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General John Ashe, colonial legislator, army officer, and leader in the Stamp Act resistance, was born on March 24, 1725, to Elizabeth Swann and John Baptista Ashe. The elder Ashe emigrated from England to the Cape Fear region, where he served on the Governor’s Council. Although John Baptista Ashe died in 1734, he provided in his will for a sound education for his namesake. The younger John Ashe attended Harvard, though did not graduate. Ashe retuned to New Hanover County where he built an admirable plantation which he named "Green Hill," located on the Northeast Cape Fear River. In 1752 he was elected to represent his county in the colonial assembly. When his maternal uncle, Samuel Swann, stepped down as speaker of the house in 1762, Ashe assumed the office.
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In opposition to the Stamp Act, John Ashe resigned his royal commission and was elected to the same rank by the people of New Hanover County, later raising a regiment at his own expense. In July 1775 he led 500 men in an attack on Fort Johnston, where royal Governor Josiah Martin was in hiding. Ashe personally set fire to the fortress. The North Carolina provincial congress promoted him to brigadier general in April 1776. General John Ashe, known to contemporaries as “General John” to distinguish him from his father and his nephew, is unfortunately not recalled for his legendary oratory skills but for his devastating defeat at the Battle of Brier Creek, Georgia. The battle resulted in the forfeit of Georgia to the British. Ashe requested his own court martial, during which it was declared that he displayed no cowardice, only a lack of foresight.
In 1781, General John Ashe was captured and imprisoned in Wilmington, where he contracted smallpox. Paroled due to his illness, Ashe attempted to travel to Hillsborough to join his family. He made it only as far as John Sampson’s home in Sampson County. On October 24, 1781, he died there and was buried in an unmarked grave. John Ashe was married to his cousin, Rebecca Moore. The couple had four sons and three daughters.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 1, 51-52—sketch by Heustis P. Whiteside
James Sprunt, Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916
Lawrence Lee, The Lower Cape Fear in Colonial Days (1965)
John L. Cheney, comp., North Carolina Government, 1585-1979 (1981)