The Life and Times of William Edward Spence (1722-1785)–Part Four


Served 84 months in the Revolution and received 640 acres of land in Tenn. This tract of land was located in what is today Nashville.

William Spence joined the 3rd North Carolina Continentals. He was taken captive by the British during the siege of Charleston-a battle lasting from March to May 1780. At the time of the surrender, over 5600 prisoners were taken by the British (1).

The American Revolution had been underway for sometime but by 1780, it became clear to those living in Pasquotank that their involvement was needed if they wanted to obtain their freedom. In April 1780, William Spence traveled to Kinston in Lenoir County where he joined the North Carolina Continentals. He received an authorization and payment of $30 for a gun (2). He was assigned to the Third North Carolina Continentals, and he served under Capt. John McNees under Col. Robert Mebane (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9). A brief outline of the Third North Carolina as found in Rankin, follows:

p. 63 Describes the formation of the Third NC Regiment under col. Jethro Sumner
p. 69 Detachments from the Third NC Regiment and others dispatched to Charleston 1776
p. 76 Col. Jethro Sumners 3rd NC march to Savannah 1776
p. 83 All but 37 of the Third Regiment were ‘on command’ in Georgia under Robert Howe. The 37 were at Salisbury under Col Alexander Martin, guarding the stores
p. 220 Command of 3rd Regiment given to Col. Robert Mebane
p. 232 The fall of Charleston described. 162 of Mebanes third NC among those captured May 17, 1780. Continentals placed on prison ships in Charleston Harbor (10).

Montross describes conditions aboard the prison ships in Charleston Harbor. When the prisoners were first pushed aboard the ships during summer 1780, they scarcely had standing room until their comrades died. About 800, or a third of the total, perished within thirteen months. When they were released in June 1781, only 740 were ever restored to Continental service (11).

According to Moultrie:

After the defeat of General Gates, our sufferings commenced. The British appeared to have adopted a different mode of conduct towards their prisoners, and proceeded from one step to another, until they fully displayed themselves, void of faith, honor or humanity, and capable of the most savage acts of barbarity.

The unhappy men who belonged to the militia, and were taken prisoners on Gates’ defeat, experienced the first effects of cruelty of their new system.

These men were confined on board of prison-ships in numbers by no means proportioned to the size of the vessels, immediately after of march of one hundred and twenty miles, in the most sickly season of this unhealthy climate.

These vessels were in general infected with the small-pox; very few of the prisoners had gone throught hat disorder. A representation was made to the British commandant of their situation, and permission was obtained for one of our surgeons to inoculate them…this was the utmost extent of their humanity…the wretched objects were still confined on board of the prison-ships, and fed on salt provisions, without the least medical aid, or any proper kind of nourishment. The effect that neutrally followed was a small-pox with a fever of the putrid type; and to such as survived the small-pox, a putrid dysentery…and, from these causes, the deaths of at least one hundred and fifty of the unhappy victims. Such were the appearances, and such was the termination of the generality of the cases brought to the general hospital after the irruption of the small-pox…before the irruption [sic], not a single individual was suffered to be brought on shore…(12)

William Spence was held prisoner on a ship for thirteen months and was among those released in June 1781. He returned to Pasquotank, but he went home to die. Because of the suffering the prisoners experienced, they were all treated as having 64 months in the American Army, and they or their heirs were given 640 acres of land. A summary of William’s military warrant for land obtained from the North Carolina Library and Archives follows:

Military warrant for land, NC Archives to Thomas Malloy, assignee of William Spence. Original given to William Spence, a priv. 5 in the line of this state 30 Sep 1785. William Spence died by March 1785. Grant was signed by William’s brother, David Spence (whose land bordered William’s plantation in Pasquotank, 19 Oct. 1785 to John McNees. 22 Oct 1785, McNees signed it over to John Nichols. 8 ??? 1786, Nichols signed it over to Thomas Malloy. Malloy had the property surveyed (located in Davidson County, Tennessee (13).

To Be Continued in Part Five


(1) William Edward Spence from the Raper Family Tree,, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 8 Apr 2015. Available online at–
(2) •Comptroller’s Office Nos. 241 and 1213–Copy of Original Documents obtained from The North Carolina State Library and Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
(3) Moultrie, William. Memoirs of the American Revolution so far as it related to the States of North and South Carolina and Georgia. Vol. 1 New York: David Longworth (1802).
(4) Revolutionary War Grants, p. 496.
(5) Roster of Soldiers From North Carolina in the American Revolution, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, p. 285.
(6) Wright, Robert K., Jr. Army Lineage Series: The Continental Army. Washington DC: Center of Military History–United States Army (1983).
(7) McCradey, Edward, LLD. The History of South Carolina: The Revolution–1775-1780. New York: Russell & Russell.
(8) Rankin, Hugh F. The North Carolina Continentals. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press (1971)
(9) Montross, Lynn. The Story of the Continental Army (originally published as Rag, Tag and Bobtail). New York: Barnes & Noble (1952/1967), pp. 409-410
(10) Rankin, Hugh F. The North Carolina Continentals. pp. 63, 69, 76, 83, 220, 232.
(11) Montross, Lynn. The North Carolina Continentals. pp. 409-410
(12) Moultrie, William. Memoirs of the American Revolution, pp. 398-399.
(13) Military Warrant for land–640 acres granted to the heirs of William Spence, 30 Sep 1785. North Carolina Library and State Archives. Raleigh, North Carolina.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s