Thicketty Fort


Captain Johnson had a hard time wrestling Tory Captain Patrick Moore into submission.  Moore and his Loyalist sympathizers had been on the run from their defeat at Ramsour’s Mill near Lincolnton, NC for 12 days and were not too willing to fall into the hands of these Liberty Men. At six foot seven inches tall(1), Moore was giving his fair share and was able to open up multiple cuts on Johnson’s head and thumb. Despite it all, Captain Johnson was hauling him in towards the rest of the Patriot contingent.  The spilled blood; however, got into the Johnson’s powder and he misfired as reinforcements arrived for the Loyalist leader.  While Johnson retreats through the bushes, Captain Moore escapes and is able to make it home on Thicketty Creek, outside of Gaffney, SC. (2)

Captain Moore had reinforced a fort there and commanded a body of loyalist men with good stores of weaponry.  Undaunted by his near fatal encounter with Johnson, Moore’s command had become a staging point for the Tories to launch raiding parties on the Patriot homes and farms in the back country. So much so that it raised the ire of not only General Sumter in South Carolina, but also Col. McDowell from NC.  Both were in the area of conflict attempting to win and subdue the land for the cause. Independently they had both sent out warriors to attack Fort Thicketty.  Elijah Clarke, Isaac Shelby, Andrew Hampton and Charles Robertson met and combined their forces to put and end to the threat. 

The fort itself was surrounded by abatis that made it difficult to approach without impaling oneself on the pointed timbers.  Similar structures were used at the star fort at Ninety-Six and other conflict areas. Fort Thicketty sat upon a rise above the creek and had loopholes in the walls from which to fire at the enemy from cover. To overcome even a crude abatis takes coordination and firepower under extreme exposure.  To make offensive operations against the fort even worse, the fort had only one opening by which to enter the enclosure.  Moore’s men were more than confident that they could repel the forces that approached their bastion in the back country.(3)

Colonel Shelby and his men of daring were not ones to shrink from a fight.  Shelby arrived at the fort on July 26, 1780 and sent word to Moore to surrender at once.  Moore refused, and he and his Tory militia steeled their nerves for the fight. Col. Shelby then arrayed all 600 of his men into firing positions in a way that was meant to intimidate.  All along the wood line surrounding the fort, Moore and his militia observed the Liberty Men step out with their rifles and storied hunting shirts.  Certainly, they had the set jaws and determination of men used to conflict on the Indian frontier and mimicked their leader as they put on a show of force.  Shelby, again, called out for a parley with Moore.  Moore assured his men, as he left out for the discussion of terms, that he would not be surrendering and that he intended to fight.

Perhaps it was his recent brush with death at the hands of some of these same men outside of Lincolnton.  Or perhaps it was his subsequent near-death experience near the Wofford’s Iron works at the hands of Captain Johnson not 24 days removed.  Or perhaps it was a combination of so many seasoned fighting men standing before Moore’s little fort of friends and neighbors. Whatever the single or combination of reasons, Captain Moore agreed to surrender the fort if his men were spared and paroled.  To the dismay of his men, the Loyalist Captain walked back to the fort under Patriot escort and turned the fort over without firing a shot in defense.

Col. Shelby’s ruse worked, and the Sons of Liberty were fortunate, indeed.  Among the stores of weaponry were found ready muskets loaded with “buck and ball” at the gun ports of the fort.  Had Captain Moore fought it out, Colonel Shelby may have been hard pressed to win without cannon.  At the very least he would have paid dearly with the lives of his men to win the day.   Captain Moore’s capitulation without a fight saved many lives that day on both sides, but he held the title of coward in the eyes of his superiors in General Cornwallis’ camp.(2, Ibid)

The month was a sore one for the British in the upstate.  Having taken Charleston, the British had set their sights on the upcountry, but suffered some setbacks.  Lt. Col. Turnbull wrote Cornwallis about his Ramsour’s Mill investigation and chastised the Loyalist timing at Lincolnton.  He also warned of the Scots Irish,  \”As for the majority Scots-Irish inhabitants of the Catawba River Valley,\” Turnbull wrote: \”I wish I could say something in their favor. I believe them to be the worst of creation – and nothing will bring them to reason but severity.”(4)  

But Cornwallis did not understand what the threat in this quarter really was. He was on the move and was concentrated on the Continental army.  He had a destiny with Gates at Camden.  His response for the left flank of his army was to send Major Patrick Ferguson.  He would write later, after the blinders were off, \”A numerous and unexpected enemy came from the mountains.  As they had good horses, their movements were rapid.\”(3,ibid)

A reckoning was coming!  And for the next 72 days Liberty was in question.  Freedom Reigns!

(1)      Kings Mountain and It’s Heroes:  The Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7Th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It, Lyman Copeland Draper, Anthony Allaire

(2)      Parker’s Guide to the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, John C. Parker Jr.

(3)      Before they were Heroes at King’s Mountain, Randell Jones

(4)      Neighborhood in Constant Alarm: The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill and Partisan Divisions in the Carolina Backcountry Communities During the American Revolution, Austin William Smith

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