Richard Caswell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Richard Caswell
1st & 5th Governor of North Carolina
In office
November 12, 1776 – April 20, 1780
Preceded bynone (American Revolution)
(British governor Josiah Martin)
Succeeded byAbner Nash
In office
May 13, 1785 – December 20, 1787
Preceded byAlexander Martin
Succeeded bySamuel Johnston
Personal details
Born(1729-08-03)August 3, 1729
Joppa, Maryland
DiedNovember 10, 1789(1789-11-10) (aged 60)
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Spouse(s)1) Mary Mackilwean, 2) Sarah Herritage
ProfessionLawyer, surveyor

Richard Caswell (August 3, 1729 – November 10, 1789) was the first and fifth governor of the U.S. state of North Carolina, serving from 1776 to 1780 and from 1785 to 1787. He was also major general over all North Carolina militia in 1780 and from 1781 to 1783.

Early life[edit]

He was born on August 3, 1729, in Joppa, Maryland, one of the eleven children of Richard Caswell and Christian Dallam Caswell. The younger Richard Caswell departed Maryland for the New Bern area of North Carolina in 1745.[1]

He married Mary Mackilwean, the daughter of James and Elinor Mackilwean. They had three children, including a daughter that died at birth in 1753, William Caswell born in 1754, and another daughter born in 1757, who died as an infant. Mary Caswell died from complications of childbirth. The family lived on a plantation home called Red House, which is the site of the Richard Caswell Memorial Park in western Kinston, North Carolina.[2]

After Mary's death, Caswell married Sarah Heritage (1740–1794) on June 20, 1758. Mary was a daughter of William Heritage and Susannah Moore. They had eight children: Richard Caswell born in 1759, Sarah Caswell born in 1762, Winston Caswell born in 1764, Anna Caswell born in 1766, Dallam Caswell born in 1769, John Caswell born in 1772, Susannah Caswell born in 1775, and Christian Caswell born in 1779.[2]

While a member of the Province of North Carolina House of Burgesses, a post he held for seventeen years, he introduced a bill in 1762 establishing the town of Kingston, which was changed to Kinston, NC after the Revolutionary War.[2][3]

Regulator Movement[edit]

As an officer in the local militia, Caswell fought against the Regulators in the Battle of Alamance in 1771 during the War of the Regulation (1760–1771). According to some sources, he commanded the right wing of Governor William Tryon's forces at Alamance.[4]

American Revolutionary War[edit]

A lawyer and surveyor by training, Caswell represented North Carolina in the Continental Congress of 1774 and 1775.[5] When the Revolutionary War broke out, Caswell was the commander of the New Bern, NC district Minutemen. As a patriot officer in the American Revolutionary War, Caswell led the New Bern District Minutemen on February 27, 1776 in the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. Soon there after, the North Carolina Provincial Congress disbanded the minutemen battalions in favor of militia. Caswell was commissioned as the first commander of the New Bern District Brigade of the North Carolina militia when it was formed on May 4, 1776. In 1780 he was commissioned as a major general of all North Carolina militia and state troops. At the Battle of Camden, his troops fled after the Virginia militia broke and fled in a panic, exposing Caswell's militia to attack without greater defense, leaving the Continentals behind to suffer defeat.

After the Battle of Camden, Caswell returned home with an unnamed illness. The North Carolina General Assembly appointed William Smallwood of Maryland as his replacement over all North Carolina militia. However, they did not inform General Caswell, so he resigned on October 21, 1780. When Smallwood went back to Maryland in January of 1781, the General Assembly again appointed Caswell as Major General over all North Carolina militia and he retained this position through the end of the war in 1783.

Military service record:[6]

His son, Richard Caswell, Jr., was a colonel and commander of the Dobbs County Regiment and a lieutenant colonel in the 2nd North Carolina Regiment during the American Revolution. He was lost at sea in 1784.[7]

His son by his first marriage, William was colonel over the Dobbs County Regiment and brigadier general over the New Bern District Brigade during the American Revolution.[8][9]

Governor of North Carolina[edit]

Caswell was president of the provincial congress that wrote the first Constitution of North Carolina in 1776. As the congress adjourned, it elected Caswell as acting governor. He took the oath of office on January 16, 1777. Under the new constitution, the state Legislature ("General Assembly") re-elected him as the first Governor in April 1777. He stepped down in 1780, as the constitution allowed only three consecutive one-year terms. He then assumed command of all of North Carolina's militia, which he commanded at the American defeat at the Battle of Camden, August 16, 1780.[2]

Later career and death[edit]

He served as the state's comptroller and as a member of the North Carolina Senate between his two gubernatorial terms. Caswell was also chosen to be one of North Carolina's delegates to the United States Constitutional Convention of 1787, but he did not attend.[5]

Caswell was a prosperous farmer, land speculator, tanner, and Grand Master Mason of North Carolina.[10] He had training in surveying and was appointed deputy surveyor for the colony in 1750.[2]

At the time of his death in 1789, he had returned once again to the North Carolina General Assembly, this time serving as Speaker of the Senate. Caswell died in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on November 10, 1789. According to tradition, his body was returned to Kinston for burial in the family cemetery, near where a memorial and museum stands today.[2]


Among his many accomplishments was his proposal to use the reimbursement funds for aid rendered to the Crown during the French and Indian war for erecting and establishing a free school in every county in North Carolina. His "Address to the General Assembly" in 1760 on this topic was used for many years by other politicians in favor of public education, and he also wrote the proposal into the first state constitution in 1776.[2] Caswell County, North Carolina, and Fort Caswell were named for him. The Richard Caswell Memorial and museum is established in Kinston, NC, near where he may have been buried.[11]


  1. ^ "North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program – Richard Caswell". North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources. Retrieved October 1, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Holloman, Charles R. 1979.Caswell, Richard. NCpedia.
  3. ^ Lewis, J.D. "Royal Colony of North Carolina, 27th House of Burgesses". Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  4. ^ "Congressional Biography Guide, Richard Caswell". Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Slappey, Kellie. "Richard Caswell". North Carolina History Project. John Locke Foundation. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  6. ^ Lewis, J.D. "The American Revolution in North Carolina, Richard Caswell". Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  7. ^ Lewis, J.D. "Richard Caswell Jr". The American Revolution in North Carolina. Retrieved April 6, 2019.
  8. ^ Holloman, Charles R. (1979). "William Caswell". Dictionay of North Carolina Biography, in NCPedia. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  9. ^ Lewis, J.D. "William Caswell". The American Revolution in North Carolina. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  10. ^ Francois X. Martin "A Funeral Oration of the Most Worshipful and Honorable Major-General Richard Caswell" (1791). Freemason's Magazine, Or General and Complete Library, Volume 5.
  11. ^ "Richard Caswell Memorial Museum". Retrieved April 21, 2019.


External links[edit]