Published: March 13, 2007
North Carolina’s story during the American Revolution is often overshadowed by better-known events that occurred in its sister colonies. The Society of the Cincinnati sheds light on the Tar Heel State’s participation in the American Revolution with the exhibition, “North Carolina in the American Revolution,” on view through April 25 at Anderson House, the society’s headquarters.
The exhibition highlights the distinct path that North Carolina took through the American Revolution, including one of the earliest actions by American women in support of the Revolution, the Edenton Tea Party; the first official recommendation for independence from Great Britain by an American colony, the Halifax Resolves; and one of the earliest battles of the war, the battle of Moor’s Creek Bridge (February 27, 1776). “North Carolina in the American Revolution” tells these stories through more than 40 artifacts, works of art, rare maps and manuscripts.
North Carolina was the fourth most populous American colony on the eve of the Revolution with 250,000 residents †80,000 of whom were slaves †but was also one of the most geographically and culturally isolated. It was formally governed by royal governor Josiah Martin (1771‱776), but North Carolina patriots had begun to assume control over the colony’s daily affairs as early as 1774.
Spurred by the outbreak of hostilities in Massachusetts in the spring of 1775 and the North Carolina Provincial Congress’s desire for independence, North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress †Joseph Hewes, William Hooper and John Penn †joined their fellow delegates in voting for independence on July 2, 1776. North Carolina’s sizable loyalist population, led by Scottish settlers, vehemently opposed the colony’s march toward independence, sometimes violently, as at the battles of Moore’s Creek Bridge and Ramsour’s Mill.
Clashes between local patriots and loyalists, as well as campaigns against the pro-British Cherokee Indians to the west, defined the war in North Carolina before British general Charles Cornwallis’s invasion of 1780‱781. Begun in the early summer of 1780, Cornwallis’s march north from Charleston, S.C., was intended to subdue the southern of colonies and return them to royal control.
The British campaign culminated in the battle of Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781) in central North Carolina, where the American forces under General Nathanael Greene inflicted heavy casualties. Cornwallis’s army staggered into Virginia, where it was ultimately defeated at Yorktown that fall. North Carolina’s Continental soldiers, some of whom did not return home until the fall of 1783, commemorated the achievement of independence by establishing the North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati †the 11th branch of the Society of the Cincinnati to be formed †in October 1783.
The exhibition includes a variety of objects from the era, including a porcelain tea caddy owned by a participant in the Edenton Tea Party; a rare and colorful map of the colony on the eve of the war, A Compleat Map of North-Carolina from an actual Survey by John Abraham Collet (1770); a miniature portrait of one of North Carolina’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, Joseph Hewes, painted by Charles Willson Peale; weapons carried by the patriot, loyalist and British soldiers who fought in North Carolina; and General Greene’s handwritten comments on the battle of Guilford Courthouse.
The North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati provided support for this exhibition, which is the tenth in a series examining the character of the American Revolution in each of the 13 original states and France.
Anderson House is at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue, NW. For information, 202-785-2040.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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