Tuesday, February 02, 2016

David Fanning: SC Loyalist in Backcountry Revolution

David Fanning was North Carolina's
 most notorious Tory
He lived for a time as an Indian trader
on Raeburn's Creek in Laurens County, SC
For his terrible atrocities, Fanning was excepted 
from a general pardon by the US government
 after the Revolution and had to flee to Nova Scotia.
"There was born in Johnston County, N. C, in 1756, one of the boldest men, fertile in expedients and quick in execution, that ever sprang from North Carolina parentage. He was a poor boy, obscure, humble and unlettered. He was apprenticed to Mr. Bryant, from whom, on account of harsh treatment, he ran away when about fifteen years of age. 

"His miserable condition secured him temporary home with Mr. John O. Deneill, of Haw Field, in Orange county, but in the course of two or three years he went to South Carolina and engaged in trafficking with the Catawba Indians, and settled on Raeburn's creek, branch of Reedy River, in Laurens district in upper South Carolina. 

"He was but eighteen years of age, when he was made sergeant of Capt. James Lindley's company, and on the 15th day of May, 1775, together with 118 other men of that settlement, refused to sign "the Revolution papers," but signed in July paper agreeing to fight for the king. They embodied about the post of Ninety-Six," in upper South Carolina and engaged in an active warfare with their Whig neighbors. In July, 1776, he made his way with body of Tories to the Cherokees and came down with them and attacked Whig force, but the attack was unsuccessful. Returning to Raeburn creek, he underwent many vicissitudes, was often captured, escaped, and always engaged in predatory warfare. 

"On March 1, 1778, orders were received from east Florida for "the loyal militia" to embody. Fanning was chosen by the Tories of his section to be their commander. They scoured the country, took prisoners and seized horses, and marched to Savannah river, two miles above Augusta, where they were turned back by body of Whigs and pursued, and the party dispersed. He was again captured, but escaped. Eventually he embodied some 500 men to go to St. Augustine, but was again turned back by superior forces. He was on his way alone to the Holstein river, 140 miles distant over the mountains, when he was again captured and confined, as often before, in the jail at Ninety-six, but again got free. 


"Eventually he made submission to Gov. Rutledge, of South Carolina, and was pardoned on condition of living peaceably at home. He remained a year under those terms, but after Charleston was captured, he and "Bloody Bill" Cunningham began to embody a loyal force, and became very active and daring in their operations. After the Battle of Kings Mountain, the Whigs grew stronger in that part of South Carolina, and Fanning made his way to Deep River, N. C, where he remained quiet until February, 1781, discovering the disposition of the people. 


"When Cornwallis came into this state, Fanning raised the Tory standard in the Deep River country, and upon the arrival of the British army at Hillsboro, quite number of disaffected people joined him. Col. Pyles also had force of about 300 Tories in the same region. This was the beginning of his active operations in central North Carolina. After Cornwallis withdrew to Wilmington and Greene went into South Carolina leaving North Carolina free field for Fanning's operations, nearly every day had its incidents. 


"Often with consider able force, sometimes he was compelled to fight single-handedly for his life; fleeing one day through the wilderness; the next saw him pursuing the Whig parties that had divided to capture him. Foraging on the country, seizing what he wanted, slaying, slaughtering, burning homes and butchering in cold blood according to his mood, he was terror and scourge. On the 5th of July, 1781, he went to Wilmington and obtained from Major Craig an appointment as colonel of the Loyal Militia of Randolph and Chatham counties and on the 12th of July organized at Coxe's Mills the loyalists of Anson, Cumberland, Orange, Chatham and Randolph counties into 22 companies. 


"Hearing that there was general muster at Pittsboro and court-martial to try some Tories there, he marched seventeen miles that night and by seven o'clock took the village with fifty-three prisoners among them the colonel, major and all the militia officers in the county, captain in the continental army and three members of the legislature. He next attacked Col. Alston's force and took them, patrolling the colonel to his residence in Cumberland county. And so he continued fighting, whenever he could with chance of success, from Wilmington to Hillsboro. 


"In September, finding himself at the head of 950 men, he left Coxe's Mills, marched as if to attack General Butler and Col. Robert Mebane, of the Continentals who were nearby but avoided them and hastened to Hillsboro, where at seven o'clock on the morning of the 12th of September, 1781, he captured Gov. Burke, the governor's council, Col. Reade, Mr. Hurke, Col. Lyttle, seventy-one continentals with their officers and over hundred other persons, and opened the jail, turning loose number of Tories and criminals. 


"Leaving Hillsboro at twelve o'clock, by the next morning they were at Lindsey's Mills on Cane creek, and pushing on were attacked by Gen. Butler. The fight lasted four hours and Butler's force was driven off. Fanning lost twenty-seven killed, sixty badly wounded and thirty slightly wounded. He himself was disabled, and he sent his force with the prisoners under Col. McDougal on to Wilmington, Gen. Butler and Col. Mebane being in hot pursuit until Maj. Craig with force from Wilmington joined the fleeing Tories and turned the Whig army back. In twenty-four days Fanning was again in the saddle. 


"In November he had intelligence of the surrender of Cornwallis and of the evacuation of Wilmington by Maj. Craig, but this only increased his activity and desperation. Every day he left his mark. On December 10, Col. Isaacs came from the west with 300 men, to Coxe's Mills, to capture Fanning, who eluded his foes with great address. About the first of January, he offered to make terms with Gov. Martin, and remain neutral thereafter, living with his men within bounds from Cumberland twenty miles north and south, and thirty miles east and west; to be totally clear of your Light Horse." 


"But although the proposition was entertained, the truce was not made, and Fanning continued, with but slight intermission, to kill and burn until May 7, 1782, when he started to Major Garner's truce land in Pee Dee, S. C, where had made truce with the rebels some time before." Here he remained a month with Mrs. Fanning, and his plunder, and then repaired to Charleston. On the 28th of September, he took shipping with other loyalists to St. Augustine, and two years later went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he continued to reside in poor circumstances until his death, in 1825. 


"Fanning's career in the upper Cape Fear region, after Greene went into South Carolina, has no parallel in the history of the colony for audacity, bold enterprise, bloody encounters and remorseless rapine. He refers to having been in thirty-six encounters; but if minor engagements were reckoned the number would be greater. He was one of the three persons excepted from pardon and amnesty, proclaimed by the general assembly of the state after peace was declared." 


Quoted directly from Samuel Ashe, Cyclopedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas of the Nineteenth Century (Madison, WI: Brant and Fuller, 1892), 596-7.