The American Revolution in North Carolina

Evacuation of Wilmington

November 18, 1781

Patriot Cdr:

Brigadier General
Griffith Rutherford
British Cdr:

Major James H. Craig






Original County: 

New Hanover County
Present County:

New Hanover County

When Lt. Col. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee arrived and informed Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford's army about the surrender of Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, the camp erupted into a celebration, firing their rifles into the air. Brigadier General Rutherford soon learned that the British were evacuating Wilmington, finally after ten long months of occupation.

British Major General Alexander Leslie had sent orders to Major James H. Craig, the occupying commandant of Wilmington, to evacuate by sea back to Charlestown, where he was originally stationed.

Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford stopped the celebrations and ordered his men to move across the Cape Fear River and march towards the occupied town. That night, his large army camped within four miles of Wilmington. There was no resistance, since the British were preparing to leave. Within the Patriot ranks were men who still wanted revenge for the destruction of their homes, and for the murders of their friends.

After sunrise on November 18th, the British formed columns and marched down to the transport ships, leaving their horses behind. Suddenly, there was "a cloud of dust arising on the hill" and the thunder of hooves could be heard approaching the town.

"It was the Whig light horse, who came thundering down the street, and at full speed."

One of the local Loyalists stood in the road holding out his hand as if to salute the troops. One of the cavalrymen, Thomas Tyer, "left ranks, drew his hanger, rushed upon him, and with one blow by a vertical cut laid his head open, the divided parts falling on each other." Tyer's father had been hanged by that dead Loyalist in the road.

One column of the British had not made it to the boats when the cavalry "dashed thro this like lightning, hacking and hewing to the right and left, receiving in turn a scattering of fire from the broken column, which did but little mischief; slightly wounding two or three of the horsemen." The departing British ships fired upon the town, but the cavalry had already ridden away.

As the troopships were just leaving the Cape Fear River, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford marched his army into the town. One of his officers was shocked at the violence being directed at the Loyalists and he placed a dragoon at the door of each of the Loyalist families. This slowed down the anger, but it did not stop it.

Brigadier General Rutherford's men rounded up all the Loyalists they could and put them into a pen made of rails "near the Episcopal church, where they were exhibited to the public gaze, and received the scoffing taunts of boys."

Brigadier General Rutherford had been captured at the battle of Camden (SC) in August of 1780 - over a year ago - and had spent much time as a prisoner in Florida. Now he was on hand to finally witness the last British Regular to leave North Carolina.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford - Commanding Officer

Salisbury District Brigate of Militia, led by Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, with the following known units:

NC State Legion detachment led by Col. Robert Smith and Major Joseph Graham, with four (4) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Bethel
- Capt. Thomas Kennedy
- Capt. Richard Simmons
- Capt. Robert White

Bladen County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Thomas Owen, with 35 horsemen

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

Chatham County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Unknown

Randolph County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. John Gillespie

Major James H. Craig - Commanding Officer

82nd Regiment of Foot (The Hamilton Regiment), led by Major James H. Craig

84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants), 2nd Battalion, one (1) company led by:

Capt. Ronald MacKinnon

Royal North Carolina Regiment, led by Unknown

North Carolina Highland Regiment, led by Unknown

Loyal American Rangers, led by Unknown.








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