dominated North Carolina legislature who they believed were treating them unjustly. The Regulators among other things began disrupting courts and running off tax collectors. In 1771, the Regulators were defeated by William Tryon, governor of North Carolina, and the colonial militia mostly made up of men from the coastal and eastern part of the colony at the battle of Alamance Court House. When the revolution came, some of these ex-Regulators saw their former tidewater opponents supporting the Patriot cause and now favored the British to check their power.
Many of the Scottish Highlanders who heeded to Martin’s proclamation where recent arrivals to North
Carolina some having arrived only a few months earlier. Having been granted land by Martin, they had renewed their oath of allegiance to the king. Interesting enough some of these Highlanders who supported the crown had thirty years earlier supported the Jacobite Rebellion that had ended in disaster at the battle of Culloden in 1746. One such former Jacobite and veteran of Culloden was Lieutenant Colonel Donald MacDonald who may have been around 70 years old. MacDonald along with Captain Donald McLeod had been sent by General Thomas Gage from Boston in July 1775 to North Carolina to recruit men for a new regiment entitled the Royal Highland Emigrants. Along the way these two men in civilian attire had been questioned by the Patriot Committee of Safety at New Bern, but convinced them that had been wounded at Bunker Hill and now sought to retire among fellow Scots.
At Cross Creek on 5 February a secret meeting was organized by Alexander McLean, the governor’s representative, and MacDonald with the leaders of the Highlanders and ex-Regulators. The Highlanders advised caution suggesting that the men not be assembled until 1 March or earlier if the British fleet arrived. The ex-Regulators and Tory leaders wanted immediate action and the Highlanders relented to their wishes as they had only about 700 men. The ex-Regulators boldly claimed they could bring 5,000 men to the field and that 500 were already ready to march.
MacDonald, who was temporarily given the rank of Brigadier General of all Loyalist forces in North Carolina by Martin, raised the royal standard at Cross Creek. Despite their promises, the ex-Regulators had trouble recruiting men. Many of the older established Scottish settlers were reluctant to join to King’s cause, and groups of backcountry Loyalists and ex-Regulators attempting to join MacDonald’s force were met with resistance by Patriots, arrested, turned back or forced into hiding. One group arrived at Cross Creek expecting to see 1,000 redcoats. Realizing they had been misled by their leaders they returned home. For almost a week MacDonald delayed at Cross Creek hoping for more men, but he was to be disappointed. In the end about 1,400 men joined his little army with about 600 being Highlanders, most of them recent arrivals to the New World. Helping to recruit some of these men for the Royal Highland emigrants was Major Allan MacDonald, who was aided by his wife Flora MacDonald. Thirty years earlier, Flora had helped Prince Charles Stewart – Bonne Prince Charlie – who led the Jacobite Rebellion escape the British. For her efforts Flora spent time in the Tower of London, now she encouraged her fellow Highlanders to support the Crown. The remaining 800 men were made up of ex-Regulators and back
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