‘Cabarrus Black Boys’ tale is one of patriotism

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Since retirement, I have been working closely with the Kannapolis History Associates, learning about the history and genealogy of the area. One of the projects I have been very involved in is the preservation of a GI House on King Street in Kannapolis.
In the spring, toward the end of school, we generally have a number of school children visiting the house. Recently we had about 60 visiting. It appears the younger generations do not have a clue of how the men returning from WWII lived or the war itself.
Displayed in one of the bedrooms are several ěExtraî newspapers published during World War II, with headlines of ěJAPS BOMB PEARL HARBOR,î ěUS DECLARES WAR ON JAPAN,î ěCONTINENT INVADED,î ěHITLER DEAD,î and so on.
To my surprise, one of the children asked, ěWho was Hitler?î I then asked, ěCan someone answer that question?î No one answered. Of course, I told them who he was and a little history about him. I realized then that perhaps they and others were not that far in their history courses or that they were not paying attention to things around about them.
At least those children learned who Hitler was, some other history about World War II and to meet an actual veteran of the war, from their visit to the GI House. They are always a lively bunch.
In conversation with several other people I mentioned ěThe Cabarrus Black Boys.î
The question was asked, ěWho were they?î I again realized, we have a lot of new people in our area who do not know our history as we know it and are truly interested.
ëBlack Boysí
Several authors have written about ěThe Cabarrus Black Boysî and there are some variations. The following is a summary of the event.
The first thing to remember is that in 1771, Cabarrus County was still a part of Mecklenburg County. The British still ruled the area under Gov. William Tryon from down east. He appointed tax collectors to collect excessive taxes from the Colonies, which they did not like.
After all, they were having a hard time just surviving. The Colonists began to resent the tax collectors and their resentment soon turned to hatred.
A group called ěRegulatorsî began to openly protest. They had worked hard for what they had and did not like the English domination.
One of the tax collectors sent by the governor was hung when they learned the money was to be used for the governor to build a new mansion for himself. When the governor learned of the hanging, he ordered the militia to break up and disarm the Regulators once and for all.
From Charleston, S. C., known then as (Charles Town), he procured three wagon loads of munitions, gun power, flint and supplies for the militia to use against the Regulators.
When the wagons reached Charlotte, they tried to replace their worn out wagons. No one would comply to their request.
Finally, better wagons were taken by force. The wagon train then continued on toward Hillsborough, for the British troops there.
In one of the first deliberate actions against the Crown, nine or 10 young men from what would soon be Cabarrus County planned and carried out a daring raid on the wagon train on May 2, 1771.
Soot-covered faces
To disguise themselves, the men dressed as Indians, rubbed soot on their faces and ambushed the munitions wagon train.
This incident may have led to the formation of a document signed on May 20, 1775, known as the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, the first written document declaring intent of self rule.
These patriots, all ranging in age from 18 to 20, were: William, James and John White, who were brothers raised near Rocky River Church; Robert Cruthers; Robert Davis; Benjamin Cochran; James Ashmore; Joshua Hadley, a cousin of the Whites; and William White Jr. The 10th may have been William Alexander.
They pledged themselves to a solemn oath not to disclose anything related to the act.
The White brothers were the only ones on foot, until they met their father returning from a mill with two horses, each carrying a bag of meal.
They demanded the horses of their father and made him dismount. They placed the meal on top of a huge rock to keep the meal from wild hogs.
The men had come upon the wagon train encamped near a huge rock on Phiferís Hill, about three miles west of the future Concord on the Great Wagon Road.
They surprised and captured the guards and teamsters, knocked in the heads of the kegs, tore the blankets to shreds, collected the powder and flints, and placed them all in a heap. They made a fuse from black powder spread on the ground, which was then ignited by a shot from James White.
The powder caused a tremendous explosion. James White was struck by a stave from a bursting keg and was severely wounded.
When the news of the daring exploit reached Col. Moses Alexander of Charlotte, he was angered. He said he would find the guilty ones.
Threats followed
Threats were made in order to induce someone to turn traitor. A pardon was offered to anyone who would turn states evidence. James Ashmore and Joshua Hadley, half brothers, moved by the threats, decided, unknown to each other, to take the offer.
Seeking this favor, they accidentally met at the home of Col. Alexander. Through a colonial officer, he remarked, ěThat by virtue of the governorís proclamation they were pardoned but that they were the first that ought to be hanged.î
On account of the treachery, the remainder of the Black Boys were compelled to flee from the county. They fled to Georgia where they remained in hiding, sometimes in caves, out houses, hollow logs and with help from the local people.
They remained in Georgia for about four years. They finally came back to Cabarrus County, where they fought in the Revolutionary War with distinction. It is said that the two who turned traitor were hung.
This area became known as the ěHornets Nestî and were, for the most part, responsible for the colonies win of the Revolutionary War.
The militiamen decimated the red coats in every battle. I think Cornwallis was ready to quit long before Yorktown.
He did not have much of an army left.
Volumes could be written about this event. Someone is always finding something in the Colonial Records or other records to perhaps add a new dimension or a new theory about what happened.
To me, those men are heroes and they suffered for it. Unfortunately, there is not much recognition for their bravery.
There was plaque on the stone where the event took place. It has now been vandalized.
The rock where the sons of Mr. White put the meal to protect it, still has a plaque on it. They are mentioned at the old courthouse near the fountain.
Norris Dearmon is a historian and a volunteer in the History Room of the Kannapolis Branch Library.