Search for the Earliest Morphews

Chapter 2C

Search for the Earliest Morphews

The 1770 – 1779 Years

2nd Edition, Morphew/Murphy Story – J.R. Murphy. 6 December 2001





The American Revolution was more than just a dream of Independence from England.  On the local level, other issues were at stake and northwestern North Carolina was no exception.  Let’s trace some more happenings that took place as they affect the Morphews and others in the area.


The Bethabara Diary of the German Moravians sheds some light on early Regulator activity along the Yadkin River.  Their earliest writings show frank distaste for the 1771 Regulators, but later their diary entries become openly pro-American.


February 8, 1771:  “In the afternoon a group of Brethren gathered in the Saal to consult as to what should be done if a company of Regulators comes and demands one and another thing.  Toward evening a Regulator brought deerskins to our store, coming from the neighborhood of Hermann’s home.  Among other things he said:  ‘The Fools, his associates, have gone, but I stay at home,’ and it is quite possible that others will do the same.”


Saturday, February 9, 1771:  “The weather was raw and stormy but passed quietly.  Toward evening about a dozen of the Regulators from the Yadkin came to our tavern, stayed over night and waited for more of their party, but they behaved properly, paid for what they ordered, and were most insistent that none of them should drink too much.”


Sunday, February 10, 1771:  “Early in the morning the Regulators who had spent the night in our tavern marched away.  There were about 20 of them, of whom half went home from here; the rest decided to go to Haw River whither they had been ordered.”


Wednesday, February 13, 1771:  “Mr. Walker, returning from the county court in Salisbury visited Brother Marshall.  Among other things he brought the news that in the last meeting of the assembly, Rowan County was divided into 4 counties, and according to his account Wachovia will fall into Surry County.  ...He said further that the last Assembly passed a law whereby the Regulators were proscribed, etc.”


Monday, February 18, 1771:  “This evening the Regulators from Yadkin who marched to Hillsborough, returned to Bethabara.  They complained pitiably about the cold, saying that they had nearly frozen and almost starved.  We could hardly give them food enough in our tavern.  Otherwise they behaved quietly; said nothing further about their intended expedition except that had with them a printed small tract which set forth the beginning of their unrest, which was in Granville County in the year 1766, because of the heavy taxes, and especially because the lawyers had so greatly increased the fees.  Later so-called Regulator meetings had been held in Orange County for the same reasons.  They addressed themselves to the Governor, who promised them relief if they would be quiet and handle things according to law, but they did not restrict themselves to this way, but rather sought to gain satisfaction themselves and went much too far, ruining their cause.  The mentioned small tract went only to the general court in Hillsborough in 1768; and in the following year they showed the greatest insolence.”


On the local level in Surry County, another sort of war was taking place.  The county leaders – Gideon Wright, Martin Armstrong, Alexander Martin, and Benjamin Cleveland – started fighting over the location of the new Surry Court House.  This fight became part of the local issues of the on-coming American Revolution.  A patriot group including Martin Armstong pushed to have the courthouse at Mulberry Fields (Wilkesboro).  Another group pushed to locate it eastward on the Yadkin River farm of Gideon Wright.  Both Armstrong and Wright took the matter directly to Governor Tryon to obtain his permission.  Wright won and the courthouse was constructed on his farm which along the East Bend - Bethania Road.  Martin Armstrong and his followers refused to accept the decision and began efforts to move it to Mulberry Fields.  Even as justices of the peace, they refused to attend any court session at courthouse on Wright’s farm.  Several years later in about 1775, the courthouse suspiciously burned to the ground.  .


In 22 September 1775, the degree of hatred is seen in a letter of Alexander Martin.  “I would have no man used ill, but (Tory) Colonel Wright and his brother appear to be enemies to their country and its liberties....”


Action began to take the place of words.  One night in 1776 about fifty patriots rode up to Wright’s house and forced him to accompany them to the small settlement of Richmond.  What happened to Wright is not clear, but he later reappears in command. 


1776 was the year where actual fighting began.  James Burke, Jr. joined the Patriots on November 1, 1776.  His brothers Benjamin and Joseph remained Tories, creating a conflict of divided loyalties among the Burkes.  Some time during this year, Joseph Murphey (the Baptist Minister) and Billy Bryant were forced into hiding probably from fear of patriot riders.  It is a year that probably affected everyone in Surry and surrounding country.  Between 1776 and 1781, Silas was hung.  Apparently the hanging was poorly executed as the hangmen were forced to leave quickly upon the approach of help.  A woman held Silas up by the legs until the approaching rescuers arrived and his life saved.


In 1779, American forces capture Joseph Burke, son of James.  William Benson reported that he was present and took part in the capture of Mark Adkins and Joseph Burk of Surry for harrying William Griffin of Surry.  Adkins and Burk had driven away Griffin’s cattle to be butchered and eaten for Tory use.  They were taken away to Henry County, Virginia (the county on the north border of old Surry), to Benas camp to be hanged.  Apparently Joseph escaped and lived to 1785, several years after the war.


By October 8, 1780, a number of North Carolina patriot army units had moved towards Charlotte, South Carolina, to battle with British Army of Cornwallis.  However at the same time about 300 Tories under Colonel Wright rode to small town of Richmond, North Carolina; gunfire was exchanged and several townspeople were killed.  Wright then moved his cavalry troops on to Bethabara.    


On the following day of October 9, 1780, the Salem Diary of the Moravians note:  “Andreas Volk’s son came for the doctor for the brother-in-law Johanna Krause, who was shot in the leg yesterday while standing guard at Richmond, which was again visited by a strong party of Tories under Gideon Wright.  The bullet had remained in his limb; Joseph Dixon was sent to bind up the wound.  The Tories had expressed sympathy for the injured man, saying the ball had not been meant for him but for someone else, and so on.  What consequences this may have remains to be seen.”


A few days later, a patriot notes:  “It looks now as though the entire Tory party has risen both in this neighborhood and about Abbott’s Creek.  Both parties are underarms and have been stationed only a few miles from Bethabara at the bridge near Andrea Volk, in preparation for a small engagement.” 


The North Carolina Tory force under Colonel Gideon Wright was actually organizing their forces to move southward to join with British Army under Cornwallis at Charlotte.  Patriot General Smallwood who was 12 miles south of Guilford Count House recognized what was happening and on October 13 began scouting towards the Yadkin River to find Gideon Wright’s horsemen.   At the same time, Patriot General Sumner sent out Colonel Parsley’s soldiers to find Wright.


A letter of General Sumner to General Gates, dated October 13, 1780 states: “Colonel Williams and Mr. Linear arrived in camp, informed me of Tories getting very troublesome in Surry, being embodied to the number of 300 – 400.  I had some accounts at the same time that one Wright, their head man, had sent several of his men into Charlotte to get a way open for them to join the British Army.  I have thought proper therefore to detach a party of 300 foot with a few horses under the command of Colonel Parsley to endeavor to disperse them and cut them off from Charlotte.”




“When the Tory force moved south from old Richmond and attempted to cross the Yadkin at Shallow ford, on what is now the Huntsville-Lewisburg Road, a small party of Virginians and Surry Patriots boldly attacked the Royalists.”  The battle is described by Colonel Parsley: “Last Saturday about 10 o’clock we were within about 1 1/2 miles of Shallow Ford when we heard a foray.  We advanced up with all possible speed thinking the Virginian and some of the Surry troops had attacked the 300 Tories under Colonel Wright.  Our loss was only Captain Francis killed and 4 wounded.  Fourteen of the enemy were found dead on the ground among which were Captains Bryan and Burke.  Captain Lasey was mortally wounded and is now in our hands with three more wounded prisoners which were all we took.”  According to General Smallwood’s report to General Gateson October 16, 1780, his scouts reported “On October 14th, the Tories were defeated at Shallow Ford by Major Cloyd with 160 Virginians and Carolina militia.  There were 15 killed and 4 wounded of the Tories, and one killed and 4 wounded of ours.  The Tories escaped, all being well mounted.’”


A good summary of the Tory problems in this area is found in a letter to Count Reuss on January 2, 1781:  “Difficulties in the entire land have greatly increased, and farm and household affairs in Bethabara have been almost ruined.  Their occasion was as follows:  For a considerable time, all those who were more or less suspected as Tories had been sought out, whipped, and beaten, and their houses burned, cattle driven away, and farms ruined.  This induced those who feared like treatment to decide to declare themselves     openly and enroll under Gideon Wright.  On the other hand those who had been active against the Tories were afraid that they would be attacked.  A man from Maryland, William Peddycoat, who had lived for 5 years in Wachovia, for sheer fear of the Tories left his farm and went back to Maryland.  Finally all the militia were called out and on October 13, Gideon Wright’s crowd were defeated and scattered.  Never-the-less, with the same object in view, General Smallwood came to Salem with 100 regulars and about fifty of the Guilford militia; strict orders were kept, and the General expressed his great disapprobation of the excesses committed here by the militia.  Five hundred militia men went to Bethabara, and as it was rainy they forced their way into the houses, and as no arrangements had been made for their food, they seized all stores in the town and neighborhood, killed cattle, and in all ways lived ‘at discretion.’  Finally then they marched away, and General Smallwood also left Salem.”







Our earliest Morphews were near the Deep River and New Garden (Quaker) Meeting Houses.   In early March 1781, Henry Lee, Patriot Lieutenant Colonel, wrote in his “Memoirs of the War,” published in 1812 and gave us an eye-witness account of the developing war between Cornwallis and Americans.   The historian Algie I. Newlin, former Professor of History at Guilford College, does caution us that Lee mixes up the two meeting houses and the locations need to be switched.  Therefore the corrected Quaker meeting house and lands will be placed in parentheses, i.e. (actually Deep River) within Lee’s story.   Lee’s text is modified for easier reading.


“Lord Cornwallis, leaving his baggage to follow, made a sudden movement late in the evening from Bell’s mill towards New Garden (actually Deep River), a Quaker settlement, abounding with forage and provisions.  Our horsemen approached Bell’s Mill and found it abandoned.  When informed by the inhabitants that the baggage had but lately proceeded under a very small escort, the officer commanding the horse determined to trace their march.  It so happened, that early in the night the escort with the whole baggage of Cornwallis mistook the road, proceeding directly on, instead of turning towards New Garden (actually Deep River).  Our officer discovered this error and dispatched a courier to Lieutenant Colonel Lee with the information, attended by two guides well acquainted with the route taken by the British army and that taken by the escort.  This reached Lee about 11 pm.  Instantly, the legion horse with two companies of infantry mounted behind two of the troops, were put in motion.  Lieutenant Colonel Lee taking the guides sent to him, advanced with the certain expectation of falling in with the lost escort.  The night was extremely dark, and the country covered with woods; but the guides were faithful, intelligent, and intimately versed in all the roads, bye-roads, and even paths.  Estimating the distance to march no more than nine miles, would take two hours, despite the dark night.   Pushing on with all practical dispatch, the first hour brought us to a large road.  This the guides passed, leading the detachment again into a thick wood.  We continued another hour, when finding no road, doubts began to be entertained by the guides.  They attempted to return to the very road they had passed.  After changing their course, some times to the right, sometimes to the left, ever believing every change would surely bring us to our desired route, and yet always disappointed.”


“At length they proposed a halt, then took a few dragoons different directions on our flanks in search of a house.  In the space of an hour, one of them returned, and shortly after the other, both without success.  It was now three o’clock (a.m.), as well as we could make out the time by feeling the hour and minute-hands of our watches.  Again we mounted, and again moved as our guides directed; more and more bewildered, and more and more distressed; persevering, and yet in vain.  Lee halted and dismounted, determining to wait for the light of day.  Daylight appeared to our great joy.  By examining the bark of the trees, they ascertained the north and thus recovered their knowledge of our locality.  We were within a mile of the road we had crossed, which turned out to be the very road desired.  When we passed it, the enemy was only two miles to our right, as much bewildered as ourselves.  For finding that they had not reached camp within the period expected, calculating time from distance; and knowing that New Garden (actually Deep River) must be upon their left; they took a cross road which offered new difficulties, such as fallen trees, and cross-ways as large as the road they had pursued, when the officer determined to halt and wait for daylight.  Lord Cornwallis became extremely alarmed for the safety of his baggage and dispatched parties of horse and foot in various directions to find it.  As soon as it was light, the officer in charge of the baggage retraced his steps, and shortly fell in with the last detachment sent by Lord Cornwallis, and reached safety.”




“The British general remained in his new position of New Garden (actually Deep River), enjoying without interruption the wholesome supplies that this fertile settlement abounded.  Lee proceeded toward the iron works, and found the American army on the 14th of March at Guilford Courthouse, distant about twelve miles from the enemy.  Lee advanced on the road toward the Quaker meetinghouse (at New Garden), with orders to post himself within two or three miles from the court-house, and to resume his accustomed duties.  Scouts reported rumbling of wheels, which indicated a general movement.   The van was called to arms at four in the morning, and to take breakfast with all practical haste.  This finished, Lee instantly mounted, and took the road to the enemy, at the head of the horse, having directed the infantry and the rifle militia to follow.  The cavalry had not proceeded two miles when Lee was met by Lieutenant Heard and his party, who were retiring, followed leisurely by the enemy’s horse.  Lee turned back to General Green.  With the rear troop under Rudolph going off in full gallop, and followed in like manner by the center troop under Eggleston, the British commandant flattered himself with pressing his front against Armstrong, still in a walk which this officer should not change his pace.  With him Lee marched, attentively watching the British progress.  Finding that the charge made at us did not affect Armstrong’s troop now in the rear, the enemy emptied their pistols, and then raising a shout, pushed a second time upon Armstrong, who remained firm with the leading Tory section having nearly closed with us.”


“At this moment, Lee ordered a charge with his dragoons coming instantly to the right and in close column, rushing upon the foe.  This meeting happened in a long lane, with very high curved fences on each side of the road.  Only the front section of each corps closed in before Tarleton sounded a retreat as soon as he discovered the column charging.  The whole of the enemy’s section was dismounted, many of the horses prostrated, some of the dragoons killed, and the rest made prisoners.  Not a single American soldier or horse was injured.  Tarleton retired with his soldiers towards the British camp, while Lee, followed the route to the Quaker meetinghouse (at New Garden) with a view to sever the British Lieutenant Colonel from his army.”


“By endeavoring to take Tarleton’s single detachment, the rest of the British troops escaped.  Lee with his column in full speed reached the meetinghouse at about the same time as the British guards, who gave the American cavalry a close and general fire.  The sun had just risen above the trees, which reflected off the British muskets of the soldiers, and frightened Lee’s horse to throw him off.  Instantly remounting another, Lee ordered a retreat.  While the cavalry were retiring, the British legion infantry came running up with arms and opened a well aimed fire upon our guards.  This fire was returned by the riflemen under Colonel Campbell.   The action became very sharp, and was bravely maintained on both sides.  From the appearance of the guards, Lee surmised Cornwallis was not far in the rear, and called off his infantry, covering them from any attempt of the British horse, and returned to the American army.   General Greene was immediately advised of what had passed, now prepared for battle, not doubting the hour was at hand.”


At this point, Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781) became the center of battle.  Green formed his army into a two lines.  His soldiers were mostly new and were mixed with some who had served from the beginning of the war.  British Major General Leslie advanced upon the North Carolina militia and likewise Lieutenant Colonel Webster moved upon the Virginia militia.  As Lee states: “To our infinite distress and mortification, the North Carolina militia took flight, with only a few of Eaton’s brigade excepted.  Every effort was made by the Generals Butler and Eaton, assisted by Colonel Davie - Commissary General, with many of the officers of every grade, to stop this unaccountable panic, for not a man of the corps had been killed, or even wounded.  Lee joined in the attempt to rally the fugitives, threatening to fall upon them with his cavalry.  All was in vain, so thoroughly confounded were these unhappy men, that after throwing away arms, knapsacks, and even canteens, they rushed like a torrent headlong through the woods.  Now the battle order exposed the corps of Lee to destruction.  So bravely did the American Virginia militia support the action on the right, every corps of the British army suffered severely.  Several efforts at counter-attack took place, including Lieutenant Colonel William Washington (eldest son of Baily Washington) who “pressed forward with his cavalry, killing British Captain Stuart.  But as Lee states: “After passing through the guards into the open ground, Washington, who always led the van, perceived an officer surrounded by several persons, appearing to be aid-de-camp.  Believing this to be Lord Cornwallis, he rushed on with the hope of making him prisoner, when he was arrested by an accident.  His cap fell from his head, and as he leaped to the ground to recover it, the officer leading his column was shot through the body and rendered incapable of managing his horse.  The animal wheeled round with his rider and galloped off the field; he was followed by all the cavalry, who supposed this movement had been directed.”


The fighting continued fiercely until General Green decided to retreat the army.  Lee states: “Thus the battle terminated.  It was fought on the 15 of March, a day never to be forgotten by the southern section of the United States.  The slaughter was prodigious on the side of the enemy, making in killed and wounded, nearly one third of his army.  The    official report states their loss at 532 men, of whom 93 were found dead on the field.   The Cornwallis army was listed with 1449 infantry, 300 cavalry, 200 artillery, probably at the battle.  The British Brigadiers O’Hara and Howard, Lieutenant Colonels Webster and Tarleton, the Captains Stuart, Maynard, Goodryche, Maitland, Schuty, Peter, and Lord Dunglas, with several subalterns, were wounded; as were Captains Wilmonsky and Eichenbrodt, of the regiment of Bose, with five subalterns.  Our loss very disproportionate; only 14 officers and 312, rank and file, of the continental troops killed, wounded and missing.”  The Americans outnumbered the British by 2:1.  A Mr. Fox in the British House of Commons, shortly thereafter stated, “Another such victory would destroy the British army.”


On October 17, 1781, the Battle of Yorktown ended with the Americans victorious.  Two days later Cornwallis surrendered his army to General Washington.  The defeat at Yorktown was the last major battle, but some fighting continued in areas for two more years.  Finally a treaty with Britain was concluded and approved by Congress on April 15, 1783 recognizing the independence of the United States.  The remaining British soldiers left New York City in November 1783.






The war was over, but it would be another 8 years before peace came to the loyalists.  Tory lands and property were seized.  In Wilkes County, Benjamin Cleveland hunted down his enemies for hanging.  In Surry, some unfortunates are now buried in a cemetery adjacent to the Deep Creek Quaker Church.  There is not enough in clues to say what happened to the Morphews: Joseph/James, and his sons, Silas, and James.  Possibly Joseph/James Morphew did lose his property as indicated by a claim for indemnity filed by a certain wife Mary Murphy in 1783-1789.  In 1783 only Mary Burke Morphew is mentioned in James Burke’s will.  Her husband may be dead by then


Some information has come to light on a few individuals.  Tuesday, April 23, 1782:  Message of Thomas Burke, Governor of North Carolina to the State house.  “This afternoon is appointed for the election of a Governor and I am in nomination....  During the misfortune of my captivity I have great obligations to a few persons who were then with the enemy.  Those to Mr. William Campbell have already been suggested.  A Mr. John McLean and a Mr. McIver of Cumberland and MR. MURPHY OF SURRY COUNTY have not before been mentioned.  In favor of the first there is a petition which will be laid before you and which only speaks what I will know to be true, relatively to his behavior to those who were with me in the hand of a barbarous enemy.  The two latter continued to us the most humane care and attention during our long and harassing march and more than once prevented our being murdered.  I have the clearest conviction that all those persons are proper objects for the mercy of the State....  I am unwilling to execute the power of pardoning in this instance without consulting the General Assembly.... I request therefore that I may be favored with their advice time enough to enable me to execute this act of mercy mingled with gratitude before I go out of office.  (signed) Thomas Burke, Governor of North Carolina.


On April 24, 1782, Governor Burke repeated his letter to the General Assembly.  It is not known whether they responded. 


I do not know which Mr. Murphy of Surry County is referred.  A check of State prisoner-of-war records and the General Assembly records might be helpful as Murphy was obviously in their hands.  The best bet seems to be Richard Murphy of Surry County, who was a Captain in the Tory militia.  Probably Richard was part of Gideon Wright’s or Samuel Bryan’s band which attempted to join Cornwallis at Charlotte.  If he (or whichever Murphy) reached regular British forces at Charlotte, their accounting records may list him.  Richard, himself, disappears from Surry records until the 1786 taxable.


On July 7, 1783, Silas Murphy was received by request at the Deep River Quaker Church (Guilford County, N.C.).   There is no record of where Silas lived during the 1778 to 1781 active war years.  Possibly the Morphews lived near the sanctuary of the Deep River settlement in Guilford County.


1789:  In this year, the American Government improved relations with Britain by passing a law to pay Tories for lands and property lost during the revolution.  A Mary Murfee filed such a petition #17 for indemnity with James Fletcher, North Carolina officer of Claims for Indemnity.  There is no date on the claim, but it probably was 1789.   If the details of the indemnity claim still exist, there might be a wealth of historical material.