Portevent's Mill.

What: Skirmish, 16 May 1781, Col. Kenan vs. Col. Mobley

Other names:

Where: 34.81493 -78.31636 Portevent's Mill

Maps: [map notes]

  • NBBAS:Three.
    Portevent’s Mill, North Carolina
    16 May 1781

    After the skirmish at Myhand’s Bridge Colonel Kenan and Captain Williams did not know where Mobley’s Loyalists were. They also did not know what happened to Williams’s infantry, which moved to Boykins Plantation. They decided to split their forces and try to find the missing infantry unit. Kenan’s men rode down the Elizabethtown Road.

    Captain Williams led his cavalry along the Little Coharie River, following the route that their dismounted infantry took earlier. The traveling was slow for the mounted men and it took them two days to reach Boykins Plantation. That night they slept on the road that ran between the Coharie River and a mosquito infested swamp.

    When they approached the Plantation one of Williams’ men was very nearly killed by friendly fire as he galloped across a field trying to outrun the swarms of biting flies and mosquitoes.

    Kenan had his problems too. Many of his men were drunk and felt that they had done enough for the cause and wanted to go home. Loyalist stragglers told Kenan that Mobley had been reinforced with 150 Loyalists that was moving to Myhand’s Bridge.

    Mobley did not fare well either. Groups of his hungry men fell out of his force to forage for food. Some became lost, some just decided to go home. When the Patriot force confronted these stragglers, they would surrender. Unfortunately many times they would fire upon the cavalry and disappear into the swamps. The Patriot cavalry became nervous, unsure of whether the Loyalists would surrender or fire upon them. Many men fired first and asked questions later. When a messenger from Captain Williams came riding up to Kenan’s force, his own brother wounded him.

    Kenan led his men back through Clinton’s Crossroads and rendezvoused with Captain Williams near Boykins’ Plantation. Williams mounted his infantry double on the horses and they marched down both sides of the Coharie River. His men came across the flats and dugouts used by Mobley’s men to escape down the Coharie. The boats had become bottled up at a point where a tree had fallen and blocked the river. Two bodies were found tangled in the tree limbs.

    Williams’s dismounted detachment followed an unnamed creek and came upon a camp of tired, hungry Loyalists. It is unsure whether the Loyalists tried to surrender or not, but a dozen Loyalists were killed and left lying in the swamp. At the sound of the shooting Kenan and Williams’s men encountered each other at the river. They fired shots at each other, suspecting that there was a possible ambush, but none of the Patriots were injured.

    The Duplin County Militia sent out scouts to determine where Mobley’s Loyalists might be camped. The most likely place was where the Big Coharie and Six Runs come together to become the Black River. Kenan and Williams’s force moved towards that point, but Mobley’s men were actually ten miles closer at Portevent’s Mill, where the Six Runs and the Tarkill Branch come together.

    One of Kenan’s troopers found the Loyalists at the mill grinding corn and informed Williams of their location. He sent some of the dismounted detachment up the Tarkill Branch and the rest of his men mounted up double with his cavalry. Some of his cavalry opened fire from horseback upon the Loyalists across the river. The rest of the cavalry rode down road from Moore’s Bridge, firing their pistols and slashing the Loyalists with their swords “made from saws.” The Loyalists in the millhouse returned fire. As the cavalry rode into the millhouse yard “obstacles” slowed their charge.

    One of the Loyalists had been wounded trying to rally his men and his horse fell on top of him, pinning him to a tree and crushing his rifle. The Loyalists slowly pushed the cavalry back until Captain Williams led a charge into the tightly packed defenders. Mobley’s men scattered, trying to flee the fighting. Some were pushed into the stream and either drowned, or swam away. They fled in every direction, leaving their dead and wounded where they lay.

    The dismounted infantry on the Tarkill Branch were overwhelmed when a group of Loyalists ran panicking up the stream. The Patriots fired on the mob, staggering them with a well-timed volley. The Loyalist quickly returned a ragged volley, forcing the infantry back into the creek with several men wounded. Amazingly the casualties were light. Some accounts list Colonel Kenan’s brother being killed here, instead of at the ambush several days earlier. Three of the Patriots were killed and several more wounded. Kenan’s slave was also wounded. Three horses were killed and two more wounded. The Loyalists had four men wounded, and several drowned in the river. All of the Tory Baggage and baggage horses were captured.

    After the desperate fighting around Portevent’s Mill Kenan and Williams reorganized and continued to pursue Mobley’s Loyalists up the Six Runs River. A final chaotic skirmish was fought when Captain Williams dismounted his cavalry and set up a hasty ambush. Mobley’s brother, Biggars Mobley, discovered the ambush and attacked the Patriots on the flank, while another element kept their attention diverted to the front. Some of Williams’ men rushed the Loyalists and engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting, using their musket butts, swords and “long knives” and fighting “chest to chest.” The fighting was fierce in the hot afternoon, with men desperately trying to stab each other to death.

    The Loyalists had decided they had enough and fled back into the swamp, leaving a few of their men behind as prisoners. A few of the Loyalists deserted and joined their relentless pursuers. Biggars and his men made their way to Wilmington and protection under the Crown. Middleton Mobley stayed in Duplin County and continued to gather small bands of Loyalists to operate in East and West Duplin County. Kenan and Williams had three men killed in that day’s action and several more wounded. The Loyalists suffered twelve men killed, four wounded, and twelve captured. In 1782 Mobley and Captain Williams encountered each other again. Mobley was wounded by a sword stroke and escaped the county. He was later captured in Martin County trying to raise Loyalist sympathy. He was brought back to Wilmington, tried, and condemned for a variety of crimes and hanged. After that Biggars gave his parole and lived in Sampson until at least 1790.

    Basis of site location.

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Submitted by: Patrick O'Kelley. Location by PJO.

Confidence level: 4 / ***