north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     During the closing years of the Revolutionary War, particularly between 1780 and 1782, David Fanning wreaked havoc on American Patriot forces in North Carolina. Fanning, a loyalist raised in a part of Johnston County which is now Wake County, was an efficient and vital Tory leader. In July 1781, Fanning raised a militia and attacked the Chatham County courthouse. The Tories captured over fifty Patriots, many of them prominent members of the Revolutionary state and local governments. After the attack on the courthouse, Fanning and his men continued to harass Continental forces, exacerbating tensions and violence throughout the state.

     David Fanning was born around 1755, and was raised by his guardian, Needham Bryan Jr., following the death by 1764of both of his parents. Fanning settled at Raeburn’s Creek in western South Carolina, and pledged strong allegiance to the Crown. He served as Sergeant in Captain James Lindley’s Loyalist company in 1775. In the next three years, Fanning was captured fourteen times by Patriot forces, but managed to escape each time. In August 1779, Fanning finally agreed to a conditional pardon by Revolutionary forces in exchange for his abandoning the Loyalist cause.

     Fanning maintained his agreement until the British capture of Charleston in May 1780, at which time he again dedicated himself fiercely to the Loyalist cause. In the spring of 1781, while Cornwallis occupied Hillsborough in Orange County, Fanning began recruiting new Tories to join his forces. On July 5, 1781, Fanning was commissioned as the colonel of Randolph and Chatham county militia, using his title to gather Loyalist forces in the area. On July 12, a general muster of Tory forces took place at Deep River in Chatham County. Learning of a court martial taking place at the Chatham courthouse against Loyalist supporters who refused to bear arms for the Revolutionary Government, Fanning quickly prepared his men to act.

     On July 18, 1781, Fanning and his troops surrounded the courthouse. Although court was not yet in session, they succeeded in capturing fifty-three men, including most of the county’s leading figures. The captured men included a militia colonel and major, a Continental captain, three members of the General Assembly, and the vast majority of militia officers in Chatham County. Although most of the men were later released, the capture of the Chatham courthouse marked a major victory for the Tories. The fourteen men that Fanning considered most violent were held prisoner and delivered to Major James Craig in Wilmington.

     Following the attack on Chatham Courthouse, Fanning continued to lead his Loyalist militia in further attacks on Patriot forces in North Carolina. These attacks included the battle at Lindley’s Mill, the capture of Thomas Burke in Hillsborough, and the attack on the Alston House in Moore County. After the surrender of the British at Yorktown, Fanning fled first to Florida and then to Canada, where he lived until he died. Fanning was one of three people specifically exempted from the a round of pardons in 1783.


References:
Carole Watterson Troxler, The Loyalist Experience in North Carolina (1976)
Rachel Osborn & Ruth Selden-Sturgill, The Architectural Heritage of Chatham County, North Carolina (1991)
Walter Clark, ed., The State Records of North Carolina, XXII
Robert O. DeMond, The Loyalists in North Carolina during the Revolution (1940)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 179-181—sketch of David Fanning by Lindley S. Butler
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