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Lincoln Herald | Lincolnton, NC

home : community : community July 26, 2021

6/5/2021 6:08:00 PM
The Battle of Graham's Fort

Jennifer Baker
Vesuvius Furnance Chapter, DAR

Most Lincoln Countians are familiar with the Battle of Ramsour's Mill fought here on July 20, 1780 during America's War for Independence.

The battle has been commemorated annually in the recent past--until the pandemic forced it not to be celebrated last year. This year, a Ghost Walk was held Friday & Saturday (June 4th & 5th) and a wreath-laying on Saturday. Still to come is the play "Thunder Over Carolina," written in the 1950s and revived recently. Previously performed at the Cultural Center, this year it will be staged at Woodmill Winery off John Beam Road near Cat Square July 16th, 18th & 19th.

The same year as the Battle of Ramsour's Mill, another important battle of the Revolution was fought at Kings Mountain. There's even both a national and state park there. For the past six years, a play “Liberty Mountain: The Revolutionary Drama” has been performed in June and July at the Joy Performance Center in Kings Mountain. It has been canceled for this year because of concerns over the coronavirus.

You may not be as familiar with the Battle of Graham's Fort. It wasn't fought in Lincoln County, but in Cleveland.

As a part of our continuing series of articles from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Jennifer Baker of the Vesuvius Furance Chapter shares more about that bit of history this week.

Many of you have heard the name William Graham in local history associated with the Vesuvius Furnace (now Vesuvius Vineyards). Among his long line of descendants are a NC Governor and a Vice Presidential candidate. He was a man of prominence in the area and a strong supporter of the Revolutionary cause. He was appointed Colonel of the Tryon County militia in 1776 and served through most of the war. From his Revolutionary War pension: 

“On the 23rd day of October AD 1832 personally appeared in the open court before the justices of the County Court now sitting Colonel William Graham, a resident of the United States in the County of Rutherford and State of North Carolina aged 91 years and being first duly sworn according to all doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the act of Congress passed this 7th of June 1832. That he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated. Saith: that in the year 1776 he was appointed commissioner to receive certain articles for the minute men and the militia. That his appointment was given him by the field officers of the province of North Carolina at Cross Creek. I was at that time Col. Command[ing] of the Tryon [County] militia. I was appointed by the Congress at Hillsboro, North Carolina in the following words and figures: North Carolina, Hillsboro. In Congress September 9, 1776 this may certify that William Graham Esq. is appointed by act of Congress Colonel of the militia in the County of Tryon by order of Samuel Johnston, President. Andrew Knox, Secretary.

I continued that appointment until we became better organized and we had a Regular Governor. In the year 1779 I received another commission in the following words and figures:

State of North Carolina: to William Graham Esq., greetings, we, reposing special trust and confidence in your Valor, Conduct and Fidelity do by these presents Constitute and appoint you to be Col of the Lincoln [County] Regiment of Militia of this State. You [illegible words] carefully and diligently to discharge the duties of a Colonel by exercising and well disciplining the Officers and Soldiers under your Command and by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto belonging and we do Strictly Charge and require all Officers and Soldiers under your Command to be Obedient to your Orders as Colonel and you are to Observe and follow such Orders and Directions from time to time as you shall receive from your Superior Officers according to the Rules and Directions of Military Discipline and the law of this State.  Witness: Richard Caswell, Esq., Governor Captain General and Commander in Chief of the said State under his hand and the Great Seal of this State at Smithfield the 12th day of May Anna Dom 1779 and in the 3rd year of our independence.” 

Col. William Graham had been a delegate to represent Tryon County in the Fifth Provincial Congress and had taken part in the deliberations that produced North Carolina's first state constitution. He had fought at Moore's Creek Bridge and the Cherokee Expedition of 1776; and was a very wanted man by many Loyalists. He had constructed a large log cabin on Buffalo Creek, which soon became known as Graham's Fort. Because of the increased Loyalist activities many people would gather at the strongest place in the region, and in Lincoln County (at that time) that was Graham's Fort.

In September of 1780, a band of Loyalist raiders approached the fort and demanded entrance. Inside were Col. Graham, two other men - David Docky and William Twitty - and many young, old, and infirmed settlers. When Col. Graham refused to permit the Loyalists inside, they attacked. They fired at the house, and after each volley they demanded for Col. Graham to surrender, yelling, "Damn you, won't you surrender now?"

Since they were doing no damage Col. Graham refused. One of the Loyalists, John Burke, left the ranks and raced up to the large cabin. He placed his musket through a crack and aimed at 19-year-old William Twitty. When Burke fired, Twitty's 17-year-old sister, Susan, pulled him to safety - the musket ball missed him and hit the opposite wall. Susan looked through the crack and saw that Burke was on his knees reloading. She shouted, "Brother William, now's your chance - shoot the rascal." Twitty fired and sent a ball into Burke's head.

Susan ran out of the cabin and grabbed Burke's gun and ammunition. Stunned, the Loyalists held their fire. Once back inside, Susan began firing at the Loyalists as fast as she could reload.

After losing John Burke and having four others wounded, the Loyalists withdrew. Col. Graham sent his pregnant wife and all the others to a safer location. He then moved his men to a better site. After his departure, the Loyalists returned and plundered the fort.

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