Francis Marion

"A Sketch of the Life of Brig. General Francis Marion"
By William Dobein James, A.M. (Member of Marion's Militia)

A Sketch of the Life of BRIG. GEN. FRANCIS MARION, and A History of his Brigade, From its Rise in June, 1780, until Disbanded in December, 1782; With Descriptions of Characters and Scenes, not heretofore published.
By William Dobein James, A.M. During that Period one of Marion's Militia. At Present one of the Associate Judges in Equity, South Carolina.

FRANCIS MARION was born in 1732 at either at St. John's Parish, Berkeley, or St. James's Parish, Goose Creek; the respective homes of his father's and mother's families. 1732 is probably correct as the year of Francis's birth, but is not absolutely certain. Marion was of French extraction; his grandfather, Gabriel, left France soon after the revocation of the edict of Nantz, in 1685, on account of his being a protestant, and retired from persecution to this new world, then a wilderness; no doubt under many distresses and dangers, and with few of the facilities with which emigrants settle new, but rich countries, at the present day. His son, also called Gabriel, was the father of five sons, Isaac, Gabriel, Benjamin, Francis, and Job, and of two daughters, 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.

Mr. Henry Ravenel, of Pineville, now more than 70 years of age, knew him in the year 1758; he had then lost his father; and, removing with his mother and brother Gabriel from Georgetown, they settled for one year near Frierson's lock, on the present Santee canal (South Carolina). The next year Gabriel removed to Belle Isle, in St. Stephen's parish, late the residence of his son, the Hon. Robert Marion.

Francis settled himself in St. John's, at a place called Pond Bluff, from the circumstance of there being a pond at the bottom of a bluff, fronting the river low grounds. This place is situated about four miles below Eutaw, on the Santee; and he continued to hold it during life. Others fix his settling in St. John's, at a later period: this is of little consequence, but what is of some, was that in this most useful of all stations, a tiller of the ground, he was industrious and successful. In the same year, 1759, the Cherokee war broke out, and he turned out as a volunteer, in his brother's troop of provincial cavalry.

In 1761, he served in the expedition under Col. Grant, as a lieutenant in Captain Wm. Moultrie's company, forming part of a provincial regiment, commanded by Col. Middleton. It is believed that he distinguished himself in this expedition, in a severe conflict between Col. Grant and the Indians, near Etchoee, an Indian town; but, if he did so, the particulars have not been handed down to us, by any official account. General Moultrie says of him, "he was an active, brave, and hardy soldier; and an excellent partisan officer." We come now to that part of Marion's life, where, acting in a more conspicuous situation, things are known of him, with more certainty. In the beginning of the year 1775, he was elected one, of what was then called the provincial congress of South Carolina, from St. John's. This was the public body which agreed to the famous continental association, recommended by congress, to prevent the importation of goods, wares, and merchandizes, from Great Britain: they likewise put a stop to all suits at law, except where debtors refused to renew their obligations, and to give reasonable security, or when justly suspected of intentions to leave the province, or to defraud their creditors; and they appointed committees in the several districts and parishes in the state, which were called committees of public safety, to carry these acts into effect.

The year 1780, was the most eventful one, in the annals of South Carolina. The late failure of the attack on Savannah; the little opposition which Gen. Prevost met with, in a march of more than one hundred miles through the state; the conduct of the planters, in submitting, to save their property; and the well known weakness of the southern army; all conspired to induce the enemy to believe, that Charleston, and South Carolina, would become an easy prey.

Sir Henry Clinton, their commander in chief, meditating a formidable expedition against them; with this view sailed from New York on the 26th December, 1779, with an army, which, with subsequent reinforcements amounted to about 12,000 men. To oppose this great force, Gen. Lincoln had not more than two thousand, a great part of which was militia. His head quarters were in Charleston, where the general assembly were setting in calm deliberation, for they had not yet heard of the rising storm.

Lieut. Col. Marion, had command of the out-post of this little army, at Sheldon, near Pocotaligo, where he had orders to watch the motions of Prevost, and prevent him from obtaining supplies of provisions, from the Carolina side of Savannah river. It was expected he was to remain here for some time, and great confidence was reposed in him, by Gen. Lincoln, as appears by his letters, at this period. The British were to detach small parties through the country, and to take all the horses which were fit, either to transport their cannon and baggage, or to mount their cavalry. In one month after their landing, Col. Banastre Tarleton had his legion mounted, and began his career of slaughter.

On the 18th March, he surprised a party of 80 militia, at Saltketcher bridge, killed and wounded several, and dispersed the rest. On the 23d, he put to flight another party at Ponpon, killed three, wounded one, and took four prisoners. On the 27th, near Rantowle's bridge, he had a rencounter with Col. Washington, at the head of his legion of 300 men; Tarleton was worsted in this affair, and lost seven men, prisoners.

"I have given orders, that the inhabitants of the province, who have taken part in this revolt, should be punished with the greatest rigour; and also those who will not turn out, that they may be imprisoned, and their property taken from them, or destroyed. I have likewise ordered, that compensation be made out of their estates, to the persons who have been injured or oppressed by them. I have ordered, in the most positive manner, that every militia man who has borne arms with us, and afterwards joined the army, shall be immediately hanged. I desire you will take the most rigourous measures to punish the rebels in the district in which you command; and that you obey in the strictest manner the directions I have given in this letter, relative to the inhabitants of this country." --- Lord Cornwallis

In addition to the enormity of the principle, upon which such men were to suffer, was the uncertainty of the law; for Lord Cornwallis orders are so confusedly drawn, they will admit, as against the accused, of any latitude of construction: yet they denounce confiscation, imprisonment and death. Under the circumstances stated, the confiscations of Lord Cornwallis were robberies, his imprisonments were unjust and cruel, and his executions, always upon the gibbet, were military murders. And if, to gain his point, he did not, like the Duke of Alva, (employed in a similar vocation) make use of the rack, the stake, and the faggot, yet Lord Cornwallis resorted to every other mode of punishment, a more improved civilization had left him, to suppress civil liberty.

Such was the character of the commander in chief of the British forces in South Carolina. On one expedition (Nelson's Ferry - Nov. 1780), Tarleton burnt the house, out houses, corn and fodder, and a great part of the cattle, hogs and poultry, of the estate of Gen. Richardson. The general had been active with the Americans, but was now dead; and the British leader, in civilized times, made his widow and children suffer for the deeds of the husband and parent, after the manner of the East, and coast of Barbary. What added to the cruel nature of the act, was that he had first dined in the house, and helped himself to the abundant good cheer it afforded. But we have seen before the manner in which he requited hospitality. It was generally observed of Tarleton and his corps, that they not only exercised more acts of cruelty than any one in the British army, but also carried further the spirit of depredation.

To people of good feelings, but particularly the religious, this period (1780 and 1781) was truly distressing. From the time of the fall of Charleston, all public education was at an end, and soon after, all public worship was discontinued. Men from sixty years of age, down to boys of fourteen, (few of whom dared to stay at home) were engaged in active and bloody warfare. These had their minds in constant occupation, which, in whatever moral situation a man may be placed, brings with it a certain degree of satisfaction, if not contentment. All were actuated by the love of country, and but few by the love of fame: and next to the duties of religion, the exercise of those of patriotism excites the highest energy and brings the most sublime satisfaction to the human mind. But to the female sex, and the superannuated of the male, little consolation of that nature could be afforded. Even these were exposed to that kind of danger which might be inflicted by brutality at home, and most of them had relatives in the field to whom they were bound by the most tender and sacred ties, who were subjected to constant dangers, and for whose fate they were unceasingly anxious.

There was no place for the pleasures of society, for in the country these were too remote from a home that must constantly be watched. As a comfort in this situation females employed themselves in domestic occupations, in which that of the distaff had a considerable share, and all might indeed have exercised their private devotions; but that faint picture of heaven, that sweet consolation which is derived from associating with one's friends in public worship, was wholly denied them. Most of the churches in towns and the country, were either burnt or made depots for the stores of the enemy; some in fact were converted into stables; and of the remainder, all in the country were closed.-In a warfare of such atrocity there was little safety in any situation where numbers were collected, and as we have seen that the tories, by their murders, violated the sanctity of private dwellings, how then could it be expected they would be awed by the holiness of a church?



Gen. Moultrie received his account of this action of the Cowpens "from an officer of great veracity and high rank, who was conspicuous on that day;" supposed to be Col. Washington. The substance of his account shall now be given:

Gen. Morgan drew up his men in an open pine barren, the militia of about four hundred men, under Col. Pickens, formed the first line. The continentals of about five hundred men, two hundred of whom were raw troops, formed the second line, under Col. Howard, two hundred yards in the rear. Col. Washington, with seventy-five continental cavalry, and forty-five militia under Capt. M'Call, in the rear. Pickens ordered his men to reserve their fire till the enemy came within fifty yards, which they did, and fired with great success; but they were soon obliged to give way and retreat behind the second line, which received them warmly; at length the second line began to give way. Col. Washington, perceiving this, rode up to their rear with his cavalry, and told Howard, "if he would rally his men and charge the enemy's line, he would charge the cavalry who were cutting down the militia." His riding so close to the rear stopped the British, and Howard rallied his men in the mean time, and charged with fixed bayonets. Col. Washington charged the cavalry and routed them; the militia at the same time recovered themselves and began to fire, and the whole threw the enemy into the utmost confusion. Howard called out to them, "to lay down their arms and they should have good quarters." Upwards of five hundred men threw down their arms and surrendered. Two hundred were left dead on the field, and a great number wounded.

Besides the two field pieces mentioned by Tarleton, six hundred men, eight hundred stand of arms, and thirty-five baggage waggons, fell into the hands of the Americans. Col. Washington pursued the British cavalry twenty-five miles.

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Last revised on 25 Aug 2006.

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