The American Revolution in North Carolina

Portevent's Mill

May 16, 1781

Patriot Cdr:

Col. James Kenan
Loyalist Cdr:

Capt. Middleton Mobley






Original County: 

Duplin County
Present County:

Sampson County

aka Mynheer's Ambush or Six Runs. The first part is called Mynheer's Ambush because one of the men was a German named Mynheer. His son had resisted the Loyalists, was shot, and then his body burned. The last part is known as Six Runs.

After Myhand's Bridge, Col. James Kenan and Capt. John C. "Shay" Williams did not know where Mobley and his Loyalists escaped to. They also did not know what had happened to Capt. Williams's infantry, which had moved on to Boykins Plantation. They decided to split their forces and to find the missing infantrymen. Col. Kenan and his fifteen men rode down the Elizabethtown Road.

Capt. Williams led his cavalry along the Little Coharie River, following the route that the infantry took earlier. It took him two days to reach Boykins Plantation. That night they slept on the road that ran between the Coharie River and a mosquito-infested swamp.

Col. Kenan had his problems as well. Many of his men were drunk and felt that they had done enough for "the cause" and wanted to go home. Loyalist stragglers told Col. Kenan that Capt. Mobley had been reinforced with 150 more Loyalists that were moving to Myhand's Bridge.

However, Capt. Middleton Mobley was not doing too well either. Many of his men wandered off to go forage for their own food. Some became lost, some just decided to go on home. Some surrendered to the Patriots if encountered. Some fired at the Patriots if encountered. Capt. Williams's cavalry was quite anxious, not knowing if they were going increase their number of prisoners or get shot at. Many just fired first and asked questions later.

When a messenger from Capt. Williams rode up to Col. Kenan's force his own brother wounded him.

Col. Kenan led his men back through Clinton's Crossroads and rendezvoused with Capt. Williams near Boykins Plantation. The infantry was added to the back of each cavalryman and they marched down both sides of the Coharie River. They came across the boats and dugouts earlier used by the Loyalists to escape down the river. The boats had gotten bottled up at a point where a tree had fallen and blocked the river. Two bodies were found entangled in the tree limbs.

Capt. Williams's infantry detachment followed another creek and stumbled upon a camp of tired, hungry Loyalists. It is unsure whether they tried to surrender or not, but a dozen Loyalists were killed and left lying in the swamp. At the sound of this action, Col. Kenan and Capt. Williams met each other at opposite sides of the river and fired shots at each other - luckily no one was injured.

Scouts were sent out to find Middleton Mobley. The most likely place was where the Big Coharie and Six Runs came together to become the Black River. The two Patriot forces headed in that direction, but Mobley's men were actually ten miles closer - at Portevent's Mill, where the Black River and the Tarkill branch meet.

One of Col. Kenan's men found the Loyalists at the mill grinding corn, and he informed his superior. Col. Kenan sent some of the infantry up the Tarkill branch and the rest of the men mounted up double with his cavalry. Some of the cavalry opened fire from horseback upon the Loyalists across the river. The rest of the cavalry rode down the road from Moore's Bridge, firing their pistols and slashing Loyalists with their swords "made from saws." The Loyalists in the millhouse returned fire.

One Loyalist was wounded trying to rally his men and his horse fell on top of him, pinning him to a tree and crushing his rifle. The Loyalists slowly pushed the cavalry back until Capt. Williams led a charge into the tightly packed defenders. Capt. Mobley's men scattered. Some were pushed into the stream and either drowned or swam away. They fled in every direction, leaving their dead and wounded where they lay.

The infantry on the Tarkill branch were overwhelmed when a group of Loyalists ran panicking into the nearby stream. The Patriots fired on the mob, staggering them with a well-timed volley. The Loyalists returned a ragged volley, forcing the infantry back into the creek with several men wounded. Amazingly, the casualties were light. Some accounts claim that it was here that Col. Kenan's brother, Owen, was killed here instead of at the ambush several days earlier at Cohera Swamp.

Three Patriots were killed and several more wounded. Col. Kenan's slave was wounded here. Three horses were killed and two more wounded. The Loyalists had four men wounded and several drowned. All of the Loyalist baggage and baggage horses were captured.

After the desperate fighting around Portevent's Mill, the Patriots reorganized and continued to pursue Mobley's Loyalists up the Six Runs River. A final chaotic skirmish was fought when Capt. Williams dismounted his cavalry and set up a hasty ambush. Biggars Mobley discovered the ambush and attacked the Patriots on their flank, while another group kept their attention on the front. Some Patriots rushed the Loyalists and engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting, using their musket butts, sword, and long-knives.

The Loyalists decided that they had had enough and fled back into the swamp, leaving a few of their men behind as prisoners. A few deserted and joined the Patriot pursuers. Biggars and a few men made it to British protection in Wilmington. Middleton Mobley remained in Duplin County and continued to gather small bands of Loyalists to operate all over the county.

Col. James Kenan and Capt. John C. "Shay" Williams had three men killed that day's action, and several were wounded. The Loyalists had twelve men killed, four wounded, and twelve captured.

In 1782, Capt. Middleton Mobley and Capt. James C. "Shay" Williams encountered each other again. Mobley was wounded by a sword stroke and escaped. He was later captured in Martin County trying to raise Loyalist sympathies. He was returned to Wilmington, tried, and condemned for a variety of crimes and hanged. After that, his brother, Biggars, gave his parole and lived in Sampson County until at least 1790.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Col. James Kenan - Commanding Officer

Duplin County Regiment of Militia detachment of three (3) known companies, led by
- Capt. Robert Merritt - 15 men
- Capt. Daniel Williams
- Capt. John C. "Shay" Williams - 60 men

Capt. Middleton Mobley - Commanding Officer

~100 Loyalists



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