In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, William Sharpe was deeply involved in the formation of NC's resistance movement, attending the Provincial Congress and taking an active role in the Committee of Safety, which was tasked with organizing, outfitting and deploying the state's militia. Which soon led him into battle as a Major and aide-de-camp to General Griffith Rutherford in his campaign against the Cherokee, who had allied with the British in a desperate attempt to stop the encroachment of settlers. A failed attempt:
Rutherford’s men took a number of Cherokees as slaves and burned whatever was left behind. The strategy was one of complete devastation, a “scorched earth” policy. The objective was to stop a potential British ally from entering the war.
This wasn't the first and wouldn't be the last clash between Rutherford and the Native American population of the 18th Century. But this one succeeded in weakening the Cherokee to the point where surviving the upcoming winter without food and shelter was of serious concern, leading them to sue for peace and lose even more land in the bargain.
A few years later, William Sharpe took up his seat in the Continental Congress, doing what he could to further the War effort. Like many of his colleagues, he was frustrated by the difficulty of procuring food, clothing and arms for soldiers in the absence of any real power of taxation, and the reticence of individual states to contibute hard cash to the war effort. And here is his oft-quoted reference to his opinion of the Congress:
Our Treasury is nearly exhausted-we have great dependance on the several States for its restoration. We are about to negociate, to the amount of £200,000 stirling in Bills of exchange on our Minister at Madrid & our Commissioner who is gone to Holland, from which we hope for some relief.
I momently look for Messrs. Burke, Penn & Jones to deliver Mr. Harnett & myself from this House of bondage.
I believe that "house of bondage" complaint stemmed from Sharpe's keen interest in the war effort, combined with the frustration of waiting for correspondence. His desire to be on the ground assisting the troops led him to draw maps of areas with which he was familiar:
Along with descriptions of geography and troop movements he sent to General Washington gleaned from personal knowledge and intelligence he'd received:
Sir Philadelphia Feby. 27th. 1781. Your thanks to me expressed in a letter which was read in Congress yesterday, for a few notes on the geography of the back parts of South and North Carolina was very flattering.(1)
For your farther information I shall now take the liberty to add, That after Lord Cornwallis had destroyd his waggons and heavy baggage near the cross roads at the head of fishing creek he advanced in a north west direction, passed the So fork of Catawba river and Cowens ford on the main branch about twenty miles north west of Charlotte, where Davidson unfortunately fell opposing him. Mrs. Terrences [. . .] is about eight miles from that ford, on the road leading to Salisbury which is twenty eight miles from Terrences Trading ford on the Yadkin is seven miles from Salisbury. The shallow ford is thirty miles above, and fifteen miles from Salem, the lower Moravian town. Guilford Court house is near a place called New Garden on Hutchisons map and twenty six miles from Salem. Boyds ferry on Dan is not many miles above the confluence of that with Stanton river and about sixty miles from Guilford Ct. House.
I suppose Lord Cornwallis's first object was to rescue the prisoners and break up Morgans corps, in which he failed. The second was to disperse Genl. Greenes army, but when his Lordship observes that Genl. Greene has very judiciously retreated to Stanton, I am inclined to think he will file off to the right and endavour to make his retreat to Wilmington on Cape Fear river, which he may do without much opposition as the inhabitants on the greater part of that river are disposed, at least to neutrality. In such case Genl. Greenes army would not be in condition to pursue him with facility. If on the other hand he continues his pursuit of Genl. Greene into the borders of Virginia, and the Militia fails to improve the advantages they may gain by concurring with Genl. Greene, they will loose those laurels which they have obtained by their former exertions.
You Sir, know very well that when the enemy are advancing so rapidly, militia are not generally disposed to join a retreating army, and that country being very extensive and thinly settled it is therefore several days before any considerable force can be collected to a point, but if his Lordship can be diverted five or six days in any one place in that back country I hope he will catch a Tartar.
Your Excellency may apprehend that the Milit[ia in] the vicinity of Salisbury and Charlotte, who have heretofore distingished themselves by their firmness, will fly to arms and press on the enemys rear, but you may rely upon it, that the fall of Genl. Davidson has left that people without an head in whom they have confidence as an officer. From my particular knowledge of that part of the country I can venture to say that in the fall of that officer we have lost more than 500 men in the common defence.
For those who don't understand that "catch a Tartar" phrase, it means getting your hands on someone or some thing that is too dangerous to handle.
Sharpe also frequently exchanged letters with Nathanael Greene, forwarding intelligence and cheering him up:
My dear General, Philadelphia April 7, 1781 I have received your very obliging letter of the 18th ulto. and am the more thankful, as I know you can afford but little time to correspond with individuals. The sufferings, distresses and losses of your army pains me to the heart, and be assured that for some time past there is nothing in our power unattempted for your relief, altho our embarassments are infinite. And give me leave also, my dear Sir to assure you, that your conduct and your officers and men, especially of the permanent part of your army, is not only universally approved (as far as I have heard) but even admired.
Be so obliging as to make my best compliments to the Officers under your command.
With the highest sentiments of esteem and respect I have the honor to be, Dear Sir Your most Obt. Humble Servt.
Upon his return home to North Carolina, Sharpe served in the General Assembly, and was the first legislator (before Davie) to propose the creation of the University of North Carolina. So I guess you could call him "the" Tarheel Founding Father.
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