The North Carolina Visitor Center




Battle of Elizabethtown


The Tories had driven the Whigs from their homes and even out of the county. They ravaged the county in every direction, insulting and plundering the most respectable families, burning private dwellings and destroying a great amount of valuable property.

It was only a little band of patriots that struck the blow of liberty at Elizabethtown. The scantly clothed and half perished patriots set out on their march toward Elizabethtown, under a hot sun on August 28, 1781. The next day they arrived on the east bank of the Cape Fear River. They had not eaten anything except berries and had only stopped to catch a few hours of sleep while their horses grazed.

Colonel Thomas Robeson, the commander, knew that everything depended upon the success of this battle. He was unwilling to risk his seventy men against four hundred Tory enemies until he found out the exact situation in the opposing camp.

As in many great events in history, a woman was to play an important part in the Battle of Elizabethtown. Sallie Salter, of one of the most influential families in the Cape Fear section of Bladen County, volunteered to enter the Tory Camp as a spy. Fetching a basket of eggs, she walked down to the ferry and called to the sentry on the other side to row her over. After some delay, he complied with her request and she entered the camp and sold her eggs - all the while collecting as much information as possible. It never entered the minds of the Tories that she was a spy. Returning safely with the needed information, Colonel Robeson could now begin planning the battle. The smallest details were reviewed over and over, until each man knew what part he was to perform.

Around midnight, the Whigs marched to a point about one mile below the Tories, where they all forded the river successfully.

Colonel Robeson formed his troops and led them into battle. Advancing rapidly and keeping up a well directed fire they were soon in the midst of the enemy. Colonel Robeson and six of his Whig officers took a central position. The main body of men rushed to a point at a distance on his right - fired and reloaded with almost inconceivable rapidity and then rushed to a point on his left and repeated the procedure. They repeated this procedure many times, until the Tories were convinced they were being attacked by a thousand men or more.

Most of the Tory officers were killed or badly wounded and, after their leaders fell, men scattered in every direction. A great number of them jumped into a deep ravine which has since become to be known as the Tory Hole, and there they met their defeat, and the Tory power was broken.

This ravine runs from the main street of Elizabethtown to the Cape Fear River. The citizens of Elizabethtown built a recreation center at the Tory Hole site, for the enjoyment of their residents, visitors and tourists.

- This article appears courtesy of the Elizabethtown / White Lake Chamber of Commerce