The “Battle at McIntire’s Farm”: Joseph Graham as Historian of the Revolution

McIntyre's farm as it appeared in 1934. (Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)

On September 25, 1780 as Lord Cornwallis entered North Carolina he was harassed by “a few light troops” commanded by Col. William R. Davie[1] and supported by Capt. Joseph Graham. Twenty-one if he lived until October 13, Graham had been assigned by the newly-created Brig. Gen. William L. Davidson because he was from Charlotte.[2] Rushing on to the tiny village, Davie with his horsemen (“not exceeding twenty”) fired from the stalls of “the shambles” in the raised area beneath the court house keeping the British legion at bay “for some minutes.”[3] Firing and falling back again, Davie then dispersed his troops, but Graham and some of the Rowan County militia sustained “the Retreat by molesting the advance of the Enemy for 4 miles” until they were charged by Maj. George Hanger’s cavalry.[4] Graham was so torn apart with three balls and multiple sabre slashes that Hanger left him to die on the field.[5]

Cornwallis’s arrival multiplied the population of Charlotte so many times that the army’s daily task was not to guarantee “protection” to Tories or hunt down and pillage or kill Whigs but to make all farmers “furnish” whatever the foraging parties wanted.[6] Cornwallis’s commissary man, Charles Stedman, recalled that the British seized enough flour for immediate use from Thomas Polk’s mill, but the army required a hundred head of cattle a day. They slaughtered what they could get, even cows carrying calves. Stedman elaborated: “Wheat and rye were collected in the straw, Indian corn in the husk, and brought in waggons to Charlotte, where (in the court-house) it was threshed out by the militia and negroes; and then sent to the mill.”[7] Some farmers faded into the woods as the British approached, thinking that they or their neighbors or Davie’s light troops could “observe the enemy, and annoy them in their attempts to ravage the country.”[8] After September 30, when Davie was joined by General Davidson and his forces, skirmishes (not battles) intensified. Cornwallis found himself stalled there, waiting for Col. Patrick Ferguson to link up with him for a victorious march to Salisbury and beyond.

On 11 October, four days after the American victory over Ferguson at nearby King’s Mountain, Davidson described the two weeks since Cornwallis entered North Carolina: “About sixteen or seventeen days past colonel Davie and myself, with five hundred horse, half starved, and three hundred infantry, have been on hard duty, within less than eighteen miles of the enemy’s main body, changing our position every night, to guard against surprize.”[9] The Americans had one purpose, according to the October 24 letter from “Camp, near 12 mile creek”: “parties of rifle men” had been detached “to take off the enemy’s picquets and surprize their foraging parties, in which we were successful and terrified them much.” Later Banastre Tarleton confirmed this: “The foraging parties were every day harassed by the inhabitants, who did not remain at home, to receive payment for the produce of their plantations” (perhaps, if they turned over their arms and took “protection”) “but generally fired from covert places, to annoy the British detachments.”[10] Joseph Graham lay in bed, but from his brother George and others he knew about various skirmishes against foraging parties and in particular about one at McIntire’s farm.

On October 12, devastated by the news from King’s Mountain, Cornwallis’s army “wheeled from Charlotte.” In their haste kettles were left on the fire and twenty-five wagons abandoned five miles from town. Davidson determined to “harrass the enemy in their retreat.”[11] It had been an ignominious invasion.

By December 1780 Graham had recovered enough for General Davidson to suggest that he raise a company, as he did, upwards of fifty “among the Youth of his acquaintance.”[12] He emerged from the war as a general, marked for North Carolina prominence. He became Sheriff of Mecklenburg County, state politician, and partner in an iron works before founding his own Vesuvius Furnace in 1792.[13] Reading the first histories of the Revolution, he became increasingly frustrated that some episodes of the war in North Carolina were totally omitted and everything else was incomplete or inaccurate, not matching his clear memories and reliable information from other witnesses. He wrote around 1820: “On examining the histories of the revolutionary war by Marshal[l], Ramsay and Lee, the details given of transactions in this section of country are generally inaccurate, and several things which had a bearing on the general result, entirely omitted. They had not the means of correct information, except Lee, who joined the Southern army in the month of February, 1781, after which his statements are generally correct.”[14]

This was not self-aggrandizing provincial bluster but simple truth. In John Marshall’s biography of George Washington (the history Graham referred to), Charlotte hardly figures: Cornwallis arrives there and Cornwallis returns to South Carolina.  Ramsay, a South Carolinian, did not name Charlotte: Cornwallis left Camden heading for Salisbury then after hearing of King’s Mountain he “soon retreated to Winnsborough.” Lee got Cornwallis to Charlotte, started him (mistakenly) on the road to Salisbury, entangled himself in the story of King’s Mountain, then started Cornwallis back to South Carolina. No American had told the history of the Revolution in North Carolina.[15]

For years as Joseph Graham seethed with a desire to read an honest version of the history of the Revolution in North Carolina he made himself over into a workmanlike historian. By 1819 he was corresponding with Archibald D. Murphey, the brilliant historical investigator who was then passionately masterminding a collaborative history of North Carolina in the Revolution, soliciting chapters from Graham and giving instructions of what others, such as George Graham, should contribute.[16] Murphey gave Graham incisive advice, criticism, and encouragement. The momentous June 1780 battle at Ramseur’s Mill had been forgotten, Graham knew, so he wrote the first account of it—but had nowhere to publish it. There had been no North Carolina newspaper between 1778 and 1785, and no newspaper near Charlotte until 1797, when the North Carolina Mercury began publishing in Salisbury.[17] Finally in October 1824 Charlotte had its first newspaper, the Catawba Journal, and Graham had an outlet. There in the last 1824 issue he published the first of his pieces.

The next week, on January 4, 1825, the Journal printed Graham’s “Affair near Charlotte, 1780,” the inside story of the skirmish at McIntire’s farm, told him by participants, notably his brother George. This was a heroic narrative later trivialized as comedy. In 1968 a picture published by the electric company Duke Power depicted Redcoats batting bees away from their faces as they fled from the chaos they had loosed by overturning a bee-house. Watching the frantic British, said Duke Power, were McIntyer and eleven (by this count) neighbors, all of them “enraged, but indecisive.” That is, the Americans “debated whether to commit themselves to battle against hopeless odds, or to stand by and watch a man’s work being ravaged. A swarm of bees made the decision.” The farmers would not have fired if the bees had not confused the looters. Duke Power boasted that the spirit demonstrated by the battle “continues today in the people of the Piedmont.” At Duke Power, “this spirit has become a philosophy of citizenship and service,” apparently one in which indecisiveness prevails until dumb luck initiates successful action.[18]

Sometime historians are as careless as utility companies. In David A. Norris’s “The Battle of McIntyre’s Farm. Also known as the Battle of the Bees,” Graham is not even credited as a source.[19] The usually scrupulous C. L. Hunter in “Surprise at M’Intyre’s; or, The ‘Hornets’ at Work” made some of the story farcical.[20] Still earlier, in 1860, Benson J. Lossing in his Pictorial Field-Book told the story as comedy: “While loading their wagons with plunder, a bee-hive was overturned, and the insects made a furious attack upon the soldiers.”[21]

As Graham told it in the January 4, 1825 Catawba Journal, on October 3, 1780 Lord Cornwallis ordered out an enormous foraging party, “450 infantry, 60 cavalry, and about 40 wagons” under the command of Maj. John Doyle. The cavalcade went “up the road leading from Charlotte to Beattie’s Ford, on Catawba river, intending to draw their supplies from the fertile settlements on Long Creek waters, 8 or 10 miles north-west of Charlotte.” Graham continued: “Capt. James Thomson and 13 others, who lived in that neighborhood, each well acquainted with every place, excellent woodsmen and expert riflemen,  . . . had early in the morning assembled at Mitchell’s Mill,  . . . 3 miles from Charlotte.” Doyle’s troops would not stop there, they knew, because Mitchell had already “pulled” his corn. After Doyle’s great troop passed, they went parallel to the road, in the woods, keeping pace with the detachment for four miles, to “McIntire’s farm, 7 miles from Charlotte.” There Doyle left off one hundred men to fill up ten wagons while he went farther, planning to drop men off at other farms. Soon the first hundred “were much out of order—some at the barn throwing down oats for the wagons; others racing after the chickens, ducks and pigs; a squad robbing the bee house of its contents; others doing the same in the dwelling house.” Graham said nothing about bee stings, so chances are the raiders were practiced enough at plundering honey that they robbed the hive without disturbing the bees.

Meanwhile, Thomson had deployed his men in “a line about 10 feet apart,” and advanced silently to within sixty or seventy yards of the house. Finally Thomson, an exceptionally accurate sharpshooter, shot a sentinel, “this being the signal to commence firing, each man, as he could get a view, took steady and deliberate aim before fired, at the distance of 60 or 70 yards.” With time to plan, the patriots would have done better: “in two instances, where two were aiming at the same man, when the first fired and the man fell, the second had to change and search for another object.” In return the British began such a “brisk fire” that only Captain Thomson and his lieutenant, Frank Bradley, “had time to load and fire a second time.”[22] Thomson, “with a naked ball, at the distance of 30 poles,[23] off-hand, aimed at the commanding officer of the party, standing nigh the barn-door.”[24]

The Patriots retreated into the woods and reloaded, then moved toward the road in range of Doyle, who heard the shots and turned around. When he neared them, the patriots fired and retreated. At McIntire’s, Doyle loaded the eight dead and twelve wounded onto wagons and “returned to Charlotte in great haste, not taking more forage than could be conveyed in two wagons.” Whigs jailed in the court house heard one of Doyle’s party swear “that after they went 7 or 8 miles, they found a rebel in every bush.”[25] A vainglorious report went out that “many” of Doyle’s horses had fallen “dead in the streets on their return.”[26]

Graham identified the fourteen heroes, starting with “James Thomson, Captain, since dead” and “Francis Bradley, killed by the tories near his own house, three weeks after.” This was changed in the 1856 reprint to “Capt. James Thompson. Lived where Mr. Latta now does (since dead.)[27] Frank Bradley. Killed by four of Bryant’s Tories eleven days after this.”[28] When Graham wrote, James Henry was dead. Thomas and John Dickson were in Tennessee. John Long was dead. Robert Robison was alive in Mecklenburg, as was Gen. George Graham. George and Hugh Houston had moved to Kentucky.[29] John Robison was at Crowder’s Creek. George Shipley and Edward Shipley were dead. Their names were at last on record, in the Catawba Journal, and half a century later descendants of Revolutionary Whigs still were preserving this newspaper page.[30]

After long brooding about the significance of the “affair” near Charlotte, Graham had summed it up for all time: “It is believed, that in the whole war the enemy did not sustain as great a loss, or was so completely disappointed in his views by so few men. That out of 30 shot fired, 20 should do execution, is new in the history of war; and several of the party thought, that if each man had aimed at a separate object, every shot would have told.”

By the spring of 1825 Graham had placed several more articles in the Catawba Journal. Then in 1832 he seized the opportunity to write an exceptionally long pension application, remarkable for its stress on military strategy – what particular officers ordered him to do, and for what end. Graham’s and Murphey’s papers were scattered and some were lost.[31] In Encyclopedia of North Carolina the section on “Histories” conveys nothing of the urgency and intelligence with which Archibald D. Murphey conducted his campaign to have witnesses contribute their experiences to the history of North Carolina in the Revolution. That entry does not mention Joseph Graham, or the heroic researcher Archibald McBryde (McBride) or the dedicated, resourceful interviewer of surviving witnesses and their families, Eli W. Caruthers.[32] Graham had agonized over North Carolina’s being written out of histories of the Revolution. The irony is that Graham and the great Archibald D. Murphey and other heroic retrievers and recorders of the Revolution are in danger of being written out of North Carolina history.

 

[1] Gen. William L. Davidson, Pennsylvania Packet (November 4, 1780).

[2]  Joseph Graham’s pension application S6937, transcribed by Will Graves, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters, http://revwarapps.org/ . Quotations are checked against the original manuscripts available on www.fold3.com.

[3]  Cornwallis’s  commissary officer Charles Stedman, The History of the . . . American War (Dublin: Wogan, Byrne, Moore, and Jones, 1794), 2:239-240.

[4] Graham’s pension application.

[5] Graham’s pension application shows that by early December he was healed.

[6] The wandering Gov. Josiah Martin came with Cornwallis and brought a printing press for a characteristically fulsome proclamation; on September 27 Cornwallis printed an appeal to citizens to “deliver up their Arms” in exchange for protection “in their Persons and Properties” and payment for whatever they furnished “for the Use of the King’s Army.” Cornwallis’s proclamation (not a copy printed at Charlotte) is depicted in Google Images and available in the Pennsylvania Packet (November 4, 1780).

[7] Charles Stedman, The History of the . . . American War, footnote on 2:240.

[8] Pennsylvania Packet (January 9, 1781), a letter from “Camp, near 12 mile creek, October 24, 1780.” (In military usage “annoy” as in the Latin root “in odio” – in hatred – meant “harm” or “injure,” not “irritate.”)

[9] Pennsylvania Packet (November 4, 1780).

[10] Banastre Tarleton, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 (London T. Cadell, 1787), 160.

[11] Philadelphia American Journal  (November 18, 1780).

[12] Graham’s pension application.

[13] Max R. Williams, in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 2:335-336.

[14] Charlotte Catawba Journal (December 28, 1824).

[15] John Marshall, Life of George Washington, 5 volumes (Philadelphia: C. P. Wayne, 1804-1807).  David Ramsay, The History of the American Revolution (Philadelphia: R. A. Aitken & Sons, 1789), Vol. 2:178, 201, 203, 210. Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States,” 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1812).

[16] The distressing failure of these plans is told in the North-Carolina University Magazine (February 1856), 5.1, page 1. In the mid 1850s NCUM pioneered the retrieval of Graham’s historical writings. Re-printings are in General Joseph Graham and his Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History, ed. William A. Graham (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1904), https://archive.org/details/cu31924032738233, and in the Papers of Archibald D. Murphey, ed. William Henry Hoyt (Raleigh: E. M. Uzzell, 1914), 2 vols., https://archive.org/details/papersarchibald00grahgoog

[17] Edwin H. Mammen in the “Newspapers” entry, Encyclopedia of North Carolina, ed. William S. Powell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2006), 794. Given what Mammen describes, it is no wonder we know so little about how the 1783 Act of Pardon and Oblivion worked out.

[18] “What Makes the Piedmont Great—The Battle at McIntyre’s Farm,” Kannapolis, NC, Independent (February 4, 1968).

[19]  Encyclopedia of North Carolina, 723.

[20] Sketches of Western North Carolina, (Raleigh: Raleigh News Steam Job Print, 1877), 136-141.

[21] Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860),  2.420.

[22]  Gideon Thomson’s pension application, R19414, calls Bradley his brother’s lieutenant.

[23] One pole = 5.5 yards.

[24] The officer died two days later in Charlotte, Graham said.

[25] Joseph Graham, “Affair near Charlotte, 1780,” Catawba Journal, January 4, 1825.

[26] Pennsylvania Packet (January 9, 1781), a letter from “Camp, near 12 mile creek, October 24, 1780.” These dead horses are sometimes mis-attributed to William Henry Foote, Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical (New York: Robert Carter, 1846).

[27] NCUM  (March, 1856) 5.2, 60.  Now the “Latta Plantation” is a tourist attraction. In 2007 I identified myself as a Ewart cousin of Mrs. Latta but had to pay full admission price.

[28] Bradley, the strongest man in Mecklenburg County, was murdered by four Tories in November. Using a new family document, I have drafted “Avenging Francis Bradley” on how the fourth murderer was punished.

[29] In J. D. Lewis’s entry for James Thompson in the online “American Revolution in North Carolina” the surname of George and Hugh Theston should be Houston. Survivors of the fourteen did not mention McIntire’s in their pension applications.

[30] A piece in the Charlotte Southern Home, “Unwritten History,” was reprinted in the Raleigh State Weekly Journal (February 10, 1870). The Southern Home (May 3, 1873) reprinted the whole 1825 article.

[31] Newspaper databases sometimes allow retrieval of lost pieces, as when (by searching the pseudonym “Florian”) I found in the Salem Gazette a page-long article by Murphey which Scott Syfert had been assured did not exist; see The First American Declaration of Independence? (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014), 236 n. 9.

[32] H. G. Jones, in Encyclopedia of North Carolina, 575-576.

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