Thomas Burke, Governor as Prisoner of War

Woodcut of Thomas Burke, date unknown. Image from the State Archives.On September 12, 1781, Thomas Burke, then only three months into his term as governor, was captured in Hillsborough by Loyalist raiders commanded by Colonel David Fanning.

The state at the time was ravaged by war and on the brink of anarchy. The recent departures of both the Continental and British armies left roving bands of Patriot and Loyalist guerrillas in their wake that were subject to no civil or military authority.

Burke, who was in Hillsborough to organize militia activities, was surprised by Fanning and surrendered after a brief fight. Burke was taken to Wilmington and then South Carolina, paroled and confined to James Island to await a prisoner exchange.

Fearing that his life was in danger, however, Burke escaped from his very loose confinement and returned to North Carolina and the governorship, violating both his parole and the code of honor in the eyes of many of his contemporaries. When the embittered Burke convened the General Assembly in April 1782, his rather ambiguous offer to retire from public office was accepted almost without remark. Having served only 10 months as governor, two of those as a prisoner, he returned to Hillsborough a ruined and deeply disillusioned man.

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