Lovers of American history seeking to extend their July 4th patriotic celebration may look to Kenansville for the July 6 dedication of a historic highway marker for the late U.S. Congressman, James Gillespie. Those who appreciate an immigrant success story, with a willingness of the subject to sacrifice life and possessions to help build a nation that promoted extending rights of the common man can enhance their understanding of local, state and national history. The Irish-born emigrant became a trusted political leader in his adopted Village of Grove, located in present-day Kenansville. Gillespie, (ca. 1746-1805) and wife, Dorcas Mumford, a native of Onslow County became the parents of several children whose progeny spread throughout the Cape Fear Valley.
Following the February 1776 Patriot victory over Loyalist forces at Moore’s Creek Bridge, Gillespie served dual roles as a state representative for Duplin at the Halifax Convention that produced North Carolina’s Constitution and commissioned him as a cavalry officer to aid South Carolina. The Gillespie home at Golden Grove was burned by the British following the August 1781 Battle of Rockfish during the final months of the American Revolution.
As a delegate to both state conventions to ratify a new U.S. Constitution, Gillespie established a career in national politics, representing his state in the fourth, fifth and eighth sessions of the U.S. Congress until his death in 1805. The patriot’s final resting place is in the Old Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Wife Dorcas, who preceded him in death is buried in the Old Routledge Cemetery adjacent to the site of historic Grove Presbyterian Church where the family and other early Scots-Irish citizens of the Village of Grove were members. Although the original church building no longer exists, Grove Presbyterian Church has maintained an active congregation at its present location nearby. The marker will be unveiled at 11 a.m. Friday in the Routledge Cemetery, 609 Routledge Rd, Highway 24 E,just outside Kenansville. Contact (910) 484-7672 for further details.