Cornwallis and Bell’s Mill

North Facing Foundation Wall, and Trash Heap

Martha (McFarland) McGee was a widow with five children when she married Captain William Bell in May of 1779. Bell owned Bell’s Mill, circa 1725, located in Randolph County, North Carolina. While Captain Bell, an officer in the North Carolina militia, was away serving his county, his new wife Martha operated the mill.

In 1781, after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Lord Cornwallis went ahead to Bell’s Mill to confiscate corn and meal for his army, while he briefly occupied Mrs. Bell’s home as his headquarters.

Mrs. Bell confronted the British general to ask if he was planning to torch the mill when he finished grinding meal for his troops. She told him that if he planned to destroy the mill, that she would to burn it herself. Bell’s Mill was spared and continued in operation.

Martha McFarland McGee Bell was honored at Guilford Court House Battleground with a monument that reads, “Loyal Whig, Enthusiastic Patriot, Revolutionary Heroine“.

Sadly, reports Gary Strader whose photograph of Bell’s Mill is here posted, the historic mill site is now under water. For more information see his web site: “Bell’s Mill

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The image, North Facing Foundation Wall, and Trash Heap, is subject to copyright by gstrader. It is posted here with permission via the Flickr API by barneykin, administrator of “The Revolution flickred” pool.

12 Responses to Cornwallis and Bell’s Mill

  1. Gary Strader says:

    Sadly the site of Bell’s Mill is now underwater, along with the site of the Bell Home. The graveyard where Martha Bell is buried is located only about a mile away, also contains the remains of Col. Thomas Dougan. The Guilford Battle Chapter of the DAR, just marked his grave this past October.

    I will be happy to share what I know of Martha, and William Bell, Col Thomas Dougan, and the rest of those who were a part of the Revolution in Randolph County, as well as the battle at Guilford Courthouse. email me:
    Gary Strader

  2. nan says:

    Dear Gary, how great to find this site! I have been telling my 9 yr old granddaughter about the DAR and that she qualifies as a direct descendant of Mattie Bell. IF you can send me info on Mattie and her role in the war we would greatly appreciate it. Thank you so very much.

  3. Nan – MARTHA MCFARLANE MCGEE BELL, born 1735 in NC, is a proven patriot of the DAR. Her Ancestor Number is A008762. She was married to John MCGEE and then William BELL. She died in Randolph County, NC, where her grave has been marked. Anyone who can prove descent from her can qualify for membership in the DAR by contacting a local DAR chapter. There is more information at

    Your nine-year-old granddaughter is not yet old enough to join DAR, but she may enjoy starting out with C.A.R., Children of the American Revolution.

  4. katie says:

    Dear Mr.Strader,

    Martha Bell is my great………grandmother. I am very honored to be her great…….. granddaughter. Thank you for indruducing me to the C.A.R.,children of the American Revolution. My name is Katie,and I am Nan’s 9 year old granddaughter.

    P.S How old do you have to be to be a D.A.R?

  5. Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is open to women 18 years of age and upwards. I am “Daughter of Revolution”, aka Edna Barney, not Mr. Strader. You may contact Gary Strader by clicking on his picture of Bell’s Mill which will take you to his accoount at

  6. LaDonna says:

    I invite any and all interested in the Children of the American Revolution to visit our North Carolina site listed below. We have Societies all over the state.
    The organization is open to any young person from birth through their 22 birthday. They must be of lineage to a person that provided patriotic service or served in any military branch.

  7. It is a great web site and I hope you get lots of visitors from here. Daughter of Revolution most heartily recommends The National Society of the Children of the American Revolution for young people of all ages. The group trains its members to become good citizens and leaders of the US of A. The C.A.R. fosters love of country and heritage among its members.

  8. Gary Strader says:

    Thank you all for your comments and interest in the Life of Martha Bell. I want to point out that Martha stood out because of her bravery, and brass, and daring in dealings with the Loyalists, and British Soldiers. I can only say that I admire any one, man or woman, who would put on the coat of a Militia Officer in the 1780s, and dare ride out on horseback in the Deep River Basin.

    David Fanning , the Tory carried out terrorism on the citizens of this area, killing the likes of Col. Balfor, as well as others. Burning crops, and the homes of all patriot leaders that he could not locate to kill. The reason that he was not able to burn the mill, or the home of the Bells, was because it was well guarded, by the Militia. It just happened that the Mill was the Militia headquarters, and Captian Bell was an Officer and Quartermaster for the war effort.

    I am just passionate about the bravery of these man and women, and we must not let their memory fade in the passage of time. I encourage you to not stop with just tracing your relation to them. Take it on yourselves to be the guardians of the legacy that they purchased for us with their blood,sweat, and tears.

  9. Gary – It was those typical terrors that some of the British troops inflicted on their “supposed” fellow countryman that enflamed American feelings against them and Britain. They in fact, helped the Rebel cause, and ended up losing all of the colonies for their King. I remember reading a pension application of a woman in Georgia whose husband, I think, was a guerrilla with the Swamp Fox. The British constantly harrassed her and her children and in the document she stated that they burned her fine feather bed and forever afterwards she had to sleep on straw.

  10. Robert Harbin-McGee says:

    April 25, 2010
    Thank you all so much for this incredible post!
    My genealogical research is unfortunately “stuck” in a failing computer, that I have not been able to access for about three years. If my memory serves me well, I am either a relative, or a direct descendant of Martha McFarland McGee-Bell, both paternally, and maternally.

    I have come across many stories of this True American Heroine. She had great courage, whit, and was very resourceful. One story reveals that she gained access to Cornwallis’ military plans because she made a habit of making frequent trips to his office to make trumped up allegations about anything she could think of: her workers being mistreated, insulted, whatever excuse she could think of to get an audience in Cornwallis’ office. She had become such a common presence that when Cornwallis was away, and she refused to leave until he returned – she was actually allowed to wait for Cornwallis in his office unattended. This gave her free access to Top Secret Military maps & strategic plans! Brilliant!

    I have been told that National Geographic Magazine wrote an article about her being “The First Female Revolutionary War Spy”. I have not been able to locate this. If anyone knows of this articles existence – I would be grateful to have a copy emailed to me or just the Date of Publication.

    Thank you so much to all who have contributed to this article. Yes, it is very important to share these stories of such brave men and women, to continue to add life to their memory and contributions they made.

    Best Wishes to All,
    Robert Harbin-McGee

  11. MARIANNA says:

    Why are there not so much facts about Martha McFArland McGee BEll? EDUCATION, EARLY CHILDHOOD,FAMILY, SPOUSE, CHILDREN, GRANDCHILDREN, aDULT LIFE, HOW OLD WAS SHE WHEN SHE DIED, HOW AND WHY SHE DIED??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? PLEASE HELP ME, MY PROJECT IS DUE ON FRIDAY: 01-21-11 ! plEASE, iM SITTING HERE AND CRYING!

  12. harbinmcgee says:

    This is why I LOVE Genealogy! I am related to this Heroine through my Harbin; McGee; and Bell lineage!

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