Account posted by J.D. Lewis at carolana.com
|1798 Map . Jonathan Price . First NC Survey . NC Map Collection|
The next day the ships approached the bar and were guided across by the whalers, however no landing boats were launched. The townspeople sent out several boats, but none returned. Capt. Dederick Gibble went out to investigate, but he did not return either.
The mysterious ships were actually a secret expedition that had been organized by Maj. Andrew Deveaux in Charlestown, South Carolina. Deveaux had taken captured ships and loaded them with Loyalist militia to go up and down the coast foraging. His teams had raided Beaufort, South Carolina a month earlier.
Capt. William Dennis hurried to Col. John Easton's plantation. Easton had been with Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene and had only recently returned with his Carteret County Regiment of Militia. Col. Easton dispatched riders throughout the county and gathered what men he could find at home. He armed them with the guns turned over to him when his companies had disbanded.
It was dark when Col. Easton and eight men began to patrol the local shoreline. They heard the sound of approaching boats going to the mouth of Taylor's Creek. His patrol headed for a Patriot sentry that was posted there.
The officer of the mysterious landing party tried to convince the Patriot sentry that they were on the same side. Col. Easton heard the deceptive speech and yelled out for the sentry and his men to shoot. The scattered shots were returned by heavy fire from the intruders. The Loyalists retreated a half mile to the east on Carrot Island and tried to ford a creek where another Patriot sentry was already posted.
The shots from the sentry alarmed Col. Easton, and he rushed up with four men - they spotted the foraging party, and he ordered his men to fire. They wounded the commander of the Loyalist force, Maj. Isaac Stuart, in the hand. A private was mortally wounded and he died the next day. One Patriot had been slightly wounded in the thigh. The larger Loyalist force advanced and drove the Patriots back to the town battery. The battery held six 6-pounders manned by Capt. William Dennis and three men without weapons.
Two more Patriots arrived and asserted that the Loyalists were assembling behind Capt. Gibbon's house. Capt. Gibbon had mounted a pair of 4-pounders on his piazza and he would fire them off when he was drunk, which apparently was rather frequent. This day, however, they were silent. Capt. Singletary headed towards the battery, but as he reached Gibbon's house the Loyalists seized him.
Col. Easton saw this and ordered the 6-pounders in the battery to fire upon Gibbon's house. He also noticed that more boats were coming from the Loyalist ships and landing in town. He and his men were soon to be outnumbered and surrounded. At 4:30 pm, he ordered his men to withdraw a half mile from town. On the way, they captured two Loyalists loaded down with plunder. Col. Easton then set up his new post at the town bridge.
At two o'clock in the morning, Col. Enoch Ward arrived with twenty Patriots. Some women arrived and told of the Loyalists entering homes, taking furniture, smashing pieces too large to move, slitting open feather beds, grabbing women, tearing their clothes from them, and searching petticoat pockets.
On the morning of April 6th, Col. Easton ordered the Bogue Company and the White Oak Company to remain on the west side of the Newport River to prevent the enemy from destroying the public granary. Thirteen men were posted on Harker's Island to guard the storehouses and to observe the Loyalists.
A message arrived from Capt. William Bull, who was being held prisoner on board the Loyalist privateer Peacock. Bull wrote that the commander of the fleet, D. McLean, asserted that he did not want to destroy the town and that he only wished to exchange prisoners. Col. Easton replied that he would meet for an exchange. The Loyalists were unwilling to release some of the townsfolk who had been captured when they rowed out to greet the ships. Col. Easton did not agree and the negotiations failed.
More militia began arriving and they were ordered out to reconnoiter the situation. Capt. Thomas Nixon arrived with thirty horsemen. Lt. Col. James Cole Mountflorence arrived and informed Col. Easton that the enemy was moving plunder to their ships. When the Loyalists attempted to land at Harker's Island, the pre-positioned Patriot sentries drove them off.
Capt. Daniel Foot took twelve men in two boats and tried to intercept the Loyalist boats ferrying their plunder. The enemy noticed the build-up of Patriot forces and fired a 6-pound ball into the camp. The Loyalists sent a large force to the schoolhouse and set it afire, but were driven back by Col. Enoch Ward, who had just arrived with twenty more men.
During the Loyalist advance, William Borden's plantation and mill were burned and his slaves carried away. Maj. Eli West and his two companies on the west side of the North River surprised two boatloads of Loyalists who were plundering a nearby home. He took three prisoners and wounded six of the enemy, including an officer.
This prompted the Loyalists to threaten to destroy the entire town of Beaufort. Col. Easton then agreed to another discussion. During this round of negotiations, the Loyalists claimed that they were the "6th Grenadiers" of the British Regulars. Col. Easton agreed on an exchange of prisoners and he returned all the Loyalists.
However, the Loyalists did not fulfill their part of the agreement. They did not release the whalers, a number of townsmen, and the slaves belonging to William Borden. But, they did evacuate the town.
Col. Easton and some of his men returned to the battery and found three guns dismounted, one broken, and the rest spiked and filled with shot. These were cleaned out and ready for firing by the next day.
At midnight, Capt. Christopher Neale and Capt. Maston of Craven County arrived with forty men. In the morning, Capt. Daniel Foot arrived with another 50 men. As soon as day broke the battery began firing on the sloop, which was getting underway. The enemy ships returned fire and bombarded the town, but no one was injured.
Col. Easton ordered Capt. Daniel Foot and Capt. John Fulford to Shackelford Banks to prevent the Loyalists from getting any drinking water. At nine o'clock that night, the Loyalists set fire to their sloop, and destroyed a quantity of naval stores and provisions that they were unable to remove.
On April 12th, another ship and a schooner joined the Loyalist fleet at Borden's Bank. A landing party seeking water at Shackelford's Banks found the Patriots posted their earlier by Col. Easton. Capt. Fulford and Capt. Foot killed and wounded a number of the Loyalists and destroyed their water casks, and this endeavor was abandoned.
On the morning of April 13th, a group of townspeople inspected the burned remains of the enemy's sloop and they retrieved a 3-pound cannon.
On the morning of April 14th, an American sloop sailed into the harbor. The locals tried to signal the sloop and let it known that the other ships were of the enemy, but to no avail. The Loyalists captured it.
The next day, the lookout in Beaufort reported that the Loyalists were landing men on Borden's Bank to find drinking water. Col. Easton dispatched some men to intercept the watering party, but when the Loyalists saw the militiamen coming they withdrew to their ships without obtaining any water.
The townspeople were determined to destroy the Loyalist's vessels, so they constructed a few fire rafts. These were loaded with tinder, pine knots, straw, and tar. That night they set them afire and sent them on the falling tide towards the enemy vessels. The rafts slowly drifted towards the Loyalist ships but at the last minute the wind changed and they were driven onto the beach where they burned out. Even though a failure, the Loyalists had become greatly alarmed.
On April 16th, the Loyalists made preparations to sail, but the wind was against them. They remained until the next day, when they weighed anchor and sailed over the bar. The town battery fired five shots at them as they approached the inlet. When they passed over the bar, the Loyalists released the whalers and the other prisoners, but they retained Mr. Borden's slaves.
The local militia had protected the granary, the salt works, and supplies in the warehouses on Harker's Island. Upon the Loyalists' departure, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Green ordered four ships with 250 men to the area for future protection.
Known Patriot Participants
Col. John Easton - Commanding Officer
Carteret County Regiment of Militia led by Col. John Easton, Col. Enoch Ward, Lt. Col. James Cole Mountflorence, and Maj. Eli West, with five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Dennis - 7 men
- Capt. Daniel Foot - 50 men
- Capt. John Fulford
- Capt. Dederick Gibble
- Capt. Thomas Nixon - 30 horsemen
Craven County Regiment of Militia detachment of 40 men in two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Christopher Neale
- Capt. Maston
Artillery - Six 6-pounders
Known British/Loyalists Participants
Capt. D. McLean - Commanding Officer
Loyalist privateer Peacock - Capt. De. McLean
Three Schooners - Unknown captains
Sloop - Unknown Captain, with a 3-pound cannon
6th Grenadiers Loyalist Militia, led by Maj. Isaac Stuart, with two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Alexander Stuart
- Capt. Charles Atkins
NOTE: This post is related to Capt. Charles Biddle's Time in Beaufort 1778-1780
In that post, Biddle gives a detailed account of Gibbons' "4-pounders on his piazza."