Francis Bradley




Francis Bradley

Francis Bradley was born in 1743 and died 14 November 1780 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.  In 1770, he married Abigail Alexander, the daughter of James Alexander and his second wife, Abigail McKnitt. There is some evidence that he went by the nickname, Frank.

Francis Bradley was one of the leaders of the patriots of Mecklenburg County and an active spirit in securing the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (1775). He was a member of the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina Militia and Sheriff of the county.  The records of the time have been almost entirely lost, the county seat having been captured and recaptured in two bloody wars, but many traditions have been preserved of the prowess of Captain Bradley. He was a `sharp-shooter of remarkable accuracy,' `a daring soldier who with his small bank of compatriots kept the British troops greatly annoyed,' `so daring and crafty that the enemy thought there were many more than there really were,' `the strongest man in the county,' `true patriot,' `a noted character of Revolutionary Times.' These traditions almost without exception speak of him as `Captain Bradley,' though no record of his commission has been found. These traditions are not relied on for proof.

Francis and Abigail Bradley lived on Long Creek, about 8 miles northwest of Charlotte.  A picture of their log cabin home, taken in 1941, shortly before it was destroyed in a fire, is at left.  It consisted of two rooms downstairs with a ladder in a small closet next to the fireplace that lead to a loft. The Bradley plantation was long preserved as a historical site, not only because of the style, but because the house itself was a perfectly preserved example of the small but solid log house that the colonial settlers in North Carolina usually built.

The British took possession of Charlotte, North Carolina towards the end of September, 1780.  Lord Cornwallis, himself, led the British troops.  After the British army had been in Charlotte about a week, Cornwallis ordered a strong foraging party, consisting of four hundred and fifty infantry, sixty cavalry, and about forty wagons, to draw supplies from the fertile plantations on Long Creek.

Captain James Thompson, and thirteen others who lived in that neighborhood, including Francis Bradley, finding that some of the foragers had stopped at the Bradley farm, hid in a thicket about two hundred yards from the house. They formed into a line about ten feet apart, and advanced silently. The British were soon engaged in their work of plunder; some were at the barn throwing down oats for the wagons, others were running after the chickens, ducks and pigs, while a third party were robbing the dwelling house.  Abigail and the children had already found shelter elsewhere.  The patriots watched as the soldiers knocked over bee-hives ranged along the garden fence. The enraged insects dashed after the men, and at once the scene became one of uproar, confusion and lively excitement. The officer in command laughed heartily at the gestures and outcries of the routed soldiers.

While this was happening, Francis Bradley cautiously approached, under cover, within gun-shot of his house; the rest of the party, his neighbors, with equal care, advanced sufficiently near for the sure action of their rifles. The distress and anger of the patriots were raised to the highest pitch when they saw the merriment of their enemies. Their feelings could now be no longer restrained. "Boys," cried one of the sturdy farmers, "I can't stand this any longer--I'll take the captain--each one of you choose his man, and look out for yourselves." These words were scarcely uttered in a suppressed tone, when the sight of his rifle was drawn upon the expanded breast of the portly Englishman, who suddenly fell prostrate between the doorposts.

When the smoke cleared, after the first discharge of the rifles, the commander, nine men and two horses lay dead or wounded on the ground. The trumpets immediately sounded a recall. But by the time the scattered dragoons had collected and formed, a straggling fire from a different direction showed the unerring aim of each American marksman, and greatly increased the confusion of the surprise.  Perfectly acquainted with every foot of the grounds, the patriots constantly changed their position so that it appeared to the British they were surrounded by a large force. When that portion of the foragers who had proceeded forward to forage upon other farms heard the firing, they immediately returned to the assistance of the party at Bradley’s farm. Every preparation for defense, attack and retreat was made by the Americans. The alternate hilly and swampy grounds and thickets, with woods on both sides of the public road, baffled the efficient action of the British dragoons. A considerable number of the dragoons were killed. The leading horses in the wagons were killed before they could ascend the hill, thus blocking the road. Many of the soldiers in charge of the wagons cut loose some of the uninjured animals, and galloped after their retreating comrades. The precise loss of the British is not known. It is believed, however, from reliable tradition, that at least twenty were killed and a larger number wounded.

The a British detachment of four hundred and fifty infantry and sixty cavalry were compelled to retreat from their foraging expedition and return to Charlotte with only a small amount of provisions and a considerable loss of their number by a handful of patriots.  The names of this gallant band of patriots, of "Hornets' Nest" notoriety, were: James Thompson, captain; Francis Bradley; George Graham; James Henry; Thomas and John Dickson; George and Hugh Houston; Thomas McLure; John Long; George and Edward Shipley; and John Robinson.

Unfortunately, only two months later, on 14 November 1780, Francis Bradley was assailed by four Tories and murdered by them after a fierce and deadly encounter that also took place on his own property. He was overpowered and shot with his own rifle. The Tories were followed and three of them were killed. The other made his escape, but was found after the war by Isaac Price, Captain Bradley's brother-in-law, and was hanged for his part in the murder of Captain Bradley.

General Joseph Graham related the story of Francis Bradley's death at the hands of the four Tories named Griffin, Ridge, John McCombs and Robert McCombs:

"When the British were on their retreat from Charlotte, near Old Nation Ford, four of [Colonel Samuel] Bryan's men agreed to desert and go home by travelling in the night and lying in the thickets during the day; their names were John McCombs, Richard McCombs, ___ Griffin, and ___ Ridge. They had taken up in a thicket a mile from Bradley's on the morning of November [14th]. About mid day Bradley took his gun and went out to hunt some missing cattle, came on the two of them, and began to question them, and finally took them prisoners. The other two, who had been lying about twenty steps off, and whom he had not seen, came behind him and seized him; a violent scuffle ensued, until one of them got his own gun and shot him dead. Bradley was a very stout man, and with out weapons would have been a match for all four of them; a man of cool and deliberate courage, much respected by all who knew him, and his death much regretted. A few weeks after his murderers went home, Richard McCombs and Griffin were killed, the others were taken and sent to Salisbury jail. On trial, John McCombs turned State's evidence, and from him this account was obtained; ___ Ridge was hanged."

Captain Francis Bradley and Abigail Alexander Bradley, his wife, who died September 23, 1817 - aged 69 years - are buried in the Hopewell Graveyard of the Hopewell Presbyterian Church, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. On his tombstone are inscribed these words: "A Friend to liberty privately slain by enemies of his country". On Abigail Bradley's tombstone are inscribed these words: "Nor age, nor sex, nor worth can save poor sinful mortals from the grave. Think reader, as you now look on, you are walking forward to the tomb."  Francis Bradley’s original tombstone, pictured at right, has been moved to a place of honor inside the church and has been replaced with a more durable granite stone outside.

Children of Francis Bradley and Abigail Alexander were:

1.  James Alexander Bradley was born in 1768 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.  He married Elizabeth Houston and is the subject of the next generation.

2.  Rebecca Bradley was born about 1770.

3.  John McKnitt Bradley was born 31 January 1772 and died 15 October 1827.  He was probably named for his uncle, John McKnitt Alexander, the secretary of the convention that drafted the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.  John McKnitt Bradley married Jeanette Williams on 16 February 1796.  They then moved to Gastonia, Gaston County, North Carolina where they raised a family of 11 children.

4.  Esther Bradley was born about 1776.

5.  Elizabeth Bradley was born 11 may 1780.  She married Alexander Stinson on 21 August 1800.  Sometime in the early 1800s they moved to Davis County, Iowa where she raised 11 children and died 15 February 1856.


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updated 06 August 2010