On this day in 1781, American General Nathanael Greene receives two bags of specie (coin as opposed to paper currency) from Elizabeth Maxwell Steele at her tavern in Salisbury, North Carolina–an incident later memorialized in a painting by Alonzo Chappel.
General Greene spent the night of February 1 until midnight awaiting the remaining militia from the previous day’s encounter at Cowan’s Ford in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. But the militia never arrived at the appointed meeting spot, David Carr’s house on the road to the town of Salisbury, and General Greene soon learned of Brigadier General William Davidson’s death at Cowan’s Ford the previous day. He also learned that British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s Dragoons had launched a surprise attack on Davidson’s remaining forces gathered at Tarrant’s (or Torrence’s) Tavern six miles south of Carr’s, killing between 10 and 50 men. The battle-weary militia took significant casualties before alighting on horseback.
Greene rode overnight and arrived at Steele’s Tavern for breakfast on the morning of February 2. Once there, Greene told his physician, who was also at the tavern, that he was hungry and penniless. After overhearing their conversation, Mrs. Steele saw first to Greene’s hunger with breakfast and then gave him the much-needed money to supply both him and his army.
With his mood boosted, Greene inscribed the back of Mrs. Steele’s portrait of George III, O George, Hide thy face and mourn, before turning it to face the wall. The picture and inscription remain at the Thyatira Presbyterian Church Museum, in Salisbury, North Carolina.
Greene’s circumstances improved greatly while in Salisbury. First, he garnered Mrs. Steele’s aid. Second, he discovered a collection of more than 1,700 Continental arms stashed away for the militia. In writing Baron von Steuben the following day, Greene happily observed that the Patriot’s distribution of publick stores is enough to ruin a nation.