Surely everyone knows that July 4th is celebrated as America's birthday. Most people, if asked, will say that's because the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776--but that's not accurate.
The American Revolution, the war for independence, began over a year earlier. On April 19th, 1775, the first shots were fired between colonists and British troops during the Battles of Lexington and Concord (Massachusetts). After these first military conflicts, tension between Britain and the American colonies continued to mount.
On July 2nd, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence.
Two days later, on July 4th, the Congress approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and edited by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
On July 8th, the first public reading of the Declaration took place at the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Later that same day, other readings occurred in Trenton, New Jersey, and Easton, Pennsylvania.
Printer John Dunlap made about 200 copies of the Declaration, with the date of July 4th. These were distributed throughout the 13 colonies.
It wasn’t until August 2nd, 1776, that the Declaration was officially signed. John Hancock, president of the Congress, was the first of 56 delegates who signed this enlarged version, writing in big, bold letters.
One of the battles of the Revolutionary War was fought in Lincolnton. The Battle of Ramsour's Mill was fought on June 20th, 1780 (Monday was the 242nd anniversay of that battle. The SAR, DAR & others celebrated it this year the first weekend in June.)
The drama about events related to that battle, "Thunder Over Carolina," will be performed this Thursday, Friday & Saturday at 7:30 each evening at WoodMill Winery off John Beam Road in Vale. The play will be presented at pavilion on the hill south of the winery. It's an outdoor presentation and those attending will need to bring their own chairs. You'll be able to purchase wine and other refreshments. Admission is $15 for adults; $10 for students, seniors, and military.
This year's celebration of America's birthday will be the 246th. We'll celebrate the 250th in 2026. The Lincoln Herald has been publishing articles supplied by the SAR (Sons of the American Revolution) and DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) leading up to that momentous occasion. This is the 51st in that series.
The Gourd Patch Affair
Compiled by Jennifer Baker, Vesuvius Furnace DAR
Between the destruction of the Tory, or Loyalist, forces at Moore's Creek Bridge on Feb. 27, 1776 and the arrival of the British army of Lord Charles Cornwallis in September 1780, there was only scattered overt Tory resistance to the revolutionary government of North Carolina. One exception during those years was a clandestine plot known as the Llewelyn Conspiracy (also called the "Gourd Patch Affair" or "Tory Plot"), which involved a group of people opposed to the American cause on the grounds that Anglican dominance of North Carolina's affairs would be undermined in a revolution.
The conspirators knew that the 1776 state constitution removed the privileges that the Anglican Church had held as the colony's established church. Further, in their distrust of the revolutionaries' intentions, they thought that an alliance with France would result in the imposition of Catholicism and the destruction of Protestant congregations throughout the colonies. The conspirators had also heard about the deistic position of some revolutionary leaders and questioned their intentions regarding Christianity in general.
The central figure in the conspiracy was John Llewelyn, a Martin County planter and justice of the peace. By March 1777 Llewelyn, his son William, and James Rawlins, an Anglican lay reader, had written a "constitution" (now lost) that outlined the aims of their organization and had begun looking for recruits to join their underground group. Most of the plotters planned to aid deserters and draft resisters, secretly obtain and store small amounts of gunpowder and lead and wait to join the British troops that were sure to reach North Carolina in good time.
Llewelyn himself had a more ambitious, and violent, agenda. He planned the assassinations of prominent Whig leaders in the region, including several acquaintances, and wanted to make a raid on Halifax to capture Governor Richard Caswell and the state magazine. To draw American troops away from Halifax, he intended to spark a slave revolt with the aid of a Loyalist slave patroller.
Instead, on June 4, 1777, the slave patroller gave revolutionary leaders important, if incomplete, information about Llewelyn's plans that seems to have provided their first knowledge of the conspiracy. Two weeks later another conspirator, William May Jr., came forth with more information, naming William Tyler, who was arrested the next day carrying papers regarding the more violent plans. That night at the gourd patch, Llewelyn's group laid plans to free May and Tyler from jail using powder they had obtained from Daniel Southerland, a Loyalist merchant in Tarboro.
In July about 30 conspirators were caught and disarmed while attempting to attack Tarboro and release May from jail. This failure was the high-water mark of the conspiracy. Most of the other known conspirators were arrested or gave themselves up. In all, about 90 people were implicated in the plot, most of whom were from Martin, Tyrrell, Hyde, Edgecombe, or Bertie Counties. The following excerpt was from the trials…
James Rawlins, of Martin County, fleeing from thence to Mattimuskeet, being there apprehended on a Report that he had a hand in a Conspiracy carried on against the State of North Carolina, Deposeth and Saith:
That about the time of Laying the Constitution of Government (as well as he can remember) a General Muster was held, at Plymouth, the Court House of said Martin County, on or about the 28th day of March last past, when John Lewelling & John Carter, Both of that County, going home in Company with the said Rawlins (told him, one or both), that the Country was Like to become subject to popery, for which reason Lewelling said there ware a Necessity of Indeavoring to seek relief and had thought on Means proper, and hop’d for a Blessing on the Indeavour he, the said Lewelling, said there must be an Instrument of Writing Drawn to which people Might agree under oath and Related something of the form and some few Days after ye said John Lewelling and his son William came to the house of ad Rawlins and the said Jno. Lewelling further declared the form which contained much writing and also the form of an oath of Compliance all of which John Lewelling said to the said Deponent if he would Take the Trouble to write down, he should be well satisfy’d. (But said Rawlins refused but agreed in hope of a Reward to assist him.) And that then his son should Coppy from the same which he also did as he the said Wm. Lewelling Told said Dpo. that he had wrote some for Martin, Edgecombe, Halifax and think he said for Bartee and Teril. He also heard James Sherod say he had wrote some and likewise John Lewelling. Now after Many had come into this Society, as it was Term’d, they became known to each other by word and sign; and sometime after John Lewelling told said Deponent that if they could destroy Whitmel Hill, Colonel Williams, Thomas Hunter, Nathan Mayo, Colonel Salter and one Taylor, that then the Country would soon be settled In Behalf of the King this being proposed by John Lewelling, seem’d to be approv’d off by several others, But not yet put in practice as the Dep’t knows off. After this John Lewelling Told the Deponent it would be a good scheeme to Git some Body to Diseffect the negroes and thought David Taylor would do it and Give out an oration of their Rising would draw the soldiers out of Halifax, whilst he and Company could seize the Governor and Magazene, (At this time the Govenor was expected at Halifax) but hearing the Governor was not to Come at the appointed time it was Dropt for that time, but that scheeme became not public to Many, the Dept. believes, for when he objected against it John Lewelling said if he Divulg’d anything, Death was the portion to him or anyone else. Another scheeme was to go to General Howe. John Lewelling with the Deponent agreed if he would go with him to do for him whatever he Could to advance him as also the Deponent expected to see his father and friends, but going as far as Scotland Neck, returned Back and in a few days something of the matter Became Discovered, (Though William Mayo had sworn something of the matter before but all seem’d Quiet at the Time.) When John Lewelling persuaded the Deponent to flee and not to be taken by any means; accordingly, he fled from home the 5th day of July.
It is certain none of these vile proceedings were Incerted in their writings; but very Repugnant to them, some of the Express words in their writings were those to Govern their Lives and actions By the Just Laws of Morality and by the Scriptures of old and New Testament, to which they were sworn, which caused Many to be Cald in the proceedings of Cruelty, I believe altho first proposed by John Lewelling.
Sworn before me this 10th August 1777.
Other supporters included William Brimage who was prominent in Bertie County politics. He owned 10,000 acres of land in Bertie County and about 30 slaves. He was also the crown prosecuting attorney for the County and also held the appointment of provincial vice-admiralty judge. An indication of the respect the County had for him, is that he was one of those elected to attend the 3rd Provincial Congress. (He did not attend because of his political opposing views.)
From Wynette Haun's "Court Minutes":
2nd Tues Feb 1775 - Wm Brimage have leave to keep a Public Ferry from his landing in this county to the Horse Landing in Tyrell County
Nov 1777 - Ordered that William Brimage depart this state within 60 days and that Josiah Reddit serve a copy. Ordered that Solomon Pender depart this state in 60 days and that the Constable serve him with a copy of this order. Ordered that the following persons depart this state in 60 days and that the Constable serve each of them with a copy of this order:
William Mitchell and Josiah Nichols
In Alan Watson's History of Bertie, there is more written about this man:
Upon the revelation of the Llewelyn plot Brimage tried to leave the province but was captured and imprisoned in Edenton where he 'was chained down to the Floor' of the jail. Governor Richard Caswell refused his bail, believing Brimage was 'one of the powers of [the] diabolical plan' of the tories. Acquitted of charges of treason, Brimage fled to New York, went to South Carolina upon Cornwallis's invasion of that state, and left for England in 1782 at the evacuation of Charleston. There he remained as one of the many unhappy American exiles while his wife and family continued to live on their plantation in Bertie County.
In the trials at Edenton, the revolutionary government was lenient with the conspirators. Most of them made depositions to the court, agreed to take the state loyalty oath, and submit to militia service, and were never charged with a crime. Charges were dropped against most of the 18 who were tried. But Llewelyn was convicted of treason in September 1777 and sentenced to be hanged. Numerous requests for clemency came from friends, relatives, and even the presiding judge in his trial. Governor Caswell later pardoned him, and Llewelyn lived peacefully until his death in 1794.