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Gabriel Marion, Jr. father of Francis Marion, was the son of the immigrant of that name, married Charlotte Cordes, by whom he had seven children, five of whom were sons and two daughters.* Francis Marion was the last. He was born at Winyah, near Georgetown, South Carolina, in 1732.
* Weems speaks of six children only, naming all the sons and one of the daughters. Of her, he frankly says, "I have never heard what became; but for his four brothers, I am happy to state, that though not formidable as soldiers, they were very amiable as citizens." James tells us of two daughters, not naming either, but describing them as "grandmothers of the families of the Mitchells, of Georgetown, and of the Dwights, formerly of the same place, but now of St. Stephen's parish." Such particularity might be presumed to settle the question.
The infancy of Marion was unpromising. At birth he was puny and diminutive in a remarkable degree. Weems, in his peculiar fashion, writes, "I have it from good authority, that this great soldier, at his birth, was not larger than a New England lobster, and might easily enough have been put into a quart pot." It was certainly as little supposed that he should ever live to manhood, as that he should then become a hero. But, by the time that he had reached his twelfth year, his constitution underwent a change. His health became good. The bracing exercises and hardy employments of country life invigorated his frame, and with this improvement brought with it a rare increase of energy. He grew restless and impatient. The tendency of his mind, which was so largely developed in the partisan exercises of after years, now began to exhibit itself. Under this impulse he conceived a dislike to the staid and monotonous habits of rural life, and resolved upon seafaring as a vocation. Such, it may be remarked, was also the early passion of Washington; a passion rather uncommon in the history of a southern farmer's boy.
In the case of Washington the desire was only overcome at the solicitations of his mother. The mother of Marion, in like manner, strove to dissuade her son from this early inclination. She did not succeed, however, and when scarcely sixteen, he embarked in a small vessel for the West Indies. The particulars of this voyage, with the exception of the mode in which it terminated, have eluded our inquiry. We have looked for the details in vain. The name of the vessel, the captain, the port she sailed from, have equally escaped our search. To the wanton destruction of private and public records by the British, together with the heedless improvidence of heads of families in the South, we owe this poverty of historical resource. The voyage must have been taken somewhere about the year 1747-8. At that period there were perils of the sea to which the mariner is not often exposed at the present day.
The waters of the Gulf of Mexico, in particular, were covered with pirates. The rich produce of New Spain, the West Indies, and the Southern Colonies of the English, were rare temptations. The privateers of Spain and France, a sort of legalized pirates, hung about the ports of Carolina, frequently subjecting them to a condition of blockade, and sometimes to forced contributions. In the occasional absence of the British armed vessels appointed for the protection of these ports, the more enterprising and spirited among their citizens frequently fitted out their own cruisers, drawing them, for this purpose, from the merchant service; manning them in person, and requiting themselves for their losses of merchandise by the occasional capture of some richly laden galleon from New Spain. No doubt the imagination of young Marion was fired by hearing of these exploits. The sensation produced in the community, by the injuries done to its commerce, in all probability gave the direction to his already excited and restless disposition. It does not appear, however, that Marion's first and only voyage was made in an armed vessel.
Such, we may well suppose, would have been his desire; but the period when he set forth to procure service upon the seas, may not have been auspicious. He may have reached the seaport a moment too soon or too late, and the opportunities of this kind were necessarily infrequent in a small and frontier city, whose commerce lay mostly in the hands of strangers. His small size and puny appearance must have operated very much against his hopes of obtaining employment in a service which particularly calls for manhood and muscle. In what capacity, or in what sort of vessel he obtained a berth, we are left wholly to conjecture. Choosing the sea as a vocation, and laudably resolved on acquiring a proper knowledge of his business (as from what we know of his character, we may suppose was the case), he most probably went before the mast. His first and only voyage was unfortunate. The ship in which he sailed was no doubtequally frail and small. She foundered at sea, whether going or returning is not said; in consequence, we are told, of injuries received from the stroke of a whale, of the thornback species. So suddenly did she sink, that her crew, only six in number, had barely time to save themselves. They escaped to the jolly boat, saving nothing but their lives. They took with them neither water nor provisions; and for six days, hopeless of succor, they lay tossing to and fro, upon the bald and cheerless ocean. A dog, which swam to them from the sinking vessel, was sacrificed to their hunger. His raw flesh was their only food, his blood their only drink, during this distressing period. Two of their number perished miserably.* The survivors, on the seventh day, were found and taken up by a passing vessel, nourished carefully and finally restored to their homes.
* Weems represents the captain and mate, as throwing themselves overboard in a state of phrenzy, and there is nothing improbable or unnatural in the statement. Privation of food, the use of salt water, and exposure in an open boat to a burning sun, might very well produce such an effect. The only difficulty, however, consists in the simple fact that we have no other authority for the statement. James is silent on the point, and contents himself with simply stating the death of two of the crew. Weems, however, adds that of two others, whose end receives, as usual, quite a dramatic finish at his hands. He suffers none to live but "little Marion", and, in the exuberance of his imagination, actually goes so far as to describe the particular food, "chocolate and turtle broth", by which the youthful hero is recruited and recovered. By this he designs to show, more emphatically, the immediate interposition, in his behalf, of an especial providence. The truth is, that any attempt at details where so little is known to have been preserved, must necessarily, of itself, subject to doubt any narrative not fortified by the most conclusive evidence. Unfortunately for the reverend historian, his known eccentricities as a writer, and fondness for hyperbole, must always deprive his books -- though remarkably useful and interesting to the young -- of any authority which might be claimed for them as histories. As fictions from history, lively and romantic, they are certainly very astonishing performances; have amused and benefited thousands, and entitle the writer to a rank, in a peculiar walk of letters, which has not yet been assigned him.
Francis Marion was one of these survivors. The puny boy lived through the terrors and sufferings under which the strong men perished. So intense were their sufferings, so terrible the trial, that it will not greatly task the imagination to recognize in the preservation of the youth, -- looking to his future usefulness -- the agency of a special providence. The boy was preserved for other times and fortunes; and, in returning to his mother, was perhaps better prepared to heed her entreaties that he should abandon all idea of an element, from which his escape had been so hazardous and narrow. It was well for himself and country that he did so. It can scarcely be conjectured that his achievements on the sea would have been half so fortunate, or half so honorable to himself and country, as those which are now coupled with his name.
Returning to his home and parents, young Marion sunk once more into the humble condition of the farmer. His health and strength had continued to improve. His adventures by sea had served, seemingly, to complete that change for the better, in his physical man, which had been so happily begun on land; and, subduing his roving inclinations, we hear of him only, in a period of ten years, as a tiller of the earth. In this vocation he betrayed that diligent attention to his duties, that patient hardihood, and calm, equable temper, which distinguished his deportment in every part of his career. He is represented as equally industrious and successful as a farmer. The resources of his family seem to have been very moderate. There were several children, and before Francis was yet twenty-five years of age, he lost his father. In 1758 he was planting with his mother and brother Gabriel, near Friersons Lock on the Santee Canal. In 1759 they separated. Gabriel removed to Belle Isle -- the place where the mortal remains of Francis Marion now repose -- while the latter settled at a place called Pond Bluff in the Parish of St. John.* This place he continued to hold during life. It is still pointed out to the traveller as Marion's plantation, and is the more remarkable, as it lies within cannon shot of the battle ground of Eutaw, which his valor and conduct contributed to render so justly famous in the history of his native state. During this long period of repose -- the interval between his shipwreck, and removal to Pond Bluff, -- we are only left to conjecture his employments. Beyond his agricultural labors, we may suppose that his chief tasks were the cultivation of his mind, by close application to those studies which, in the condition of the country, sparsely settled, and without teachers, were usually very inadequately urged. It does not appear that his acquisitions in this respect were more valuable than could be afforded at the present day by the simplest grammar-school of the country. Here again we may trace the resemblance between his career and that of Washington. Equally denied the advantages of education, they equally drew from the great mother-sources of nature. Thrown upon their own thoughts, taught by observation and experience -- the same results of character, -- firmness, temperance, good sense, sagacious foresight, and deliberate prudence -- became conspicuous in the conduct and career of both. In the fortunes of neither -- in the several tasks allotted to them, -- in their various situations, -- did their deficiencies of education appear to qualify their successes, or diminish the respect and admiration of those around them, -- a singular fact, as indicative equally of the modesty, the good sense, and the superior intrinsic worth of both of these distinguished persons. In the case of Marion, his want of education neither lessened his energies, his confidence in himself, nor baffled any of his natural endowments. On the contrary, it left his talents free to their natural direction. These, it is probable, were never of a kind to derive, or to need, many advantages from a very superior or scientific education. His mind was rather practical than subtile -- his genius prompted him to action, rather than to study, -- and the condition and necessities of the country, calling for the former rather than the latter character, readily reconciled him to a deficiency the importance of which he did not feel.
* Pond Bluff now lies at the bottom of Lake Marion. -- A. L., 1996.
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