The American Revolution in North Carolina

Brown Marsh

September 1781


Patriot Cdr:

Brigadier General
John Butler
British Cdr:

Major Daniel Manson
Killed:

20
Killed:

3
Wounded:

Unk
Wounded:

5
Captured:

25
Captured:

0
Original County: 

Bladen County
Present County:

Bladen County

aka Baldwin's Old Field, near present-day Clarkton.


Brigadier General John Butler had missed his chance to rescue Governor Thomas Burke, and he missed his chance to capture Major James H. Craig and his forces at Livingston's Creek on September 23rd. He knew that the Loyalists would be coming back to the upper Cape Fear River area to return home, so he planned to retaliate against the men who had committed the raid on Hillsborough and had transported their prisoners to Wilmington.

Major James H. Craig, the occupying commandant of Wilmington, received intelligence that Brigadier General Butler and his army had gathered near Brown Marsh in Bladen County. Major Craig sent Major Daniel Manson with 180 Provincials from Wilmington to escort Col. Duncan Ray and his Loyalists as far as Brown Marsh.

When the Provincials and Loyalists arrived, Major Manson divided his forces and placed guides with each element. Three groups were to strike Brigadier General Butler's camp from different angles - the Royal North Carolina Regiment, Col. Duncan Ray's Anson County Militia, and Col. David Fanning's Regiment under the command of Capt. Stephen Holloway.

This plan quickly fell apart when the guides became lost in the Brown Marsh. Major Manson and Capt. Holloway were able to move out of the swamp and to get into position, but Col. Ray's men were lost. They could be heard moving through the swamp, breaking brush and getting tangled in vines and bushes. The Patriots heard all this and set up a defensive position facing the swamp. Unaware of all this, Major Manson ordered the attack to begin before sunrise.

Brigadier General Butler was facing the swamp where he had heard the noisy Loyalists under Col. Duncan Ray, and he did not expect an attack on his flanks. When Major Manson fired the first volley, Brigadier General Butler assumed that the British had field pieces and he ordered retreat.

As before, Lt. Col. Robert Mebane (a Continental officer) did not retreat and repeated what he had done succesfully at Lindley's Mill - he disobeyed Brigadier General Butler's order and continued to fight. Col. Thomas Owen's Bladen County Militia joined him and fought until they were overpowered and forced to retreat.

In less than an hour, the Loyalists were in possession of the Patriot's camp. They had lost three killed and five wounded. The Patriots reported that they had lost three killed and two wounded.

However, Major Daniel Manson wrote to Major James H. Craig in Wilmington that:

"The Rebels were completely dispers'd, leaving twenty dead & five & twenty prisoners. They had also a number of wounded who in the darkness of the night got off. We took between 30 & 40 horses but the militia the next day got upwards of a hundred more who were running loose in the woods."


In his 1832 pension application, Isaac Rainey (S4545) asserted:

"....he was marched to a place called Browns Marsh where he says he was in another engagement with the British in the night time for more than an hour; and that 7 or 10 American were killed and about 60 head of horses; and 35 of the British were said to have been killed at said battle. He says Colonel [William] Moore being a member of the Legislature of North Carolina returned home; and that Captain [Spillsby] Coleman's company was attached to or placed under the command of Colonel [Thomas] Owen...."


In his 1832 pension application, John Secrest (S3875) asserted:

"about the month of July, I volunteered in Capt. Charles Polk’s company of horsemen and marched to Col. [Robert} Smith’s troops, Joseph Graham was Major. We marched from Mecklenburg on towards Salisbury leaving Salisbury to the left going down to Cross Creek, thence to Wilmington which was then in possession of the British. We encamped near the town. On the opposite side of the river there was a body of our militia infantry posted. While at this place a party of about forty or fifty men, including myself, under Capt. Polk were sent out against a body of Tories who lay near the Brown Marsh and they killed one man and my horse."

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Brigadier General John Butler - Commanding Officer

Hillsborough District Brigade of Militia, led by Brigadier General John Butler, with the following known units:

Orange County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Lt. Col. Robert Mebane and Major William Cage, with at least four (4) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Lewis Bledsoe (from Wake Co.)
- Capt. George Hodge
- Capt. Matthew McCullers (from Johnston Co.)
- Capt. Adam Sanders

Chatham County Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Alexander Clark (possibly killed here)

Bladen County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Thomas Owen and Col. Thomas Robeson, Jr., with four (4) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Jared Irwin
- Capt. William Leggett
- Capt. William G. McDaniel
- Capt. James Shipman

Caswell County Regiment of Militia detachment of six (6) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Josiah Cole
- Capt. Spillsby Coleman
- Capt. Mason Foley
- Capt. Shadrack Hargis
- Capt. John McMullen (?)
- Capt. John Oldham

Duplin County Regiment of Militia detachment of two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. David Dodd
- Capt. William Turner

Guilford County Regiment of Militia detachment of two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Edwin Gwinn
- Capt. William Gwinn

Randolph County Regiment of Militia detachment of two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Edward Beeson
- Capt. James Woods

Montgomery County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. James Crump

Brunswick County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Edward Wingate, with at least one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Thomas DeVane

Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Charles Polk

Major Daniel Manson - Commanding Officer

Royal North Carolina Regiment, led by Major Daniel Manson, with 180 men

Royal North Carolina Militia of Anson County, led by Col. Duncan Ray

Fanning's Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Stephen Holloway

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