The American Revolution in North Carolina

John Ashe, Sr.

Colonel over the New Hanover County Regiment - Early 1775
Colonel over the Volunteer Independent Rangers - 1776
Brigadier General of the Wilmington District Brigade of Militia - 1776-1778
Major General over all NC Militia - 1778-1779

During 1775, John Ashe, Sr. was in command of the New Hanover County Regiment of Militia before the NC Provincial Congress convened and began determining who should lead the Militia of each existing county. This finally happened in September of 1775, and William Purviance was given command over the New Hanover County Regiment of Militia. It is currently not known to this Author what John Ashe, Sr. did, militarily, between mid-1775 and January of 1776, if anything.

In January of 1776, John Ashe, Sr. was commissioned a Colonel/Commandant over the newly-created Volunteer Independent Rangers, a unit that he raised using his own money in anticipation of an upcoming confrontation with Loyalists assembling along the Cape Fear River in and around Cross Creek. Col. John Ashe, Sr. led this group at the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge on 2/27/1776. It was soon thereafter disbanded.

On May 4, 1776, John Ashe, Sr. was commissioned as a Brigadier General over the Wilmington District Brigade of Militia. Soon thereafter, rumors of an impending invasion by the British prompted NC leaders to create two special regiments of Militia and sent them to Wilmington under the command of Brigadier General John Ashe, Sr. He had many barracks constructed, as well as a new magazine for gunpowder and ammunition. Tensions remained high, but the British bypassed the Cape Fear and went on to Charlestown, SC, where they were soundly defeated by Patriots from both North Carolina and South Carolina under Major General Charles Lee. The two special regiments were disbanded on August 13, 1776 and sent home.

On July 25, 1776, he was thanked by the NC General Assembly for quelling a mutiny recently attempted by regular soldiers in Wilmington.

On November 18, 1778, John Ashe, Sr. was commissioned as the state's first Major General in command of all NC Militia by Governor Richard Caswell. With the recent capture of Savannah, GA by the British of Eastern Florida, they were soon threatening to take Charlestown, SC. Major General John Ashe, Sr. was ordered to lead over 2,300 NC Militiamen into South Carolina to join up with the recently-appointed Continental Major General Benjamin Lincoln, who was gathering forces along the Savannah River, and now leading the Southern Department.

Major General John Ashe, Sr. found Major General Benjamin Lincoln near Purrysburg, SC in late February of 1779, after a long and tiring march through most of South Carolina. Major General Lincoln immediately ordered him to lead his men on to Augusta, GA and to attack the British gathering there. Major General Ashe did not like these orders - there were other Militiamen in Lincoln's camp, most who were not exhausted from a long march - but, he saluted his commander and went on to Augusta and crossed the Savannah River into Georgia.

On March 3, 1779, Major General John Ashe, Sr. led a large group of NC Militia, along with about 75 Georgia Continentals and another 200 Georgia Militiamen under Col. Samuel Elbert, against a smaller British force led by Lt. Colonel Archibald Campbell at the battle of Briar Creek, GA. To make a long story short, the Patriots were routed and forced to flee back across the Savannah River. A later Court Martial found Major General John Ashe, Sr. guilty of negligence - his greatest fault was that he had not laid out a route of withdrawal or designated a rendezvous point in case of defeat. Many men blamed him for the defeat, including officers and soldiers of all ranks. On April 10, 1779, he was required to send his Militia back home, and he followed in shame.

During May of 1779, John Ashe, Sr. resigned his commission as Major General and became a civilian again. He never returned to the military in any capacity. When the British seized the town of Wilmington in January of 1781, it was not long thereafter when they located John Ashe, Sr and placed him in confinement. He soon contracted Smallpox and was paroled to join his family in Hillsborough. He died en route on October 24, 1781 in Duplin (what became Sampson) County and was buried in an unmarked grave.

John Ashe, Sr. was born on March 24, 1725 along the Cape Fear River in Craven, what soon became New Hanover, and later Brunswick, County, NC, the son of John Baptista Ashe and Elizabeth Swann. He married a cousin, Rebecca Moore, and they had four sons and three daughters. He died from Smallpox on October 24, 1781 in Duplin, what became Sampson, County, NC.

Click Here for an online biography of John Ashe, Sr. provided by

Click Here for a photo and brief writeup on the official NC Historical Marker about John Ashe, Sr.

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