The American Revolution in North Carolina

Gilbert Town

June 1778


Patriot Cdr:

Capt. Gowen
Loyalist Cdr:

Capt. David Fanning
Killed:

Unk
Killed:

Unk
Wounded:

Unk
Wounded:

Unk
Captured:

Unk
Captured:

Unk
Original County: 

Tryon County
Present County:

Rutherford County

In 1778, Gilbert Town only consisted of one house, one barn, and a blacksmith shop. One year later, Tryon County was abolished and in its place were created Lincoln County and Rutherford County, and at that time Gilbert Town was named the new county seat for the newly-created Rutherford County. It was located several miles north and a little east of present-day Rutherfordton.

In 1778, Loyalist Lt. Col. Thomas Brown devised a plan to use the combined forces of Indians and Carolina Loyalists to assist a British invasion of south Georgia. On March 10th, he led one hundred Rangers and ten Indians over the Altamaha River and captured Fort Howe (formerly Fort Barrington). Lt. Col. Brown took the fort with the loss of only one man, yet killing two of the defenders, wounding four, and capturing twenty-three. After this, the offensive fell apart dur to internal bickering between the military and civilian leaders.

In April of 1778, five hundred "Scovelites" from the backcountry of South Carolina and Georgia began a march to St. Augustine to rendezvous with the British located there. Major General Robert Howe - the leader of the Continental Army in the South - knew that these Loyalists posed a serious threat and he dispatched Col. Samuel Elbert and his Georgia Continentals to intercept them. Major General Howe's big problem was that he was attempting to fight a mounted force by using men on foot. Howe wrote, "they laugh at foot soldiers with scorn. Only cavalry troops can stop them."

In the meantime, noted Loyalist David Fanning was living at his cabin at Raeburn's Creek when he received word to rise and join the Loyalists. He was elected as a captain by the local militia and marched to the Savannah River. A Capt. York stopped Fanning and his men at the Savannah River and he refused to conduct them to East Florida because of the recent change of circumstances. Fanning and his men returned to South Carolina, but they had to live in the woods due to the Patriot patrols looking for them.

Capt. Fanning linked up with "Plundering Sam" Brown and lived in a cave fifteen miles southwest of present-day Statesville. Sam Brown had ridden with his sister Charity and stole horses, clothes, pewter, money, and anything else they could - this is how he earned his nickname.

Brown and Fanning remained in the cave for about six weeks living on what they killed in the wilderness. Tired of this meager existence, the two moved along the Green River then parted company.

Driven back to Green River, Capt. David Fanning met up with Col. Ambrose Mills, another noted Loyalist on the run. Here they conspired to raise 500 Loyalists and lead them to St. Augustine in East Florida. As the men were gathering, a Patriot force led by a Capt. Gowen surprised them and captured Col. Mills and sixteen others. They headed for Salisbury, but were quickly pursued by Capt. David Fanning with fourteen men for over twenty miles to Gilbert Town, where the Patriots recieved reinforcements. Now they decided to turn the tables and go after Fanning.

The next morning, Capt. Gowen continued his pursuit of Capt. Fanning and ran headlong into an ambush that Fanning had laid in the wee hours of the morning. They skirmished for about an hour, but both had had enough. The Patriots retreated to the Catawba River and Fanning went back home.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants
Capt. Gowen - Unknown number of men, unknown unit Capt. David Fanning, with 14 men
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