The Battle of the Bees: A Revolutionary War Skirmish Won by American Patriots and a Swarm of Bees

battle_of_the_bees

I live close to the town of Matthews, in the lower right-hand corner. The Battle of the Bees took place just a little north of Charlotte, about 7 miles, out Beattie’s Ford Road.

I live outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Battle of Bees plays an important role in the region’s history. Also known as the Battle of McIntyre’s Farm, the Battle of Bees was a Revolutionary War incident, which occurred on October 3, 1780. When the British commander, Lord Charles Cornwallis, left Charlotte on 12 Oct. 1780, after a 16-day occupation, he was heard to say that the defiant and rebellious town was a ‘damned hornet’s nest.”‘Although the British were figuratively stung by unrelenting hostility and violent ambushes, one foraging party was stung, both, literally and figuratively, by Patriots and by bees in the skirmish at McIntyre’s Farm.

Cornwallis had ordered Major John Doyle to lead a foraging expedition into the countryside surrounding the town of Charlotte (Note: Both the town and the county were named for Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, King George III’s royal consort.) Supplies were low, but the British did not take the mission lightly. Their 40 wagons were accompanied by 450 foot soldiers, as well as a cavalry detachment. Doyle’s contingent were trailed by 13 American patriots, under the command of Captain James Thompson. Thompson’s men kept out of sight as the British halted seven miles from town at McIntyre’s farm. There, some of the British remained behind to plunder the farm while Doyle and the rest of the party began to march on.

At the farm, some of the soldiers accidentally knocked over a beehive and were forced to scatter to evade the bees’ combined anger. Taking advantage of the situation, the Patriots attacked, killing a British captain, nine soldiers, and two horses. Because the Patriots fired from cover with great accuracy and constantly shifted their positions, it seemed to the startled Redcoats that they were under attack from a much larger force.

mcintyre_cabin

McIntye’s Cabin. Image from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. Available from http://www.cmhpf.org/Properties%20Foundation%20Reports/McIntyreFarm.html (accessed Sept. 3, 2018)

Thinking themselves under heavy attack and outnumbered, Doyle foolishly ordered his men to retreat. The Americans managed to kill some of the horses pulling the supply wagons, which created a road block, of sorts. A few of the British soldiers cut away the uninjured horses and made their escape. The American soldiers from the neighborhood took a turn at firing on the escaping Redcoats, creating more havoc. The Battle of McIntyre’s Farm was only one of several sharp clashes fought between Cornwallis and local Patriots around Charlotte. [The Battle of McIntyre’s Farm, NC Pedia]

Carolana.comCarolana.com provides a summary of this incident: 

After a week in Charlotte, Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis needed to send out foraging parties to replenish his supplies. A large foraging party of 450 Provincials under the command of Capt. John Doyle moved out of Beattie’s Ford Road with sixty wagons. A local boy notified the McIntyre family that the Loyalists were coming.Then, the boy rode on and informed Capt. James Thompson of the local militia. Capt. Thompson quickly rounded up Capt. James Knox and thirteen farmers to harass Capt. Doyle’s troops, and then hid the riflemen in two locations at the McIntyre farm.

Capt. Thompson watched as Capt. Doyle’s men plundered McIntyre’s barns and raided their livestock pens. The Provincials tied their horses to the farm wagons while they went about their work. When the baggage wagons arrived they loaded bags of corn and oats onto them.

During the pillaging, the Loyalists accidentally knocked over some beehives and found themselves under attack by the swarming bees. One Loyalist officer stood in the doorway and laughed as the men swatted at the bees and ran from the danger.

As they were occupied, Capt. Thompson and his men approached the raiders. He yelled out that he would take out a captain he had spotted and that every man should quickly select their target. Capt. Thompson and a militiaman named Francis Bradley fired at the same time. Thompson’s shot found its mark and the man thought to be a captain fell dead. The enemy mounted their horses and formed a line, but Capt. Thompson and his men were able to reload and fire a second time.

Dogs were set loose on the Patriots and they pursued one group of Capt. Thompson’s men:

“The dogs came on the trail of these retreating men, and the leading one sprung upon the heels of a man who had just discharged his rifle. A pistol shot laid him dead, and the other dogs, coming up to him, paused, gave a howl, and returned.”

Capt. Doyle believed that his men were being attacked by a much larger force and ordered a speeedy retreat back to Charlotte. More of the local farmers showed up and began firing at the British from concealment, in a skirmish that resembled the start of the war at Concord, Massachusetts.

Later, Rev. William Henry Foote wrote:

“The leading horses of the wagons were some of them shot down before they ascended the hill by the branch, and the road was blocked up; and the retreat became a scene of confusion in spite of the discipline of the British soldiers, who drew up in battle array and offered to fight the invisible enemy that only changed their ground and renewed their fire.”

Capt. Doyle’s men rode so hard that “many of their horses fell dead in the streets.”

Eight Loyalists were killed, along with two horses. Twelve others were wounded.

Known Patriot Participants Known British/Loyalist Participants
Capt. James Thompson – Commanding Officer

Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia detachment of two (2) known captains:
– Capt. James Thompson
– Capt. James Knox, with 13 local farmers:

Frank Bradley
Joh Dickson
Thomas Dickson
George Graham
James Henry
George Houston
Hugh Houston
John Long
Thomas McClure
John Robinson
Robert Robinson
Edward Shipley
George Shipley

Reinforced later by unknown number of more farmers

Capt. John Doyle – Commanding Officer

450 Provincials (likely the Volunteers of Ireland)

60 Cavalry (unit unknown)

40 Wagons

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in Act of Parliament, American History, British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, research and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Battle of the Bees: A Revolutionary War Skirmish Won by American Patriots and a Swarm of Bees

  1. Jennifer Redlarczyk says:

    Reading this post was kind of like watching a movie. I could see the “BEES” and the battle playing out. I’ve never been to area of the country although we do watch Ariel America. I remember that The Last of the Mohicans was filmed in the mountains and forests of N. Carolina which I guess would be far different. Love your research. Jen

  2. Jen, I was thinking the other day of a NC movie you should see. It is called “The Songcatcher.” It was filmed near Asheville, NC. It has Emmy Rossum, Aidan Quinn, the late Pat Carroll, and Janet McTeer. ” It is 1907, and musicologist Doctor Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer) has just been denied a promotion in the male-dominated world of her university. Frustrated and determined to get academic recognition, she heads to Appalachia with a recording device and writing materials.” There is a book called The Songcatcher by Sharyn McCrumb, which is also set on the NC and TN border, but they are not related. However, both the film and the book speak of preserving some of the old songs brought over from Great Britain. You might find both interesting, as they speak to how the music in the Appalachian mountains has remained the same for hundreds of years, while the rest of the world has lost some of the tunes.

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