On this day in 1775, just a few short months after commanding British soldiers during the Battle of Bunker Hill, General Sir William Howe writes to the British-appointed secretary of state for the American colonies, Lord Dartmouth, to inform him of his belief that the British army should be evacuated from Boston to Rhode Island. From there, British forces could move expeditiously to the southern colonies, without having to go around Cape Cod. As Lord Dartmouth had previously received reports that men were needed in the southern colonies from the likes of Josiah Martin, the royal governor of North Carolina, and John Murray, the royal governor of South Carolina, he ordered General Howe to send officers stationed in Boston to North Carolina to assist Martin in the southern campaign.
Martin had been directing Loyalist efforts in North Carolina from his ship Cruiser anchored in the Cape Fear River since a Patriot attack on his home in April 1775. When the residents of Mecklenburg County effectively declared their independence from the crown that May, Martin had sent a copy of their resolves to Britain, requested military supplies from Howe’s predecessor, General Thomas Gage, in Boston and plotted to arm the slaves of North Carolina to help put down any Patriot uprising.
Word of Martin’s intent to incite a slave rebellion mobilized a successful Patriot attack against Martin’s headquarters at Fort Johnston on Cape Fear on July 20, 1775. Following the attack, Martin moved the Cruiser off the coast of North Carolina, where he continued to arm the Loyalists with British supplies. On February 27, 1776, the Patriots managed to defeat the Loyalists at Moores Creek Bridge before the Loyalists reached the coast to await a scheduled rendezvous with Cornwallis. With the Loyalists routed, Cornwallis chose not to land his men, aborting his intended southern campaign. Instead, he traveled north to join the successful British Battle for Long Island in August 1776.