Address of Judge Henry A. Grady —at— Moore's Creek Battle Ground August 13, 1925With Original Poem, Entitled “MARY SLOCUMB'S RIDE.”
AUGUST 13th, 1925.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Among those sentiments which operate most potently upon the human heart, and which are most honorable to the human character, are those of veneration for our ancestors and love for those who are to come after us. These sentiments form the connecting links between the past, the present, and the future. Respect for one's ancestors excites in the breast of the normal man a personal interest in their history, on attachment to their characters, and a pardonable pride in their manly virtues.
The voice of history has not in all of its compass a single note that does not beat in unison with these natural emotions. The barbarians of old had implanted in their bosoms a love of country and of home that equalled, if it did not exceed, that of the most polished statesman of modern times. This sentiment was the fountain head of Athenian culture; it gave to Rome its ascendency over the uttermost parts of the earth; and it burned fiercely in the breast of the Jew when the threw off the bondage of Egypt, and returned to the home of his fathers in the Promised Land.
It has always been natural for man to look to his ancestors for inspiration, to his contemporaries for execution, and to his posterity for the enjoyment of every laudable and honorable undertaking. Such sentiments are not only wise and wholesome; they are virtuous, and should be inculcated in the breast of every American citizen. Their cultivation is not merely perfunctory and a thing of pleasure; it is a duty we owe to our posterity and to the race to which we belong.
Edmund Burke, the most notable Irisman of the eighteenth Century, speaking of the decadence in French pride, declared that no people can look forward with confidence to posterity, who do not look backward with pride to their ancestors.
John Ruskin, the English philosopher and rhetorician, expressed a similiar thought when he wrote that “A Land Without Ruins is a Land Without Memories; and a Land Without Memories is a Land Without Patriotism.” And Sir Walter Scott has poured out to a delighted world the purest and noblest sentiments of adoration for one's progenitors—both in song and in story.
Burke was dreaming of Finn, the King; and of Ossian, his poet son; of Brian Boru, the warrior of Munster, and of that vast array of legendary heroes, whose exploits have been the admiration of every Irishman—legendary, indeed; but as truly historical as Homer's Fall of Troy, or the vague wanderings of Ulysses.
Ruskin had read of Arthur the King, and his Table Round; of Lancelot and Guinevere, of Percival and the Quest of the Holy Grail. Thru
the mixed blood of countless generations he claimed kin with Canute the Dane, with Alfred the Saxon, and with William the Norman. The healing hand of Time had blotted out their transgressions, and to his British mind they represented all that was clean, noble and good.
Sir Walter Scott had sat beside his grandfather's knee and heard the witch tales of Scotland; he had heard of Malcom and Duncan, of the Douglass and Michæl Scott; his mind was a storehouse of legend and tradition, and his pen has peopled the glens and caverns of his native land with pixies, elves and goblins. He remembered Bruce and Wallace, and Bannockburn, where the hosts of Edward were put to flight by the Scottish soldiers; and he rejoiced in the fact that Scotland, tho inferior in territory and population, had never yet bowed the knee to England. He remembered that the union had come only by the seating of James, the Scotchman, upon the Throne of the United Kingdoms.
These representatives of three great races spoke the same sentiment; each, in his own way, gave expression to the same thought,—to the same generous emotion that swells in the breast of every man beneath the Sun who is worthy to walk uprightly in the image of his maker.
Each loved his native land above all other lands; each loved his home folk above all other folk; and the world has honored them for it.
And so today, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have met here to do reverence to those who fought, and those who died on this field on February 27, 1776, who helped give to the world its youngest Republic, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. We should glory in their valor and smile upon the heritage that they have transmitted to us. It is an old, old story that I shall tell you. It has been told many times before; but the sentiment that drew our forefathers to this hallowed spot will burn forever in the the breast of man.
The story of Horatius at the Bridge has fired many a youth with patriotic fervor. The story of Moore's Creek Bridge, the traditions of sacrifice and suffering that have come down to us through the ages, should stir the hearts of all true North Carolinians, even as a bugle call, so long as men think and dream of liberty.
I see before me a vast concourse of native Carolinians—the descendants of Irish, English and Scotch progenitors. There may be mingled in your veins the blood of both Whig and Tory; but, as Time levels all distinctions and adjusts all differences, so has it erased from our minds the bitterness and hatred of the past. Today there is no distinction among citizens, so long as they are true; but a fellowship and fervor that finds its deepest symbolism and significance in the one world—“American;” the most princely name among the nations of the Earth.
Perhaps I should apologize to you for attempting to travel over this worn and beaten path; or to add to what has so often and so eloquently fallen from the lips of those who have preceded me on this platform; but
when I consider the significance of the event, and of its influence upon the lives of our people, I feel that there may be some few facts that I may add to what has already been said; and if indeed I should attempt any apology, it would lie in the simple fact that the only man who gave his life to the cause of liberty—the only man who fell on this side of the Bridge, was John Grady, a brother of my own great great grandfather. It is on his account, and because of the honor that he has added to the family name, that I feel myself justified in speaking here today.
It has been truly said that there is no State in the American Union, whose early history is marked by a purer patriotism, whose people maintained a more unsullied devotion to liberty, or a more indomitable opposition to tyranny, than North Carolina. But her story has never been truly interpreted or aptly told.
Virginia has had its Jefferson, its Madison, its Marshall and its Wirt; Massachusetts has had its Hancock, its Adams and its Everett; all these have pictured to the world the glories of their respective Commonwealths; North Carolina has remained in obscurity, while her best traditions have been well nigh forgotten; because, forsooth, her sons were too modest to boast, or too indolent to undertake a task of such fearful proportions. It is a sad commentary, that prior to 1851, the record of her birth and early development had been written by strangers alone—men of foreign birth, who had no sympathy with her faults, and no pride in her achievements.
No man can write History truly, who is not of the soil whereof he speaks; he must be bone of the bone and blood of the blood, if he would be able to commend with candor and reprehend with justice; and no other should make the attempt.
Mr. George Bancroft, a just and impartial historian, has declared more than fifty years ago, “that the history of North Carolina has been so carelessly written that even the name, the merits and the end of its first governor are unknown.” It is to John W. Wheeler, more than to any other man in the world, that North Carolina is indebted for the discovery and preservation of its early records, and for the perpetuation of its most cherished traditions.
But, as Truth crushed to Earth Will Rise Again, so it is, that out of the mists of the past, in spite of strenuous efforts to stifle and ridicule them, the facts have come gradually to light. The libraries of London, the musty records of ancient Trading Houses, and the private documents of families, have given up their treasures; and now, with the consciousness of what she is, with the knowledge of what she has been in the past, North Carolina asks no favors of Virginia, she pays no homage to Massachusetts, and she truckles to no contending competitor, when she asserts and proclaims her Colonial supremacy in the War of the Revolution. It was a North Carolina Company that met the King's forces
at Alamance; it was a North Carolina Convention that first instructed its delegates in the Continental Congress to declare for independence; it was a patriot band of North Carolina Militiamen that struck the first blow for liberty in the Southern Provinces; it was the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge that swept the State of the invader and sent the British Navy Southwards in search of a more comfortable landing place.
And because of its commanding position in the early history of our commonwealth; because of its influence upon those who were still loyal to the Crown; because of the impetus that it gave to the cause of independence, we have come here today to do reverence to that event, and to commemorate “those who kept the bridge so well, in the brave days of old.”
Standing upon this soil; hallowed by the memories of many generations; listening to the echoes of battle as they reverberate from heart to heart among those who have descended from that little band of heroes, the scene comes back to me, in all its gruesome detail, with all of its sorrows and privations, and with all its happy consequences.
I hear the bugle of the Whig as it hurls defiance to the pibroch of the Scot; I see the Camp fires burning, and I can hear the excited voices of the Highlanders as they discuss the coming Battle; on the one side there is bustle and confusion; on the other, silence and grim determination. In the early watches of the night a traitor has stolen out of the Scottish camp and come over to the Whig; Caswell knows that the enemy will attack at dawn. There is a curt command, and the bridge between the two armies is stripped to its girders; there is not a plank left. Kenan and Love, with their Duplin Rangers, lie on their arms and await the break of day, when the Scot will begin the attack; there are fifteen hundred Tories, with well trained officers—McLeod, McLean and McDonald; there are one thousand Americans, without experience, and unaccustomed to war; they are armed with muskets, and with two old cannon, one of which has been derisively named “Mother Covington;” and with this almost ridiculous preparation, they confidently await the day.
The Whig believes in the God of Battles, and he relies upon him for guidance and protection; the Scotch forces, chafing under an unwilling oath, are restless and uneasy; some of them remember Culloden, and one of them, at least, remembers an cath that he took at Newbern, when he was suspected of being a British emissary, for McDonald had sworn there that he was not in the service of the Crown; now he is sick with fever, and whimpering in his tent, while McLeod takes over the command.
How strangely are the schemes of men confounded
The sun rises in glorious majesty; the fogs begin to lift, the hour has arrived, and there is a blast from the bugle at Headquarters: It is the
call to arms There is a sound of many feet, the rattle of sabres and of muskets, and the measured tread of advancing cavalry. McLeod and McRae lead the attack; Campbell and Murchison and Stewart and McArthur, with a band of Highlanders, charge direct at the bridge. Barelegged and with uplifted broadswords, they rush madly on to certain death; for there had been no reconnaissance, and they did not know that the bridge was stripped; they did not know that they had been betrayed.
The Whig has been silent until now. There is a whispered command, a clicking among the trenches, and they burst into flame. I can see the Scotsmen reel and pitch headlong into the waters below; McLeod rises in his stirrups, cluthches wildly at the air, and follows his companions into eternity, pierced by more than twenty bullets.
The scene shifts, and I see Captain Slocumb with a picked detachment, fording the stream above; he attacks the Scotsmen in the flank; there is havoc and wild confusion; the Highlanders charge again and again; they are desperate, for their trusted leader has fallen; the Whig wishes to end the carnage, but the enemy will not yield.
“Old Mother Covington” has thus far been silent; they wheel her into position and apply the match; she refuses to fire; the match is again applied, but without result; then I see Richard Caswell ride up and discharge his pistol into the touch-hole, when there is a roar that shakes the earth, a stream of fire and slugs spreads across the valley, and the last Tory is swept from the bridge. I can hear the curses of the men and the scream of the women; they are flying from place to place, in search of husband, father or son; and then I see the last stand of the enemy as they close about the tent of their stricken General:“The English shafts in volleys hailed,In headlong charge this horse assailed,Front, rank and rear the squadrons sweep,To break the Scottish circle deepThat fought about their King;But yet, tho thick the shafts as snow;Tho charging Knights like whirlwinds go,Tho bill-men ply the deadly blow,Unbroken is the ring.”
Thus sang Sir Walter Scott of the last stand at Flodden Field when James was captured and slain; but a different fate was in store for the unhappy McDonald. With all of his officers dead, his Highlanders scattered and beaten, there is no course left but surrender. He raises the white flag, and hands over his sword to Caswell—a broken and sorrowful old man, who has done his best for England and his King.
It should be said, to the honor of the Whigs, that they treated him kindly, and tho he had broken his word of honor, given at Newbern, he was accorded every courtesy that his rank demanded. General McDonald
was paroled by order of the Colonial Congress in April, 1777; he left the State forever. His defeat at Moore's Creek Bridge was in some manner compensated by the generous conduct of his captors.
We turn again to the scene of Battle; there is a party of four, bearing a ghastly burden on a hasty bier; the soldiers gather around to pay their respects to one who has fought bravely and died with honor—the only sacrifice of the day. Ezekiel Slocumb wraps his favorite coat about the body, and Capt. Love lays his sword across the honored breast. It is Private John Grady, of the Duplin Rangers, rigid in death, but covered with glory!
And there is a third chapter to the story, filled with romance and heroic suffering. Away to the North, on the sandy hills of Wayne, lived Mary Slocumb, the wife of Ezekiel. By the dying embers of the fire she sat and dreamed of her absent lover; then a vision passed before her; there was a river of blood and the sound of arms; she saw the Sun rise, and there in the distance was a bridge with many dead men, barelegged and with broadswords; and there where the men were gathering on this side of the River, she saw the form of her husband, wrapped in the coat that she made with her own hands; then she saw a stranger approach and place a naked sword across his breast. She awoke with a scream, and believing it to be a presentiment, saddled her red nag, Maggie, and rode furiously to the scene of the conflict. All night long she rode, with only the light of the stars; and just as the battle ended she came in sight of the bridge.
The command had been given and the men were slowly gathering about the body of their dead comrade; there was a hush in the ranks, broken only by an occasional sob. Someone has found a prayer book and they are about to read the funeral services, when there is a sound of rushing feet, and the cry of a woman in despair; the soldiers look on in dismay as Mary rides into the camp, ragged and bruised, with her red mare panting for breath.
Quickly she dismounts and rushes to the body; she sees the coat of Ezekiel, but she cannot understand the sword of Love; dazed and bewildered, she catches the cap from the dead face and gazes into the lifeless countenance—not of her dear husband; but of John Grady.
And now I see Ezekiel approaching from the West, where he has been in quest of fleeing Tories; Mary falls into his outstretched arms, and the curtain falls upon this final scene, broken only by a sob for the dead and a smile for those who are yet alive
Ladies and Gentlemen, the picture is but poorly drawn. Would that I had the power to paint it in all of its beauty; for it is beautiful, in spite of its harrowing details—beautiful to us, at least, who are the distributees and heirs at law of a worthy ancestry, and partakers of the heritage of freedom that was here bequeathed to a suffering world. The
story of Mary Slocumb's ride has been traditional in the community where I was reared for One Hundred and Fifty Years: I believe it is true in substance; for, like the Wizard in Lochiel, the exaltation of the moment may have given her “mystical lore, and coming events cast their shadows before.” Mary saw the shadow; but not the substance. At any rate, it is a beautiful story that caught to be perpetuated.
On a little knoll this side of Dudley, where the train stops for water, Mary and Ezekiel sleep side by side, under an old mulberry tree. There is a simple tombstone there and a simpler inscription on the stone. One wouud never guess from this inscription that Ezekiel Slocumb took part in the emancipation of America. This should be a cherished spot; the people of North Carolina should not let their ashes be forgotten.
My grandfather said that Richard Caswell stopped at the home of Alexander Grady, on his way to Newbern, and told him of his brother's death and burial. Caswell maintained that John would have lived if he had obeyed orders; but that becoming reckless he rose above the breastworks in order to take more certain aim, when a ball passed through his head, causing instant death.
They buried John Grady on the bank of the Cape Fear, within the present limits of the City of Wilmington; he wore the Coat of Slocumb and the sword of Captain Love; but like the tomb of Moses on Nebo's lonely Mountain, no man knows that sepulchre to this day. The site is lost forever.
Ladies and Gentlemen: In the Encyclopedia Americana, which is considered standard, in Vol. 24, under the caption, “Moore's Creek,” you will find the following statement: “Moore's Creek is noted on account of a battle fought on its banks, 27 February, 1776, between the American forces and the British. The British soldiers, nearly all highland Scotch, under Brig. General McDonald, numbered 1500, and the Americans, under Caswell and Lillington, numbered 1000. The charge was made by the British who tried to cross the stream on the girders of a bridge; the planks had been taken away; but the Militia and Minute men of the American forces routed them. Fully 30 British were killed, many wounded, and about 500 prisoners taken. The victory gained by the Americans was an inspiration to the Carolinas; it had the same effect in the South that the Battle of Lexington had in New England.”
That is a fair statement and sample of American history. If the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge had been fought on New England soil, or in Virginia, The Americana would have devoted many pages to an event of so much importance; and it would have been heralded around the world as one of the greatest victories of the Revolution. There would be a Monument on this spot equal to, if not greater than the one at Bunker Hill; and millions would have been appropriated to the adornment of its surrounding territory. But because it was in the South, and upon the
soil of the despised and forgotten Province of North Carolina, we must be contented with a mere notice in the books, and a few paltry dollars out of the public coffers.
When we remember that this battle was fought something more than five months prior to the Declaration of Independence, when every man was afraid of his neighbor, not knowing whether he was Whig or Tory; when the population of the entire province was less than three hundred thousand, we can begin to appreciate the heroism of those who stood out for the right, and espoused the cause of liberty.
The province had not yet revolted; many men were opposed to the war, and still loyal to the King; the assembling of soldiers at that time, without permission from the Royal Governor, was rank treason under the law. Every man who participated in this battle did so at the risk of his life, and the forfeiture of his worldly goods; for failure meant treason, and treason meant death and confiscation.
General Clinton issued a proclamation from the transport Pallas in the Cape Fear River, on May 5, 1777, declaring that a most wicked and unprovoked rebellion existed in His Majesty's province of North Carolina, to the total subversion of all lawful authority; and requiring all Congresses and Committees to be dissolved, and offering pardon to all persons who would obey, saving Cornelius Harnett and Robert Howe. This proclamation shows the desperate situation that existed, and how fearful had been the result of the Battle at Moore's Creek Bridge. Fifteen hundred Scotchmen had been defeated; their General captured, and all of his subordinate officers had been killed; 500 prisoners of war and $75,000 in gold coin had been taken, together with more than a thousand stands of arms. It must be remembered that at this time Sir Henry Clinton and Lord William Campbell were entering the Cape Fear river with a considerable force; Sir Peter Parker with ten ships, and Lord Cornwallis with seven Regiments, were expected at any moment. Within a few days time Clinton and Campbell could have co-operated with their Scotch friends, and North Carolina would have been at the mercy of its enemies; but how bitter must have been the disappointment to the British officers, when they learned that the embodied loyalists of the Province had been discomfited with great slaughter; that all their Generals had either been killed or captured, and that their hopes were forever blasted to such an extent that they could never again muster in any considerable number; and were, for the present, glad to save their lives in any way they could.
The victory at Moore's Creek Bridge was like an electric shock to the long suffering colonists. Within less than thirty days more than ten thousand men had mustered into service against the King; so that the weak and despised Province of North Carolina had at last come into action with a swiftness and determination that shocked the loyalists
into panic and consternation.
The War lasted several years; but it must be admitted that this decisive victory gave an impetus to the cause of liberty, a thrill to the hearts of the people of the South, such as to give it a place in history equal, if not superior, to that of Lexington and Bunker Hill. Each had its lasting effect; but the future historian will pause long before he accords to New England the laurels that it has so long enjoyed, and denies to North Carolina the honors to which it is justly entitled, and for which it has waited in patience for these many, many years. All that we ask is justice—justice from the Federal Government.
Macaulay says in his Lays of Ancient Rome, that after Horatius had held the bridge against the army of Lars Porsena, they opened the public coffers and did him honor.“They gave him of the corn landThat was of public right,As much as two strong oxenCould plow from morn till night.And they made a molten imageAnd set it up on high;And there it stands unto this day,To witness if I lie.It stands in the Comitium,Plain for all folk to see—Horatius in his harness,Halting upon one knee;And underneath is writtenIn letters all of gold,How valiantly he kept the bridge,In the brave days of old.And still his name sounds stirringUnto the sons of Rome,As the trumpet blast that cries to themTo charge the Voliscian home;And wives still pray to Juno,For boys with hearts as bold,As his who kept the bridge so well,In the brave days of old.”
So let it be with us. The stand of Horatius at Tiber-Bridge was no more heroic than the stand of Caswell at Moore's Creek. Both kept the bridge. Let us remember always that no people can look forward with
confidence to its posterity, that does not look backward with pride to its ancestors.
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me remind you of another duty that you owe to yourselves, as well as to posterity. England and France have adorned their streets and avenues with statues and monuments to their great men. In England you will find the bronze statue of Cromwell, the regicide, standing as prominently as those of the Stuarts or the Tudors. In France you will find that Bonaparte, the revolutionist, is honored equally with the Kings that he deposed.
In America the Federal Congress has laid aside sectional prejudice, and today you may see in the Hall of Fame at Washington, the statue of the matchless Lee, standing in line with the figures of Grant, Farragut and Sherman. In the future, when the story of secession is told without passion or sectional hate, the visitor at Washington will look with equal favor upon Grant, the Federal, and Lee, the Confederate. He will ask but one question: Was this a great American?
The time has come for us to pardon those who stood by the King at Moore's Creek. These men were not traitors. McDonald was a General in the British army; McLeod did no more than his duty as he conceived it. The Scotch highlanders who fought here, had also fought at Culloden. Many of them had been followers of Charles Edward Stuart, the young pretender to the British Throne; and when his cause was lost, they were compelled to take an oath of allegiance to the Royal House of England. It may have been an unwilling oath; but the Scotchman is usually a man of his word. Our Whig forefathers had never taken such an oath, and they did not hesitate to turn against the King when he denied them the right of local self-government.
Let us be just to these people. Let us honor them all; for in the great hereafter it will make no difference what flag we followed, or to which political party we belonged, so long as there was honor in the fight, and a clear conscience.“For when the One Great Scorer comesTo write against your name;He'll write not what you won or lost,But how you played the game.”
The descendants of these Scotch Tories constitute a large part of the citizenship of North Carolina; they are just as loyal to the State and to the National Government as are the descendants of the Whigs. Let us join with them in honoring their ancestors, and I am sure that they will join with us in doing homage to our own.
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, with your permission, I will give you my own version of a story that has been handed down from generation to generation in the community where I was reared. It is a metrical
and partly historical composition, entitled:“MARY SLOCUMB'S RIDE.”