As the Deep River wanders through North Carolina's Piedmont plateau and curves in a horseshoe bend, there stands on a hilltop above it one of the first big houses of upland North Carolina frontier country, the House in the Horseshoe.
Built around 1772 by Philip Alston, the home became known as the Alston House. In 1781, fighting erupted around the house as Alston's band of Whigs was attacked by Tories under the command of David Fanning. Later, four-term North Carolina Governor Benjamin Williams lived in the house, which he renamed "Retreat." Today, visitors can walk the grounds where the fighting raged for nearly four hours. enjoy a guided house tour, see the numerous scars of battle, and feel the bullet holes from the Revolutionary War skirmish. The house is fully furnished and features fine antiques from the colonial and Revolutionary War periods.
During the American Revolution, groups of citizen-soldiers called Whigs or Revolutionists, and Tories, who were still loyal to the king of England, waged irregular warfare against each other in North Carolina's backcountry (western frontier).
The House in the Horseshoe was then the home of Whig Colonel Philip Alston. On the morning of July 29, 1781, while Alston and his band of revolutionaries were camped at the home, they were attacked by a larger unit of Tories, whose leader was the notorious David Fanning. During the ensuing skirmish, Fanning's forces attempted to light the house on fire by rolling against it a cart filled with burning straw. After several casualties on both sides, Alston surrendered. The house was left riddled with bullet holes, many of which can still be seen today.
Though Alston was distinguished as a lieutenant colonel in the state militia, a justice of the peace, and a state senator, his later career was seen as disreputable. Twice indicted for murder, he was removed as justice of the peace, and suspended from the state legislature for various reasons. In 1790, Philip Alston sold the house and plantation and left the state.