A noisy night in 1771 — Part VI


By Janet Morrison
Did you know?

Two week ago, when we left our continuing story of the young men from Rocky River who blew up Governor William Tryon’s gunpowder shipment, one of the conspirators, James Ashmore, had just given Justice of the Peace Thomas Polk a deposition on June 22, 1771. 

Now that the identities of the other eight conspirators were known by the civil authorities, it was up to Militia Colonel Moses Alexander to find the men and bring them to justice.

Colonel Alexander sent out a patrol to track down the eight men. His brother, Daniel, volunteered to join the patrol because he secretly wanted the conspirators to escape.

The patrol pursued Robert Davis to Rocky River where his horse allegedly jumped some sixteen feet down a bank into the river where he turned and shouted, “Come on, you cowardly dogs!” then made his getaway. 

One night, the patrol surrounded James White’s house. Bob Caruthers was in the house ####. Daniel Alexander placed a guard at the front door, and then whispered in to Mrs. White that anyone hiding there might be able to escape. He went to the other door and created a diversion by arguing with others in the patrol. Mrs. White made a racket by thumping a fire shovel on the floor throughout the house while Caruthers escaped.

On another occasion, Caruthers narrowly escaped capture when officers of the governor approached the James White house. The fire inside burned brightly, so Mrs. White threw onto the fire a crock of cream she was preparing to churn into butter. With the fire extinguished, Caruthers was able to escape into the dark woods.

Some of the conspirators hid in the cane brakes of Reedy Creek, where the women of Rocky River Church took them food and clothing. When in need of something, one of the young men would pop up in a ravine and whistle. Nearby resident William Spears would acknowledge the fugitive by removing his hat. He would then walk off in the opposite direction so he would not be seen as aiding the conspirators. Mrs. Spears would then take them food. 

For nearly one year the women of Rocky River Presbyterian Church fed and concealed the young men who took refuge along the banks of Reedy Creek. The Rev. Hezekiah James Balch openly prayed for the safety of the young men from the pulpit of the church.

In the meantime, William Tryon became the Governor of New York and Josiah Martin was appointed Governor of North Carolina. In the autumn of 1771, 29 “inhabitants of Rocky River & Coddle Creek Settlement” signed a petition in which they asked Governor Martin to pardon the young men. Perhaps they thought Martin would be more likely than Tryon to grant pardons, or perhaps the change in governor had nothing to do with their timing.

In the final “A Noisy Night in 1771” column on July 9, we will look at that petition and learn whether or not it resulted in any pardons. 

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

Petition to N.C. Governor Josiah Martin from 29 inhabitants of Rocky River and Coddle Creek Settlement, 1771. Original on file in the North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, N.C.

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