Thomas Robeson historical marker

Thomas Robeson (I-37)

Colonel in Revolution, member of provincial congresses and state senator. Robeson County is named for him. His home stood 1/2 mile N.E.

Location: NC 87 in Tar Heel
County: Tar Heel
Original Date Cast: 1953

Thomas Robeson, Jr., Revolutionary War colonel and state legislator, was born January 11, 1740 at his family’s Bladen County home, “Walnut Grove,” on the Cape Fear River. He was the first child of Thomas and Sarah Singletary Robeson. He married Mary Bartram, niece of botanist John Bartram in 1763 and the couple eventually had five children. Robeson entered politics as a member of the Third Provincial Congress, held at Hillsborough in August 1775. During that session he was appointed colonel for the Bladen militia. He served the following year in the Fourth Provincial Congress at Halifax and was a member of the first Assembly at New Bern in 1777.

Leading the Bladen militia was not an easy task. Due to the large number of loyal Scots who had settled in the region, Tories greatly outnumbered Whigs. In 1775, Robeson and his joined forces with the Whigs and defeated General Donald McDonald and his Scottish Loyalist militia at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. When the Tories regained ground in the region in 1781, Robeson led sixty to seventy men against the British at Elizabethtown. Four hundred British troops under Colonel John Slingsby and Godwin were camped there on the night of September 28, 1781. Only four miles away, Colonel David Fanning commanded 500 more.

A few hours before dawn, Robeson’s small band charged the camp yelling “Washington!” Robeson yelled orders to what were fictitious companies while the men ran back and forth between positions, reloading and firing. Both Tory Colonels were killed as well as fifteen others. Many of the fleeing Tories fell into a deep ravine still known as Tory Hole. Those who escaped believed that George Washington’s entire army had attacked them. This battle at Elizabethtown ended Tory activity in the area. It has been said of the Battle of Elizabethtown that the action produced in North Carolina results as important to the cause of the Revolution as the battles of Trenton and Princeton in New Jersey.

After the Revolution, Robeson served as a senator in the state legislature. He died on May 2, 1785, and was buried near the Robeson family vault, about one mile from the marker. In 1787, Robeson County was formed out of western Bladen County, and named in his honor.

Bessie Robeson Lyon, “Historical Sketch of Colonel Thomas Robeson, Jr.,” copy in marker files, Research Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives and History
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 232—sketch by Maud Thomas Smith
Samuel Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, VII (1908)

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