The influence of Colonel Hamilton, of the British army, contributed greatly - at the time Lord Cornwallis, on his last ill-fated expedition, was in the neighborhood of Halifax - to mitigate the evils usually attendant upon the march of a hostile force. Hamilton had resided there before the Revolution, and showed a regard for his old acquaintances by inducing the Commander to forbid the molestation of the persons or property of non-combatants.
It is not improbable that female influence had something to do with this magnanimity. The tone of public opinion in Halifax and its neighborhood was affected in no slight degree by three women, who were rendered prominent by the position of their husbands, and by their own talents and example. These women were Mrs. Willie Jones, Mrs. Allen Jones, and Mrs. Nicholas Long. Their husbands were men of cultivated minds, of wealth and high consideration, having great influence in public councils, and being zealously devoted to the achievement of independence. The importance of the principles for which they contended was vindicated not less impressively by the conversation and patriotic zeal of their wives, than by their own efforts in more striking appeals.
Colonel Nicholas Long was Commissary general for the forces raised in North Carolina, and superintended the preparation, in workshops erected on his premises, of warlike implements, military equipments, and clothing for the soldiers. His wife was a most efficient co-operator in this business. She possessed great energy and firmness, with mental powers of no common order. Her praises were the theme of conversation among the old officers of the army as long as any were left who had known her. Her maiden name was M'Kinney. She died when about eighty years of age, leaving a numerous offspring.
Mrs. Allen Jones was a Miss Edwards, the sister of Isaac Edwards, the English secretary of Governor Tryon. She had the reputation of being the most accomplished woman of her day, and was remarkable for the elegance and taste shown in all her domestic arrangements. She died shortly after the Revolution, leaving an only daughter, who married the son of Mrs. Long.
Mrs. Willie Jones was the daughter of Colonel Montfort, and was married at a very early age. She is regarded as the most conspicuous among the Revolutionary heroines in the region where she lived, and is said to have been eminent in every quality that constitutes excellence in female character. She possessed a remarkable faculty of gaining influence by the affections. One of her acquaintances says: "She is the only person with whom it has been my fortune to be acquainted, who was loved - devotedly, enthusiastically loved - by every human being who knew her." Born to an ample fortune, she dispensed it with a munificent and elegant hospitality rarely seen in a new country, while her charities were extended to all proper objects of her beneficence. A native nobility of soul rendered her superior to the influence of any selfish feeling, or of accidental circumstances, which often mould the character of ordinary minds. The enjoyments of life were partaken by her with sobriety, while the troubles and privations that fell to her lot were borne with calmness and cheerful fortitude. She died about 1828, leaving five children, of whom two are living in North Carolina.
The celebrated retort to Tarleton's sneering remark concerning Colonel William Washington, a witticism variously repeated, has been generally attributed to Mrs. Jones; but I have been assured by her daughter that it was incorrectly ascribed to her. Mrs. Jones often related the occurrence to this lady, and disclaimed the merit of the retort, which belonged to her sister Mrs. Ashe. The circumstances were as follows: During the stay of General Leslie and the British troops in Halifax, several of his officers were quartered at the house of Colonel Ashe, and Mrs. Ashe was in the habit of playing backgammon with them. Among these was Tarleton, who often conversed with her, and was especially fond of indulging his sarcastic wit in her presence at the expense of her favorite hero Colonel Washington. On one occasion he observed, jestingly, that he should like to have an opportunity of seeing that man, who he had understood was very small. Mrs. Ashe replied quickly: "If you had looked behind you, Colonel Tarleton, at the battle of the Cowpens, you would have had that pleasure." The taunt was keenly felt, and the British Colonel so moved, that his hand involuntarily sought the hilt of his sword. At this moment General Leslie entered the room, and observing that Mrs. Ashe was much agitated, inquired the cause of her emotion. She explained what had passed, to which General Leslie answered with a smile; Say what you please, Mrs. Ashe; Colonel Tarleton knows better than to insult a lady in my presence."
The following illustrative incident was communicated to the Rev. J. H. Saye, by two Revolutionary officers, one of whom lived in the vicinity where it occurred the other being of the party concerned in the adventure.
Early in the war, the inhabitants on the frontier of Burke County, North Carolina, being apprehensive of an attack by the Indians, it was determined to seek protection in a fort in a more densely populated neighborhood in an interior settlement. A party of soldiers was sent to protect them on their retreat. The families assembled, the line of march was taken towards their place of destination, and they proceeded some miles unmolested - the soldiers marching in a hollow square, with the refugee families in the centre. The Indians, who had watched these movements, had laid a plan for their destruction. The road to be travelled lay through a dense forest in the fork of a river, where the Indians concealed themselves, and waited till the travellers were in the desired spot. Suddenly the war-whoop sounded in front, and on either side; a large body of painted warriors rushed in, filling the gap by which the whites had entered, and an appalling crash of fire-arms followed. The soldiers, however, were prepared; such as chanced to be near trees darted behind them, and began to ply the deadly rifle; the others prostrated themselves upon the earth, among the tall grass, and crawled to trees. The families screened themselves as best they could. The onset was long and fiercely urged; ever and anon amid the din and smoke, the warriors would rush, tomahawk in hand, towards the centre; but they were repulsed by the cool intrepidity of the back-woods riflemen. Still they fought on, determined on the destruction of the victims who offered such desperate resistance. All at once, an appalling sound greeted the ears of the women and children in the centre; it was a cry from their defenders - a cry for powder ! "Our powder is giving out," they exclaimed. "Have you any ? Bring us some, or we can fight no longer !" A woman of the party had a good supply. She spread her apron on the ground, poured her powder into it, and going round from soldier to soldier as they stood behind the trees, bade each who needed powder put down his hat, and poured a quantity upon it. Thus she went round the line of defence, till her whole stock, and all she could obtain from others, was distributed. At last the savages gave way, and pressed by their foes, were driven off the ground. The victorious whites returned to those for whose safety they had ventured into the wilderness. Inquiries were made as to who had been killed, and one running up, cried, "Where is the woman that gave us the powder ? I want to see her !" "Yes!-Yes ! - Iet us see her ! "responded another and another; "without her we should have been all lost !" The soldiers ran about among the women and children, looking for her and making inquiries. Directly came in others from the pursuit, one of whom observing the commotion, asked the cause, and was told. "You are looking in the wrong place," he replied. "Is she killed ? Ah, we were afraid of that !" exclaimed many voices. "Not when I saw her," answered the soldier. "When the Indians ran off, she was on her knees in prayer at the root of yonder tree, and there I left her." There was a simultaneous rush to the tree, and there, to their great joy, they found the woman safe, and still on her knees in prayer. Thinking not of herself, she received their applause without manifesting any other feeling than gratitude to Heaven for their great deliverance.