The American Revolution in North Carolina

Rouse's Tavern

March 1781

Patriot Cdr:

Major James Love
British Cdr:

Major James H. Craig



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Original County: 

New Hanover County
Present County:

New Hanover County

aka the Rouse House Massacre

Wilmington occupying commandant Major James H. Craig sent out a detachment of men to drive in cattle from nearby farms. These were needed by the approaching army of Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis. The advance guard of this British detachment learned about a group of Patriots who were at Alexander Rouse's Tavern, about eight miles northeast of Wilmington.

The Patriots were a detachment of light horse sent out by Brigadier General John Alexander Lillington to drive off cattle so the enemy would not be able to gather them for their use. Instead of following their orders, the men went to the popular tavern for a quick drink.

Two of the men inside the tavern were the recently-promoted Major James Love and Private William Jones of the New Hanover County Regiment of Militia, both known to the British in Wilmington. On several occasions these two men would ride into town and shoot the sentinels then wait patiently nearby for dragoons to pursue them into another ambush.

After Major James H. Craig took Wilmington, he developed a habit of "riding out on the Newberne road every evening, accompanied by Capt. Gordon and escorted by twelve or fifteen dragoons." Major James Love observed this pattern and he collected "25 or 30 men picked promiscuously from the sound and neighborhood & laid in ambush in a thick swamp" about a mile from Wilmington. As the British rode across a bridge they went into single file.

Major James Love told his men that they could pick off the British at that point. However, when the Patriots heard the approach of the dragoons and saw the red coats they panicked and ran off. Major Love and William Jones remained, both determined to do something. Major Love aimed his rifle at Major Craig, but Jones came to his senses and said it would be suicide - and the two of them withdrew without firing a shot.

At the tavern, the Patriots then "caroused, drinking freely as men would do, who had lost their homes and are turned out on the bleak world." They knew that if they stayed too long they might be attacked, but they all figured that they would be able to make it to their campsite before midnight. Unfortunately "they forgot the flight of time, and about half past twelve they all betook themselves to rest on the floor of the dwelling, their saddles for pillows."

Learning that the Patriots were gathered at the tavern, Major Craig sent out men from the 82nd Regiment with orders to give no quarter. The 60-70 Redcoats surrounded the tavern, many carrying torches. Their captain ordered them to pry open the door with a crowbar.

Major James Love heard them approaching and he kicked open the door, deciding that if he was going to die then he would make the British pay dearly for his life. He grabbed up his saddle, and using it as a shield, he cut his way out of the tavern. The enemy backed him towards a mulberry tree and a desperate fight followed. Major Love was able to slash his way for about thirty yards, but being outnumbered he was killed by many bayonet thrusts.

Very few of the remaining Patriots made it out of the tavern alive. Per their orders, the British began to systematically kill every man therein. Some were bayonetted in their sleep, never waking up. The British found one hiding and they offered to spare his life if he would tell them where other Patriots could be found. He informed them of some Patriots staying at a house a few miles away, then they promptly killed him, too. Eleven Patriots were killed at the tavern, but one man managed to escape.

Lt. Col. Thomas Bloodworth heard the gunfire at the tavern and he gathered his militia to go investigate. When he arrived the British were already gone. Major James Love lay dead near the mulberry tree and the tavern floor was "covered with dead bodies & almost swimming in blood, & battered brains smoking on the walls." An old woman and some children were huddled in fear near the fireplace.

Apparently, the British had some wounded as well since Lt. Col. Bloodworth was able to track them down via their blood trails. He was a friend of Major Love and he swore revenge. He began to devise a plan to kill as many British as possible.

That same night, George Reed and five militiamen were staying at the widow Collier's house, about five miles from Rouse's Tavern. With the tip from the man in the tavern, the British found them and captured all six of them.

In their pension statements, at least four men recalled being at Rouse's Tavern at this occasion, they claim that the incident took place in July of 1781, and that they were not killed. James Holland, Elisha Jones, and John Rigby escaped. Alexander Armstrong was captured by the British and taken to Wilmington, where he remained a prisoner until the British evacuated Wilmington in November of 1781.
In his 1848 pension application affadavit, Benjamin Taylor (R10406) asserted:

"At the time that the Captain was killed he (the Captain) was was about 9 miles from the place where Taylor was stationed and sleeping in an old deserted house known as Rouse's House without guard or sentinels & the enemy who this affiant was told were Hessians came into the house and surprised and killed the Captain and all his party consisting of 13 men excepting three who escaped. The three who escaped were Lt. Stokesbury, Sgt. Bloodworth, and a Private who was wounded and left in the house as dead. The whole number killed was eleven."

[Benjamin Taylor said his leader was Capt. Peter McLama. In a supporting affadavit, an associate (or kin), Robert Taylor, asserted the man was Capt. Peter Clanny. [the man's name was actually Peter McLammy.]

In his 1832 pension application affadavit, George Reed (R8658) asserted:

"About twenty days before this term of his service was ended, he with five others viz. John Wilkins, John Ferrell, Sandy Rouse, John Loper & William Bowen were staying all night on the Edenton Road about 12 or 13 miles from Wilmington at the widow Collier's house with some cattle which they were driving to headquarters for the use of the American troops. On the same night, a detachment of American troops was staying at Rouse's house on the same road & about four miles toward Wilmington from where he was staying with his five companions.

"On this night, a party of British commanded by Major Craig & Manson attacked this detachment of Americans & defeated them. Major James Love, Capt. John McClamma with several men were killed. Among them was John Ferrell, the father of one of the men that was with this declarant. Also among the killed was the quartermaster & a lieutenant whose names he has forgotten.

"A part of this same detachment of British, on the same night, attacked him & his companions at the widow Collier's house &, after a short resistance, they were all taken prisoner by the British. He received from this skirmish two wounds from a bayonet; one on the side & one in the leg below the knee. William Bowen was mortally wounded by a bayonet thrust in the neck & died the next day.

"This same party of British, on the same night, took one Col. Arnett a prisoner at the house of John Spears' house where he was there lying sick. This Col. Arnett had, before the war, been a treasurer or collector for the king & he always understood that there was a reward offered for Col. Arnett. He saw him the next day as they took him in a carriage to Wilmington where he, Col. Arnett, died in about a week afterwards.

"On the next day, just before night, this declarant was, with his other companions, set free on parole & under a promise to the British Major to go into Wilmington & 'take protection.' This promise they all violated except Sandy Rouse who, he heard, did 'take protection' to save his property.

"This declarant was hauled in an oxcart to his father's which was about forty miles from Wilmington. The wound in his side was dressed by Col. Thomas Bloodworth who was a doctor & when he probed it he said it had penetrated to the hollow, this wound, however, soon got well but his wound in the leg below the knee was sore for a long time, the bone was injured by the bayonet & ever since that time his leg has occasionally broken out causing him a great deal of pain & loss of time & this declarant was unable to serve the balance of his term for which he had volunteered which was about twenty days."

[His Captain's name was Peter McLammy, not John McClamma.]

At the end of his pension application, George Reed recalled that he was "lying at home wounded when the battle of Guilford Courthouse was fought." Therefore, the engagement described on this page happened in early March.

In his 1832 pension application affadavit, John Rigby (S9057) asserted:

"... afterward joined Capt Loves [Maj. James Love’s] Company & served another tour of three months during which term went to New Hanover County & served the immediate country when Capt Love was surprised & killed at Alex’r Rouses house [Rouse’s Tavern in Mar 1781] at the little Bridge above Wilmington."

[He does not assert he was at the tavern, but he may have been. James Love had been a Captain for a long time, but he had recently been promoted to Major. This is why the men called him Captain Love.]

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Major James Love (killed)
Capt. Peter McLammy (killed)
John Ferrell, Sr. (killed)
William Jones

6-8 other patriots at the tavern, including a Lieutenant and a Quartermaster, names currently unknown.

George Reed (wounded)
John Wilkins
John Ferrell, Jr.
Sandy Rouse
John Loper
William Bowen (mortally wounded)

Major James H. Craig - Commanding Officer

Major Daniel Manson

60-70 British Regulars






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