ROWAN COUNTY, NC in the American Revolution History Facts

Research Topics Presentation Tips History Essays North Carolina History American Revolution Rowan County

Excerpts from Sketches of Western North Carolina, Historical and Biographical by C.L. Hunter

Rowan county was formed in 1753 from Anson county. In 1770 Surry, and in 1777 Burke counties were severally taken off, previous to which separations Anson county comprehended most of the western portion of North Carolina and Tennessee. Like a venerable mother, Rowan beholds with parental complacency and delight her prosperous children comfortably settled around her. Salisbury, her capital, derives its name from a handsome town in England, situated on the banks of the classic Avon, and near the noted Salisbury Plain, a dry, chalky surface, which accounts for the origin of its Saxon name, which means a dry town.

Rowan was first settled by Protestants, about 1720-25, from Moravia, fleeing from the persecutions of Ferdinand, the Second, by the Scotch, after the unsuccessful attempts of Charles Edward (commonly called the "Pretender") to ascend the English throne, and by the Irish, after the rebellion of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, who were offered their pardon on condition of their emigrating to America and in assisting to colonize the English possessions there. The staid prudence of the German, the keen sagacity of the Scotch, and fiery ardor of the Irish commingled on American soil, and were fit materials to form the elemental foundations of an industrious, progressive and independent nation.

The early history of Rowan, and of her distinguished sons, affords of itself ample materials to fill an instructive volume. Within her borders resided such venerable patriots as Matthew Locke, Moses Winslow, Griffith Rutherford, John Brevard, William Sharpe, Samuel Young, William Kennon, Adlai Osborne, Francis McCorkle, James Brandon, James McCay, and many others, all true and constant friends of liberty; but alas! how little of their eminent services has been preserved. Even yet, it is believed, some one of her gifted sons might do much in collecting from traditional sources, and from her musty records a rich store of historical facts, hitherto unwritten, illustrative of the fair name and fame of her Revolutionary career.


After Cornwallis effected his passage over the Catawba river, at Cowan's Ford, on the 1st of February, 1781, he only remained about three hours in attending to the burial of his dead. Tarleton was dispatched in advance to pursue the Whigs retreating in the direction of Torrence's Tavern. Early in the morning of the same day a simultaneous movement was made by Colonel Webster, with his own brigade, the artillery, and a small supporting detachment to Beattie's Ford, six miles above Cowan's Ford, where a small guard had been placed on the eastern bank. Colonel Webster, with a view of dispersing the guard, fired several shots (six pounders) across the river, which had its intended effect, and thus enabled him to pass over without meeting with serious opposition. This was a mere feint, intended to create the impression that the whole British army would cross there.

The two British forces pressing forward with as little delay as possible, united at Torrence's, ten miles from Cowan's Ford, where a considerable body of the Whig militia had hastily assembled; but having no one to assume command, and greatly discouraged by the death of General Davidson on the approach of Tarleton's cavalry, poured in one effective fire, killed seven of the British horsemen, wounded others, and then dispersed in all directions with a small loss. This skirmish, occurring soon after Tarleton's defeat at the Cowpens, led him to boast of it in his journal as a brilliant victory!

Lord Cornwallis, in his general orders on the 2d of February, returns his "thanks to the Brigade of Guards for their cool and determined bravery in the passage of the Catawba, while rushing through that long and difficult ford under a galling fire."

Another order, issued from his camp on the evening of the preceding day, does credit to his head as well as his heart, and shows that he was sometimes governed by the noble principles of moral rectitude.