Rouse’s Tavern, North Carolina
Major Craig had sent out a detachment of men to drive in cattle from the
nearby farms. The cattle were needed to feed the approaching army of
Cornwallis. The advance guard learned of a party of Whigs who were at
Rouse’s Tavern, eight miles south of Wilmington. The men at the tavern
had been from a detachment of light horse sent out by Lillington to drive
off cattle so that the British would not be able to use them. The men
"would not Obay their officers" and went to the Rouse House for a drink.
Two of the men in the tavern were Captain James Love and William Jones.
Both men were known by the British in Wilmington. On several occasions
the two men would ride into Wilmington "mounted on swift horses" and the
shoot " down the sentinels and such of the military as came within the
reach of their rifle barrelled carbines; and instead of flying directly
to the woods, would wait patiently in the suburbs for the British
dragoons: keeping far enough ahead to be out of reach of their pistols,
and as they decoyed one or two of their numbers in advance of the rest,
turned suddenly upon them, giving the contents of their carbines, or
cutting them down with their broad swords manufactured in the blacksmith
shops of the country."
There was a second reason that Craig wanted to kill Love and Jones.
After Craig had taken Wilmington he developed a habit of "rding out on
the Newberne road every evening, accompanied by Captain Gordon and
escorted by twelve or fifteen dragoons." Love knew about this familiar
pattern and he collected "25 or 30 men picked promiscuously from the
sound & neighborhood & laid in ambush in a thick swamp" about a mile from
Wilmington. As the British rode across a bridge they went into a single
file. Love told his men that they could pick the enemy off easily at
Unfortunately when Love’s militia heard the approach of the dragoons and
saw the red coats, they panicked and ran off. Love and Jones stayed,
determined to do something. Love aimed his rifle at Craig, but Jones
finally came to his senses and told Love that it would be suicide. The
two men then drifted off into the swamp, without ever having fired a shot
At the tavern the men "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 at the tavern it might be attacked, but
they figured 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."
Craig sent out a detachment of infantry from the 82nd Regiment with
orders to give no quarter to the men in the tavern. The British
surrounded the tavern, many of them carrying torches. There were "60 or
70 men, some equipped as foot soldiers with muskets and bayonets, but
most of them were dragoons." The captain of the British ordered his men
to pry open the door of the tavern with a crowbar "which had been brought
for the purpose to wrench open the door."
James Love heard the approaching British and kicked open the door,
deciding that if he were going to die he would make the British pay
dearly for his life. Love grabbed up his saddle, and using it as a
shield, he cut his way out of the tavern. The British backed him towards
a mulberry tree, where a desperate fight occurred. Love was able to
slash his way for 30 yards, but outnumbered, he was killed by numerous
bayonet thrusts. When he fell he lifted up his hand "which contained
the broken stump of a sword as if to give a parting blow to his foes."
Very few of the other miltiamen made it out of the tavern. The British
began to systematically kill every man inside. Many were bayoneted in
their sleep, never waking up. The British found one of the militiamen
hiding in the back and he was told that if he would disclose the position
of other Whigs he would be spared. The man’s name was Wilson, and he
gave the British information on some other militiamen who were staying at
a house a few miles away. Wilson was then immediately put to death.
Eleven of the Whigs were killed and only one escaped the massacre at
Captain Thomas Bludworth heard the firing of the muskets, and
gathered his militia to investigate. When Bludworth arrived at the
tavern the British were gone. 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 huddled in fear near the fireplace.
The British must have had several wounded since Bludworth was able to
track them down the road by their blood trails. Bludworth was a friend
of James Love and he swore revenge. He began to devise a plan to kill as
many enemy soldiers as possible.
The same night Captain George Reed and five militamen were staying at the
widow Collier’s house, five miles from Rouse’s Tavern. Craig’s men
learned of them, possibly from the men they had butchered, and attacked,
capturing all six of the men..