The Brothers Bourden: Men of War

We know from various sources that at least two of the brothers fought in the Revolution, and most researchers say that all three served, but, frankly, I have my doubts about Samuel.  Both Richard Bowden Jones and Josie Bowden contend that he was among the many soldiers captured in the aftermath of Camden, a major battle which took place August 16, 1780 in South Carolina between Charles, Earl Cornwallis, and General Horatio Gates.  It was an epic defeat for Gates, who, in an astonishing display of cowardice, turned his horse and galloped hell-for-leather from the field.

In an article entitled “Twelve North Carolina Counties in 1810-1811,” published in The North Carolina Historical Review, Volume 5, Number 4 (Internet Archive, the Duplin County portion begins on page 429), William Dickson (no relation that I’m aware of), a prominent citizen of Duplin County and longtime Clerk of Court there, tells us:

Three Companies of Duplin Militia, Marched with Major John Tradwell to Cambden, and were followed by a small Company of light Horse Voluntiers under Capt. William Routledge; and were with Genl. Gates when defeated near Cambden (page 434).

So we know that at least some Duplin County militiamen were there.  And there was a Samuel Borden, Bowden, or Bourden (I’ve seen all three spellings on various sites) North Carolina Militia, among those captured there.  However, it is my understanding that, after Gates’s … precipitous … departure,

Only the 2nd Maryland Brigade, the Delaware Continentals, and Lt. Col. Henry “Hal” Dixon’s North Carolina Militia continued the battle (The American Revolution in South Carolina – The Battle of Camden).

And, in fact, according to this list of NC Militia Losses at Camden and Fishing Creek, Private Samuel Borden was serving in Dixon’s Regiment.  Hal Dixon (NCpedia) commanded the Caswell County militia, so, in all likelihood, Samuel Borden was from there, not from Duplin.  And this list identifies him as Private Samuel Boudin, Caswell County, POW. However, before moving on to Nicholas, I will note that this List of Sampson-Duplin Revolutionary War Soldiers, includes Samuel Bourden, Pvt. NC Militia.  Also, the pension application of Kidder Harrell proves that at least one militiaman from Duplin County was among the captured at Camden.  Private Harrell was serving under Captain James Love and Colonel Thomas Owen.

There are three pay vouchers for Baker, Wilmington District. I haven’t seen them, yet, but they are on my list.  Incidentally, North Carolina Revolutionary Pay Vouchers are among the historical records on the schedule to be made available at FamilySearch.  It’s possible, even probable, that the younger Baker, Nicholas’s son, also fought in the war. And, in fact, I’ve wondered about another of Nicholas’s sons, Samuel.  If there was a Private Samuel Bourden in the Duplin County militia, I really think it would have been this younger Samuel rather than the elder.

Nicholas himself was a militia Captain, commanding a light horse company under Colonel James Kenan.  Much of what I’ve learned about his militia service comes from the accounts of soldiers who served under him.  In 1832, legislation was passed giving “full pay for life to officers and enlisted men who had served for two or more years and partial pay for service of six months to two years” (Using Revolutionary War Pension Files to Find Family Information). Many applicants came forward to apply throughout the 1830s.  During the application process, veterans were asked to describe their time/s in service.  Where they were living at the time, who they served under, in what battles and/or skirmishes did they fight, etc.  It’s all very informative.  You can read the original pension files at Fold 3.  And transcriptions of the southern ones, all in .pdf format, can be found at Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters. Keep in mind, though, that these accounts are the memories of old men.  Some of it is a little garbled and, at times, confusing.  I’m going to attempt to arrange them in chronological order the best I can, but I may not entirely succeed, so bear with me.

About 18 miles from Wilmington, in what is now Pender County, at a bridge over the Widow Moore’s Creek, a battle (Moore’s Creek Bridge) took place February 27, 1776 between the Tory and Patriot militias.  The Wilmington contingent of the Patriot militia was commanded by Alexander Lillington and the New Bern by Richard Caswell.  There was also a regiment of NC Continentals under Colonel James Moore.  During the night, ahead of the Loyalist approach, Caswell’s men threw up “some entrenchments on the west side of the bridge.”  They also removed some of the planks and greased the rails.  In school, I remember, we were taught that they used soap.  Among Lillington’s men was a Nathaniel Bowdan, Corporal, Duplin County Militia (see Roster of the Patriots at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge by Bobby Gilmer Moss, or Roster of the men they fought in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge.doc).  According to this list of known Corporals, he was serving under Captain William Taylor.  Could Nathaniel Bowdan actually have been Nicholas Bowden?  Think about it.  If the names are abbreviated, Nathl. and Nichl., and written in the somewhat sloppy cursive of the times…. Picture it.  They could look very similar.  This is just speculation, of course, since I’ve not seen the record from which it was taken.  However, a quick search for “Bowdan” at the NC MARS Archives website nets me a Revolutionary War Army Accounts folder for Bowdan, Nichl.   Incidentally, a search for “Bowden” resulted in:

  • Bowden, _____ (Capt.)
  • Bowden, Baker
  • Bowden, N. (Capt.)
  • Bowden, Nicholas
  • Bowden, Nicholas (Capt.)
  • Bowden, Nicholas (company of)
  • Bowden, Nichos.
  • Bowden, Nichs
  • Bowden, Samuel

1st. In a company of Duplin militia as a volunteer and private in December 1780 under Captain Taylor, Lieutenant not recollected, Nicholas Bourden Ensign, forgets his Colonel was under General Lillington, marched from Duplin to Cross Creek thence to Big Pedee, thence for the Headquarters of the American Army, but before we arrived there were ordered back and marched to Wilmington NC and was stationed at and guarded the Big Bridge in New Hanover County and remained there till the 3 months for which he volunteered were expired, having served the term out and was discharged in March or April 1781 : that in this tour he was in a skirmish at Drowning Creek, and during this tour there was one at the Big Bridge where we were stationed guarding but before we arrived there.

© Karl Musser – CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The foregoing account is from the pension application of Daniel Boney given December 21, 1839.  Drowning Creek is now known as the Lumber River, and Cross Creek is now the town of Fayetteville.  Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781 by William Thomas Sherman, 8th Ed. (here), has the following entries about actions on Drowning Creek in January 1781:

Early January. [skirmeshes] Drowning Creek, et al. (N.C.) Constant skirmishing and personal fracases between loyalists and whigs continued in the Upper Peedee and Drowning Creek regions of South Carolina and North Carolina, including one defeat of the tories at Drowning creek by Col. James Kenan (page 338).

On 10 jan., Gov. Rutledge wrote the S.C. delegates: “Some Tories embodied here last week, on Little Pedee–Colo. Kolb had dispersed ’em as he could find collected…” (page 338).

11 January. Brig. Gen. Alexander Lilington was at Cole’s Mill, North Carolina with the Wilmington and New Bern militia. He was awaiting the arrival of Col. James Kenan of Duplin County whose militiamen had recently put to flight a gathering of tories at Drowning Creek (page 345).

17 January. 150 loyalists under Col. Hector MacNeil, at Amis’ Mill on Drowning Creek (near the N.C.-S.C. border), of late had begun causing problems for the whigs of that region. Greene, at his camp on the Peedee, on this date dispatched Major Archibald Anderson of the Maryland line with detachment of 200 light troops against them…Before Anderson had arrived to take care of the business, MacNeill was dispersed by a force of N.C. militia under Col. James Kenan of Duplin County (page 360).

So, the action at Drowning Creek occurred sometime during the week before January 10, 1781, that is, between December 31 (Sunday) and January 6 (Saturday), and, given the religious conviction of the times, it was unlikely to have been fought on a Sunday.  Not impossible, mind you, but unlikely.

© Karl Musser – CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Big Bridge was another name for Heron’s Bridge, about ten miles from Wilmington, crossing the Northeast Cape Fear River, on what’s now the New Hanover/Pender County Line.  A battle took place there January 30-31, 1781.  This was right after the redcoats, under Major James H. Craig, took Wilmington on the 28th and 29th.

The Captain Taylor referred to is Jonathan Taylor.  Nicholas Bourden or Bowden is said to be an Ensign, this is contradicted by the following account given by Ephraim Shuffield of his third tour of duty given in Todd County, Kentucky September 9, 1833.

…I volunteered into the service as a private in the militia under Captain Nicholas Bowden I think about the middle of October 1780 for three months…

How is Nicholas a Captain when Shuffield enlisted in October yet an Ensign in December when Boney enlisted?  I’m confused.  Was he demoted?  And if so, why?  The only other Nicholas Bourden/Bowden around at the time, that I know of, would have been the son of Baker, Sr., and he’d have been a baby if he’d been born yet at all.  But wait just a minute.  On November 4, 1833, Jeremiah Rackley gives his service account in Bladen County, saying:

In a company of Duplin militia under Captain Jonathan Taylor — ___ Fillygrw [?] Lieutenant Ephraim Bowden Ensign — and joined General Green’s Army at their camp near Cheraw Hills, a short time after the battle of Guilford in the spring of 1781 [the Battle of Guildford Court House occurred March 15] and served 3 months as a private…that he marched from Cross Creek where he embodied to General Greene’s camp where he was detached under Captain McCulloch to Georgetown SC after salt and on his way was taken sick, and remained till his company returned and then went with them to Cheraw, from thence to Cole’s Bridge on Drowning Creek, thence to Cross Creek now Fayetteville, thence down into New Hanover County and was discharged….

Ephraim Bowden?  Just to be sure, I logged in at Fold 3, and looked at the actual written document.  The first name really is written as Ephraim.

Could this be the same person as Ensign Nicholas Bowden?  Mayhaps Private Boney misspoke, for Captain, later Major, Nicholas Bowden, would have been the better-known quantity.  So who was Ephraim Bowden?  I have no idea.  This is the first I’ve heard of him and he is not mentioned in any Bourden/Bowden genealogy I can find, including Richard Bowden Jones’s book.  To have been eligible to be serving in the militia in 1780, the latest he could have been born was 1764.  And, in order to have made ensign, it’s quite likely he was born earlier, say the late 1750s.  I’m thinking he was the son of one of the brothers, though I have no clue which one.  Heck, with that birth date, he could even have been their nephew, son of their brother John.  Later census and tax list data tell us that Samuel had a third son that is never named in the records (that I can find, at least), but he is too young to have been Ephraim.  Maybe Ephraim died in the war, or moved to another state.

Private Shuffield continues:

…we were marched from Duplin towards Charleston South Carolina within 30 miles of that place and we turned our course and marched to Rockfish Creek there we remained a good while from thence we were sent to Kingston [now Kinston] on the Nouse River where we remained until our three months expired and we were discharged and returned home.  I never received any written discharge about the middle of Jan.

William Dickson has this to say about Capt. Bourden:

A Company of Duplin Militia under Capt. Bourden, Marched out to Uhara, near the Yadkin, to Suppress the Torries in that place.–While General Lillington was there, Major Craig with a Body of Brittish troops took Possession of and Fortified Wilmington, Colo. James Kenan Marched down with about 350 of the Duplin Militia and Encamped at the long bridge 10 Miles above Wilmington, and was there joined by the Militia of New Hanover; Onslow, and Jones Counties; When Genl. Lillington Marched down from Uhara, and took Command… (page 435).

In his pension application, Benjamin Clark, Dobbs County Militia, says:

…a corps of troops under the command of General Lillington, with which corps at the time was Colonel Brown, Major Watson and Captain Love. They marched from the county of Duplin to the Pedee and ranged the country on the Pedee. He cannot say whether they passed into the state of South Carolina or not. He states that during this service the troops under the command of  General Green [Nathaniel Green] were a part of the time encamped at Guilford Courthouse. That he accompanied Colonel Brown who was sent with an express from General Lillington to General Greene whilst General Greene was encamped at Guilford Courthouse, and that upon the return of Colonel Brown and himself to the encampment of General Lillington, the troops under the command of General Lillington were immediately marched down near to Wilmington and encamped on the opposite side (from Wilmington) on the northeast fork of Cape Fear River.

Dickson continues:

…Earl Cornwallis Marched from Guilford Court House to Wilmington, Genl. Lillington Retreated up the Country, and the Militia Tour of three Months being ended, the whole Militia was discharged at Kingston.

Cornwallis at that time proceeded on his March from Wilmington to Virginia.  He passed through Duplin unmolisted, there being no Troops Embodied to Impede his March, or Harrass his Rear.–As he approached the Inhabitants of Duplin Retreated to places of Safity, Removeing their Stock, and such Property as they could out of the Enemies way; It was now the first week in May 1781 (page 435).

The pension application of William Stroud, given October 2, 1832 in Hinds County, Mississippi, says (At this point, he is not yet, serving under Captain Bowden.  But he gives a better idea of troop movements leading up to and immediately following the Battle of Rockfish Creek):

…passed through Wilmington and encamped near Brunswick : from thence he was marched to Town Creek Bridge and from thence to the former Camp of General ___ Caswell a short distance from Wilmington where he lost a Brother who was also a private in the same Company.  From the Caswell Camp he marched above Big Bridge over the North East Fork of Cape Fear River, from thence to the Bridge over Rock Fish Creek.  Here the Company was disbursed by the enemy.

There was a battle at Rockfish Creek August 2, 1781 between the militia under Colonel Kenan, with little to no ammunition, reinforced somewhat by General Caswell, William not the more famous Richard, against the forces of Major James H. Craig, commander of the garrison and Tory militia left at Wilmington by Cornwallis.  Rockfish Creek is located on what is now the Duplin/Pender County line but was then the boundary between Duplin and New Hanover Counties.  It was a sound defeat of the Patriot militia that saw Tory depredations unleashed on Duplin County and Craig’s march to New Bern, with yet more destruction, followed by his return to Wilmington.  A first-hand account of the battle and its aftermath can be found in the Dickson article and in The Dickson Letters, also written by William Dickson and edited by John O. Carr.  Stroud continues

This Applicant was again called into service by order of Colonel Kennyon [Kenan] & marched into the Richlands of New River between Wilmington & New Bern where he was commanded by Major ___ Moulton.  The forces assembled at this point did not exceed a hundred strong and by order of Colonel Kenan (he having been disappointed in the arrival of the other man) were dismissed, to their respective homes from which they were again called, and served at a place called the Bull Pen, in opposition to the Tories who when taken were lodged there for safekeeping.

The “Richlands of New River” is probably a reference to what is now western Onslow County where there is a town called Richlands.  From other applications, Joseph Williams and Daniel Merritt, for example, I learned that the “Bull Pen” was a reference to the county jail and was located near the courthouse on land belonging to James Kenan.  Ironic when you consider what the term bullpen now means!  Again, Stroud

He afterwards volunteered in a Light Horse Company, commanded by Captain Nicholas Bowden & scoured the Country in search of Tories; especially the Horse Pen Pocosin which was a place of resort & concealment for them.  Cornwallis shortly afterwards passed through North Carolina by the Bull Pen and after destroying a large quantity of public Pork stored on Neuse River left the State in comparative peace.

On a modern map, Horsepen Pocosin is in Wayne County, not all that far south of Indian Springs.  To the east-northeast is the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park where I spent many a childhood summer camping with my family.

Other applicants from Captain Bowden’s Company include William Taylor:

That he again entered the Service in a light Horse Company which was raised in Duplin County by Captain Nicholas Bowden of which John Bradley was Lieutenant & William Hooks was Ensign that this was a tour of three months that this troop were altogether engaged during the time in scouring the County of Duplin & the adjoining County to prevent depredations of the Tories that the troops of Light Horse to which he was attached were commanded by Colonel _____.

and John Charles Slocumb:

…he again volunteered for six months in a Light horse company – Nicholas Bowden being Captain Lieutenant Watkins, Cornet Hooks, Major James Love commanded the horse company of Dupeland County in which this applicant lived.  After having served for six months this applicant volunteered for three months longer in the same company & under the same officers.  Left the service in 1782 the exact time not recollected…applicant was engaged in the battle of Guilford Court house in North Carolina during his first term of service…he was also engaged in the battle of blue fords bridge when General Linnington commanded and he was also at a battle at Rock Fish bridge where the light horse Captain Bowden commanded.

It is disputed whether “blue fords bridge,” or more correctly, Bluford’s Bridge, was yet another name for Heron’s Bridge, aka the Big Bridge, or another structure altogether.  Some have suggested it crossed Limestone Creek (NC Patriots 1775-1783: Their Own Words, Volume 2, Part 1 by J. D. Lewis, page 321).  Philip Koonce “…was marched to Bluford’s bridge on Cape Fear River not far from Wilmington….”  Samuel Watkins “…crossed the River [the Cape Fear River] and marched through the Country to the N. E. fork of said River in Hanover County to Bluford’s Bridge…” and was there about a month when he heard that “Lord Cornwallis was taken at Yorktown.”  Sarah Fitzpatrick, widow of John Fitzpatrick, thought Bluford’s Bridge was on the Black River.

After the war, Nicholas would attain the rank of Major in the Militia and serve for a time as President of the Regimental Court-Martial.  Yet another book I need to take a peek at:  Minutes of the Regimental Courts-Martial, Duplin County Militia, North Carolina, 1784-1853.

For a more detailed account of Cornwallis’s movements along and across the Neuse, read the application of John Abernathie, Wake County militia, which places Cornwallis on Contentnea Creek at a place called Horn’s Mill in what is now Wilson County.  See the map in this post about Henry Horn, the Quaker.


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