- Grant Recipient
Legends & Lore®
- 4451 Caratoke Hwy, Barco, NC 27917, USA
- 36.358491822008, -75.961821143582
Currituck County Department of Travel & Tourism
The year is 1775, and the British are coming. A daring midnight horse ride alerts American militia forces, who respond just in time to throw back the invading redcoats. While this may sound like the legend of Massachusetts’s Paul Revere, it is in fact the legend of North Carolina’s Betsy Dowdy, a courageous young patriot who saved North Carolina only months after Revere’s better-known feat. The legend of Betsy Dowdy’s ride has circulated around North Carolina homes and campfires ever since.
Late 1775 was a perilous time for the American Revolution, and this was no less true in the Virginia and Carolina colonies. Lord Dunmore’s forces were in nearby Norfolk, Virginia, and threatening North Carolina, specifically Great Bridge, the only crossing from Eastern North Carolina into Virginia. Taking Great Bridge would effectively cut off the North Carolina shore for the remainder of the war and provide the British with access to a strategic harbor.
On December 8, on the Currituck Banks just across the border from Virginia, the Dowdy family received information that the British were marching down the coast. If the North Carolina militia did not reach Great Bridge before Lord Dunmore, the northeast Carolina coast would be forfeited and left to the whims of the British army. Word needed to reach General William Skinner, commander of the nearest North Carolina militia, but he was at home in Hertford, over forty miles away (a distance three times further than Paul Revere’s trek). The sixteen-year-old Betsy Dowdy overheard the news and decided to act.
Without telling her family, Betsy snuck out of the house, mounted her Spanish Mustang, Black Bess, and galloped into the cold, rainy night across the North Carolina countryside, through dark woods, muddy fields, and rushing rivers, to reach General Skinner’s home in Hertford the following morning, where Betsy relayed the urgent news of the British advance.
General Skinner rushed his militiamen to Great Bridge, and by the time Betsy returned to the Currituck Banks, the Battle of the Great Bridge had been fought and won. The British had fled, packed into naval troopships, and North Carolina remained in American control. According to legend, Betsy’s bravery earned the personal thanks of General George Washington for her commitment to the American cause of freedom.