The Memorial of David Fanning

Hershel Parker

In November 1782, David Fanning (1755-1825), the last colonel of the Loyalist Militia of North Carolina, boarded a ship in the British evacuation of Charlestown.  Still young, he was famous for bold military strategy and notorious for brutal marauding.  Appalled by his off-the-battlefield mayhem, the North Carolina Assembly in 1783 in its “Act of Pardon and Oblivion” excluded from pardon “Peter Mallette, David Fanning and Samuel Andrews, or any person or persons guilty of deliberate and wilful murder, robbery, rape, or house burning, or any of them.”[1]  Thirty or forty years later, when North Carolinians began documenting Fanning’s cruelties, old men told stories about him, sometimes in aghast confidentiality.  The educator Archibald D. Murphey (1777-1832), hearing that Fanning had an unpublished manuscript, enlisted the former congressman Archibald McBryde (1766-1837) to contact the old man in his Digby, Nova Scotia exile.  Fanning in his mid-30s had indeed written a narrative, a dossier of his military service as a Loyalist and particularly of his physical sufferings and financial sacrifices in the service of the Crown.  To use his term in letters to British Commissioners, his Narrative was an extended “Memorial” of service and losses for which he deserved reparations.[2]  Three decades later, he understandably was unwilling to share his narrative with children of rebels.  Nevertheless, on May 15, 1822 he held out a revealing possibility: “if any Gentleman wishes to know from me of any particular transaction or the Date, by pointing it out to me, I may give the Information of it.”[3]

For the rest of the story …. click here! SCAR Vol 10, No 4.1

[1] The North Carolina Assembly well-knew of Fanning’s atrocities.  See the details of his “Bloody Sunday” rampage in Randolph County detailed by the author in an article, “Fanning’s Bloody Sabbath as Traced by Alexander Gray”, found in the May 4, 2015 edition of the Journal of the American Revolution.

[2] Fanning, 97, 98, and elsewhere; in no way was his document a “confessions” or even a mere set of personal recollections. The Narrative of Colonel David Fanning, (New York: reprinted for Joseph Sabin, 1865), a reprint of the 1861 version, is found on-line at

[3] Fanning’s response to McBryde through an intermediary, dated Digby, May 15, 1822, is in “North Carolina.  Civil War 1781-’82—Colonel David Fanning,” North-Carolina University Magazine (1853), 2:72, and in E. W. Caruthers, Revolutionary Incidents: And Sketches of Character, Chiefly in the “Old North State” (Philadelphia: Hayes and Zell, 1854), 294.

updated August 2, 2015
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