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An Introduction to North Carolina Loyalist Units

The foundation for most North Carolina Loyalist units starts in January of 1776 when Governor Josiah MARTIN commanded several leading Loyalists, many of them Scots, to repair to the Royal Standard and raise troops for the King's service.

Despite what you will read in many publications, this was not the creation of the North Carolina Highland Regiment. All these men were under the denomination of the "North Carolina Provincials."

The word "Provincial" in this case is confusing, because they were not "Provincials" as was commonly known throughout the war; i.e., that establishment of Loyalist troops that served for the duration of the war and were liable for service throughout America. These North Carolina Provincials consisted of between 1,200-1,400 men, including Highlanders, Riflemen and Light Horse. To make things more confusing, their commander, Brigadier General Donald McDONALD, was also a Major in the Royal Highland Emigrants, as were some of the officers and men in the Provincials.

The force was crushed as history records at Moore's Creek Bridge in February of 1776, and McDONALD and scores of officers were captured. This put an end to the North Carolina Provincials, except for a number of officers who remained as prisoners of war until as late as January of 1781.

In the Spring of 1776 Governor MARTIN attempted to resurrect some of the Loyalists who had survived. Some were formed into an Independent Company commanded by Thomas McDonald REID. This unit served only until 24 November 1776 and probably disbanded before that.

Another corps, this one of Highlanders, was proposed by Major General Henry CLINTON while he was off of North Carolina at that time. This corps was to be commanded by Alexander McLEOD and consist of 10 companies of fifty men each, and be on the same footing as the Royal Highland Emigrants. This unit never came into being as the British did not stay in the South.

One group that was created off of North Carolina at that time did survive the entire war. This was the Black Pioneers. The Black Pioneers initially consisted of forty to fifty escaped slaves from the Carolinas that CLINTON took a keen liking to. They served with him at New York, Rhode Island, Philadelphia and the Siege of Charlestown. The unit would be commanded by Lieutenant George MARTIN of the Marines, with the Provincial rank of Captain. He would be replaced in July of 1777 by Captain Allan STEWART of North Carolina, who would later go on for a time to command the North Carolina Highlanders.

The Black Pioneers, though unarmed, were considered a Provincial Regiment. The unit did manual labor, as the name implies, pioneer being an 18th Century term for laborer. In Philadelphia in 1778 they were ordered to "Attend the Scavangers, Assist in Cleaning the Streets & Removing all Newsiances being threwn into the Streets."

The regiment, at least initially, had a rather high mortality rate, indicating they were either worked rather hard or the men from Southern climates could not adapt to winters in Rhode Island, New York or Philadelphia. There were no fewer than four units styled the Black Pioneers, but it was this company alone that was on the Provincial Establishment and survived the war. At the close of the conflict the men were discharged and emancipated, many settling at Birchtown, Nova Scotia.

No new North Carolina units were created until February of 1779. In 1777 an influential North Carolina Loyalist by the name of John HAMILTON fled the province with a number of others in a chartered vessel and joined the British at New York. HAMILTON set sail with the force to take Georgia under Lt. Col. Archibald CAMPBELL in late 1778. HAMILTON was given rank of Captain and commanded some North Carolina refugees who met the British in Augusta. The following month he was promoted to Major.

More North Carolina refugees had joined the army in Georgia. On 22 February 1779 Lt. Col. CAMPBELL organized these people into a corps of two companies, one of foot, and one of horse, by the name of "Royal Volunteers of North Carolina," commanded by Lt. Col. John MOORE. At some point between February and October of 1779 the corps, by now known as the Royal North Carolina Regiment, consisted of two battalions. John HAMILTON was lieutenant colonel of one or both of them, but it's unknown what John MOORE was doing.

In any case, the corps was consolidated into one battalion between the time of the Siege of Savannah and the Siege of Charlestown. In a bit of bad timing, HAMILTON and his servant were taken prisoner by the Rebels scouting Charlestown during the siege. The Royal North Carolina Regiment was a part of the army that advanced to the siege from Georgia under the command of General PATERSON.

The Royal North Carolina Regiment served in several bloody encounters, most notably Hanging Rock and the Battle of Camden. In 1781 they were a part of CORNWALLIS' army that entered North Carolina, attracting more recruits to the unit. By this time the corps consisted of seven companies (including a light infantry company), with an eighth being raised later on the march to Virginia.

When CORNWALLIS refitted his army at Wilmington, he left the Royal North Carolina Regiment there, with the exception of their light company, augmented by men from the battalion companies. The eighth company, commanded by Captain William CHANDLER of New Jersey, was raised along the march to Virginia. These two companies were at the Siege of Yorktown and were taken prisoner there.

In 1780 another body of North Carolina Loyalists made their way to the British, who were by this time in neighboring South Carolina. Over 300 of them were formed into a body and commanded by Colonel Samuel BRYAN. BRYAN had formerly been an officer in the North Carolina Provincials. This corps would be known by the name of North Carolina Volunteers.

This corps however was not a Provincial regiment, as was the Royal North Carolina Regiment. This unit can best be described as an embodied militia regiment. They mostly served in South Carolina, fighting alongside the RNCR at Hanging Rock and Camden. One or two companies of them under Captain HUNTER likewise accompanied CORNWALLIS to Virginia and surrendered at Yorktown. This unit was not uniformed or provided for as Provincials were. They seem to have been disbanded in 1782 at or near Charlestown.

In July of 1780 the most troublesome (from a British point of view) of the North Carolina units was raised, the North Carolina Highlanders. Raised at the behest of Governor MARTIN, this corps was to consist of ten companies, each of fifty men. Officers, mainly drawn from idle exchanged veterans of the North Carolina Provincials, were commissioned and appointed for all the companies before the men were actually raised.

In the end, but two useful companies were formed and placed under an officer of the 71st Regiment in order to properly discipline them. Some served at Wilmington and others at Charlestown. With the evacuation of the former, all were united at Charlestown.

In October of 1782 the southern Provincial regiments sailed from Charlestown to St. Augustine. It was at this time the corps was dissolved and the useful men were combined into one company, which became a part of the Royal North Carolina Regiment. The Highlanders, during the time of their existance, were a Provincial regiment.

The Royal North Carolina Regiment set sail from Saint Augustine at the end of 1783 and the officers and men drew land at Country Harbor, 1783. The regiment had landed in Nova Scotia in November of 1783, at which time they were disbanded, making them amongst the last Provincials serving in the Army in America.

In the summer of 1781 another North Carolina unit was raised, this one by Captain John GORDON. This unit, the Independent North Carolina Dragoons, was raised at Wilmington and became a very disciplined troop. GORDON was killed in a skirmish early on in the unit's history, and was replaced by Captain Robert GILLIES.

After the evacuation of Wilmington, the troop served under the combined cavalry under Lt. Col. THOMPSON outside of Charlestown. GILLIES was killed in a skirmish with Marion outside of Charlestown on 29 August 1782. Shortly thereafter the troop was broken up and the effective men were drafted into the South Carolina Royalists. This unit was likewise on the Provincial Establishment.

Several Independent Companies on the Provincial Establishment were attempted in 1780/1781. One was to be commanded by Captain Reuben SIMPSON, of which we know nothing other than it was to be raised in Rowan County, where SIMPSON was from. Another that actually was raised was commanded by Captain Eli BRANSON, another Moore's Creek Bridge survivor. This unit, probably less than fifty men, was a part of the army under Cornwallis and surrendered at Yorktown. After the exchange of prisoners in 1783 there was but a handful of them left, but they remained an independent company until the final disbandment.

For more information on the Provincial Establishment and the other types of Loyalist units raised during the war, please see Not All Loyalist Regiments Were Created Equal.

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Updated 12/01/00

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