Rev. Humphrey Hunter was born in Ireland, near Londonderry, on the 14th of May, 1775. His paternal grandfather was from Glasgow, in Scotland. His maternal grandfather was from Brest, in France. His descent is thus traced to the Scotch-Irish, and Huguenots of France, forming a race of people who greatly contributed to the spread of civil and religious liberty wherever their lots were cast. In America, the asylum of the oppressed of all nations, many of their descendants occupy proud positions on the page of history, and acted a magnanimous part in the achievement of our independence.
At the early age of four years, Humphrey Hunter was deprived by death of his father. In a short time afterward, his mother joined the great tide of emigration to the new world, and in May 1759, embarked on the ship Helena, bound for Charleston, S.C. After a long and boisterous voyage, the vessel at length reached its destination in safety. His mother then procured a cheap conveyance and proceeded to the eastern part of Mecklenburg county, (now in Cabarrus) where she purchased a small tract of land, and spent the remainder of her days.
In the manuscript journal of the Rev. Humphrey Hunter, we are furnished with some interesting facts respecting his life and services. He informs us he grew up in the neighborhood of Poplar Tent, inhaling the salubrious air of a free clime, and imbibing the principles of genuine liberty. At this stage of his early training, he pays a beautiful tribute to the patriotism of the mothers of the Revolution. He says:
“Neither were our mother’s silent at the commencement of the Revolution.” “Go son, said his mother, and join yourself to the men of our country. We ventured our lives on the waves of the ocean in quest of the freedom promised us here. Go, and fight for it, and rather let me hear of your “death” than of your “cowardice”.”
In a short time afterward this patriotic advice of his mother was called into action. “Orders were presently issued,” continues his journal, “by Colonel Thomas Polk to the several militia companies of the county for two men, selected from each “beat” or district to meet at the Court House in Charlotte, on the 19th day of May, 1775, in order to consult upon such measures as might be thought best to be pursued. Accordingly, on said day, a far greater number than two out of each company were present.” Drawn by the great excitement of the occasion, surpassing that of any other preceding it, he attended the Convention on the appointed day. He was then a few days over twenty years of his age, and mingled with the numerous crowd of interested spectators. He then had the pleasure of listening to the reading of the “first Declaration of Independence” in the United States, and joined in the shout of approval which burst forth from the assembled multitude. In a short time after the Convention in Charlotte, Col. Thomas Polk raised a regiment of infantry and cavalry, and marched in the direction of Cross creek (now Fayetteville) to disperse a body of Tories. In this service, he joined a corps of cavalry under Captain Chas. Polk. Soon after the return of this expedition, he commenced his classical studies at Clio Academy, in the western part of Rowan county, (now Iredell) under the instruction of the Rev. James Hall.
About this time the Cherokee Indians were committing numerous depredations and occasional murders near the head sources of the Catawba river. Upon this information, Gen. Rutherford called out a brigade of militia from Guilford, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Lincoln and other western counties, composed of infantry and three corps of cavalry. In one of the companies commanded by Captain, afterwards Col. Robert Mebane, he acted as Lieutenant. Two skirmishes took place during this campaign, in which several Indians were killed and a considerable number made prisoners, among the latter, Hicks and Scott, two white traders, who had married Indians and espoused their cause. After his return from the Cherokee expedition, he resumed his classical education at Queen’s Museum, in Charlotte, under the control of Dr. Alexander McWhorter, an eminent Presbyterian clergyman from New Jersey. In the summer of 1780, this institution, having assumed in 1777, the more patriotic name of “Liberty Hall Academy,” was broken up by the approach of the British army under Lord Cornwallis. The school, then in a flourishing state, was dismissed; the young men were urged by Dr. McWhorter with patriotic appeals, to take up arms in defence of their country; and upon all he invoked the blessings of Heaven. At this time Gen. Gates was on his way to the Southern States. Under orders from Gen. Rutherford, a brigade was promptly raised to rendezvous at Salisbury. In this brigade Hunter acted for a short time as Commissary, and afterward as Lieutenant in the company of Capt. Givens. This force first marched from Salisbury down the northeast side of the Yadkin, scouring the Tory settlements of the Uwharrie and Deep rivers, previous to its junction with Gen. Gates at Cheraw. From this place Gen. Gates moved forward to Clermont, where he arrived on the 12th of August. On the 15th he marched towards Camden, progressing as far as the Gum Swamp, where sharp skirmishing took place in the night between advanced parties of the Americans and the British. On the 16th of August, 1780, the unfortunate battle of Camden was fought. A contagious panic seized most of the militia early in the action, and a precipitate retreat was the natural consequence. The regulars of Maryland and Delaware, with a small portion of the North Carolina militia, firmly stood their ground until surrounded with overwhelming numbers. The subject of this sketch was there made a prisoner and stripped of most of his clothes. Soon after his surrender he witnessed the painful incidents of battle, resulting in the death of Baron DeKalb. He informs us he saw the Baron without suite or aid, and without manifesting the designs of his movements, galloping down the line. He was soon descried by the enemy, who, clapping their hands on their shoulders in reference to his epaulettes, exclaimed “a General, a rebel General.” Immediately a man on horseback (not Tarleton) met him and demanded his sword. The Baron reluctantly presented the handle towards him, inquiring in French, “Are you an officer, sir.” His antagonist not understanding the language, with an oath, more sternly demanded his sword. The Baron then rode on with all possible speed, disdaining to surrender to any one but an officer. Soon the cry, “a rebel General,” sounded along the line. The musketeers immediately, by platoons, fired upon him. He proceeded about twenty-five rods, when he fell from his horse, mortally wounded. Presently he was raised to his feet, stripped of his hat, coat and neck-cloth, and placed with his hands resting on a wagon. His body was found, upon examination, to have been pierced by seven musket balls. Whilst standing in this position, and the blood streaming through his shirt, Cornwallis, with his suite, rode up. Being informed that the wounded man was Baron De Kalb, he addressed him by saying: “I am sorry, sir, to see you; not sorry that you are vanquished, but sorry to see you so badly wounded.” Having given orders to an officer to administer to the wants of the Baron, Cornwallis rode on to secure the fruits of his victory. In a short time the brave and generous De Kalb, who had served in the armies of France and embarked in the American cause, breathed his last. He is buried in Camden, where a neat monument has been erected to his memory.
After being confined seven days in a prison-yard in Camden, Hunter was taken, with many other prisoners, including about fifty officers, to Orangeburg, where he remained until the 13th of November following, “without hat or coat”. On that day, without any intention of transgressing, he set out to visit a friendly lady in the suburbs who had promised to give him a homespun coat. Before he reached her residence, he was stopped by a horseman, armed with sword and pistols, who styled himself a Lieutenant of the station at the Court House, under Col. Fisher. The horseman blustered and threatened, and sternly commanded him to march before him to the station to be tried for having broken his parole. No excuse, apology or confession would be received in extenuation of his transgression. “To the station,” said the horseman, “you shall go–take the road.” The Tory loyalist was evidently exercising his brief authority over a real Whig. Up the road his prisoner had to go, sour and sulky, with much reluctance, being hurried in his march by the point of the Tory’s sword. Hunter pursued his course, but constantly on the look-out for some means of self-defence. Fortunately, after they progressed a short distance, they approached a large fallen pine tree, around which lay a quantity of pine-knots, hardened and blackened by the recent action of fire. Hunter, in an instant, saw “his opportunity,” immediately jumped to the further side of said tree, and, armed with a good pine-knot, prepared for combat. The Tory instantly fired one of his pistols at him, but without effect. He then leaped his horse over the tree. Hunter, with equal promptness, exchanged sides, being fired at a second time by his would-be conqueror, but again without effect. Much skilful maneuvering took place, whilst the Tory was thus kept at bay. Hunter then commenced a vigorous warfare with the pine-knots so opportunely placed at his command, and dealt them out with profuse liberality. The accurate aim of two or three pine-knots against the horseman’s head soon disabled him and brought him to the ground. He was then disarmed of his sword, and capitulated on the following terms: That Hunter should never make known the conquest he had gained over him, and give back the captured sword; and that he, (the Tory loyalist) would never report to headquarters that any of the prisoners had ever crossed the boundary line, or offended in any other manner. But secrecy could not be preserved, for during the combat the horse, without his rider, galloped off to the station and created considerable anxiety respecting the horseman’s fate. All serious apprehensions, however, were soon removed as the dismounted horseman presently made his appearance, with several visible bruises on his head, bearing striking proof of the effective precision of the pine-knots. A close examination was soon instituted at the station, and numerous searching questions propounded to the wounded horseman, when the history of the contest had to be given, and all concealment no longer attempted. The rencounter took place on a Friday evening. On the Sabbath following, orders were issued by Col. Fisher to all the prisoners to appear at the Court House on Monday by twelve o’clock. On the evening of that Sabbath, Hunter, expecting close confinement, or, perhaps, the loss of his life, made his escape with five or six others from Mecklenburg, and commenced their way to North Carolina.
They concealed themselves by day to avoid the British scouts sent in pursuit, and traveled during the night, supporting themselves principally on the “raw corn” found by the way-side. On the ninth night after they set out from Orangeburg, they crossed the Catawba and arrived safely in Mecklenburg county.
After remaining a few days at his mother’s residence, he again entered the service, and joined a cavalry company, acting as lieutenant under Colonel Henry Lee. In a short time, the battle of the Eutaw Springs, the last important one in the extreme South, took place. In this engagement, where so much personal bravery was displayed, he performed a gallant part, and was slightly wounded. With this campaign, his military services ended. Among the variety of incidents which occurred during this year he was gratified in revisiting his old prison-bounds, and in witnessing the reduction of the station at Orangeburg. But greater still was the gratification he experienced in again beholding the identical sword he had taken from his Tory antagonist, as previously stated.
Soon after the close of the war he resumed his classical studies under the instruction of the Rev. Robert Archibald, near Poplar Tent Church. During the summer of 1785, he entered the Junior Class at Mount Zion College, in Winnsboro, S.C., and graduated in July, 1787. In a short time afterward he commenced the study of Theology under the care of the Presbytery of South Carolina, and was licensed to preach in October, 1789. In 1796 he removed from South Carolina to the south-eastern part of Lincoln county (now Gaston) where he purchased a home for his rising family. His ministerial labors extended through a period of nearly thirty-eight years, principally at Goshen and Unity churches in Lincoln county (under its old boundaries) and Steele Creek church, in Mecklenburg county. In 1789 he married Jane, daughter of Dr. George Ross, of Laurens District, S.C.–an estimable lady, noted for her amiable disposition, numerous acts of charity, and fervent piety.
In his preaching Mr. Hunter was earnest, persuasive and often eloquent. He possessed, in a remarkable degree, a talent for refined sarcasm, and knew how to use most effectively its piercing shafts against the idle objections, or disingenuous cavils of all triflers with the great truths of religion. In his advanced years the infirmities of old age greatly contracted the extent of his useful labors without impairing the vigor of his mental powers or the fervency and faithfulness of his preaching. He died, with Christian resignation, on the 21st of August, 1827, in the 73rd year of his age. The Rev. Humphrey Hunter had ten children, of whom, at the present time (1876) only one, the author and compiler of these sketches, survives.