John Alexander Lillington

John Alexander Lillington, planter, politician, and soldier, was born in the 1720s, the son of John and Sarah Porter Lillington.  Born in Beaufort Precinct, Lillington was orphaned and raised in the Cape Fear by Edward Moseley, his uncle and legal guardian.

          Named John Alexander, but generally using only the middle name, Lillington was moderately active in local and provincial affairs.  As the Revolution approached, Lillington was elected to the New Hanover County Committee of Safety in 1775 and as one of the county’s delegates to the Third Provincial Congress, which met at Hillsborough in August 1775.  Appointed by the Congress colonel of a battalion of minutemen in the Wilmington District, he played a conspicuous role in the Patriot victory at Moore’s Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776.  Together with Richard Caswell, they thwarted the advance of the Loyalists in a victory for which the ultimate credit probably belonged to General James Moore.

          On April 15, 1776 the Fourth Provincial Congress appointed Lillington colonel of the Sixth Regiment of North Carolina Continentals.  He resigned on December 31, 1776 and in 1777 he represented New Hanover County in the Assembly.  On February 4, 1779 he was named brigadier general of the militia in the Wilmington District.  As the British moved south to threaten Charles Town in 1780, North Carolina militiamen commanded by Lillington were sent to aid General Benjamin Lincoln.

          From the capture of Wilmington in January 1781 to the departure of the British later in the year, Lillington remained busy fending against the forays of the many Loyalists who appeared to support the king.  Supply deficiencies and ammunition shortages caused Lillington to become increasingly distressed with the progress of the war. 

          At the end of the war Lillington reclaimed most of his estate that had been under British control.  Lillington Hall, his impressive home, had been saved from the British torch, but many of his slaves had been lost.  Fortunately, his valuable library was preserved.

          Lillington, reputedly a large man of exceptional strength, married Sarah Watters, daughter of Brunswick County planter William Watters.  They had four children.  Lillington died in April 1786 and was buried according to Anglican rites in the family cemetery near Lillington Hall, now marked “Lillington Cemetery” and located in Pender County.

Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, edited by William S. Powell, volume 4, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.