Robert Howe (1732-1786)

The following are excerpts from an article by Richard Carney, North Carolina History Project:

In 1732, Robert Howe was born in Brunswick County, North Carolina. He emerged as the colonies’ highest-ranking officer during the Revolutionary War.  In November 1786, Howe died at his home in Brunswick County.  His military career began in 1754, when appointed Captain of the Bladen County militia.  In 7546, Howe was appointed Justice of the Peace and was elected to represent Bladen County in the General Assembly from 1760-1775.

During the 1770s, Royal Governor Josiah Martin and Howe frequently disagreed. In 1771, Martin replaced Governor Tryon and shortly afterward removed Howe from the Court of Exchequer; in 1773, he relinquished Howe of command of Fort Johnston. The attachment clause controversy further divided Howe and Martin. The provincial government deplored the attachment clause, which allowed creditors to “attach property owned in North Carolina by non-residents . . . to satisfy their debts.” Governor Martin supported the decision to remove the clause, but colonial lawmakers were determined to keep the law intact. While leading the movement to keep the attachment clause, Howe associated with the Sons of Liberty and the American struggle for independence.

North Carolina’s General Assembly met in 1773 and established a Committee of Correspondence. Howe was one of nine committee members assigned to investigate Parliamentary Acts that “may relate to or effect the British Colonies in America.” The Committee reported their findings to all colonies and united the fight for America’s freedom.

Afterwards, Howe was appointed military adviser for North Carolina’s Provincial Congress. In 1777, he led North Carolina troops to meet Major General Charles Lee, commander of the Southern Department. Now a major general, Howe was the highest ranking North Carolinian in the Continental Army. When General Lee left the Southern Department, James Moore assumed command. However, in the spring of 1777, Moore was ordered to North Carolina and Howe became Commander of the Southern Department and the highest-ranking officer in the South.

Beginning in 1779, Howe served with General George Washington on the Hudson, commanded troops protecting the Connecticut border at Ridgefield, and in 1780, commanded Fort West Point. Although Congress appointed him in 1785 as part of a commission to negotiate the land in Ohio with western Indians, Howe returned to North Carolina, where the General Assembly passed a resolution thanking him for his devotion to the state. In hopes of gaining a state legislative seat, Howe campaigned in Brunswick County, but in November 1786, he suffered a fever and died.

Source for the above Excerpts.
North Carolina, an online Encyclopaedia, North Carolina Project, “Robert Howe”, (accessed May 5, 2013).  For an image of Robert Howe, the full text and further references see the article, “Robert Howe,”  by Richard Carney, North Carolina History Project.


After Josiah Quincy Jr. met with Cornelius Harnett and others in March of 1773 on the need for Committees of Correspondence, Robert Howe and Cornelius Harnett, along with seven others, were appointed to an nine-person Committee of Correspondence for North Carolina. The work of this committee led to the creation of the Provincial Congress in North Carolina and with other colonies led to the creation of the Continental Congress.  [For more on the above, see introduction to the article “Provincial Congress” under the menu item “Organizations”].

In the article in this Web site entitled “Harnett Helps Disgrace Governor Martin,” read about the critical role played by Howe when he and his five hundred men destroyed Fort Johnston in carrying out an order issued by Cornelius Harnett as Chair of the Wilmington-New Hanover Safety Committee.

In the Howe article above stating that Howe worked with the Sons of Liberty to keep the attachment clause, Harnett was Chairman of Sons of Liberty at the time.  In fact, Harnett provided a critical role in that effort as described in the article “Committees of Correspondence” in this Web site.

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