In late 1775, William Caswell, oldest son of NC Gov Richard Caswell, is serving in the 2nd Continental Regiment of North Carolina assisting the Virginians in driving back Lord Dunmore’s attack around Norfolk, VA, known as the Battle of Great Bridge. The valuable aid given by the North Carolinian’s was such that the Virginia House of Burgesses praised the victory and announced the high regard for the brave men of both Virginia and North Carolina.
William wrote to his father often, they corresponded much through the war and before that when he served his father as his confident and secretary. His father often would write to him of his pride for the service William provided his country but also of his love for his son and duty to country.
In this letter dated 8 Feb 1776, he once again will instruct and encourage his son in his service.
Dobbs, Newington, 8th February, 1776.
My Dear Son:
Your letter of the 24th of January, I this moment received and rejoice to hear of yours and Mr. Herritage’s health, tho’ Lowly. Men in your Situation are often so & when you Consider the great Cause you are engaged in, You will, I flatter myself, think your Sufferings from those small Vermin not worth Notice. However, if it is in my power to send you Shirts I will most Chearfully do it or any thing else within the Compass of my power. I did not doubt but you had Carried all the Clothes you had at Newbern with you.”
“I hope my Dear Child, the Virtuous cause you are engaged in and the hope you have of giving the little Assistance in your power to the relief of your Country, and as far as your power extends, will Stimulate you to put up with Hardships, Fatigues & inconveniences which others may shudder at, to ward off that slavery which is Attempted to put the present, as well as the future, generation under in this once happy Land.
Don’t mistake me when I say the dissatisfaction of others ought not to be a rule for you, nor think that I would wish you to be one Moment in a Service your own Conscience does Not tell you it is your duty to Attend and even Sacrifice that life which I have been an instrument in the Hands of your Maker of giving you. You know I would not wish you to remain a day longer from me or those of your Family to whom you are very dear if I did not think your own, mine & Our Country’s Honor & Welfare required it.
Let Virtue, Honor & Prudence conduct you. If I never have the Pleasure of Seeing you again in this World, my prayers shall be daily made to the Almighty disposer of all things to Bless you in the next.
With hopes of seeing you soon, I Conclude,
Your ever affectionate Father,
In the letter to his father, William mentions that most of the army were lacking in clothing, food and pay. William himself answered the call and left with whatever he had on himself at the time. He did not even have his horse. There seems to be several officers and men that are writing letters of dissent, but he is not one of them. Instead he is telling his father of the battle and the following hardships he is suffering and seeing and I am sure he is hoping for his father’s continued support and words of wisdom to get him through.
William took his duty seriously, entering into the Continental Army as an Ensign of the 2nd Regiment of NC Line, from the New Bern district. He was immediately dispatched to serve with General Washington’s forces in the north. Both he and his Uncle, Colonel John Herritage, were with General Washington during the winter at Valley Forge. William was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine and reported to have “served well with valor” and was soon promoted to Lieutenant and then promoted once again to Captain of the 5th NC Continental Regiment in April 1776.
In 1778 he returned home to Kinston, NC with failing health, some thought to be from his injuries earlier at the Battle of Brandywine and deprivation in the following years. However, as his health regained, duty called him once again to engage in the war, this time as Brigadier General and fought against Cornwallis’s army as it marched from Wilmington to Guildford Courthouse. William was there at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered.
Having served his country and his father well, it is sad indeed that William Caswell died on 6th January 1785, age 30, leaving a young wife and son Richard William Caswell. Soon after his wife would also die and the young child would be taken in by Gov. Caswell and his wife Sarah to be raised along with his other children.
Had he lived, I have no doubt he would have continued to serve his country in the best way possible and with the same determination and passion his father taught him with the lessons learned at his side, serving him and other Founding Men.
When I read these letters from my 4th-Great Uncle and my 5th-Great Grandfather, I am warmed at the obvious affection between the two but also the words of wisdom that Richard expresses in order to bolster his son’s morale in what he knows to be more than just a hardship but one of survival.
Note: I also love that Richard Caswell often wrote in his letters that he would “cheerfully” obtain or do whatever he was compelled to do for the support, safety and comfort of his men or the independence and future of his country.