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During the American Revolution (1776-1783), many North Carolinians supported Great Britain.  They were called Loyalists or Tories.

Some historians have argued that the loyalty to Britain stemmed from the Piedmont hatred of the Eastern merchant and planter class that had earlier quashed the Regulator Rebellion and later became ardent Patriots. The Royal Governor, Josiah Martin, hoped that the former Regulators might side with the British.  But the governor’s wish never came true.  Only approximately ten-percent of North Carolina Tories, however, had been Regulators, and historian Duane Meyer contends that only 200 Regulators joined royal forces

Most North Carolina loyalists were Highland Scots, who had settled in and near Wilmington and in and near Cross Creek (later named Fayetteville).  Highland Scots also settled in the Piedmont.  As a result, a significant Tory presence existed in Anson, Guilford, Rowan, and Surry counties.  In these counties, many signed loyalty pledges.

North Carolina Tories planned to gather at Cross Creek in February 1775 and form a loyalist army.  Most of the 1,500 that assembled were Scottish Highlanders (1,300).  (The number was much lower than Loyalist leaders had expected.)  These loyalists marched southward to meet the Patriots.  They met them at Moore’s Creek Bridge, where the Tory force suffered serious defeat and shattered Governor Martin’s hopes to maintain royal rule in North Carolina.

During the war, Tories suffered for their loyalty.  Prisoners of war were imprisoned, and throughout the war Tory farms were raided and property seized.  In 1777, many Tories left the state, for its legislature passed a law that authorized the seizure of Tory property—more specifically the property seizure of those who refused to take a loyalty oath to the Patriot cause.   After the war, property seizures and reimbursement issues were settled in post-war North Carolina courts.  The most famous case was Bayard v. Singleton (1785), a case that established the concept of judicial review long before Marbury v. Madison (1803).


Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina, 1732-1776 (Chapel Hill, 1961); Murray N. Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty Vol. III (Auburn, Alabama, reprint, 1999); William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, 1989).

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Related Categories: Political History
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Timeline: 1664-1775 , 1776-1835
Region: Statewide

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