The Battle of Beaufort - 1782

Aquatint from original painting by D. Serres from a
sketch by Sir James Wallace; Published, 1778.
National Archives and Records Administration.
This image is not the "Battle of Beaufort." It is the British Phoenix and the Rose engaged by American fire ships and galleys on August 16, 1776-Fort Lee, on the Hudson River. It is posted here as a visual in imagining a typical attack by sea during the Revolutionary War.
When Fort Hancock, built on the Outer Banks of North Carolina at Cape Lookout in 1778, was disbanded in June of 1780, Beaufort had little defense. All Beaufort had was a small battery mounting four 6-pounders which townspeople had erected to defend the small port between the North and Newport Rivers. The harbor was thus open to any ship that could pass through the inlet. 

The surrender of Cornwallis in 1781 essentially ended the active campaign of the Revolutionary War, but the British still held Savannah, Charleston and New York. Until the Continental Government and Great Britain negotiated a settlement, the war was still in progress.

In April, 1782, North Carolina Governor Thomas Burke received warning of vessels, guns and 250 men heading toward Beaufort – where the British had been informed there was a large quantity of supplies - public and private stores. The warning did not arrive in time.

On April 4, 1782, the British privateer Peacock and two other vessels appeared off Old Topsail Inlet. Posing as friendly ships, they forced the locals to guide them into the harbor. Inhabitants became curious when the men who went out to the ships did not return – realizing the strangers were British.

Colonel John Easton, the militia commander, gathered a handful of men – posting them along shore to watch for landing parties during the night. On the second attempt to sneak ashore, the British drove back the militia to the town battery. Beaufort was in British hands as Easton took position outside the town to await arrival of more militia summoned from the area.

For the next five days the British plundered and skirmished with the militia. Easton held off an attack – since the British had threatened to burn the town.

On April 10 the British retired back to their ships after spiking the cannons in the town battery. An exchange of prisoners was made, although the British refused to release pilots needed to guide them out of the harbor.

British ships remained in the harbor for several more days, fired at the town and burned a sloop. In order to obtain water for troops, they also tried to land troops on Shackleford and Bogue Banks, but were repelled by the local militia.

On the night of April 15, the militia and townspeople tried a new approach. They set two fire rafts adrift on the outgoing tide hoping that they would drift into the British fleet. The plan failed but the British were alarmed enough to depart the harbor two days later – with a few parting shots by the local militia. Once out in the ocean, the remaining prisoners were released and the fleet departed with their prizes and plunder. Thus ended the battle of Beaufort, NC, one of the last battles of the war.

In November of 1782, initial peace treaties were signed, followed by the formal treaty of peace on September 3, 1783 that recognized American independence.

The above text was summarized from text written by Paul Branch for The Encyclopedia of NC and Fort Macon.