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TORIES in BERTIE COUNTY

Many Bertie County men were not originally enthusiastic about the breaking from England. There were many loyal to the Anglican Church and the Crown who might have actively supported the Tory cause.

The Gourd Patch Affair (also known as the Llewelyn conspiracy) was a Tory attempt to murder the North Carolina leaders of the Revolutionary cause. This was headed by John Llewelyn, a Martin County planter, but got a great deal of its support from men in Bertie County.

One of these was William Brimmage. He owned 10,000 acres of land in Bertie County and about 30 slaves and was prominent in Bertie County politics. He was crown prosecuting attorney for the County and also held the appointmen of provincial vice-admiralty judge. An indication of the respect the County had for him, is that he was one of those elected to attend the 3rd Provincial Congress. (He did not attend because of his political opposing views)

From Wynette Haun's "Court Minutes":

2nd Tues Feb 1775
Wm Brimage have leave to keep a Public Ferry from his landing in this 
county to the Horse Landing in Tyrell County

Nov 1777
Ordered that William Brimage depart this state within 60 days and that 
Josiah Reddit serve a copy.

Ordered that Solomon Pender depart this state in 60 days and that the Constable serve him with a copy of this order.

Ordered that the following persons depart this state in 60 days and that the Constable serve each of them with a copy of this order:
William Mitchell and Josiah Nichols

Alan Watson's History of Bertie:
Upon the revelation of the Llewelyn plot Brimage tried to leave the province but was captured and imprisoned in Edenton where he 'was chained down to the Floor' of the jail. Governor Richard Caswell refused his bail, believing Brimage was 'one of the powers of [the] diabolical plan' of the tories. Acquitted of charges of treason, Brimage fled to New York, went to South Carolina upon Cornwallis's invasion of that state, and left for England in 1782 at the evacuation of Charleston. There he remained as one of the many unhappy American exiles while his wife and family continued to live on their plantation in Bertie County.

The Gourd Patch Conspiracy

Used with permission of author: Harry L. Thompson

In 1776, in Halifax Co., NC as opponents fo the rule of the British crwon drafted a state constitution, loyalist John Llewelyn was incensed by reports of "Romish religion", people compelled "to worship idols", and rumors of giving the "Country to the French to be governed by them.". He charged whigs Willie Jones of Halifax Co, and Whitmel Hill of Martin Co of agreeing to "introduce Poppery..." He and others were also angered by the institution of a "draft" to secure the manpower needed for the fight in the early days of the Revolution.

Llewelyn formed a secret society based on faithfulness to the Church of England. His cohorts recruited members, numbering in the hundres, throughout Martin, Edgecombe, Halifax, Bertie, and Tyrell Counties by talking against the new constitution's encroachment on personal freedoms. The soicety required an oath of fidelity to King George, opposition to the draft, the protection of army deserters, and the defense of "all draughted, distressed, or them that are called Tories a soppressed persons, as far as is in your power..." Members of the society used secret signs and code words with religious associations. A small stick with 3 notches cut in itindicated loyalty. Two conspirator, alternatin gletters, would spell out "B-e T-r-u-e" or point the left foreginger to the right arm before spelling the code words.

The conspirators planned the assassination of Gov Richard Caswell and Willie Jones. Plans were made to take "possession of the magazine at Halifax to secure the Arm's and Ammunition...." Furthermore, Llewelyn planned "to kill all the heads of the Country" during one bloody night of terror, although he had first claimed the Tories could succeed "without Spilling blood...by Confining the heads of the Countyu." Particularly bitter toward wealthy whig planters, he told associates that if he culd get "but ten Men to joyn him he Would fall to Work and kill them Every one Speaking of Whitmal Hill and others that had [threatened] him as Tory."

Others who earned Llewelyn's animosity were Nathan and James Mayo both faithful whigs. Llewelyn thought "Nathan Mayo was A Very Busy Body and he believed [Mayo] was put there to watch him and that Son of a Bitch would get kiled and that it was a genral Taulk that James Mayo was to be kiled and because he was a man that was Very peticular in atacking any that was [believed] to be Enemies of the State."

The conspiracy was exposed in the summer of 1777 when David Taylor and a relatiave gave depositions and at least one other member of the society was seized with "all the papers in his pocket". At a meeting in the "gourd patch", where the conspirators regularly gathered, Llewelyn maintained that the captured man must be freed, even if the society "must kill" his captors. The subsequent attack on Halifax was reported to Gov. Caswell in a letter by Col Irwin: "I am sorry to inform you that too many evil persons in this {Edgecombe} and neighboring counties have been joined in a most wicked conspiracy; About thirty of them made an attempt on this place, but luckily I had about twenty-five men to oppose them, and I disarmed them." Word of the conspiracey spread and the conspirators sought to escape.

William Brimage's flight was most theatrical. A practicing attorney and judge on the Admiralty Court in Bertie Co, Brimage was married to Elizabeth West daughter of Colonel Robert West of Bertie County, a prominent leader of both county and colonial politics. Through this union, he had acquired title to thousands of acres of land in eastern NC. A loyal supporter of the King, Brimge had taken part in Llewelyn's society. He left Bertie Co, made his way to Albemarle Sound and hired a boat to transport him to Roanoke Island. As the boat maneuvered its way through the dark night, Brimage and a complanion pulled pistols and demanded to be taken to Currituck Inlet from wshere they planned to make their way to VA. The wild, bluster weather on the Outer Banks forced the loyalists to take refuge on an island. There, the owners of teh boat overpowered the two loyalists and recaptured their boat, leaving the Tories stranded. Brimage was caught andimprisoned at Edenton where he "was chained down to the Floor of the Common Gaol". Gen Allen Jones of the NC militia declared, "The great Mr. Brimage is in Edenton Gaol being one of the heads of these Cut throats also...I make no doubt but hanging about a Dozen will have exceeding good Effects in this State and give Stability to our new Government".

The loyalists who where held in the Halifax jail were moved to Edenton to stand trial for treason. An act passed by the Genearl Assembly in May, 1777, made the penalty for treason death "without the benefit of Clergy" and the forfeiture of all property to the state. Ironically, Brimage had been assigned as judge for the April term in Edenton and Caswell had difficulty finding a substitute to try the case. He finally named John Baptist Beasley of Edenton, and on Sept 16, 1777, John Llewelyn was convicted of "High Treason". Other members of the group were found guilty of "misprision of Treason".

Llewelyn's plight generated a great deal of sympathy from "the most considerable Men in Martin County." Even Nathan Mayo, one of his main targets, met with the governor, along with Llewelyn's wife, to plead for his reprieve. The assembly, however, recommended that the sentence be "carried into execution without delay". But before the execution could be performed, Judge John Baptist Beasley asked for mercy for Llewelyn, "The distress circumstances of Mary Llewelyn , wife of the poor unhappy John Lewellen now under the sentence of death in Edenton Gaol induces me to write your Excelly. I am so unhappy to have nothing to plead in his behalf but Mercy which as it is a darling attribute of the deity hope it will prevail, this much I can say that when he had opportunity to escape out of Edenton Gaol he did not". He must have been successful as there is no record of the execution and ample record in censuses and tax lists that he continued as a Martin County planter.

William Brimage was charged with both treason and mispirsion of treason, but he was not convicted. When ordered to take the State Oath, Brimage refused and fled to New York in April, 1778. Back in England, Brimage approached the King. "Sire, I have been loyal to you, and I have lost everything," or words to that effect, he must have said. "Sorry, Brimage, I'm fighting a war with those pesky colonials, and I have no money to give you, but I will appoint you Attorney General of Bermuda", was the king's line, and he did.

Brimage served in that post until about 1781 when he again returned to England. Brimage eventually died there, alone and penniless. Elizabeth, his wife, approached James Iredell to hep her regain the land that had been lost. It was eventually decided that, since the land had come to Brimage through her father, and since no woman is responsible for the politics of her husband, the land should be returned to her.

For additional information on Tory activities in the Revolution: The North 
Carolina Historical Review Winter, 1978.

Please send any comments or suggestions to:

Virginia Crilley varcsix@hot.rr.com


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