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Robert Howe
Major General
Revolutionary War

HOWE, Robert, soldier, born in Brunswick county, North Carolina, in 1732; died there, 12 November, 1785. He was descended from an English family, and, having lost his parents at an early age, received an irregular and scanty education. Marrying while still a youth, he took his wife to England, and remained there two years, the guest of his kindred. On his return in 1766 he was appointed captain of Fort Johnson, North Carolina, under the commission of Governor Tryon, and baron of the exchequer.

He was a member of the assembly in 1772-'3, a delegate to the colonial congress that met at New Berne, 25 August, 1774, and chairman of the committee to which the speech of the loyal governor Martin, opposing the congress, was referred. Howe's able and patriotic reply so incensed Martin that on 8 August, 1775, the latter issued a proclamation on board the British ship "Cruiser," denouncing Howe for having taken the title of colonel, and for summoning and training the militia. On 21 August of this year Howe was appointed colonel of the 2d North Carolina regiment by the colonial congress, which met at Hillsborough, and in December, 1775, with his regiment, was ordered to Virginia. Joining General William Woodford at Norfolk, he drove the loyal governor, Lord Dunmore, out of that part of the state, received the thanks of the Virginia convention and of congress for the successful conduct of this campaign, and was promoted brigadier-general.

In March, 1776, Howe, with his regiment, joined General Henry Lee in Virginia, and went to the south, being received with public honors as he passed through North Carolina. The next month, Sir Henry Clinton, who had excepted Howe when he had offered the royal clemency to all who would lay down their arms, sent Lord Cornwallis with 900 men to ravage Howe's plantation in Brunswick county.

General Howe commanded the North Carolina troops at the defence of Charleston, and a short time afterward succeeded General James Moore as chief in command of the southern department. In October, 1777, he was commissioned major-general, and in the spring of the next year he made an expedition against Florida, which want of proper supplies, insubordination, and a fever epidemic rendered disastrous. Howe was forced to retreat to Savannah with a shattered command, with which, and a small militia force, he endeavored to defend the city against the British under General Provost; but, being surprised in the night by Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, was forced to evacuate the place. Although he was honorably acquitted by a court-martial, Howe's conduct was severely criticized, especially in a public letter by General Christopher Gadsden, of Charleston, whom Howe at once challenged. They met at Cannonsburg, 13 August, 1778. Howe's ball grazed Gadsden's ear, and the latter fired in the air, after which the combatants became reconciled.

Major John Andre commemorated the affair in a humorous poem of eighteen stanzas. In compliance with the solicitations of South Carolina and Georgia, Howe was then superseded by General Benjamin Lincoln in command of the southern department, and was ordered to join Washington on the Hudson. He was in command at West Point in 1780, and in 1781 led the troops that were sent to quell the mutiny in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey regiments, afterward receiving the thanks of Washington for his judicious performance of this duty. In June, 1783, he was ordered on a similar expedition to Philadelphia. In May, 1785, he was appointed by congress to treat with the western Indians. Returning to North Carolina a few months later he was received with public honors and elected to the legislature, but was attacked with fever, and died before taking his seat.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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