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Letter from William Purviance to the North Carolina Provincial Council
Purviance, William
February 23, 1776 - February 24, 1776
Volume 10, Pages 465-468

[From MS. Records in Office of Secretary of State.]
Letter from Colonel William Purviance to the Provincial Council.


Wilmington 23d Febry 1776.

Gentlemen,

On the 9th Instant upon the Arrival of an Express that the Regulators and highlanders were in Arms with an intention to join Governor Martin, I had notice from the Committee of Wilmington to have my regiment in readiness; and soon after, Orders from Colonel Moore to prepare for marching against the insurgents. My zeal for the common Cause in some measure surmounted every difficulty. I dispatched part of the regiment and Captain Young's rangers, by Order of the Committee to —— Horses, Carts, Boats, &c. for the service of the military, and during upwards of eighty hours of severe Service night & day with the assistance of the Regulars & minute men whilst they were here, happily effected every thing necessary.

The Two companies of minute men in this County, and somewhat above eighty others under the command of John Ashe Esqr and stiling themselves Volunteers, together with a considerable number of disaffected Persons, reduced the Number of fighting Men in my County so much, that it was thought necessary with so small a Number that remained, that I should stay behind, to protect the Town & adjacent Country from any insults that might be offered in the Absence of the Troops by the Ships of War; unequal as I know myself, and as indeed I must necessarily be, to any military command, I chearfully exerted myself to fill a department which of Course fell upon me and which there was not any other to undertake.

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By the resignation of Lieut Col. Devane, who nobly relinquished his rank to command a minute Company which otherwise could not have been Raised, I was under the necessity of ordering for the present Major Ward to act in that department, Captn Young to Act as first Major, & Adjutant Dubois as second. I hope this selection will meet with the Approbation of your honourable Body as Mr Young & Mr Dubois are two of the most active officers I have and the best acquainted with military discipline. Mr Dubois still continue to do the duty of adjutant as well as major, no other person in my regiment being equal to the duty.

On Wednesday the 14th instant in the evening the committee received repeated expresses from Brunswick that the Cruizer Sloop of War with a Tender had passed that Town, and was on her way up. We had then, in the general Confusion, no doubt but that the intention was to destroy Wilmington, unless we Should submit to ignominious Terms. This opinion had such an instantaneous effect upon the Inhabitants, who had a number of enemies among them, that they, as if by concert, immediately began to remove their effects. The Town is now almost cleared of all kinds of Goods, and of the women & Children. Since that time I have been reinforced by Captain Clinton's Company of minute Men from Duplin, a minute company from Onslow, and part of the Militia of this last County, under the Command of Col. Cray. I have also had between 50 & 60 Men under Major Quince from Brunswick County, and with all those forces I have been almost constantly employed, in throwing up Breastworks on the principal Streets & Wharfs and the hills above & below the Town, these I shall soon have Compleated, so as to prevent the landing of any men from the Ships—I am making the necessary preparations for fire rafts and shall be able to make use of what swivels are mounted, and of a number of blunderbusses. But I am now assured the Ships never will venture to Wilmington. They too much dread the rifle men to approach us. The Cruizer and her tender attempted to go up the North West River, on the West side of the great Island, opposite to Town, but found there was not sufficient Water all the Way, and they returned. It is thought the intention was to favor the Regulators & the highland banditti, whom they expected in Triumph, and to protect the Provision Boats which would Consequently come from Cross Creek for their Army and Ships. After the Cruizer Had fallen down below the Island, her people went several times on Shore at Mr Ancrums

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Plantation, Carried off his live Stock and vegetables, and attempted to seize his Negroes, who fled to the Woods. They have even taken away a parcel of printed Books, Old Clothes &c. and threatened to burn the house. I therefore thought it necessary to dispatch Major Quince with his detachment to protect the inhabitants on the West Side of the River, as I found that the more necessary, as Col. Davis of Brunswick County informed me yesterday, that there were 50 men from the Ships at the fort, pillaging the Inhabitants. Captn Dupre with only 15 Men arrived at Mr Ancrums plantation just as the Cruizers Boat was coming ashore the third time, fired upon them, which was returned, and kept up about a minute, when the Sailors pushed off with precipitation. We certainly did some execution, tho' they carried off their Men. The Cruizer fired three Guns without effect, since this the ship is gone down below the flats.

On Wednesday last, I rece'd Intelligence that a boats crew from the Scorpion, which is also below the flats, went ashore on the East side of the river, and killed some hogs, steer, &c. Captain Clinton's minute-men are gone down and I make no doubt but with prudence they will be able to seize the next party that presumes to come on shore, as they are to remain there three days. I have got in confinement several Tories and suspected Tories. Many of those still here had inrolled themselves with Col. Ashe, in order, as is believed, to skreen themselves from duty; but when the day of trial came they shrunk back. That Gentleman went so far as to inlist an open Enemy who had been disarmed by the Committee and even presumed to require his arms. It was not however thought proper to comply with this proposterous requisition. On the contrary the Committee disarmed every man who would not take the Test of the Congress in form of an Oath. The neutrals, as they call themselves, have been forced greatly against their inclinations to work at the breastworks.

If my weak Endeavours can any way tend to support the Cause of liberty, and should meet your approbation, it will be an additional pleasure to what I feel from a consciousness of having to the best of my ability done my duty.


24th February.

Since I wrote the above, an express arrived from Col. Moore's headquarters at Rockfish Creek, near Cross Creek, by which I am informed that the insurgents, on the Evening of the 20th Instant, had marched across the River at Campbleton, and encamped on the

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Eastern side. Col. Moore thought it probable they might attempt to come down, either by the black River Road, or through Duplin. He therefore despatched an Express to Col. Caswell, who had passed Black River, on his way to the main body, with 11 or 1200 men. Col. Caswell immediately returned and marched downwards to secure the most important position, and gave Orders over the Country to break the bridges on the approach of the enemy. By a letter which I received from Mr Gray of Duplin this morning, I find that the bridges in that County are partly demolished, and that the inhabitants are in readiness to destroy the rest, as soon as it may become necessary, in which they will be assisted by Captain Salters' Company, who wait for that purpose.

I have sent as strong a detachment as I could spare to the important pass of Herons Bridge, on the North East, and another of 120 Men to Mount Misery on the Northwest, over which I have ordered a Boom, which will be compleated this morning; for as the insurgents are in possession of all the Cross Creek Boats, they may easily transport their men, provisions, and ammunition by water. I have acquainted Col. Caswell with what I have done and requested his Assistance.

The insurgents consist principally, officers as well as privates, of highland banditti, most of whom have been treated in a friendly manner in this town, and many of them charitably relieved with the immediate necessaries of life. There are not 200 of the old Regulators among them, and the whole do not make more, at the most, than 900, being carefully numbered as they marched to Campbletown. Col. Moore's Army were full 1500, and on the night of the 20th Inst Col. Martin was within a few miles of Cross Creek, with near 2000 men, which probably occasioned their sudden march.

The Ships of War, which threatened us for some time, are all fallen down to Brunswick. Their people have been so much harrassed on both sides of the River by the Riflemen, that I imagine their station became uneasy: but I am inclined to believe they lost all hopes of the arrival of their friends, and probably might receive intelligence (notwithstanding all the precaution that was used) that their friends were so situated that it was scarcely possible for them to come. I have upwards of twenty Tories in custody, and expect a considerable number more to morrow.

I have the honour to be, with the greatest respt, Gentn,
Your most obedient servant,
Wm PURVIANCE.