This Day in History: A Heroine at the Battle of the House in the Horseshoe

On this day in 1781, Loyalists win the Battle of the House in the Horseshoe.

Yes! The battle really occurred in a house. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that the lady of the house would turn out to be a heroine that day?

The house belonged to North Carolina Patriot Philip Alston, who’d been trying to capture Loyalist commander David Fanning. He’d so far been unsuccessful. By late July 1781, he’d returned home and was there with some of his men.

Little did Alston know it, but Fanning was about to turn the tables on him. I guess you could say that the hunted was about to become the hunter? Fanning was furious about the death of a friend, and he’d decided to seek retribution.

On the morning of July 29, Fanning arrived and surprised some of Alston’s sentries. The rest of Alston’s men barricaded themselves inside the house.

Unfortunately, Alston’s wife and children were also there. His wife, Temperance, hid their children in the chimney, propping them up on a table so they would be protected from gunfire.

Wow. It must have been dark in that chimney. And loud. And dirty! How terrifying to be a child trapped in a narrow chimney while a battle wages outside.

Fanning tried a few tricks to rush the house or to burn it down. Each of these attempts failed. But then someone had an idea. They took a cart from the barn, filled it with hay, and set it afire. They intended to roll the cart toward the house, perhaps burning it down. Alston knew that he had to surrender if he wanted to save his family. But it also seemed obvious that Fanning would kill him upon sight.

Naturally, Temperance Alston decided that SHE would go out and negotiate.

Temperance must have been one tough lady! She went out under a white flag to meet with Fanning. Reportedly, she told Fanning: “We will surrender, sir, on condition that no one shall be injured; otherwise we will make the best defense we can; and if need be, sell our lives as dearly as possible.”

Fanning agreed to the deal—and he kept his word. Alston and his men were taken prisoner, but they were allowed parole.

In the grand scheme of things, the battle was a relatively small skirmish. But it reflects a fact that is easy to forget today: The American Revolution was a war that was fought very close to home. Our ancestors literally put everything on the line so they could obtain freedom.

*** Logistical note for those who care 🙂  ***

The exact date of this skirmish is questioned, although July 29 is often accepted. Either way, it still makes a good story!