Posts Tagged ‘Herman Husbands’

Schoolmaster Yorke and the Tories

February 15, 2009


In researching Tryon’s Ferry and the history of the Regulators, I read through one of the very early sources of Revolutionary history, B.J. Lossing’s 1850 “Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution.” Benson Lossing (1813-1891), an artist and illustrator, was one of the first historians to travel to the sites of the war and record its historic sites. When he came to North Carolina in 1849 local guides took him all over the state. It is obvious that he and they considered the Regulation one of the first battles of the Revolution, and Lossing devotes considerable space to its story.

However, it is obvious that he relied greatly on local tradition, some of which was barely accurate. For example, he recounts the story of “Captain Messer,” the Regulator commander whose small child begged the Governor to spare his father’s life (Chapter 14, footnote 34). Lossing was actually referred to Benjamin Merrill, whose execution is told in the words of Governor Tryon at p.495 of the Regulator Papers.

I am wondering if the following is another example of garbled local oral history. Lossing writes at length of the Regulator disruption of the September, 1770 term of Superior Court in Hillsborough. A local resident reported that “We heard a Party or Parties of the said People called Regulators patrolling the Streets to the Terror of the Inhabitants,” “armed with Wooden Cudgels or Cow Skin Whips.” The “Regulators exasperated…did…assault the House of Colo. Fanning…break and destroy a considerable part of his Household furniture, Drink and spill the Liquors in His Cellar, and almost totally Demolish his House” (Regulator Papers, pp. 262-263). Lossing then writes:

When this violence was completed, they repaired to the court-house, and appointed a schoolmaster of Randolph county, named Yorke, clerk; chose one of their number for judge; took up the several cases as they appeared upon the docket, and adjudicated them, making Fanning plead law; and then decided several suits. As the whole proceedings were intended as a farce, their decisions were perfectly ridiculous, while some of the “remarks” by Yorke were vulgar and profane. The facsimiles here given of the writing of Fanning and Yorke are copies which I made from the original in the old record book. … Yorke was a man of great personal courage, and when, a few years later, the war of the Revolution was progressing, he became the terror of the Loyalists in that region. An old man on the banks of the Allamance, who knew him well, related to me an instance of his daring.

On one occasion, while Cornwallis was marching victoriously through that section, Yorke, while riding on horseback in the neighborhood of the Deep River, was nearly surrounded by a band of Tories. He spurred his horse toward the river, his enemies in hot pursuit. Reaching the bank, he discovered he was upon a cliff almost fifty feet above the stream, and sloping from the top. The Tories were too close to allow him to escape along the margin of the river. Gathering the reins tightly in his hands, he spurred his strong horse over the precipice. The force of the descent was partially broken by the horse striking the smooth sloping surface of the rock, when half way down. Fortunately the water was deep below, and horse and rider, rising to the surface, escaped unhurt. It was a much greater feat than Putnam’s at Horse Neck.*

The “Old Man of Allamance” appears to have given Lossing a garbled version of the story of Colonel David Fanning’s chase of Andrew Hunter down Faith Rock. I can’t believe there could be two so similar events in the same geographical area during the Revolution.

Supporting this is the fact that Lossing’s source knew no first name for Schoolmaster Yorke. “Robinson York” was indicted by the Crown Attorney in New Bern in March 1771, together with 61 other reputed Regulators (Regulator Papers, pp. 360-362). But available history is silent as to whether Robinson York might have been the Schoolmaster Lossing was told about. Certainly Randolph County has had its plentiful share of Yorks through history; one unattributed private letter from 1768 talks about troubles John York and Cemore York were having with their neighbors such as William Barten, John McGee and James Low (all of whom would today be placed in the Sandy Creek/ Liberty area, which is of course the historic York stomping grounds) (Regulator Papers, p. 151).

In regard to the greater history of Randolph County, I (as writer and therefore the arbiter of history) feel we must disentangle Schoolmaster Yorke from the story of Fanning and Bay Doe. Perhaps further research will enlighten us about the role Robinson York may have played in the Regulation, with so many of his near neighbors.

[*This is a story given by Lossing in Vol. 1, Chapter 18. General Putnam’s Continental forces were routed in West Greenwich, Connecticut (then called “Horse Neck Landing”). Putnam was obliged to ride for his life, making his escape by riding zig-zag down a steep cliff five miles east of Stamford.]

[Note on sources: The applicable chapter of Lossing can be found online at . The full title of his book is B.J. Lossing, Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution; or, illustrations, by Pen and Pencil, of the History, Biography, Scenery, Relics and Traditions of the War for Independence. New York: Harper Brothers, 1850. Volume One covers New York State, Canada, Northern New Jersey, Wyoming Valley (Pennsylvania), Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Volume Two covers Southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and the New York Metropolitan Area.]