September 1, 1781: Opening Volley in NC's Tory War

On September 1, 1781, Tory forces under Colonel David Fanning skirmished with the Patriot command of Colonel Thomas Wade. The clash is variously known as McPhaul’s Mill, Little Raft Swamp, Drowning Creek and Bettis’ Bridge.

McPhaul’s Mill was located on Little Raft Swamp near modern Antioch in Hoke County. Fanning arrived at the mill in late August. He received word that Loyalists under Colonel Hector McNeill were nearby, pursued by Wade’s Patriot force. The two Tory commanders agreed to cooperate to trap Wade. They met at Bettis’ Bridge on the morning of September 1. The exact site of the bridge is unknown.

Wade’s camp was on a hill between Drowning Creek and Little Raft Swamp. Although badly outnumbered, Fanning decided to attack.

McNeill would block Wade’s escape across Bettis’ Bridge. Fanning’s presence was given away when one of his men accidentally discharged his firearm. Wade’s men quickly organized and opened fire. Wade withdrew after a fight of nearly two hours. As McNeill posted only a small force at the bridge, Wade’s men were able to escape.

Afterwards, Fanning left McNeill and moved to the Deep River, setting the stage for his raid on Hillsborough and capture of Governor Thomas Burke on September 12.

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