An active member of the colonial government and militia, Richard Caswell participated in the Battle of Alamance against the Regulators in 1771. When relations between the colonies and England became strained in 1774, he was elected to the Continental Congress. During the American Revolution, Caswell resumed his military career and commanded Patriot forces at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge in 1776.

It was during the war that Caswell was chosen to be North Carolina's first elected governor and headed the committee that wrote the new state's constitution. He would eventually serve six one-year terms as governor both during and after the war.

Caswell's life ended during his public service in 1789. He suffered a fatal stroke while presiding over the state senate in Fayetteville. After a funeral service there, his body was returned to Kinston for burial in a family cemetery.