Bell's Mill National Historic Treasure
The Dam and Headrace Location
Foundation Wall
Location of the Bell House
The Dam and Headrace Location
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The actual location of the dam, lay in roughly the same place as the bridge in the background. The dam stood 8 feet high. The earthwork in front of the millsite is where the Headrace ran from the dam to the mill. The trench in front (center) is where the wheel must have been located. Today, all this is now under water, and only the few photos I have remain of what once was.


While Col. Lee was in this neighborhood he captured two
young men, William Julien and William Trog­den, who were
both Tories. One of whom is said not to have been very
smart, and the children had, shortly before, stuck a red
patch on his hat as a badge that he was for the British;
but they were, both of them, known and avowed loyalists.
When taken, and told that they must die, they entreated
that they might be taken to Mrs. Bell; and, as it was not
far to her house, they were gratified. When there they
begged her most earnestly to intercede for their life,
saying “you know us, Mrs. Bell;’ but the only reply she made
was, “I know you not;” and all she said to Col. Lee, was,
that he must not put then to death in her house. As they
were taking them off to some distance from the house for
execution, Trogden broke away and by a des­perate
effort, or by good luck, or both, made his escape, though
several pistols were fired at him; but Julien was shot. Her
refusal to Intercede for these unfortunate young men was
not owing to any want of human feeling, as I was told, but
to some previous conduct on their part which had impressed
her with the belief that they ought not to live. She is said
to have been a woman of as much tenderness of feeling as
any other; but her sensibilities were in an unusual degree,
in subordination to her principles, and under the control of
a sound and vigorous intellect.
When a party, either of Col. Leo’s men, or of some other
corps, were out foraging in the neighborhood of Bell’s, on
the plantation of Joe Clarke, a man, by the name of
Robbins, concealed himself in a thicket of bushes and shot
Cap. Cruikshanks who had command of the company.
Cruikshanks was, with the whole corps, a great favorite,
and the men were so enraged that they instantly fell upon
Robbins, and cut and hacked him about the head until they
felt certain that he was dead; but he must have had an
usually hard head, or like the cat, “nine lives;’ for he
recovered and lived many years. This was in the evening,
and next day he crawled on his hands and knees to Bell’s
house which was distant about a mile. There are two
different accounts of the manner in which she treated him;
but they are not contradictory. The old friend in the
neighborhood, who has been already mentioned, told me
that she had compassion on him and dressed his wounds,
gave him refreshment and took care of him until he was
able to take care of himself, which was at a time when her
husband could not sleep a night in his own house without the
risk of being assassinated by Robbins and other Tortes; but
others say that she would not do anything for him, nor even
admit him into her house or so much as notice him. Such
was probably her treatment of him at first; but on
considering his miserable condition, she may have relented
and treated him with more kindness.
In the midst of these transactions or in near connection with them, though the precise date is not re­collected, she engaged in another enterprise, more difficult and adventurous, perhaps, than that of recon­noitering the British camp. She rode one night, the whole night, in company with a Whig as a spy, or rather for the purpose of getting information respecting an embodiment of Tories, which was said to be form­ing on the other side of the river, and some fourteen miles from her house, in a west or south-west direc­tion. The undertaking was both toilsome and perilous; for the distance was considerable and the roads were bad; the country was broken, and abounded with robbers and cut-throats. She went,” my correspondent says, “in the character of a midwife,” and when they met anyone or came to a house, she was spokesman, and did all the talking. She first enquired the road to such a place, and always managed to have it understood, directly or indirectly, on what business she was going. Her next enquiries were directed more to the ob­ject she had in view, such as, Were there any roya1ists embodying in that direction? Where was their place of meeting? How far was it? What was their number? What were they going to do? Would they molest her? In most cases she got a satisfactory answer; and to the last, generally received the reply, “0 no, not when you are on that business.” Being acquainted with the roads, she changed her course according to the infor­mation she got, still pretending to be in great haste, and fearing she would be too late. Thus she went as far as she intended, got all the information she desired or expected, and returned home early in the morning, having rode in the course of the night, about thirty miles. Soon after the writer came into the country, he was told that in consequence of the information thus obtained, Col. Lee went the next night, took them by surprise, and broke up the whole concern. A few years ago, sane old Quakers—friends before referred to—who had lived all their lives in that neighborhood, and still recollected those times, told me that although they had forgotten the dates and the minute circumstances, they well recollected the fact of her going to reconnoitre the British camp, and also the one which has just been related. Both of them are still current traditions in the neighborhood; and there can be no doubt that they are substantially true. They are in keeping with the rest of her history, and are honorable to her character.
In the course of the ensuing summer, the Tories, who, in that region at least, cared more for plunder, than for King George or any body else, were very troublesome and often attacked her house, sparing nothing that they could destroy or carry away and attempting, more than once, to murder some of the family. They burned the barn one night, with every thing in It; and when her sons, who were not yet grown, mere boys, in fact, attempted to preserve the property from destruction, they wounded one of thin, and threatened to shoot them every one, which, it is supposed, would have been the result If they had persisted. This class of the population, or a large portion of them, appear to have been perfectly reckless, caring neither for the rights of justice, nor the claims of humanity; and they seem to have had a particular spite at Mr. Bell and his family on account of their influence, and of the very decided part which they had taken In the cause of freedom.
When Mrs. Bell’s aged father was there on a visit, and was spending a short time with his daughter and grand-children, a number of them came one night, and, among other outrages, were about to take his life. As it was known in the neighborhood that he was there, it was supposed that to murder him was their main design in coining, and one or two, approaching him with drawn swords, were about to imbrue their hands in his blood. For some reason, not now recollected, she did not have her pistols by her, or thought It more expedient to adopt another plan. There was no time to devise measures nor even to walk across the room in search of weapons, and with her characteristic presence of mind and promptness of action, she did not at­tempt it; but, seizing a broad-axe which, very fortunately happened to be at hand, and raising that over her head, tightly grasped, with both hands, she said to them in the most positive manner, and with a stern­ness which was irresistible, “If one of you touches him I’ll split you down with this axe. Touch him if you dare!” and she would certainly have done it, regardless of consequences, if the attempt had been made; but being overawed, or feeling convinced by her whole demeanor, the dauntless expression of her counten­ance, her attitude of defiance, and the earnest tones of her voice, that she would do what she said, they stood for a moment, abashed, confounded, and then left the house. Thus, by her fearlessness and decision of character, her uncommon energy and promptness of action, she saved the life of a venerable and beloved parent, and showed that she was no less affectionate as a daughter, than she was ardent and patriotic as a citizen. If “woman’s courage does not always begin where man’s courage fails,” it becomes most con­spicuous and efficient in those circumstances in which man is unnerved, and at his wit’s end.
During the summer of 1781, Mr. Bell went to the North, but whether on public or private business, is not known to the writer. In the fall he returned and ventured to remain, for a short time, with his family. The Tories were soon aware of his return, and went there one night with the intention of taking his life. The doors were fastened so that they could not readily enter; but this gave them no concern whatever, for they were rather gratified than otherwise with a plea for setting the house on fire. In that case, if he attempted to run they intended to shoot him, at all events, and perhaps some of his step— sons, As they were passing round the house, Mr. Bell put his head Out of a window, intending, if he saw any of them bringing fire, or in the act of applying it to the house, to shoot them with his pistol, but one of them who happened to be close by the window at the time, struck him on the head with his sword and inflicted a severe wound, but did not kill him as he aimed to do. Mrs. Bell then called to her sons, lads yet only in their teens, who were upstairs in bed, to get the old musket and be ready to fire out of the windows. Then going to the window next to the kitchen and calling their servant boy, Peter. loud enough for the men on the outside of the house to hear, and intending that they should hear, she said to him, “Run as hard as you can to Jo. Clarke’s and tell him and the light-horse to come as quickly as pos­sible, for the Tories are here.” Clarke was one of her nearest neighbors, and a resolute man. He lived on the adjoining plantation, about a mile up the river, and generally at this period, had a troop of mounted men, who, though not always with him, nor on duty, were at his command. At this time she knew no more than they did, whether Clarke’s men were there or not, but from the confident and earnest manner in which she spoke to the servant, they supposed it must be so, and fearing that the old musket might tell upon some of them from the upper window, or that Jo. Clarke with his “light-horse” might take them by surprise, or perhaps, apprehensive of both, though they had the fire ready to apply, they dropped everything and made their escape.

Finding it as unsafe as ever to remain in his own house, especially at night, when their depreda­tions and deeds of atrocity were usually committed, Mr. Bell did not venture to lodge in his own house again for months, and she mostly kept a few young men, on whom she could depend, to act as a guard at night. This probably saved her life, or at least her house and property from destruction. When Colonel Fanning called there on his return from that bloody excursion up Deep river, described in the first vol­ume, she was determined to stand by her property to the last; but in relation to this matter, we will give another extract from General Gray’s letter.
“Mr. Bell had taken so active a part against the Tories, that he knew if he fell into their hands they would take his life; and, for this reason, he seldom lodged in his own house, while the old lady de­termined, at all risks, to stick by ‘the stuff,’ and endeavor to prevent her property from being plun­dered. She stayed at home; but usually got eight or ten young men, on whose bravery she could depend, to stay in the house at night; for it was generally in the night that the Tories committed their depreda­tions. In the night after Fanning had killed Colonels Balfour, Bryant and others, and burned several houses and barns, when he and his troop rode into the yard at Bell’s, the old lady took the command, and, with the voice of a Stentor, ordered her men to throw open all the windows, take good aim and not draw a trigger until they were sure, each one, of his man. This was heard by Fanning and his company who wheeled off, no doubt, believing that the house was full of armed men; but Mrs. Bell’s little troop was so well pleased to get rid of them that they did not even give them a salute at starting.”
Her trip to Wilmington, in company with Mrs. Dugan, when she went to see her son, Col. Thomas Dugan, who had long been confined on board an English prison ship, and was then condemned to be hung, has been related in the first volume, and other facts of interest and variety might be stated; but we have aimed to give only such incidents as were most prominent and most authentic. The above are, in fact, only samples of the many hardships, perilous adventures and trying scenes through which she was called to pass during that eventful period of our history; and, if we mistake not, our readers will think with us, that her many deeds of noble daring and the firmness, energy and prudence with which she acquitted herself on every occasion, when either courage, promptness of action or the sacrifice of personal interest was re­quired, furnish the most gratifying proof of her magnanimity and her exalted patriotism.

For several years after the cessation of hostilities, or after the British army had left the State, and left it to return no more, the country continued in nearly as much anarchy, turmoil and violence, as it had ever been. Strife and rapine still prevailed; and acts of revenge and murder were frequent. The angry and perturbed passiors. when excited to the highest pitch, as they were then, by numberless acts of provocation—the animosity and strife, the ambition and revenge, the contempt of danger and love of adventure, the recklessness with regard to moral obligation and the habits of theft, robbery, and blood­shed, which have been engendered and fostered into rank maturity, by a foreign and domestic war of seven or eight years’ continuance, cannot be quelled at the bidding of a few, nor made to pass away in a moment, as evil spirits are said to be driven away by the magic wand of the conjuror. In such times, the claims of moral and religious obligation very slowly and gradually regain their ascendency over the human mind. A practical regard for the supremacy of law, and the acknowledgement of mutual rights and duties, as founded on the great principles of justice and humanity, return like a calm in the boisterous ocean, by slow and almost imperceptible degrees.
Of Mrs. Bell’s history after the war, we know very little, except that she continued to serve the pub­lic as she had been doing, until she became too old and infirm to leave home. Her life was, of course, more retired, quiet and monotonous, but was spent more pleasantly, if not more usefully. While the country continued in so much agitation and disorder that it was unsafe for a woman to travel alone, she still car­ried her arms as she had done during the war; and, although she passed through some trying and perilous scenes, she maintained her character for firmness and resolution to the last. Her most prominent traits were a quick discernment of what was necessary or proper to be done in given circumstances, a decision of purpose, and an energy of action that could not be surpassed, a calm and dignified firmness on all occasions, and a patriotic devotion to the cause of freedom and independence bordering on enthusiasm. Dur­ing the war, and for some years after peace was concluded, when riding over the country, if she saw a man whose face was strange, or who looked at all suspicious, she would hail him, and make him give an account of himself, demanding his name and his business. If this should appear to the reader inconsistent with the modesty and delicacy of her sex, he must recollect that “circumstances alters cases.” At all times, there may be occasions, and they were of almost daily occurrence at that period, when those qualities, so becom­ing ordinarily, must be subordinate to the higher principles of self-preservation and the public good. In such a state of anarchy, disorder and violence, as then prevailed, there was no proper respect paid to the female sex, except by the more intelligent and refined, who were then comparatively a small portion of the community; and the woman whose energy, prudence and dignified firmness were adequate to any emergency, and enabled her on all occasions to defend her principles and her honor, even when her natural protectors were arrayed against her, and when, otherwise, her life might be the forfeit, was sure to command a respect which would not be shown to more lovely or attractive qualities, and she passed through her trials with far more satisfaction, as well as more credit, to herself and her friends.
While her modesty and delicacy, if not affected, are usually regarded as her highest ornament, all the world admires a woman whose intellectual powers and moral courage and patriotic devotion to the welfare of her country raise her, in such times, above the weakness of her sex, and enable her to face danger in its most appalling forms, and to defend herself and her principles regardless of consequences. Who does not ad­mire the character and the conduct of Deborah, who, when her country was groaning under the oppression of a foreign yoke, led on the armies of Israel to battle and to victory, and at a time when there was not a man in the nation who had the courage to come forward and take the command? The world abounds with similar ex­amples and they form many of the brightest pages in the history of every nation. Few women, during the Re­volution, displayed, in a higher degree or on more frequent occasions, those qualities which excite the ad­miration of the good and virtuous, or of the honorable and high-minded, than Martha Bell; and her name is freely ‘given in charge to the historic muse,’ without any apprehension that it will be proclaimed with a feeble or a jarring voice.
After law and order were fairly established, and after morality and religion had gained a sufficient influence over the public mind to restrain men from acts of atrocity and violence, her arms were gladly laid aside. She had never worn them from a martial spirit, for she loved peace as much as any one in the land; nor did she do it for ostentation or parade, for she was as free fram every thing of that kind as any other mortal; but it was, with her, a matter of imperious necessity. She must do it or submit to be insulted with impunity and perhaps be in continual jeopardy of her life. Situated as she was, she must shrink from the avowal of her principles and from the discharge of her duty, or she must go prepared to defend herself from the insults of the profance and the violence of the lawless. She must consent, contrary to the strong, undying impulses of her nature, to sink her influence entirely and become a mere cypher, at a time too when all the courage, and patriotism, and love of freedom in the land were in pressing requisition, or she must shew to the world that, like all true hearted patriots, in every age and clime, she valued liberty enough to risk even her life in its defence; and that, if she did fall a sacrifice in the contest, it should be a voluntary sacrifice in the defence of her rights and in the discharge of her duties. If all the women of the Whig community, at that day, had been of her character, even if they did not equal her in physical strength and intellectual vigor, they would have had an influence which neither British nor Tories could have resisted and the contest would have been neither so arduous nor so protracted; but then the task of the historian, by grouping all together, might have been an easy one, or it might have been made one of end­less eulogy. When Mr. Bell died is not known to the writer, but she was a widow, the second time, for many years before her death.
Although she had enjoyed, to some extent, the benefits of a religious education, she was not, at this time, a professor or religion; but early in the present century, or In what is usually termed the great re­vival” in the South, she professed her faith in Christ, and connected herself with the church. From that time until her death, which was about twenty years, she continued to adorn the profession which she had made, and all the native qualities of her mind and heart were still in their full vigor, but were now di­rected in a different channel. All that firmness, independence, and inflexible adherence to principle, all that energy and perseverance in the discharge of duty which had been so signally displayed through the trying and perilous times of the revolutionary struggle, were still manifest even down to old age; but they were now exercised in the promotion of a much nobler cause, and in the enjoyment of a higher liberty than that which was obtained by patient endurance of complicated sufferings, and by deeds of martial prow­ess through long years of toil, and sacrifice, and bloodshed. “He is free, and he alone, who. the truth makes free.’ That freedom she obtained and enjoyed as much, perhaps, as most other Christians; but there was another great battle yet to be fought; and it was fought, nobly fought, triumphantly fought, and a glorious victory won: for she died in great peace. September 9, 1820, about eighty-five years of age; and of her it may be truly said, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
Few women in the common walks of life, and in this or any other Protestant country, have passed through so many, and such severe trials, or have displayed such a rare combination of intellectual and moral qualities. Traits of character so noble and so diversified, are not as common as they ought to be, in either sex; and when they do occur, especially in such times, they claim not only our admiration, but our grateful remembrance. What she would have been in the higher walks of life, and with the advantages of a finished education, we cannot tell, nor need we inquire; and we have no disposition to search for faults, or discuss the propriety of any one transaction of her life. We leave that for those who can neither admire magnanimity, nor appreciate deeds of heroic courage in a noble cause, nor relish high-toned feelings of patriotic devotion; but whatever my have been her imperfections, and whatever she might have done under other circumstances, or with better advantages of mental culture, she acted on the whole, a noble part; and no one who was acquainted with her history., or who knew her personally, especially in the latter part of her life, could ever doubt that she has gone ‘where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are forever at rest.’

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