ASHE, JOHN. (1720–1781). Politician and brigadier general in the militia. North Carolina. Born in North Carolina, perhaps in 1720, John Ashe served as an officer during the Seven Years' War. A member of the legislature from 1752 to 1775, Ashe was speaker of the house from 1762 to 1765. He played a conspicuous part in the Stamp Act crisis, twice leading mobs that prevented the distribution of the royal stamps. Siding with the government against the Regulator movement in North Carolina in 1771, he was an officer in Governor Tryon's army that defeated the Regulators at Alamance on 16 May 1771.
At the start of the civil war in the Carolinas that characterized the Revolution in the South, Ashe became a leader of the Sons of Liberty. He organized and drilled the Patriot militia of New Hanover County, and led a mob to enforce the boycott of British goods. On 17 July 1775, Ashe, Robert Howe, and Cornelius Harnett led the militia into Fort Johnston in a futile attempt to seize the royal Governor, Josiah Martin.
In Sept. 1775, the legislature selected Ashe's brother-in-law, James Moore, as colonel of the state militia by a single vote. Ashe, who had desired the post, raised his own company of troops and moved on the Loyalists of Cape Fear, North Carolina. His independent unit then joined the force that defeated the Loyalists at Moore's Creek Bridge on 9 February 1776. In consequence of these actions, the North Carolina Assembly appointed Ashe brigadier general on 23 April 1776, in command of the Wilmington district. At the beginning of 1779 he was ordered to Charleston to reinforce General Benjamin Lincoln. His militia was poorly armed, and when it was attacked at Briar Creek on 3 March 1779, his troops broke and ran, most without firing a shot. A court-martial severely censured Ashe for "want of sufficient vigilance," and North Carolina relieved him of his command. When the British overran his part of the Carolinas he went into hiding in the swamps. There, one of his slaves betrayed him to the enemy in 1781. Paroled by the British, Ashe died on 24 October 1781 of smallpox while on his way home to rejoin his family.
revised by Michael Bellesiles