Marker Text: HART'S MILL Grist mill. Site of key Regulator meeting, 1766, and skirmish in 1781 that boosted the Patriot cause. Stood 1/5 mile N. Essay:

     By August 4, 1755, a Quaker by the name of Joseph Maddock was operating a grist mill on the Eno River just outside what is now Hillsborough. For years Maddock’s mill had steady business as it was the closest mill to the Orange County seat. In 1766, it was the site of large and well-publicized gathering of Regulators. Edmund Fanning deemed the meeting “an insurrection” when he believed the men were attempting to usurp power from the local court.

     After the meeting Maddock grew increasingly fearful of governmental retribution and decided to move to Georgia with a group of Quakers. In Nov. 1767 he conveyed the mill to Gov. William Tryon’s friend, Thomas Hart, and in July 1768 Maddock conveyed a 434-acre tract to Tryon himself. Thomas Hart Benton, the great nineteenth century orator and U.S. Senator from Missouri, was born at Hart’s Mill in 1782 and was named for the aforesaid Hart.

     Thomas Hart enlarged the grist mill into a complex of “Mills Manufactories, &c.” His operation included a saw mill, oil mill, fulling mill, distillery, weaving house, tannery, blacksmith’s shop, and cobbler’s shop. Hart also owned stables and an orchard on his plantation. A tax list from 1779 indicates that he was the wealthiest man in the county. Sensing the political shift, in that year Hart decided to move his family from the area and sold the mill and industrial complex to Rev. James Fraser. Fraser lived extravagantly and was over-extended when in 1780 neighbor Jesse Benton (father of the future Senator), who would take possession of the mill two years later, wrote to Hart that Fraser “owes a great deal more than his estate is worth.”

     Cornwallis reached Hillsborough in Feb. 1781, and dispatched a detachment to the mill. The facility was used by the troops for grinding corn and about thirty soldiers were posted to protect the site. Maj. Joseph Graham learned of the troops at Hart’s Mill and ordered his militia to attack. The cavalry and mounted riflemen divided to effectively surround the British. Americans killed or wounded nine men and took nineteen prisoners; all but two were British regulars. Graham and his militia, with prisoners in tow, fled to General Andrew Pickens’s camp nearby. Graham’s exploits inspired confidence in the weary American soldiers. Thomas Jefferson referred to the skirmish in a letter to George Washington, dated March 8, 1781. He wrote that the skirmish at Hart’s Mill, combined with the defeat of Loyalist Col. John Pyle’s forces on February 23, “had a very happy effect on the disaffected in that country.”

Mary Claire Engstrom, “The Hartford Mill Complex during the Revolution,” Eno Journal (July 1978) available online at Hugh F. Rankin, Greene and Cornwallis: The Campaign in the Carolinas (1976)
William Alexander Graham, General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History (1904)
Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 1, at
Marjolene Kars, Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina (2002)
Location: US 70 at Eno River bridge northwest of Hillsborough County:

Original Date Cast:

© 2009 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources