Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Road to Guilford Courthouse

Anyone familiar with the McQuiston family history knows how involved we were with the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, which took place on the very Ides of March – March 15, 1781, near what is now Greensboro, NC. This date was also the 14th birthday of Andrew Jackson, a McQuiston relative and future U.S. President.

In a nutshell, Lord Cornwallis, the leader of the British troops, took over the homestead of Thomas and Ann McCuistion on March 12th and 13th as his headquarters. This home was right on the edge of the soon-to-be battlefield. However, Cornwallis left on the 13th, heading southwest. As he rode away Nathanael Greene, the American commander, began approaching the Courthouse area to make his stand.

On the late morning of the 15th, Cornwallis returned to the area around the McCuistion home and met two lines of militia and a final line of regulars strung out between his troops and the courthouse. As the battle commenced, the first line of militia fired one to three shots then fell back and regrouped, or hid in the nearby forest as snipers. Then the second line followed the same pattern. Finally the regulars became involved until Greene decided to retreat down McCuiston Road and across McCuiston Bridge.

Cornwallis logged his stay at the McCuistion homestead in his war log diary. The retreat of Greene down McCuiston Road and Bridge was recorded by Cornwallis's war artist.

The names were spelled a variety of ways as is the case with our family. It was in fact a McCuistion home that Cornwallis used as headquarters and the McCuiston Road and Bridge that Greene retreated over, based on the family that lived near the bridge. Both commanders of perhaps the most significant battle of the Revolution are connected to our family name through this story.

However, since nothing happens in a vacuum, here is the bigger story.

In November of 1743, the home church of the McQuiston family, in Middle Octorara, PA, held a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Scottish covenants, along with the congregations from other nearby Presbyterian churches, which ended in raised swords and a declaration of independence against King George. A generation later, these same families played a major role in making that independence possible.

In 1771, Thomas McCuistion, of Guilford County, NC, served as a Regulator in what some have called the real first battle of the Revolution, the Battle of Alamance.

James and Anthony McQuiston of Westmoreland County, PA (near Pittsburgh) signed the Westmoreland Resolves, or basically the areas own declaration of independence, which was written in 1775.

War broke out across the 13 colonies. In New England, the McQuesten families joined the Colonials in many battles, while McQuesten women melted down their own pewter to make rifle slugs.

In Pennsylvania, James McQuiston became a "spy on the western frontier" while Anthony became a Navy bombardier on the Delaware River.

As Cornwallis invaded the south beginning in late 1788 at Savannah, the South Carolina McQuistons became suppliers to the Colonial troops, there. They also, no doubt, fought as militiamen, as Cornwallis made his way up through South Carolina.

His bloody sidekick, Banastre Tarleton, massacred many militia men at the Waxhaws, even though they had thrown down their weapons and surrendered. This became known as "Tarleton's Quarter" meaning no quarter given to prisoners. This would be used against the British through the rest of the campaign, and militia would charge the British crying "Tarleton's Quarter!"

One person to witness the Waxhaw massacre was young Andrew Jackson. He, his mother and his last surviving brother fled to Guilford County, where they mingled with their relatives, the McCuistions and McCuistons. It is said that Andy rode to the McCuiston home on the morning of the the 12th to tell of Cornwallis's approach. He helped Ann Moody McCuistion hide the family treasure – a barrel full of gold worth an estimated $25,000 in money of that time.

Andy was a messenger for General Davies, his "ideal officer" and the man who gave him his first pistol. Davies was Commissary General for Nathanael Greene at the courthouse battle and so this places Jackson in that area on that day. He says himself, he was above Charlotte as Cornwallis approached, and that he did not leave North Carolina until after Cornwallis, which would be after the Guilford Courthouse battle.

Last month (December 2010) I visited the two battlefields leading up to the courthouse battle. Having already been to the Guildford site twice, I thought it would be interesting to see these other sites.

The Colonials had taken a beating at Savannah, at Charleston, and most recently at Camden. It looked like Cornwallis would sweep North Carolina as he had South Carolina and Georgia. He sent a Scotsman named Ferguson to protect one of his flanks, commanding mostly local royalist militia. Tarleton covered the other flank.

At a small town called Cowpens, Tarleton was soundly defeated mostly by local militia. Below is a photo I took of a display at the Cowpens Battlefield showing weapons used on that day by both sides.

The militia had a distinct advantage in that they were using the Pennsylvania or Kentucky type rifle that shot accurately at great distances, while most of the British led troops used the short-range, mostly inaccurate musket. Also, the same war plan later used at Guilford, was put into place, where two lines of militia fired first and then the regulars engaged the enemy. This technique relied 100% on local militiamen and so their worth to the war effort is without contest.

From the Cowpens battlefield I traveled north to just a mile or so over the North Carolina border to the Kings Mountain battlefield. Here is where Andy's brother Hugh died. Also fighting against the British that day was John Crockett, father of Davy Crockett. Andy was only 13 and was charged with watching the horses at the foot of the mountain. Militia from all over nearby states had converged on Ferguson's troops and chased them to the top of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. With the coming defeat of Tarleton at Cowpens on January 17, 1781, Cornwallis was left with no one on either flank.

Below is a photo of a display just below the mountain peak, and another showing the final climb, where the final battle took place. Though there wasn't a path, I climbed the final ascent to the top, imagining what it would have been like that day, crying out "Tarleton's Quarter," and winning freedom for the colonies.

Cowpens and Kings Mountain had taken out both of Cornwallis's flanks. He charged on north to meet Greene at Guilford Courthouse, where one quarter of his best troops were taken out of action. Though Greene retreated, he truly won the day, and Cornwallis fought no other major battle until his surrender at Yorktown. Though records are sketchy, most evidence points to our family being at the 1743 declaration, at many battles from New England to the Carolinas, as spies and suppliers for the Colonials, and taking part in these last three major defeats of the British - Cowpens, Kings Mountain, and Guilford Courthouse.

Even at Yorktown, Ebenezer Denny, nephew of Ann Denny McCuiston, wrote the most often recorded description of the surrender of Cornwallis. 

We can be so very proud of the role we all played, all spellings, from New England, to Pennsylvania, to the Carolinas, in winning freedom for America.


  1. Hey Jim! Denise (Wood) Duke here. Wish we had contact. My sister Becky would have take you to the McCuiston cemetary hid in a subdivision near the old Guilford Courthouse. email always deniseobx@aol.com

  2. Denise,
    I'm Rick Buck, in GSO, and I'm interested in visiting and photographing the old mill and bridge. Is it possible to arrange a visit to it, as it is posted "Private Property? Also, is there any evidence of the iron deposits on the farm?
    Thanks, Rick unknownsoundman@yahoo.com