Recalling events that led to historic battle
By Mary Browning

If, the speaker said, magic could transport us back to March 14, 1781, we would be sitting in the old log meeting house, looking out the windows at British soldiers camped around the building. The speaker was the late Algie I. Newlin, the place was Deep River Meeting House, and his audience was composed mostly of members of Deep River Friends Meeting. The occasion was a 1975 anniversary celebration of the “new” (1875) meetinghouse. The irony of soldiers camped in the midst of pacifist Quakers was lost on no one.

Newlin’s device, imagining the past, will be used by many people in this area during these days in early March that lead up to the Battle at Guilford Courthouse, as we try to envision those events. 

The increasingly hungry British troops of Gen. Cornwallis’ army in 1781 were far from their supply point at Wilmington, and had been ordered to scour the countryside as they moved through the southern part of Guilford Co. in search of anything that could be eaten, worn, or ridden. Their destination was Deep River, where they believed they would find a prosperous community and desperately needed supplies.

With the camp established at the meetinghouse, and spreading along the road, one of the first orders given, on March 13, was, “A party of one officer and fifty privates from the Brigade of the Guards to parade immediately and march to Mendenhall’s Mill. A guard will attend from headquarters.”

Mendenhall’s mill was a grist mill built in the 1750s by James Mendenhall on the north bank of the South Fork of Deep River. It was very near the present bridge on Penny Rd. that crosses High Point City Lake. In 1781, George Mendenhall, who lived nearby with his wife, Judith Gardner Mendenhall, and their children, operated the mill. The mill was something over two miles south of Deep River Meeting.

The British remained there overnight, and a second order was issued by Cornwallis on the following day, March 14, saying, “The party at Mendenhall’s Mill will be relieved at 12 o’clock this day—a sergeant and two of which relief will be sent immediately as an escort to the wagons to this mill where they will remain and be joined by the other part of the guard.”

According to Mendenhall family tradition, after all the stored grain and foodstuffs had been commandeered, the soldiers drove off the only remaining milk cow. The lady of the house, went to the officer in charge, stated her case, and was allowed to lead the cow home.

On the morning of the 15th, all of the troops marched early toward New Garden Friends Meeting, where the first battle of that day took place, followed in the afternoon by the day’s second, and major, battle, at Guilford Court House.

Newlin, a professor of history at Guilford College, teamed his knowledge of history with his knowledge of the local landscape after his retirement, and wrote two histories with plentiful local detail of lesser-known battles leading up to that at Guilford Court House. One, The Battle of New Garden, contains information used in this article. The second is The Battle at Lindley’s Mill. Both are available from the North Carolina Friends Historical Society, P.O. Box 8502, Greensboro, NC 27419, or http://www.ncfhs.org.

News and Record, Sunday, March 13, 2005

Reprinted with permission of the News & Record  and of the author