The American Revolution in North Carolina

Tory Hole

August 27, 1781

Patriot Cdr:

Col. Thomas Robeson, Jr.
Loyalist Cdr:

Col. John Slingsby




included in above


included in above
Original County: 

Bladen County
Present County:

Bladen County

There are no contemporary accounts of this skirmish. A letter written to A.A. Brown, editor of the Wilmington Weekly Chronicle in 1844, gives the details of most of this story. In a different version, Col. David Fanning wrote in his memoirs that the paroled prisoners in Slingsby's camp had hidden weapons. In the middle of the night they attacked and killed Slingsby and five captains. After the passage of the law authorizing militiamen to apply for a Federal Pension in 1832, the first accounts of NC militiamen shed some new light, as provided below.

From his raid on the Cumberland County Court House on August 14th, Col. John Slingsby was holding his Patriot prisoners in Elizabeth Town, the seat of Bladen County (then and now). Living nearby were many Patriots that had previously been captured and paroled by Loyalists.

On his return to Cross Creek, Col. David Fanning passed through Elizabeth Town and warned Col. Slingsby about the possibility of an attack from those paroled Patriots in the nearby area. Col. Fanning did not stop for long, and continued riding towards McPhaul's Mill.

Many Patriot refugees from Bladen County were taking shelter in the adjacent Duplin County (Sampson County now). Sallie Salter was a daughter of one of the most influential families along the Cape Fear River within Bladen County and she volunteered to enter the Loyalist camp as a spy.

Taking a basket of eggs, she walked down to the ferry and called to the sentry on the other side to row her over. After some delay, he finally acquiesced to her charms and she entered the camp and sold her eggs. While in camp, she collected as much information as possible. It never entered the minds of the Loyalists that she was a spy. She returned safely with the needed intellignce, and the local Patriots decided to attack.

During the night of August 27th, Patriots under the command of Col. Thomas Robeson, Jr. marched on Elizabeth Town. They had no tents, no equipment or commissary stores - all they had was a little jerked beef and bread, which they carried in their pockets. They silently approached the small town and had no choice but to ford the Cape Fear River because the Loyalists had taken all the boats.

The Patriots crossed the neck-deep river naked. They tied their bundled clothes and boots to their heads and grasped their rifles by the barrell to keep the flintlocks above water. After crossing and climbing a steep bank, they re-assembled on a nearby road and put their clothes back on.

At daybreak, the Patriots attacked the Loyalists completely by surprise. The Loyalists panicked when Col. Thomas Brown and his staff shouted out commands to fictitious units, making it seem as if there was a much larger force of Patriots attacking them.

Col. Brown's men also shouted out "Washington!" Many of the Loyalists thought that a force of 1,000 or more had attacked them and that either Lt. Col. William Washington or General George Washington was their leader.

After Col. John Slingsby and Capt. David Godwin were killed, the Loyalists ran into a deep ravine, where they were shot at until those still capable surrendered. This site soon became known as the Tory Hole. The Patriots then freed their companions who had been prisoners of the Loyalists in town.

In his 1833 pension application, Josiah Singletary (W6064) asserted:

"On one occasion the Tories emboldened by the march of Lord Cornwallis's Army down the Cape Fear - Colonel Robeson, who took command of the Company, in consequence of Captain [Jared] Irwin's being disabled by a severe attack of the Smallpox, caught from a British deserter, took command of the Company, and being of the opinion that it would not be prudent to remain near so large a force of the enemy, conducted the Company over Neuse River, but immediately returned.

"On their countermarch from Lisbon to Sampson County between Colley Swamp and the Cape Fear, about nine miles from Elizabeth, they were met by Mrs. McRee, the mother of Major Griffith J. McRee [NC Continental officer from Bladen County] of the Continental Army, who left home for the purpose of apprising them of the situation of the Tories.

"By that time they had been joined by Colonels Brown, and Owen, and Captain Peter Robeson, and several other Whigs, and in consequence of the information received from Mrs. McRee, an attack on the Tories was determined on - although the whole force of the Whigs did not exceed eighty men.

"They accordingly marched to the Cape Fear, and forded it at night, about half or three quarters of a mile below the village - attacked the Tories at a point called Tory Hole - drove them to the upper end of the village; where the ammunition of the Whigs having been expended, they were under the necessity of retiring; after having killed or mortally wounded their commanding officer, Colonel Slingsby, Captain David Godwin and a private named Edward Harrison - Lieutenant Baldwin and several privates were severely wounded.

"Of the Whigs none were killed, and only two privates, James Singletary and James Cain, slightly wounded. The Tories were so severely handled that they dispersed the next morning."

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Col. Thomas Robeson, Jr. - Commanding Officer

Bladen County Regiment of Militia - with the following known men out of <80 allegedly there:
- Col. Thomas Owen
- Col. Thomas Brown
- Capt. William Ellis
- Capt. William G. McDaniel
- Capt. Peter Robeson
- Capt. James Gillespie (Duplin County Regiment)
- Lt. William Daniel (under Capt. Peter Robeson)
- Sgt. James Cain (wounded)
- Private Richard Brown
- Private Richard Cheshire
- Private Sherwood Fort
- Private Robert Johnston
- Private Musgrove Jones
- Private Hiram Pendleton
- Private Samuel Pharis
- Private Richard Plummer
- Private James Singletary (wounded)
- Private Josiah Singletary
- Private Moab Stevens
- Private Burrell Whitehead

Col. John Slingsby - Commanding Officer (killed)

Bladen County Loyalist Militia, with at least one (1) known company led by:
- Capt. David Godwin (killed)

Cumberland County Loyalist Militia, with at least one (1) company led by:
- Capt. Charles Malloy

Total Loyalist forces - ~300








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