Chatham Courthouse, North Carolina [i]
17 July 1781
After Greene’s offensive moved further into South Carolina Captain David Fanning returned from his seclusion in the Uwharrie Mountains. Loyalist partisans had been independent up until the summer of 1781, but no single leader was considered in command when the different groups came together. Loyalist Captain William Elrod began spreading malicious rumors about Fanning and was undermining his authority. Fanning tired of this, and asked all the field officers in the area to vote for the man who would be their commander. If they didn’t he declared he would not "go on another scout, until there was a field officer." Fanning was elected as the commander.
The Loyalists signed a petition and Fanning delivered it to Major James Craig, the commander of the garrison in Wilmington. Craig was impressed by Fanning and promoted him to Colonel of the Loyal Militia of Randolph and Chatham Counties. As a symbol of his rank and authority he was given a red officer’s coat and a new sword.
On July 12th Fanning returned to Cox’s Mill and called a general muster. One hundred and fifty men reported for duty, but only one third of them were armed. Fanning kept fifty-three of the Loyalists with him and sent the rest back home, ready to be called upon when needed.
The Patriot’s in the area were not intimidated. On July 16th several leaders of the Loyalist militia were tried and sentenced to hang at Chatham Courthouse. Fanning learned of the hanging and rode all night with his men, arriving at 7 o’clock the next morning. Fanning’s men surrounded the courthouse and waited. The members of the Court Martial had gone home for the night, but were expected back at 8 o’clock.[ii]
Fanning posted men on all the roads leading to the courthouse. Within two hours the Loyalist partisans took fifty-three prisoners. Among the prisoners were General Herndon Ramsey, Colonel Ambrose Ramsey, all the local militia officers, and three delegates of the Assembly. Fanning paroled all except fourteen of the Whigs, who were marched towards Major Craig in Wilmington.
It took until July 22nd for Fanning to reach McPhaul’s Mill with his prisoners. From there he was able to obtain horses to ride to Wilmington, where he arrived on July 24th.
[i] Chatham Courthouse has been mistakenly called Pittsboro, but during the war it was only referred to as Chatham Courthouse. The courthouse stood on the south side of Robeson’s Creek, on the site now occupied by the Horton Middle School
[ii] The condemned Loyalist militia leaders were, from the Chatham County Militia, Captain Thomas Dark, Captain William Lindley, Captain Samuel Dark, Captain Benjamin Underwood and Captain William Deaton; from the Orange County Militia, Captain Richard Edwards and Captain Stephen Holloway; from the Royal Militia of Cumberland County, Captain John Cagle; from the Anson County Militia, Captain William Knight