The American Revolution in North Carolina

Chatham Court House

July 17, 1781


Patriot Cdr:

Col. Ambrose Ramsey
Loyalist Cdr:

Col. David Fanning
Killed:

0
Killed:

0
Wounded:

0
Wounded:

0
Captured:

53
Captured:

0
Original County: 

Chatham County
Present County:

Chatham County

Chatham County was created in 1771, but it did not have a court house nor a county seat until 1778 - simply called Chatham Court House. It was not until 1787 that this was renamed as Pittsborough. In 1781, the court house stood on the south side of Robeson's Creek, on the site now occupied by the Horton Middle School.


With Major General Nathanael Greene moving deeper into South Carolina, Capt. David Fanning returned from his self-imposed six-week exile in the Uwharrie Mountains. Loyalists within North Carolina had been independent up until the summer of 1781, and no single leader was considered in command when the different groups did come together, which was infrequent.

Loyalist Capt. William Elrod began spreading malicious rumors about David Fanning and was undermining Fanning's authority. Fanning tired of this and asked all the field officers in the area to vote for the man who would be their commander. If they did not, he declared that he would not "go on another scout, until there was a field officer." Fanning was elected as their commander.

The Loyalists signed a petition and Fanning delivered it to Major James H. Craig, the occupying commandant of Wilmington. Major Craig was impressed by Fanning and promoted him to colonel of the Loyal Militia of Randolph and Chatham Counties. As a symbol of his rank and authority he was given a red officer's coat and a new sword.

On July 12th, Col. David Fanning returned to Cox's Mill and called a general muster. One hundred and fifty men reported for duty, but only one third of them had arms. He retained fifty-three and sent the rest back home, ready to be called up when needed.

The local Patriots were not intimidated. On July 16th, several leaders of the Loyalist militia were tried and sentenced to hang at Chatham Court House. Col. Fanning learned of this and rode all night with his men, and they arrived at seven o'clock the next morning. The members of the court-martial had gone home for the night but were expected to return to the court house at eight o'clock that day.

Col. Fanning posted men on all the roads leading to the court house. Within two hours the Loyalists took fifty-three prisoners. Among them were Col. Ambrose Ramsey, some of the local militia officers, and three delegates of the General Assembly. Col. Fanning paroled all except for fourteen, who were then marched towards Wilmington.

It took the Loyalists until July 22nd to reach McPhaul's Mill. There, Col. Fanning was able to acquire horses and he reached Wilmington within two days afterwards.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Col. Ambrose Ramsey (POW)
Maj. William Cage (POW)
Capt. Edward Douglas (POW)
Pvt. George Herndon (POW)

All of the Chatham County Regiment of Militia.

Col. David Fanning, with 49 men

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