Fanning’s Bloody Sabbath as Traced by Alexander Gray

The War Years (1775-1783)

May 4, 2015
by Hershel Parker Also by this Author


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On March 10, 1782, Colonel David Fanning led a band of vengeful Loyalists on a path of slaughter and arson in northern Randolph County, North Carolina, his Bloody Sabbath house-calls. Most of our information about this episode has been from E. W. Caruthers’s 1854 Revolutionary Incidents and Fanning’s own Narrative, first published in 1861, thirty-six years after his death in Canada.[1]

Another reliable guide has been hiding in plain sight. John H. Wheeler, the editor of the 1861 Narrative, a decade earlier had treated Fanning briefly in his history of North Carolina.[2] In his “Introduction,” Wheeler acknowledged Caruthers’s work. Also, he had “met with a letter from Genl Alexander Gray to Dr. A. Henderson dated Randolph county N. Ca. March 30, 1847, which gives much information as to the adventures and exploits of Col’o Fanning.”[3] Although this letter is clearly of great interest, it has remained largely unnoticed by historians perhaps because its only known publication was in a local newspaper.[4]

Gray (1768-1864), “Brigadier General” in 1815, had been a store-keeper since 1792, and a frequent member of the State Assembly – the “most prominent citizen” of the county.[5] In Salisbury early in 1847, Gray and Col. James Wellborn (1767-1854), a state senator born in what became Randolph County, had conversed with Dr. Alexander M. Henderson (1807-1873). Henderson’s father, Pleasant Henderson, had pursued of Lord Cornwallis down the Deep River,[6] and the older men had such exciting Revolutionary stories that Henderson persuaded Gray to record what he knew of the infamous David Fanning (1755-1825). Back home, Gray consulted “several of the oldest men” he could find from the lower (more Tory) part of the county but obtained from them “very little more than a confirmation” of what he already knew. Gray knew plenty: facts had been “stated” to him face-to-face “by Colonels Collier, Clark, Dougan and other gentlemen of respectability, who were often in pursuit, and sometimes came in contact with Fanning and his party.”

In the Salisbury Carolina Watchman of June 4, 1847 Henderson published Gray’s lengthy “sketch of the doings and character of the notorious Col. Fanning, whose deeds of daring cruelty won for him a wide spread reputation for infamy, second to none of the kindred spirits who followed in the train of the British army.” Henderson wrote his own preface to Gray’s letter, but it is the letter itself that is useful to students of Fanning’s exploits.

According to Gray, Senator Wellborn had said that “Fanning hired himself as a substitute for a man who had been drafted to go against the Cherokee Indians, that he deserted, returned to Randolph, and became a Tory.” Gray was uncertain: “Wellborn is older than I am, lived in the county at the time, and of course ought to know more about those circumstances than I do; but he appeared not to know where Fanning was born, raised or how he first came to the county: We are both now old and no doubt our recollections are very imperfect.” Because Fanning had married “a Miss Kerr in the S. E. corner” of Randolph County “and had such influence over the people in that section, that they almost to a man joined his standard, or give[7] him aid and assistance in such way as they could,” Gray supposed (wrongly) that he “must have been a citizen of this county for some time before he became a Tory Colonel.”

Whigs in Randolph County, Gray continued confidently, lived “near the Old Court House and the Guilford line.” Mainly Scotch-Irish (more Highland Scots were in lower Randolph County), “true Presbyterians and true Whigs,” they “consisted of the families of the Clarks’s, Dougan’s, Sharp’s, Gray’s, Johnson’s, Collier’s, Bell and others.” Members of this “patriotic band” had told him that “they were seldom able to raise more than 70 Whigs at any one time in Randolph to pursue Fanning after he had been committing depredations upon them.” Colonel “Galaspie”[8] of Guilford and his neighbors were “able to disperse Fanning and his partisans, for although a murderer, house burner and plunderer, Fanning was not brave, he usually retreated on the first fire, and instead of retreating in regular order as is usual in civilized troops, they fled to the woods and squandered in every direction, which made it dangerous for the Whigs to separate and go in pursuit.”[9]

Thomas Dougan (“afterwards Colonel of this county”) when captured and taken to Fanning, Gray said, “was sentenced to be immediately hung, the rope was tied round his neck and a barrel provided for him to stand upon, until the other end was tied to a limb of a tree.” Gray’s source was the man himself, whom Fanning’s own men had rescued before he expired: “Dougan told me himself that he felt every thing that a man could feel except the pangs of death, for he had no idea that Fanning could be prevailed on to revoke his sentence.”

Gray knew of several murders by Fanning not recorded in other sources: “On one occasion Fanning and his troop called at a smithshop to get their horse shoes repaired, where he met with a young man of the name of Bland, who had for a time served under him, but had withdrawn himself with a hope that he would be permitted to live at home in peace; Fanning charged him with being a deserter, stabbed him several times with his sword, and then shot him, and after turning him over with his foot to see that he was dead, said the d—-d rascal would never deceive him again.”[10]

A traveler on his way to Cross Creek had stayed a night at William Bell’s and disregarded warnings against going on: “when he fell into Fanning’s hands he was hung, stript of his clothing, horse, baggage, &c., and left lying naked in the road.” Captain William Bell, in a party of Whigs, identified the corpse. Gray continued: “Fanning and his men after hanging the traveller, repaired to the house of a friend, Mr. Spinks,[11] and were amusing themselves with fiddling and dancing.[12] The Whigs came on them so unexpectedly that they and the tories before they could mount, were intermixed with each other. . . . The Tories fled in every direction, and Fanning, who was on the swiftest nag, kept ahead; he was pursued by John Merrell, who knew him, and shot at him as his mare jumped down the bank of Fork Creek, which occasioned Merrell to over shoot him.”[13]

On Sunday morning March 10, 1782, Col. Andrew Balfour “was sitting in his door reading his Bible” when “one of Fanning’s company shot him through the shoulder, his wife and sister seized him in their arms, and while in this position Fanning with a pistol shot him through the head.” Then Fanning and his men plundered the house before going on to the house of William Millikin, a Whig whom Fanning “no doubt intended to treat in the same way; but Millikin being from home, (for in those days no man thought himself safe in his own house,) Fanning burnt the house, and proceeded three miles further to the house of Col. Colvin [Collins], a man whom he dreaded, and had frequently seen in his rear when on a retreat.” Fanning “turned his wife and children out of doors, and burnt the house.”[14]

Gray located the burnt house of this man Fanning “dreaded” as two miles from the next stop that Sunday, Bryan’s (so spelled in the Watchman) “who had a short time served in his troop, but was afterwards drafted and had been out with our militia.” Fanning “shot him down while surrounded by his wife and children.” Gray continued: “Fanning then proceeded with his troop to the house of William Bell, on Deep River, on the road which leads from Salisbury to Raleigh; Bell, having for safety repaired to the American camp, left none at home but his wife and negroes; but fortunately, about 6 or 8 of the neighbors, armed, as was usual, came in; when the Tories rode up within 30 or 40 yards and made a halt, the old Lady [Martha, called Mattie], who had the voice of a stentor, and a spirit like that of a Washington or Lee, give orders (so loud that Fanning and his men could hear it,) to those within to throw open all the windows, take good sight, and not draw a trigger until they were sure of bringing a man down. This give Fanning a fright which caused him to retreat without doing further mischief except burning Bell’s barn.”

After Bell’s place, Gray said, Fanning “went to the house of a Mr. Dougan, (the father of Col. Dougan before mentioned,)[15] and as he was not at home, concluded that he had no use for a house, and burnt it also.” Now that it was late at night, “Fanning and his men went two miles further to the house of one Franklin, who was said to be a Tory, refreshed themselves and horses, and started early in the morning; but not before the Whigs came in sight, on the opposite side of the Deep River.” In their flight Franklin, left in the rear of the troop, “was shot down by one of the Whigs.” Gray summed it up: “This was the greatest Sabbath day’s work Fanning ever did in Randolph, he committed two murders, burnt three houses, one barn, and was so much alarmed by the commands given by an old woman, (Mrs. Bell,) that he and his troop fled in haste.” Franklin? Franklin? At last I found this in the June 3,1873 Raleigh Weekly Sentinel: “Isaac Julian . . . was raised on the plantation on Deep River where Capt. Clark fought and killed Franklin, and Brown Franklin had just been commissioned by Fanning to raise a company. He was out upon his first raid and in camp on the east side of Deep river. Clark and his company swam the river at Union Rock and attacked the Franklin party, killing two of the company and making all take to their heels.”[16]

Next, Gray told of the already famous story of the capture of Andrew Hunter and his escape on Fanning’s “favorite mare, the red doe.” Fanning “carried his threats into execution as far as he could by plundering his [Hunter’s] property and burning his house.” Again, Gray had an authoritative source: “Those facts were related to me by Hunter, in about the year 1794 or 5, at a time when he brought suit in our Court against William Kerr, Fanning’s brother-in-law, to recover damages for the injury they had done in plundering and burning his house. The suit was at last compromised and dismissed.” Winding up, Gray said: “Fanning and his troops committed several murders and other atrocious acts on the east side of Deep River, in that section of the county where Col. Wellborn then lived, of which he can give you [Henderson] a more accurate account than I am able to do.”

Nearly all of what Gray had told “took place on the west side of Deep River.” He acknowledged an earlier investigator: “Judge Murphy [Murphey], when collecting materials for a history of North Carolina, frequently had some of Fanning’s men with him nearly every night during one of our Courts. No doubt they related many circumstances that never came to my knowledge. The Judge’s papers after his death, I think passed into the hands of Judge Ruffin.”[17] Gray also had lived among former Tories as well as former Whigs: “Many of Fanning’s men were living in this county for some years after I removed to it, and conducted themselves as good citizens; but I never recollect to have heard any of them relate any thing that took place while they were in his service. They are all dead that resided in this county.” He assured Henderson, “You may rely with confidence in what I have herein stated, and I only regret that I have not been able to put it in a better dress. Old age and careless habits in writing, subjects me to many blunders.”

Caruthers in his 1856 book quoted from Gray’s February 24, 1854 letter a several-page tribute to William Bell and his heroic wife Martha.

But Gray was not through putting what he knew on record. In October 1855, at 87, he wrote in support of the heirs of Captain William Clark (of the Brown Franklin story). In 1792 Gray had boarded part time with a brother of Clark’s, and knew Captain Clark well “as a regular Customer” in his store for 12 or 15 years. “At the time I settled in Randolph (1792) our revolutionary struggle was one of the principle topics of conversation,” he wrote. Clark and other “militia officers & soldiers” (among them “Colo. Juduthan Harper, Colo. Thomas Dougan, Dan. Merrell, John Grayham, William Bell, John Veach”) told him that “during a considerable portion of the revolutionary war, the notorious Tory Col. David Fannin had a compleat control over a majority of the Citizens of this County [“Randolph” inserted] many joined his troops and others for fear of incurring his displeasure & subjecting themselves and property to his vengeance became neutral and would not serve on either side; but through fear, showed friendship to him and his party.” The only Whigs “that could be depended on (with a few exceptions) resided near the Courthouse and Guilford County line”—the area of Fanning’s “private trips,” including the one in which he murdered Belfour and Bryant. Fanning was “in the habit of making attacks” at night, “destroying the lives of some & the property of others.” Militia men were “afraid to sleep in their dwelling houses of nights” and even those who were “not serving in some militia Company, generally slept out in some private place, least they should be murdered by the Tories before morning.”[18] Several other men got Gray to vouch for their reputation as Revolutionary soldiers.

Alexander Gray’s statements have the stamp of authenticity, but they have been neglected since their publication in 1847; this article is the first known extensive presentation of Gray’s account. More work is need to compare this valuable source to the writings of Fanning, Murphey, Caruthers, and scattered later testimony on the sequence of Fanning’s path of murder and arson on that Bloody Sabbath, and what followed in the next days.


The above map (click to enlarge) shows locations along David Fanning’s route, March 10, 1782

Randolph County is a quadrilateral roughly 28 miles N-S and roughly 29 E-W. The Uwharrie River runs NS several miles from the western border; the Deep River enters the county from the North near the center and bulges SE then S until it leaves the county near the eastern border. The Whigs in the NW were not much more than a dozen miles or so from the Tories in the S of Randolph County.

ANDREW BALFOUR—“on the east side of Whuwarra”(Uwharrie), 10 miles southwest of (later-created) Asheboro

ANDERSON hanged on his way to Milliken’s?

WILLIAM MILLIKEN—10 miles from Balfour’s; on Back Creek (a branch of the Uwharrie River) 2 miles south of Cross Roads (later Johnsonville) and 3 miles from the village of Sophia. Fanning compelled Benjamin Millikan and Joshua Lowe to pilot them “three miles further” to

JOHN COLLINS’S house, 3 miles SW of Bell’s Mill; next Fanning went to

JOHN COLLIER, on Carraway Creek (a branch of Uwharrie), 3 miles SW of Bell’s Mill, a little NW of the Cross Roads.

JOHN BROWN, perhaps a Quaker from the extreme NW Trinity area, killed and his house burned [

Lost by this time, Fanning came to the house of Stephen Harlin, a Quaker, William Bell’s miller, and compelled 2 of Stephen Harlin’s daughters to convey him to

JOHN BRYANT’S, W of Bell’s Mill, half a mile from New Market; about an hour after leaving, Fanning returned, seeking directions to Thomas Dougan’s

WILLIAM BELL’S (MARTHA BELL in charge), on Deep River, on the road which leads from Salisbury to Raleigh, a little NE of the Cross Roads;

THOMAS DOUGAN, who lived at the Cross Roads “on the {Deep} River” and had a store there; but what Fanning burned was his late father’s house, nearby

(BROWN) FRANKLIN’s “two miles further.” on the east side of the Deep River; there Fanning refreshed his men and horses and the Tory Franklin was killed the next morning in Fanning’s retreat

A WHIG, hanged by Fanning; perhaps named DANIEL CLIFTON

MR. KING, hanged by Fanning

JACOB LINEBERRY’s house visited by Fanning, on Brush Creek several miles E of Sophia

THE 2 COX MILLS— On Deep River about 10 miles SE of Asheboro

BUFFALO FORD A little south of the Coxes’ Mills

SPINK’S FARM About 10 miles SW of Coxes’ Mills and 10 miles SE of Asheboro.


[1] E. W. Caruthers, Revolutionary Incidents and Sketches of Character, Chiefly of the “Old North State” (Philadelphia: Hayes & Zell, 1854). David Fanning, The Narrative of Colonel David Fanning (Richmond: Privately Printed, 1861), ed. John H. Wheeler; Lindley S. Butler’s annotated edition, The Narrative of Col. David Fanning (Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press; Charleston: Tradd Street Press, 1981) contains passages not in the first edition.

[2] Historical Sketches of North Carolina, from 1584 to 1851 (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co. and Raleigh, NC: William L. Pomery, 1851), 2.84-85; Wheeler’s “facts” about Fanning came indirectly and directly from David L. Swain, former governor of North Carolina.

[3] Wheeler, ed., The Narrative of Colonel David Fanning, xiii. See Gray, “Incidents of the Revolution in North Carolina,” the Salisbury Carolina Watchman (June 4, 1847), introduction by A. M. Henderson; reprinted in the Raleigh Register, September 11, 1847. A perfect Carolina Watchman text is at In the third column is blurred but has clean text of the Raleigh Register. In 1861 Wheeler apparently did not know the piece by the historian Archibald D. Murphey (1777-1832), “North Carolina. Civil War 1781-’82—Colonel David Fanning,” North Carolina University Magazine (1853), 2.72-86, introduced by Governor Swain, 70-72, and reprinted in the Greensborough Patriot, March 12 and 19, 1853.

[4] After acquiring the manuscript and writing his introduction Wheeler may have had no control over the book in late 1861, wartime. Criticized in newspapers, Wheeler (1806-1882) defended himself ineffectually in the Wilmington Journal of July 18, 1873. When he wrote Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians (Columbus, Ohio: Columbus Printing Works, 1884), 380-381, he used Murphey (1853) and Caruthers (1854) but not Gray. Thomas Hicks Wynne, at Richmond, in the unsigned preface placed before Wheeler’s “Introduction,” used Caruthers but not Gray, and Gray is nowhere in the notes by Wynne and Swain; Gray is also not mentioned in Butler (1981) and or John Hairr, Colonel David Fanning (Erwin, NC: Averasboro Press), 2000. Caruthers in his seldom-cited 1856 volume quoted extensively from Gray’s letter to him dated February 24, 1854; Interesting Revolutionary Incidents: and Sketches of Character (Philadelphia; Hayes & Zell, 1856), 308-309, 323, 332-333. Otherwise, Gray has been ignored except in an article on Andrew Hunter’s escape on Fanning’s mare, Red Doe. L. McKay Whatley misidentifies Gray’s “A. M. Henderson” and takes as likely by Gray “Fanning’s Mare,” in the Randolph Southern Citizen, August 24, 1838 ; it was vivid enough to be reprinted half a dozen times in 1844, but I doubt either Murphey or Gray wrote it.

[5] Architectural History of Randolph County,” Lowell McKay Whatley, Jr., and others (Asheboro: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1985), 15. See for Gray as storekeeper in Johnstonville, 40, 43; as Brigadier General, 66; as slave-holding member of the Manumission Society, 72. (In 1827-1828 Gray was a commissioner for the United States to the Cherokees along with George Lee Davidson and my GGG Grandfather Absalom Sims’s step-brother John Cocke.)

[6] See pension deposition of Pleasant Henderson, S1912,

[7] In Gray’s dialect (as in mine) “give” can be past tense.

[8] John Gillespie, per Caruthers, Revolutionary Incidents, 271.

[9] Fanning was arguably very brave, but many veterans in their pension applications said that they pursued Fanning often but only rarely skirmished with him.

[10] See pension deposition of Jacob Leonard, S7141, for an account of two more of Fanning’s otherwise unrecorded murders.

[11] John Spinks, Fanning’s ensign, per Butler, ed., The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, 39-40; General Horatio Gates camped at the Spinks plantation in 1780 on his way to disaster at Camden:

[12] Possibly the “fid[d]ling and dancing” occasion which Fanning misdates March 10, 1782. Butler, ed., The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, 71.

[13] John Merrell’s brother Daniel Merrell S7222 used Gray to validate his pension application. Pension deposition of Daniel Merrell, S7222,

[14] Gray presumably wrote “Collins” (possibly “Collier”). Caruthers’ sequence is Milliken [sic], Collins, Collier. In Gray’s “blotting out and making interlineations” (or the typesetting) the name got mangled.

[15] Old Mr. Dougan’s widow occupied the house.

[16] See pension deposition of Ezekiel Croft, S16739,; in 1782 under Colonel Thomas Dougan the “chief affair” was “the defeat of Fannon by Col Dugan at Mrs Spink’s plantation.”

[17] Archibald Debow Murphey; Thomas Ruffin (1783-1870), Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court 1833-1852.

[18]  Pension deposition of William Clark, R1968, ; accuracy of quotations has been verified against the original manuscript at .


  • I flinch when reading things like this. Much of what we “know” about the Revolution – George Washington’s treacly speech at Fraunces Tavern, the taking off his glasses episode at Newburgh, Patrick Henry’s speech at the House of Burgesses – was published decades later, and in many cases published after the author was dead. In this case, Fanning died 36 years before his Narrative was published. Witnesses were long dead, their children were dead. Is there a handwritten version of this narrative? If not, why did people save it 36 years, publish it, and then throw it away? The Fanning story may be true, but it may also be a complete fabrication. What kind of measuring stick can we use now to sift the wheat from the chaff?

    1. I’m not quite sure what you flinch at and what Fanning story you doubt. If you mean the NARRATIVE, which historians have pretty much taken as fact, I find it very reliable as far as the documents in it go. Clearly, Hunter did not ride off with all of Fanning’s “papers.” The NARRATIVE was written to show to British commissioners who might reward Fanning for his service and his purported losses. I can tell you that sometimes he leaves out the point of an event if it reflects badly on him, and I forgive you if you are skeptical about the length of time he was kept bolted to floors naked in the cold in South Carolina. But the historians have been right to trust the NARRATIVE, mostly. The South Carolina years are obviously harder for us to verify now. If you are flinching at Alexander Gray’s stories, I remind you that about the same time, in the 40s, Caruthers was making his own researches and even seeking out elderly eyewitnesses, and before him the really terrific historian Murphey had done research and had profited from McBryde’s earlier work. At most points Gray’s story, based on his intimate knowledge of the people involved and the terrain, fits with what Caruthers was able to work out, and where they differ Caruthers sometimes learned from Gray, as you see in the pages he quotes in his neglected 2nd book from the letter he got from Gray about the formidable Mrs. Bell. (Caruthers learned about Gray after this first volume was published.) Now, Gray was the most prominent man in Randolph County when he wrote his letter to Henderson, and he knew many of the people who survived the slaughter by Fanning. In particular, what he says about Hunter is absolutely new and absolutely believable. He guesses wrong once, at least, but he is very honest when he really does not know something, as about Fanning’s childhood. I am sorry you are flinching, but the fact is that much of Fanning’s self-serving narrative can be verified, and much of Gray’s. The other side of it is that Fanning murdered a lot more people than we know about so there are always going to be single witnesses to particular murders. What do you make of the old man who came to the newspaper starting to serialize Fanning’s NARRATIVE and wanted to know if his folks were going to be in the newpaper, because Fanning took them out of the house and left them dead on the hill above it? Why not believe him? I have to remind myself that for several years there were no newspapers published anywhere in North Carolina. When a vet who was a young man in 1782 says in 1832 or 1833 or later that Fanning killed his person or that person, hey, why not believe him? The vets put their stories on record before Gray and Caruthers did, and before Fanning’s book was published, and of course what Gray says in support of a vet in the 30s was put on record long before Henderson asked him to write down his stories. As historians we look unflinchingly at the evidence and draw our best conclusions.

      1. The whole story is flimsy because nothing, apparently, exists before 1847. The “narrative” that historians supposedly accept as accurate was published long after its author was dead, and the original version in Fanning’s handwriting does not exist. Wheeler relies on a letter from Gray, which also does not exist. You say that Gray had an authoritative source [after note 16] but the source is actually Gray himself, claiming he talked to Hunter fifty years earlier. The stories of Dougan and Wellborn also come from Gray, although he admits “no doubt our recollections are very imperfect” [note 7] and “old age and careless habits of writing subject me to many blunders” [after note 17]. In the end you say that Gray’s statements have “the stamp of authenticity” and lament that they have been neglected, but of course they are neglected because they do NOT have the stamp of authenticity. He could be making the whole thing up because no one was left alive to call BS on him. The Fanning narrative, as well, could simply have been created seventy years later to sell books. So I “flinch” when reading stuff like this because they are are based on the someone-said-it-so-it-must-be-true school of research.

        1. You are the first to suggest that David Fanning the Tory Colonel might not have written the narrative about his actions during the American Revolution which his family retained after his death and which was (in large part) printed in Richmond at the end of 1861 (not, I must say, in hopes of great sales, just then!). No one before you has questioned Governor Swain’s account in 1853 of the attempt of “McBride” (McBryde) in 1822 to obtain information from Fanning in his Canadian exile for the great researcher Murphey (the “Florian” of an important MecDec document). Swain printed this “literal copy” of the response from Fanning dated May 15, 1822: “You can say to the gentlemen that I now have a narritive of the Tranasactions of That War, Both of North and South Carolinas,” a document running to “more than one Quire of Fools Cap paper Closely wrote and it would take a good pens man a month to write it over, fit to send to the world abroad.” Caruthers had information from Canada also, and in 1854 on 294-295 printed the same letter (spelling Transactions correctly). I hope you don’t think that the edition of Fanning’s narrative which Lindley S. Butler printed in 1981 was a hoax, or that John Hairr (2000) was hornswoggled by wily Canadians when he went to do research on the later years of David Fanning, or that the great historian J. D. Lewis has been foisting fabrications on us in his reliance on Fanning’s narrative in his Internet series on “The Revolution in North Carolina.” As I said, much of what Fanning wrote can be verified, although I have discovered that (writing to persuade the British commissioners to give him money) he put the best light on some events even if it meant leaving out what I would call the main point of a story. Records being what we have left after the Revolution and after the Civil War, much of what Fanning writes, especially about South Carolina, may never be verified. What Alexander Gray writes about Fanning’s Sunday rampage CAN be checked against Caruthers’s meticulous independent (if partial) version and against Fanning’s account (in part). Wheeler and Caruthers both placed their confidence in Gray, to the point that Caruthers (in his second volume which almost no one reads) quoted several pages from a letter Gray wrote him. These early historians were piecing together information as best they could, as when Swain supplied information to a Charleston historian before reusing the material and expanding it himself. Alexander Gray, the “most prominent man” in Randolph County, was an honest historian, the sort that tells you when he is surmising, tells you when someone else might know better than he does, and tells you what he knows from living with people for half a century and more, by 1847. I’m a hardnosed old skeptic, for goodness’s sake, and here I am defending the NARRATIVE as being Fanning’s own, whatever deceptions may be in it. Confess it: I think William Shakespeare (however you spell his name) wrote Hamlet, and King Lear too.

          1. First let me say thank you for this discussion. It is exactly why this website is important. So back to Fanning, what exists from the 18th century? How often was Fanning mentioned in the papers of Nathanael Greene or Benjamin Lincoln? Did Banastre Tarleton mention him in his memoirs? How about the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill? I do not know these answers so there may be plenty, and if there is, then that is what should be used as a source, not some late 20th century historian who relies on a mid 20th century historian, who relies on a mid 19th century historian. Historians are not sources. Alexander Gray is not a source. Documents are sources. The printed Narrative conveniently shows Fanning as a villain, which is how we – two hundred forty years later – still portray loyalists. Our books are littered with insults to anyone who did not join George Washington. So we fall into a pattern of accepting whatever nasty claim is stated about whoever opposed the Revolution. So again I say: what evidence from the 18th century exists to back up anything written here?

  • Memoirs published immediately are not always reliable either. Ever studied Tarleton’s book on the southern campaign? Published around 1787 yet less than what one might consider accurate. Always need to keep that little voice in the back of your head a tad skeptical. 🙂

    1. Since no one else has elaborated on Wayne Lynch’s point I will take it up now. I have not checked all the contemporary military records, but Fanning is prominent in accounts of Governor Burke’s captivity and in some of Francis Marion’s letters, including letters to Greene. There were, we are assured, no newspapers published in North Carolina during several years of the Revolution. However, Fanning is mentioned in various newspapers printed in other states, especially in 1781 and 1782. Many of the documents quoted in Fanning’s NARRATIVE can be verified in most details by surviving copies. It is very clear that Hunter did not ride off with ALL Fanning’s papers. No one’s memory is good enough to recreate the documents that Fanning put in his NARRATIVE. Fanning’s cabal in Charleton (the plan to keep a foothold in South Carolina) is preserved in a Philadelphia paper in a form almost identical in what is in the NARRATIVE. His reputation lingered on to the point that he is said in newspapers to have been rampaging in South Carolina early in 1783, months after he had left in the evacuation of Charleston. The North Carolina Assembly took special note of Fanning in 1783, of course. North Carolina would-be historians began trying to find out about Fanning within three or four decades of the end of the war, even to the point of making inquiries in Canada and eliciting a letter from the elderly Fanning about his unpublished manuscript. The eminent Archibald D. Murphey took special care in gathering documents and eliciting recollections. In the 1830s, mainly, some 400 veterans recalled their attempts to capture Fanning as well as their actual conflicts with him. All in all, from the pension applications you could write a fairly detailed history of Fanning’s activities in 1781 and 1782, and even could learn a little about him in South Carolina, earlier. In the 1840s the “newcomer” Caruthers set about gathering information on Fanning, but he did not encounter Alexander Gray’s 1847 piece in either of the papers in which we know it to have been published. As far as we know, Gray was the first to print an account of Fanning’s Bloody Sabbath raid, although the Hunter story was too good to have been ignored earlier. Gray had been on the ground in northern Randolph County since 1792 and knew many Revolutionary veterans and after the 1832 law was passed was asked to vouch for some of them, so his words got into government records then, in the early 1830s. I take him as the very best kind of local historian, a respected man (sent again and again to the Assembly) with access to everyone for decades, with personal contact with principals in some of the actions. He was perfectly willing to defer to a colleague in the Assembly who might remember better on some points, but on what he had learned first-hand he was to my mind absolutely reliable. Caruthers proceeded with his independent researches, not knowing about Gray but using some eyewitnesses too, and emerged with a much more detailed account in his 1854 book, many pages on Fanning, but after some of Murphey’s work had been published in 1853. The sequence of Fanning’s house calls on that terrible day are a little different from Gray’s, but the two documents reinforce each other, and are supplemented by Murphey. I went on too long in what I submitted to JAR, and the notes to the map had to be cut a little. If anyone wants to see where Gray says three miles on and Caruthers says three miles on, etc., ask me for those page numbers. I call attention again to a text which is rarely cited, Caruther’s 1856 book in which he quotes several pages from a letter he had elicited from Gray. Fanning in the NARRATIVE, written before the veterans had said their say, written before Gray wrote and before Caruthers published his 1854 book, gave an abbreviated account of his Bloody Sabbath raid which we can eke out from Gray, Caruthers, and other less detailed reports. There is nothing flimsy about Gray’s article, nothing flimsy about Caruther’s book (although of course Caruthers can get things wrong), nothing flimsy Fanning’s narrative (although he sometimes in his effort to make himself look good does not record that I would think the main cause of something that happened). Fanning’s manuscript was purposeful: to impress the British commissioners. He did not intend to make himself look like a bad man, even in the account of killing Balfour: he was keeping his promise to punish rebels, and expected the commissioners to understand what it was to be the last British Colonel in rebellious North Carolina. No one made up Fanning and no one made up his NARRATIVE. We verify Fanning, Gray, and Caruthers the way we verify any historical accounts. Now, the best unexamined sources are the pension applications. There are so many of them that even if you search for Gillespie and Fanning you end up with a mass of documents in which you have to try to separate the Gillespies and date their actions–well, no wonder we neglect the great resource of the pension applications! But they prove that hundreds of old men thought that Fanning was real, and sometimes give terrific convincing details about him, even to his “scald head.”

  • I cashed in my last 8% CD last week and sprang for Patrick O’Kelley’s NOTHING BUT BLOOD AND SLAUGHTER, all four volumes. Well worth the outlay! However belatedly, in the 1782 volume I rushed to Fanning’s murderous house calls in Randolph County. I was shocked on p. 43: “When they left Dougan’s plantation Fanning’s men caught Commissary Sergeant Archibald Murphey of the 10th North Carolina Regiment. Murphey had several of Fanning’s men in his wagon that were being taken to Salisbury to be hanged. Fanning asked his captured men what should be done with Sergeant Murphey. The Loyalists took Murphey to a tree and had him hanged.”

    How did I miss Sergeant Murphey?

    It took me a while to sort through things. Archibald Debow Murphey I knew as “Florian,” the great NC historian (notably of the MecDec, author of the long piece that librarians assured Scott Syfert was lost forever) and the author of the posthumous piece on Fanning in the University of North Carolina Magazine (1853). His father was also Archibald Murphey, but he had not been hanged by Fanning–indeed, had survived the War. John Hairr in one paragraph of his book on Fanning had put together (1) Archibald Murphey’s identification of one of Fanning’s victims as “Daniel Clifton” and (2) Fanning’s own account of hanging “a Commis[s]ary from Salisbury.” O’Kelley may have put those together with (3) Lindley S. Butler’s footnote in his edition of Fanning’s NARRATIVE (p. 73), where a Daniel Clifton is identified as a sergeant in the Tenth Continental Regiment. There was, as far as I can see, no Sgt. Murphey in the 10th Continental Regiment.

    The historian Archibald Murphey remains our only source for the name of one victim, “Daniel Clifton.” Let’s try hard not to add Sergeant Archibald Murphey to the still untotalled list of men Fanning slaughtered.

    My list of Fanning’s murders keeps growing–but not with the name of Sergeant Murphey!

  • I see by Amazon’s “Look Inside” tab that Christian McBurney quotes more than a page from this piece in his ABDUCTIONS IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (2016), properly crediting “the online Journal of the American Revolution, at” I’m happy whenever a real printed-and-bound book quotes from any JAR article.

  • Mr. Parker, I thank you for posting the above. My 5th GGF is Captain Joseph Clark, Son of my 6th GGF Samuel Clark; maybe the closest neighbor to Bell ‘s Mill on Deep River based on Land Deeds pages (do not know where houses were located). I believe Col Joseph Clark and Col Thomas Clark are different Clarks. However, the above Captain William Clark is one of Captain Joseph Clark’s brothers and John Clark is another brother. JD Lewis’ site talks my Clark’s and now I see this while searching for grave sites and other information. I have a copy of the pension application and depos by and Mr. Gray file by William Clark’s who I believe is his grandson. Thank you again. Jerry M Clark

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