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



Marker Text:

      On July 21, 1780, Whig militia commanded by William Lee Davidson attacked and defeated a Tory force near the confluence of the Pee Dee and Rocky Rivers. The skirmish took place on the land of William Colson, an area Patriot. Colson’s cousin, John, a Tory, owned the property nearby that became Colson’s Supply Depot.

      After the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, Griffith Rutherford had sent most of his militia home. By the third week in June, only 200 militiamen remained, mostly Rowan and Lincoln county men. In early July, Rutherford learned that Samuel Bryan had organized nearly 800 Loyalists in Chatham and Randolph counties. Bryan, a Rowan County Tory and Daniel Boone’s father-in-law, was a veteran of Moore’s Creek Bridge who had fled to New York, only to return to North Carolina after the fall of Charleston in May 1780.

      Bryan had begun recruiting a Loyalist militia shortly after Ramsour’s Mill, with the intention of uniting with a battalion of the 71st Foot, led by Major Archibald McArthur. McArthur’s force, part of a Highlander regiment, proceeded south and crossed the Pee Dee River. Rutherford received intelligence of these movements, and determined to cut Bryan off before he reached McArthur’s column. He dispatched Davidson with 160 men to intercept the Tories.

      The majority of Bryan’s force connected with McArthur with the exception of roughly 250 men who were on foot. Davidson’s men found the Loyalists encamped at Colson’s Mill. He divided his men to attack the Tories from both front and flank, and distributed white pieces of paper that his soldiers placed in their hats to denote friend from foe. The skirmish lasted only a few minutes, as both sides exchanged one volley, before the Tory militia fled. They left three killed and five wounded on the field, and ten were captured. The Tory volley wounded Davidson and one other Whig.

      Davidson received a musket ball in his arm, severely wounding him and putting him out of action for the remainder of the year. His absence in the King’s Mountain campaign was directly related to the wound he received at Colson’s Mill. Davidson died seven months later defending Cowan’s Ford against Cornwallis’s army.

      The marker text indicates that Bryan led the Tory forces at this skirmish. However, Bryan had reached McArthur’s column, and therefore could not have been commanding at Colson’s. The actual Tory commander is unknown. Bryan would take part in the battles of Hanging Rock and Camden in South Carolina, before being captured in May 1781. He was tried for treason, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Ironically, William R. Davie who had fought against Bryan at Hanging Rock, defended him at the trial. Davie pleaded with Governor Thomas Burke that Bryan had been a decent, honest enemy who had performed no atrocities. Burke consented, and offered Bryan clemency. He moved his family to East Florida, returning to North Carolina in 1783, and settling in Rowan County. He lived a peaceful existence with his former enemies until his death in 1798.

Jeffrey J. Crow and Elizabeth Fentress, eds., North Carolina Bicentennial Newsletter (July 4, 1976)
Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, XIX, 984, 989; XXII, 114, 116
Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing But Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas (2004), II, 204-205
Joseph Graham Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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north carolina highway historical marker program

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