A Cliffside Connection To The Battle of Kings Mountain
By Don Bailey
The postcard, mailed from Sunshine in 1907, may seem to have no connection to Cliffside. It clearly shows a scene from Rutherfordton. But notice the name G. H. Mills on the store window behind the ox cart. G. H. (George Henry) Mills was the grandfather of J. C. (John Craton) Mills, Jr. who many remember as the druggist at Cliffside.
In fact J. C. Mills, Jr. came to Cliffside as druggist in late May or early June of 1930. At first Mills was merely employed as druggist by the Cliffside Mills Company. But in 1933 the pharmacy business was conveyed to him. Mills continued his drug business in Cliffside until 1959, at which time he moved to Mount Airy.
During his 26 years in Cliffside J. C. Mills (who was called Dr. Mills by all) was one of the towns leading citizens. In June of 1953 the Cliffside Lions Club chose Mills as Cliffside’s outstanding citizen of the year. Yet more impressive was Mills’ selection in 1958—by the Southeastern Drug Journal—as pharmacist of the year.
Now, more interesting than the fact that G. H. Mills was J. C. Mills, Jr.’s grandfather is the fact that the great, great grandfather of G. H. Mills (and hence the great, great, great, great grandfather of our Dr. Mills) was Col. Ambrose Mills. In Revolutionary War history circles Col. Ambrose Mills is well known indeed.
Ambrose Mills was born in Derbyshire England in 1722. He was brought, tradition says, to Maryland as a baby with his father and grandfather. As a young man he married a spinster, Mourning Stone, and moved to Virginia where he settled on the James River. But in 1765 he moved to Craven County in South Carolina. While living there his wife and all his children save one son, William, were killed by Indians. Then in 1770 Ambrose moved his family to Rutherford County where he bought a tract of 640 acres, lying on both sides of the Green River.
Ambrose Mills second wife was Anne Brown, from around Chester, SC. She was a sister to the wife of Colonel Thomas Fletchall, a noted Loyalist leader. This could perhaps have influenced Mills’ politics. In any event Ambrose Mills was a firm Loyalist. In 1778 he along with David Fanning, a Loyalist of great notoriety, raised a group of 500 men and planned to join British forces in St. Augustine. One of the group betrayed their plans however and Mills, with several others, was captured and taken to jail at Salisbury. Eventually Mills was liberated, whereupon he joined Major Patrick Ferguson as an officer in the Loyal militia.
After his liberation we know that Col. Mills fought at Baylis Earle’s ford in North Carolina, on the North Pacolet River. There the American camp of Colonel Charles McDowell was surprised and attacked on the night of July 15, 1780. But Col. Mills is known primarily for his participation in the battle of King’s Mountain. There on October 7, 1780 he commanded Tory Cavalry.
Mills survived the battle at King’s Mountain, but he and some 40 or 50 other captured Tories were marched westward with the victorious over-the-mountain-men. When the march reached the area of present day Rutherfordton on Oct. 14, 1780 a courts marshal was convened, on a certain Biggerstaff’s farm. Several who have written on this event are of the opinion that the courts marshal was in reality a kangaroo court. Nine men were tried and all were found guilty and hanged. No doubt many more Tories would have perished had Captain John Sevier not convinced the frontiersmen to stop the slaughter. Ambrose Mills had the misfortune to be the second person tried. The court found that in addition to being a Tory who fought against Patriot forces, Mills had incited the Cherokee to attack the frontier of South Carolina. Ambrose was placed on a horse with a noose around his neck and a William Merrill slapped the horse from under him. Legend holds that all the nine hanged men were buried in a common grave by Martha Biggerstaff with the aid of a slave.
But we cannot resist adding a bit more to the story. Ambrose’s son William Mills also fought at King’s Mountain. In the battle he was wounded in the shoulder and heel, and left for dead. He had the good fortune to be discovered by a group of Tories who were foraging for food, and he recovered. Moreover, four months after Ambrose Mills had been hanged, a group of Tories dragged William Merrill from his Rowan County home and took him back to the tree from which Mills had been hanged. There William Mills “swung him off.”
My thanks to Jim Ruppe who confirmed and clarified the descent of J. C. Mills from Ambrose Mills though G. H. Mills.
While data has been taken from various websites, all facts regarding the life and death of Ambrose Mills ultimately rely on:
A Forest City Courier article by staff writer Tony Earley, date unknown.
Kings Mountain and Its Heroes by Lyman Draper.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of The Cliffside Chimes.
Related stories on the hanging of the nine Loyalists