Built in 1772, the House in the Horseshoe, also called the Alston House, gets its name from its location, a horseshoe shaped bend in the Deep River of North Carolina. The house was the site of a Revolutionary War battle between Philip Alston, a colonel in the Cumberland Militia, and a troop of Tory Loyalists led by the infamous David Fanning. During the battle, Fanning and his men attempted to burn the house down by pushing a wagon loaded with hay bails against the building and setting it ablaze. The attempt failed and, after numerous casualties on both sides, Alston’s forces surrendered to Fanning under terms negotiated by Alston’s wife.
Both Alston and Fanning went on to lives marked with controversy. Alston was accused of murdering Thomas Taylor during the war. The death was found to be a legitimate act of war and Alston was pardoned by Governor Richard Caswell.
Alston was then elected to the General Assembly, but his seat was contested by George Glascock and several others on the grounds that Alston had been accused of Taylor’s murder and that Alston had threatened to instigate a riot if he lost the election. Alston was removed from his seat, but a bitter feud broke out between Alston and Glascock. Glascock was murdered by Dave, one of Alston’s slaves, but Alston had an alibi. He had thrown a party on the night of the murder and made sure that his presence at the party was beyond doubt.
A year later, Alston was arrested for contempt of court and jailed. He escaped from jail and fled to Georgia, only to be murdered a few years later. Legend has it that the murderer was none other than Dave, the slave who murdered George Glascock, and who had fled shortly after being bailed out by Alston.
David Fanning, the Tory who had captured Alston and his men at the battle of the House of the Horseshoe, moved to the Bahamas before settling in New Brunswick. In 1800, he was accused of raping 15-year old Sarah London and was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was eventually pardoned but exiled from New Brunswick. He settled in Nova Scotia, where he died in 1825.
After the Revolutionary War, the House in the Horseshoe was sold to future North Carolina governor Benjamin Williams. The Alston House is now a North Carolina Historic Site and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The house, now nearly 250 years old, still bears the scars of the battle between Alston and Fanning. Bullet holes mark the walls, both inside and out.
We were able to visit the house on a beautiful summer day a few years ago. Alston picked a beautiful place to make a home. The grounds and land around the house are beautiful.
The house is a beautiful plantation house built in the coastal lowlands style. Four rooms have been furnished and there was a small, but interesting, display of medical tools that would have been used by a doctor during the Revolutionary War. The most interesting aspect, to me, was the bullet pocked walls. After nearly 250 years, I would have expected one of the owners to patch the walls. Luckily, history won out and the scars of the battle are there for us to see.
If you’re ever in Moore County, North Carolina and want to get close enough to Revolutionary War history that you can literally touch it, the Alston House would be a great place to visit. Walk the grounds and take a tour of the house. It’s well worth the trip.