A noisy night in 1771—Part IV


By Janet Morrison
Did you know?

In this fourth in a series of seven articles about the nine young men from Rocky River who blew up a shipment of the Governor’s gunpowder in 1771, we pick up the story immediately after the explosion at Phifer’s muster grounds.

It is said that James White, Jr., carried a scar for the rest of his life where a flying stave from one of the gunpowder barrels hit him above his eye and cut to the bone before he could run from the explosion.

The nine conspirators got home the best way they could in the wee hours of May 3, cleaned themselves up, and said nothing of their overnight adventure.

The Battle of Alamance took place on May 16, 1771, in Alamance County, and the Regulator Movement in North Carolina was effectively put down by the royal government. Gov. William Tryon proclaimed on May 17 that he would pardon the rebels if they would turn themselves in by May 21. He was informed on May 21 that some rebels hadn’t had sufficient notice, so he extended the deadline to May 24. Bad weather set in, so he postponed the deadline to July 13. 

Giving in to exhaustion, at one point some of the gunpowder conspirators set out for Hillsborough to take the governor up on his offer of pardon. Before they reached their destination, they were warned that it was a trick and were told that Governor Tryon planned to hang them. Some returned to the cane brakes of Reedy Creek, some fled to Virginia, while others escaped to Georgia. 

On June 11, 1771, Governor Tryon proclaimed that he knew some rebels in the colony wanted to turn themselves in, so he extended the deadline by which they could do so to July 10, except for “all the Outlaws, the Prisoners, all those concerned in blowing up General Waddell’s Ammunition in Mecklenburg County” and 16 named Regulators. (Cabarrus County was not formed out of Mecklenburg until 1792.)

The Governor sensed that he was losing control over North Carolina. He wanted the young men who destroyed his gunpowder brought to justice, but he did not know who they were.

In a trial which began on May 30, 1771, and ended three weeks later, 12 Regulators were tried and found guilty of high treason.  Six were to be hanged while the other six waited for the King to decide their fate.

Perhaps word of the Regulator trial results reached Rocky River, or maybe James Ashmore and Joshua Hadley simply feared that one of the other gunpowder conspirators would disclose the identities of all in the group. For whatever reason, Ashmore and Hadley went independently to tell Colonel Moses Alexander what they knew. Imagine their surprise when they ran into each other on Colonel Alexander’s front porch!

Which of the half brothers squeezed through the door first, and what did he say to Colonel Alexander? Did he reveal the names of the other conspirators? Look for the “Did You Know?” column on June 11 to find out.

Robert Kirkpatrick’s unpublished history of Rocky River Presbyterian Church written in 1854.

North Carolina Colonial Records.

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