Dooly, John

views updated

Dooly, John

DOOLY, JOHN. (1735 or 1740–1780). Militia officer and partisan leader. Born in Wilkes County, North Carolina, he was in the Ninety Six district of South Carolina with extended family by 1765 and moved his family to Wilkes County, Georgia, in 1773. There, he acquired land where he maintained a mill, fort, ferry, and plantation and became a deputy surveyor. Initially opposed to anti-British activities, Dooly soon joined the militia and served in a variety of leadership positions.

Commissioned captain of his local militia company in December 1775, in 1776 he became captain of the Twelfth Troop of the Georgia Continental Regiment of Horse. During the fall of 1777 he resigned his commission under threat of court-martial because he had taken an Indian peace delegation hostage in retaliation for his brother Thomas's death by a Creek war party. He served Wilkes County in the assembly and as its first sheriff during 1777–1778, assumed command of the county militia battalion in 1778, and was elected to that position the following winter.

The British reoccupied Georgia in late 1778, and when troops led by Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell came into the backcountry in January 1779, Dooly, his subordinate, Lieutenant Elijah Clarke and one hundred volunteers fled to South Carolina. Bolstered by South Carolina militia under Colonel Andrew Pickens, they returned to Georgia and on 14 February 1779 defeated Loyalist forces at Kettle Creek. In March, Pickens and Dooly and their militias defeated a large number of Indians attempting to reach the British, but they arrived too late to assist General John Ashe at Briar Creek.

With the British now out of the backcountry, rebel leaders formed a temporary government. Dooly served not only as a member of but also as attorney for this government and as colonel-commandant of the militia. Writing to Colonel Samuel Elbert, captured by the British at Briar Creek, he explained that trying to recruit in the back-country was difficult because rebel plundering raids turned the settlers from the rebel cause toward the British. Dooly and his militia joined General Benjamin Lincoln's army at the unsuccessful siege of Savannah in the fall of 1779. This defeat eliminated any hope of external support for Georgia's rebel government.

John Dooly and others now formed partisan bands to fight the British in Georgia. A strong leader, he attracted men on both a political and military level, and they rode without pay, supplies, or a specified term of service. After the British captured Charleston in May 1780, they allowed rebel militiamen to return to their homes as prisoners of war on parole. Dooly and four hundred of his men returned to the backcountry and surrendered to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Brown on 5 June 1780. That summer Dooly was assassinated, probably by Loyalist militia Captain William Corker and several others, an incident that has figured in folk legend. Dooly's two sons were each awarded five hundred acres by the state government at the end of the war.


Ferguson, Clyde R. "Functions of the Partisan-Militia in the South during the American Revolution: An Interpretation." In The Revolutionary War in the South: Power, Conflict, and Leadership. Edited by W. Robert Higgins. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1979.

Scheer, George F., and Hugh F. Rankin. Rebels and Redcoats. New York: World, 1963.