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Home North Carolina Bladen County City of Elizabethtown Historical Markers Battle Of Elizabethtown

Battle Of Elizabethtown

Broad Street, Elizabethtown, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 34° 37' 45.2748", -78° 36' 25.1928"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
Whigs broke Tory power in Bladen Co., August, 1781, driving them into Tory Hole, 50 yards N.

The Battle of Elizabethtown took place on August 27, 1781, in Elizabethtown in Bladen County. The town, established eight years earlier, was under the control of Tory commanders John Slingsby and David Godden and their Cape Fear militia of 300-400 men. The Bladen County Whig militia was hiding in Duplin County. On August 27 the Whig militia, with only sixty men under the control of Colonels Thomas Robeson Jr. and Thomas Brown, attacked the Tory forces at Elizabethtown.

The Whig militia, aware of the weakness in their inferior numbers, developed a plan to confuse their Loyalist opponents, based on information provided by the Patriot spy Sallie Salter. Salter, daughter in locally influential Salter family, entered the Tory camp on August 26, selling eggs to troops and spying for the Whigs. Using the intelligence that Salter gathered, Robeson and Brown devised a strategy to trick the Loyalists into believing that other Patriot forces had reinforced the Whig militia. The Whig militia, after marching through the night and crossing the Cape Fear River naked, attacked Elizabethtown in the early morning of August 27.

The sixty Whig troops attacked the Tory fortifications at Elizabethtown very quickly from multiple angles. The Whig commanders called out the names of leading Patriot commanders and ordered their forces to attack from different locations, while in reality the same sixty men attacked again. The Whigs continued the deception, convincing many Loyalists that they were under attack by nearly 1,000 men, and causing chaos within the Tory militia. After the death of their commanders, the Loyalists were forced to retreat, seeking refuge in a deep ravine near the Cape Fear River. The Whigs continued to attack the Loyalists in the ravine until the Tories were obligated to surrender. The ravine became known as Tory Hole.

The Battle of Elizabethtown is considered to be one of the Cape Fear region’s most important Revolutionary War battles, second only to the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge in Pender County. The Patriot victory at Elizabethtown ended Tory control in the area. Following their defeat at Elizabethtown, the local Loyalists were never able to fully regain strength, damaged by the loss of strong commanders and their weapons supplies. After Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown in October, Major James H. Craig and the Loyalist forces abandoned Wilmington and the Cape Fear region for South Carolina.

R. F. Beasley, The Battle of Elizabethtown (1901)
Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing but Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, 1781 (2005)
Eli W. Caruthers, The Old North State in 1776, vols. I and II (1854 and 1856)
Bladen County Historical Society, Battle of Elizabethtown (1957)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)"
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Battle Of Elizabethtown North Carolina