John Alexander Lillington (c. 1725-1786)

Namesake of the town of Lillington (the county seat of Harnett County), John Alexander Lillington served as a colonel during the American Revolution and earned fame as a military hero.

Born during the mid-1720s (his exact birthdate is unknown), Lillington was a native of what was then called the Beaufort Precinct. Orphaned at a young age, Alexander Lillington was reared by his uncle, Edward Moseley.

Before his military career, Lillington was a politician. In 1775, he served on the New Hanover Committee of Safety. That year, he also served as a delegate to the Third Provincial Congress. The Third Provincial Congress appointed six men to be leaders among six newly created districts. Lillington was among them and was appointed over the Wilmington District. Although a well-respected planter, with a magnificent home called Lillington Hall in Pender County and a budding political career in New Bern, Lillington earned his fame not in the political halls but on the battlefield.His military fame began at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge (1776). After hearing the news that Loyalists were marching toward Wilmington, Lillington and his militiamen were placed on alert. They met the Tories at Moore’s Creek. There, Lillington secured a position that later enabled the Patriot forces to take the bridge and defeat the British loyalists. (When the continentals arrived, their commander, Richard Caswell, outranked and assumed command from Lillington.) Credit for the Patriot victory is typically given to Caswell, but many have given credit to Lillington. As one Revolutionary rhyme went:

“Moore’s Creek field, the bloody story,
Where Lillington fought for Caswell’s glory.”

Although the question of commandship at Moore’s Creek, for many, was never really answered beyond doubt, Lillington gained respect across the American colonies. With exaggeration, some speculated that Lillington (and Caswell) could outfox any British general, including Robert Howe, George Clinton, and John Burgoyne. What is certain is that the Fourth Provincial Congress appointed Lillington as colonel of the 6th North Carolina Continental. He resigned a year later on the last day of 1776 and later served as a delegate in the Assembly in 1777. In 1779, he accepted an appointment as a militia brigadier general for the Wilmington District. In this position, he assisted the Patriot defense of Charleston and dealt with pesky North Carolina loyalists for the duration of the war.

After the war, he returned to Lillington Hall (the British had occupied his home for much of the war). He died in April 1786 and is buried near his home.

Source.  North Carolina history.org, an online Encyclopaedia, North Carolina Project, “John Alexander Lillington”, http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/249/entry.  (accessed October 23, 2012).  See further references in the article, “John Alexander Lillington.”

Commentary

See the article in this Web site about the “Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge” which took place on February 26, 1776.  Alexander Lillington’s actions during this battle contributed to the reputation enjoyed by Cornelius Harnett. The battle was one of the many events that Historian R. D. W. Connor referred in his essay about Harnett:

While these events were occurring, Cornelius Harnett was at the head of the provisional government.  We may almost say that they occurred during his administration, for certainly no man contributed more to these results than he.  In the Congress he served on more committees concerned in devising measures of defense than any other man.  He wrote the Resolution of April 12th.  He was president of the Provincial Council and of the Council of Safety to which were entrusted the execution of ordinances and the direction of armies, and as such he guided the affairs of both with such a measure of success that the the enemy attributed to him more than to any of his colleagues the downfall of the royal government and the spirited conduct of the Revolutionary program.  1

Between the time British Governor Martin retreated from Fort Johnston to the the safety of the British ship Cruzier and North Carolina adopted a Constitution that provided for a Governor, Cornelius Harnett was the defacto Governor and Commander in Chief of North Carolina.  This honor came to him because of the outstanding bravery of Alexander Lillington and others who came together for the American Revolution.

Notes

1.  –Connor, R. D. W. CORNELIUS HARNETT: AN ESSAY IN NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY. Raleigh, N. C. : Edwards and Broughton Printing Company, 1909. 157-158. Print (& Web, digitized after copyright expired by Google at http://books.google.com/.

  1. 1 []

Comments are closed.