Early America

Of Pilgrims, Fear Brewster, and Origins

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One of the many amazing things about my current place of employment is their commitment to diversity. I attended a Trans/Ally workshop two weeks ago that was a series of several the college put on for all of us to attend over the summer break. During one of the many activities, the class out a (confidential) form that asked how we identified culturally. I didn’t know what to put. I know that our origin stories are important, but I have often felt that I don’t have a culture. I’m a white American, which means default, which means nothing. How should I fill out that box? And then I had a slow realization about my cultural identity.

I was eight years old when I decided I wanted to be a pilgrim when I grew up. And I don’t mean an adventurer who immigrates via plane or ship for a new life. I mean the people who traveled the intrepid sea, late from too many leakage problems, persecuted for their religious beliefs in England, who settled Cape Cod in the 1620s.

Plimoth Plantation, the first living history museum, is magical. It sits on a hill; the gray houses dug into the earth, surrounded by a tree trunk palisade that is surrounded by waving fields of corn. The main road slopes downward from a fort on the tip of the hill, and at the bottom is a view of blue ocean that seems to stretch forever. Here, you can leave your car in the parking lot and go listen to Miles Standish complain about how boring he finds church or ask him for a lesson on how to load a musket. You can watch Susannah White hold onto her straying toddler by the straps sewn onto the shoulders of the child’s clothes. Edward Winslow will let you tie knots for the fishing net he’s making from a ball of strong twine.

Growing up, I visited them in Massachusetts on the blue and gray shore for as long as I can remember. Maybe not exactly every summer, but near enough. My Aunt Sue used to get the pass from the local library when we were coming to town. She knew how I felt about the place.

When I asked the man in the green tabbed vest if they had any kids on board the Mayflower, he told me that they had plenty of sheep and a couple of cows, but he didn’t recon there were any goats on board. In the village, a woman told me that her pregnant neighbor was obviously having a boy, because she always stepped out of the house with her left foot. Another said that women usually wore six to eight skirts. When I went home I pulled the four my mother had packed for me out of my suitcase and put them on to see what it would feel like. It was heavy around my waist, and I had trouble getting the fourth skirt to zip.

I was thirteen when the woman behind the counter told me to hang on a second. She would get me a teacher’s packet from the back, because the more I knew about the pilgrims the more likely they were to let me work there someday. I studied the folded pieces of paper, tucked into a number ten envelope, and learned about baby Oceanus who was born on the Mayflower mid-trip.   I learned that they had come from Scrooby, England, by way of Holland where they had worked in the cloth factories. I learned that they called themselves Saints, and that in the first winter more than half the Saints died from a wasting sickness in the ice and snow.

I was eighteen when I decided it was time to apply for a job. It would be an adventure, to live out a fantasy and play pilgrim on that historic shore. My aunt and uncle were nearby if I got into any real trouble. But were there women I could portray? There were stories of children, and stories of adult women, but I had never heard stories about teens. I turned to the computer. It was my first foray into historic archives and I fell in love, with the hand-drawn maps of lot divisions and the signatures on the Mayflower Compact, and with a nineteen year old girl named Fear Brewster.

It was the name that struck me. In a time when Oceanus and Remember Patience were popular and valid, perhaps Fear is not so out of place. But a woman named Fear? Was she born in fear, was she a girl who was afraid, did the name make her fearless? She was a Brewster, one of the few Mayflower families that people who aren’t career historians remember. She married Isaac Allerton, a man more than twenty years her senior, who was embezzling goods that were supposed to pay the colony’s huge English debts. She died before the age of thirty of a wasting fever. She had a son. That is all that is known about this woman with the fascinating name. That is all history has left us.

 And so I am left to speculate about the things she thought of a journey to a bleak shore where nothing waited but starvation and wattle and daub hovels. Or what she thought of her husband. Of how she played blind to his thefts because it was unthinkable to confront. Of how young she was and how little she could say to a husband who was not only a Man, but an Adult in a time when women were flighty, sinful and childish; regardless of age.

I will never be a pilgrim. That much is certain now. I met my husband that summer and left the completed application folded in a drawer in my bedroom. I have never marched down the dirt path, a cloud of dust at my feet, carrying a basket and wearing six skirts in the humid Massachusetts summer. I have never sat and sewn under a tree while trading riddles with the other women in the circle. I have never been Fear Brewster.  

And here is the thing: I don’t even have pilgrim ancestry to claim, only the militant and unimaginative puritans who came after them decades later. Maybe. On my mother’s side. On my father’s side, the John Elderkin who came over before the pilgrims was probably one of those deadbeat Jamestown fellows, or worse. Why I have claimed the pilgrims as my ancestry, I cannot fathom. They don’t belong to me and I know that. But in the same breath that I deny their link, I also feel it.

Sometimes when it is raining outside, I sit by the window and ponder how frightening it must have been when the central beam cracked during a storm on the Mayflower. Some nights when I am lying awake next to my sleeping husband, I wonder if Fear ever looked over at Isaac, at his buttoned up eyes and the stubble on his chin, and thought about how handsome he was.

In the age of social media, I follow Plimoth Plantation everywhere they have accounts. It is beautiful and heartbreaking to see those photos of the past come to life in a little town just south of Boston; heartbreaking because it has been more than ten years since I walked those streets and I always want. But sometimes the things we dream about don’t come true. I know that Fear and I have that in common, too. In my case, I think giving up that dream was worth the reality I was granted instead. I hope that Fear felt the same.

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Road to Revolution

The story of the American Revolution is a tale told in classrooms across America today, but little is discussed about the actual factions and tensions that caused such a breach between Great Britain and her colonies.  In just ten years, Americans went from considering themselves as loyal subjects of the King- Englishmen who didn’t live on the mainland- to declaring their independence from Britain.  If we look closely at the Declaration of Independence, we can see why.  The list of grievances in the document cite everything that happened in the Americas from 1764 when the Sugar Act was passed, to 1776 when America decided to break ties with their colonial rulers.  This essay explores the ties that existed between Great Britain and America, and the tensions that finally brought the colonists to act for independence, economically, politically, and intellectually.

Britain and the Colonies were very connected economically.  In the early days of American Colonization, Britain instituted a policy of Statutory Neglect.  This meant that Parliament might pass a few laws here and there to regulate trade, but they generally left the individual State governments to govern themselves.  Various Navigation acts had been passed, such as stipulations that America trade only with the British, but they were not well enforced until later in the Colonial Era.  Other laws also forbid the manufacture of goods in America, so the colonists relied on Britain to supply any luxury items they needed such as glass, paint, tea, and furniture.  This created a large amount of dependency between the two countries.  Britain relied on America for the revenue their trade brought in, but America relied on Britain for essential goods.

Another way the countries were connected economically was through war. Britain considered itself America’s protector, and therefore responsible for defending the territory through the various colonial wars.  This meant that Britain also bore the financial burden for conducting these expensive wars, and there were recessions in both Britain and the Americas after the French and Indian war.  As a result of this financial burden, Britain’s coffers were hurting.  Citizens of Britain living in England had already paid more than their fair share of taxes, and Parliament was looking for new sources of revenue.   Taxing the colonies seemed like the next logical step.  Parliament felt that the colonies might even be glad to contribute in gratitude for British protection.  Parliament was completely wrong.  Americans felt that by contributing and paying troops out of their own government coffers during these wars, they had more than bourn their fair share of the financial burden.  As Benjamin Franklin stated in his testament before parliament in 1766, “Pennsylvania, in particular, disbursed about $500,000 [during the last war], and the reimbursements, in the whole, did not exceed $60,000…” (Greene 73)

When the Stamp Act was enacted in 1765 this heightened the economic conflict between the Colonies and Great Britain.  Colonists felt that having to pay these taxes in an economic recession would bankrupt them. When most States tried to institute a boycott of products taxed under the Stamp Act, the economic situation became more precarious than anyone imagined.  Merchants, dock workers, and other men with jobs in trade began to be laid off, making the recession worse.  Although the Stamp Act was eventually repealed, other Parliamentary attempts to raise money followed, such as the Revenue Act, the Townshend Duties, and the Tea Act.  The Townshend Duties were particularly upsetting to the colonists, because they placed a tax on luxury items that were illegal to make in America.  Colonists had no choice but to pay those fees or go without, which many deemed unfair.

At the same time Britain was trying to tax the colonies, it was also denying them greater economic opportunities.  By insisting that America trade only with itself, Britain guaranteed cheap products from the Americas could be sold in Britain, at the expense of American profit.   As the economic recession in the Americas grew worse, prices of tobacco fell to record lows, and Virginians felt that they could only make their farms profitable again if they could compete with world markets; a practice the Navigation Acts made illegal. 

In addition to curtailing American commerce, Britain also prevented  expansion west.  At the end of the French and Indian War, Britain had signed a treaty with France stating that they would allow no settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.  Colonists pressured the British Government to break the treaty line, but Parliament wouldn’t do so.  This left colonists wondering if America would be turned into a larger version of England within a few generations: land locked into the hands of the wealthy and movement between social classes nearly unheard of, a situation many of them had come to America to avoid.

Politically, England and America also had many disagreements.  In the early colonial years, the King granted individual charters to each state.  Although the King was still considered their ruler, these charters granted broad political powers to the colonies to set up their own governments.  Although citizens of the colonies were granted broad freedoms, they still considered themselves Englishmen and subject to all laws regular Englishmen observed.  This was especially true of the statute in the Magna Carta which granted representation to all Englishmen who paid taxes.   Colonists insisted that any measure to tax them was illegal according to English law, as it was impractical that they be represented in Europe.

With the re-instatement of the monarchy in England and a new Prime Minister, Lord North, being elected in 1770 the policy of Statutory Neglect ended for good.   Although Parliament in general felt that taxing the colonies was a good idea, there was much argument about how to handle the growing colonial unrest.  Some felt that Britain should let the colonies cool down, and re-institute Statutory Neglect for a while.  Unfortunately, the faction that was for cracking down hard on colonial dissent won their way.  They passed the Declaratory Act, which stated that Britain had the power to pass and enforce any laws they wanted for the colonies.  They also passed the Townshend Duties, which established a Trade Commission to enforce new tax policies, as well as adherence to the old Navigation Acts.  As part of this policy, offenders were no longer allowed to be tried by a jury of their peers, but were forced to attend a special court, where they were tried by jurors appointed by the King.  Often these courts were far removed from the state in which the offender lived, sometimes as far away as England.  This was not financially viable for most colonists, who could not afford the travel expenses.  In addition to bearing a potentially bankrupting financial cost to stand trial, colonists also received much harsher sentences.

As tensions rose and colonial responses became more violent, Parliament passed even harsher laws.  In 1774 Parliament revoked New York’s charter and instituted a military government.  A few months later, they did the same in Massachusetts, even closing the port of Boston and quartering troops in the city. The governor of Massachusetts, Hutchinson, undoubtedly exacerbated the tensions in Boston by asking that troops be quartered in the city, and insisting on unloading and selling taxed tea despite the mob that gathered.  Still, even colonists in other States felt that Britain had overreacted.  They feared the same would happen to them if they did nothing to help Massachusetts and New York.

In response to these fears, State governments came together to try and craft an organized message to send to Britain about their displeasure.  By banding together in State legislatures, instituting the Committee of Correspondence for easy communication between States, and even coming together to form a Continental Congress, the colonists probably felt they were acting responsibly against the British laws.  Unfortunately, the responses coming out of these governing bodies were completely inconsistent.  The Massachusetts Circular letter, a pamphlet written in negative response to the Townshend duties states, “… the Acts made [in Parliament] imposing Duties on the People of this province with the sole & express purpose of raising a Revenue, are Infringements of their natural & constitutional Rights because… they are not represented in the British Parliament…”, (Greene 134) However, despite their clear frustration over their lack of representation in Parliament, they later write, “…this House think that a taxation of their Constituents, even without their Consent, grevious as it is, would be preferable to any Representation that could be admitted for them [in Parliament]” (Greene 135).  Even as late as 1776, the Continental Congress drafted a letter explaining their need to take up arms in the battle of Lexington and Concord, and then sent the Olive Branch petition stating that they still wish to be subjects of the King.  Parliament undoubtedly didn’t know what to think of these conflicting responses, and likely thought that the threat of colonial war was unrealistic, or certainly that the colonists would not be organized enough to overthrow the powerful British army.

Colonial reluctance to declare independence was undoubtedly linked to the close social and intellectual relationship American shared with England.  Prominent colonists, such as Benjamin Franklin, often traveled back and forth between the colonies and Britain and there was much sharing of ideas between the two countries.  One of the major places we can see this sharing of ideas is through the Age of Reason – an era in Europe characterized by scientific reasoning applied to social ideals.  Among the tenants spouted by scholars was the idea of basic human rights, and arguments arose as to what those rights should be.  One Englishman especially, John Locke, believed that basic human rights consisted of the right to life, liberty and property.  In Dickinson’s Letters From A Farmer, we can see the transfer of Locke’s ideas of life, liberty and property to the Americas, which then became a fundamental part of the Declaration of Independence.  Although the ideas of John Locke were fairly benign, other Englishmen such as Thomas Paine took the ideas of human rights to the extreme.  In his pamphlet Common Sense, Paine espoused the idea that monarchies, by their very nature, were corrupt and could never be otherwise.  Colonists believing Paine’s compelling case against monarchy would have had a hard time reconciling this idea with their position as subjects of the British crown, especially when public opinion regarding the government was at an all-time low.

Opinions on how to respond to the harsh laws passed by Parliament differed greatly in the colonies, further exacerbating social tensions.  Mob violence in response to the tax measures was popular among many colonists, especially once the Sons of Liberty, united by Samuel Adams, began to operate as an organized mob in Boston.  On the other side of the issue were the governing bodies who wished to petition the King for redress, showing their displeasure intellectually.  There were various factions within these governing bodies as well, some wishing to submit and hope the King and Parliament would be kinder in the future, and some wishing to be stern and make it clear that the colonies would never submit to harmful government policies.

On July 6th, 1776 a group of 56 men in the Continental Congress changed the relationship between Great Britain and her colonies irrevocably.  By signing the Declaration of Independence, they refused once and for all to submit to all harmful government policies set out by King and Parliament.  The intellectual, economic, political, and social ties and tensions that formed the relationship between Great Britain and her colonies could never have continued forever.  It is unfortunate that schools today pay so little attention to the Declaration of Independence as a historical document, but only as an ideological one.  Though its ideological contributions are certainly important, it is the list of grievances our forefathers set out so many years ago that tell the story of our country today.

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The Swamp Fox of the American Revolution

            Many of the men and women who participated in the American Revolution have become veritable saints in the annals of American History, their stories passed down as fairy tales throughout the ages.  Although less known today than figures such as George Washington or Benjamin Franklin, Frances Marion, also known as the Swamp Fox, is undoubtedly one of these figures.  That the myth of the Swamp Fox has been passed down for so many hundreds of years is clearly a testament to his important contributions during the Revolutionary War.  A clearer understanding of Marion as a human being and not as a myth will certainly prove how essential Marion’s roll was in winning the war in the south.   By gaining a clear picture of Marion’s life story, one can see how his humane treatment of Tories and British, his talents in leading unconventional troops, and his clever understanding of tactics, were instrumental in allowing the south to successfully break away from their “Mother Country”.

It has been hard to separate the man from the myth when reconstructing the real story of what happened during the revolution those hundreds of years ago.  The first biography that was ever written about Marion was written by the same man who started the cherry tree myth about George Washington, and was certainly outright false in some places.  Modern depictions have been rather bipolar in their treatment of his life story. The 1960s Disney Afternoon show paints an idyllic picture of a scrappy band of merry men riding, Robin Hood style, through the south.  The 2000 movie, The Patriot, depicts a deeply troubled man trying to live down the unspeakable horrors he perpetuated during the French and Indian war.  Both of these depictions of Marion and his outlook on life are exaggerated portraits of who he really was.  A staunch patriot who asked to go to war, Marion bore hard times with an immense optimism that served his followers well.

Frances Marion was born in 1732, at Winyah, South Carolina.  He was the youngest of six children, five boys and a girl.  Although Marion’s parents had lived in the colonies for their entire lives, Marion’s grandparents on both sides originally emigrated from France.  We know that Marion felt deeply patriotic to the American colonies, but his family’s origin arguably made him not as tied to remaining a British citizen as some colonists.  Marion received a general primary education at the English school in Charleston, but nothing higher.  He could certainly read and write, but compare Marion’s writings to men such as Jefferson, Dickinson, and Paine, and you can clearly see the deficiencies in his schooling. Marion’s writing is very abrupt, and never contains anything that isn’t strictly necessary to convey information.  He is also extremely light with the punctuation.  When compared to Paine’s compelling narrative in Common Sense, or the rally to arms of the Declaration of Independence, Marion’s writing seems brusque and matter of fact.

Once he had completed school, Marion felt that he would like to become a sailor.  Unfortunately, his first trip as a deckhand ended in tragedy when a whale attacked the ship, ripping a plank from the bottom of the vessel and sinking it.  Of the six man crew, only four survived the five days before they were rescued, and only because they were able to eat a dog that swam to their lifeboat after the main ship sank.  Marion never went to sea again, but contented himself by becoming a very successful farmer.

Marion lived with his mother, renting farmland in the area until her death in 1758, when he moved to St. Johns, South Carolina, and bought Pond Bluff Plantation.  As many of our forefathers did, Marion owned slaves that ran his plantation.  He continued to be a successful farmer until the French and Indian War broke out.  The Cherokee Indians in the area were particularly violent, burning farmland and crops and kidnapping women and children from colonial families.  Frances Marion and his brother Job felt compelled to protect their land, and both signed up for military service under General William Moultrie. Marion especially distinguished himself when he led a troop of thirty men to take the entrance to a fort that was held by the Cherokees.  Twenty one of the men were cut down, but Marion was able to rally his force together enough to take the entrance and allow the rest of the colonial army to sweep through, winning the battle.  When the Cherokee war ended, Marion and his brother both returned to their sedate life of farming.

Marion was very well respected in his community, as evidenced by his election to the South Carolina Congress in 1776 as the delegate from St Johns. Later that year when military leaders were being elected by the South Carolina Congress, Marion was asked to serve again as a Colonel in the new South Carolina army, under William Moultrie as he had been during the Cherokee war. Marion and his troop of men were involved in several small skirmishes in the area.  Soon afterward, word of the Declaration of Independence came to South Carolina and Marion was offered a commission in the Continental army by General Washington, again as a Colonel under William Moultrie, who was under General Gates, which he gladly accepted.

Marion quickly asserted himself as a strong and loyal leader. For example, as the British army largely concentrated their efforts on the northern colonies, the South Carolinians were often left without much to do.  As a result, many of the officers fell to fighting amongst themselves, some refusing to report to others, and one man even resigning his commission as a result of hard feelings.  Marion was able to stay well out of the barrack politics and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel when he took over the command of the troops that the deserting officer had left behind.  Marion also trained the men under his command relentlessly. As Peter Horry later stated: “Indeed, I am not afraid to say that Marion was the ARCHITECT of the Second Regiment, and laid the foundation of that excellent discipline and confidence in themselves, which gained them such reputation whenever they were brought to face their enemies.” (Simms, 901)  Marion had the least problems of all the South Carolina officers with his men, and gained a lot of respect for his leadership abilities.

In 1779, Marion, along with the rest of the South Carolina contingent, flocked to Charleston.  The continental army had word that the British had changed their tactics and had ceased trying to cut off the northern section of the colonies from the southern section.  Cornwallis received orders to take Charlestown.  The Continental army immediately flocked to Charleston to try and make the town as ready for defense as possible.  Many of the officers were thrilled to be home again in Charleston, and a few weeks before the battle, one of Marion’s superior officers decided to have a raucous party. Marion attended, but when the commanding officer decided to lock the door and not let anyone out until they were thoroughly intoxicated, the teetotaler Marion decided to jump out of a second story window rather than upset his superior officer by refusing to get drunk.  Marion broke his ankle and, much against his wishes, was forced to evacuate the city with the other wounded before the battle started.

This ended up being a fortunate accident.  After a six week siege, Charleston fell to the British, and every superior officer who had stayed was now a prisoner of war.  Although his ankle had not yet healed, Marion rounded up as many men as he could gather and went to join what was left of the Continental Army.  A description of Marion’s men from this point in time was given by Colonel Otho Wiliams: “Their number did not exceed twenty men and boys, some white, some black, and all mounted, but most of them miserably equipped; Their appearance was in fact so burlesque, that it was with much difficulty the diversion of the regular soldiery was restrained by the officers.” (Bass, 40) 

Marion was hardly better off himself. As William Dobien James asserted, Marion’s knees and ankles were badly formed and he still limped considerably.  He wore a rather coarse crimson jacket, and the leather cap of the second regiment.  A silver crescent was inscribed on his hat, with the words “Liberty or Death” beneath.

Through a series of flukes, Marion escaped capture again and again as the British army eviscerated the South Carolinians.  By early 1780, Marion was the senior officer in all of South Carolina.

Although things looked bleak for their cause, and the British army considered South Carolina subdued enough to move into Georgia, Marion and his men were just getting started.  They laid in a strategy of British antagonism that would be debilitating enough that Cornwallis specifically order Banastre “Bloody Ban” Tarleton to find and capture Marion.  After months of trying desperately to get his hands on an ever slippery Marion, Tarleton wrote back to Cornwallis “as for this damned ‘Swamp Fox’, the devil himself could not catch him.” Thus Marion earned his nickname.  His men continued to fight the British forces, supplying their own ammunition, clothing, and supplies and hearing not a word from the main Continental Army.

In 1780, when the British eviscerated the rebel forces in South Carolina, it looked very bleak for the rebel forces.  Marion went from being at the middle of the commanding totem pole, to being at the utmost top in a matter of about a month as his superior officers all became prisoners of war.  Still, Marion insisted that his men continue fighting, and it was this unrelenting pursuit of the British forces that allowed South Carolinian support for the rebels and their cause to hold on and survive through this difficult time when it looked as if the British would almost certainly win.  In addition to Marion’s continued perseverance through difficult times militarily, he also pushed through despite personal injury.  Marion’s fall from that second story window before the Siege of Charleston permanently injured his ankle to the point that he could not always dismount his horse without assistance.  He continued to limp throughout his lifetime.  Still, Marion returned to the war as soon after his injury as humanely possible, and continued to fight fiercely until the British surrendered in 1781.  This determined pursuit of the British helped the Continental army eventually oust them for good.  Without victories such as their triumph at Black Mingo and the victory at Tearcoat Swamp, and without the psychological damage Marion’s troops did to standing British armies who were just waiting for their own midnight attack, it is doubtful that public support for the rebel cause would have persisted.  It is Marion we have to thank for his refusal to quit, even when things looked as if they would never improve.

Late in 1780, the tide of war turned sharply for Marion.  General Washington realized just how ineffective Gates had been as commander over the southern forces, and appointed General Nathaniel Greene instead.  Greene was an extremely able commander, and gave Marion the first support he had seen in months. Greene realized just how effective Marion had been in South Carolina, and sent much praise, writing “To fight the enemy bravely with the prospect of victory, is nothing; but to fight with intrepidity under the constant impression of defeat, and inspire irregular troops to do it, is a talent peculiar to yourself.” (Simms, 3092) Green also sent supplies and more men, and promoted Marion to the rank of Brigadier General. With this additional support, Marion was in a position to do more than just harass the British army.  Attacking a British garrisoned fort at Black Mingo, Marion and his men took the fort in only fifteen minutes, although admittedly with much bloodshed.  A few days afterward Marion staged a midnight attack against a full British regiment at Tearcoat Swamp, easily winning a decisive victory as the men were caught completely unawares.  With Greene winning decisive battles in the northern part of the south, and Marion winning them in the middle, the two were finally able to consolidate their forces and drive the British out of South Carolina for good.  In 1781, the Governor of South Carolina considered the British so little of a threat that they called the Continental Congress back to order and reinstituted a non-military government.  This was before the war had officially ended, and Marion was in a difficult position as he tried to serve in the legislature as well as serving as a Brigadier General.  Somehow, he managed it, although he spent less time than he would like with his troops.  As a letter to his second in command Peter Horry exhibits, “I fear your patience must be something longer tried with the militia, as I cannot be spared without stopping the whole proceedings of the House.  We have but 13 Senators, which is the least number than can do business… As soon as they can spare me, I will return.”  (Bass, 227)

When official word of Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown reached South Carolina, Marion again returned to his plantation.  Unfortunately, it was completely ruined without a stick of furniture or a piece of silverware left inside, and needing extensive repairs.  With his entire fortune gone, and everything he owned stolen, Marion had to start over almost completely.  He was fifty years old.  Marion was eventually able to build his fortune back up enough so that he could live a comfortable life, but was never able to achieve the prosperity of his younger years.  In 1786, five years after the close of the war, Marion married his childhood friend, also his first cousin, Mary Esther Videau.  The two of them lived a modest life on Marion’s plantation and never had any children, although they adopted a son of a relative.

After the war, Marion’s military career did not end.  He retained command of a brigade until 1794 when South Carolina reorganized their military and Marion decided to retire.  Marion also continued to serve in the state legislature for many years.  He died in 1795 at Pond Bluff in his sleep.  It is traditionally quoted that his last words were: “I can lay my hand on my heart and say that, since I came to man’s estate, I have never intentionally done wrong to any.” (Simms, 4371)  A large tombstone was erected in Marion’s memory, and the epitaph states:

“Sacred to the memory of Brigadier-General Francis Marion, who departed this life on the 29th of Feb., 1795, in the sixty-third year of his age, deeply regretted by all his fellow citizens. History will record his worth, and rising generations embalm his memory, as one of the most distinguished patriots and heroes of the American Revolution; which elevated his native country to honor and Independence, and secured to her the blessings of liberty and peace. This tribute of veneration and gratitude is erected in commemoration of the noble and disinterested virtues of the citizen, and the gallant exploits of the soldier, who lived without fear, and died without reproach.” (Simms, 2011-03-30).

A greater understanding of Marion’s life casts a spotlight on the reasons for his successful military career.  Without Marion’s staunch refusal to give up hope, his knack for managing people, and his thorough knowledge of military tactics, the south would have been lost to the Continentals both physically and psychologically when the British took Charleston in 1780.  We can see the importance of his role as he moved up the ranks from Colonel to Brigadier General in only two years’ time, as well as in the continuation of the Marion Mythos throughout the ages.

Marion and his entire brigade were particularly known for being humane during times of war.  Even during the French and Indian war, Marion hated the task of destroying the livelihood of others, even though he did if he was ordered.  A letter from Marion to his brother during the French and Indian war states,

“The next morning we proceeded, by order of Colonel Grant, to burn down the Indian cabins. Some of our men seemed to enjoy this cruel work, laughing very heartily at the curling flames as they mounted, loud-crackling, over the tops of the huts. But to me it appeared a shocking sight. “Poor creatures!” thought I, “we surely need not grudge you such miserable habitations.” But when we came, ACCORDING TO ORDERS, to cut down the fields of corn, I could scarcely refrain from tears. For who could see the stalks that stood so stately, with broad green leaves and gaily-tasselled shocks, filled with sweet milky fluid, and flour, the staff of life—who, I say, without grief, could see these sacred plants sinking under our swords, with all their precious load, to wither and rot untasted, in their mourning fields!” (Simms, 664)

Marion refused to let his men burn houses, raze crops, or loot during the Revolutionary War, and if he caught men doing it anyway, they were immediately discharged from his service, as evidenced by an account of Peter Horry, who served with Marion.

“At the hospitable table of Mrs. Motte, it was whispered in Marion’s ears, that Col. Lee’s men were even then engaged in hanging certain of the Tory prisoners. Marion instantly hurried from the table, seized his sword, and running with all haste, reached the place of execution in time to rescue one poor wretch from the gallows. Two were already beyond rescue or recovery. With drawn sword and a degree of indignation in his countenance that spoke more than words, Marion threatened to kill the first man that made any further attempt in such diabolical proceedings.” (Simms, 3031)

In contrast, when the British Military swept through the south in 1780, crushing everything in their path, many South Carolinians suffered extremely poor treatment at their hands.  General Cornwallis, for example, advocated a policy of no forgiveness to anyone fighting for the rebel cause, giving orders that anyone taking part in rebel activities be “Punished with the greatest rigor” (Simms 1621) and that deserters could have their property destroyed.  Deserters who joined the rebels could be hanged on sight. 

The British were also allowed to loot, burn, raze and terrorize to their hearts content.  There are even reports that the British stole slaves from wealthy plantation owners and re-sold them at a huge profit to themselves, sometimes shipping them to the West Indies for the best price.  When faced with choosing sides between the reasonable Marion and the unforgiving British, even the most staunchly on the fence individuals began to support the cause of the Rebels, and Marion’s brigade swelled in numbers despite Cornwallis’ above edict.  Because of Marion’s moral outlook and sense of right, and also his acknowledgement that British supporters were also former friends and neighbors, Marion helped create a positive climate for the freedom the Continentals were trying to achieve.

Marion had a highly developed sense of right and wrong in all instances, and he understood the men who served under him well.  Eating only what his men ate, drinking only water, and even sharing in the miserableness of his troop’s equipment, Marion never set himself as above the men over whom he served.  He was a short man, with a pronounced, sarcastic sense of humor and a perpetually optimistic outlook which made him well liked wherever he went.  Combine these qualities with his understanding that idle brigades quickly succumb to drama and political intrigue, and you end up with the perfect commander of irregular troops.  When there were no British in the area to fight, Marion had the men under his command continually training for when the British would arrive.  Even after the situation looked bleak for the Continentals in South Carolina, Marion had his men attacking British brigades at midnight, disrupting enemy supply chains, setting traps for troops on the move, obtaining intelligence to help the Continental Army in the north, and continually moving their military camp from one site to another.  Marion’s men were never idle, and so escaped much of the drama that plagued the South Carolinian army in the early days of the war, and kept their spirits up during the latter part of the war.  Although Marion continually had problems in making his troops behave as professional soldiers, he was able to achieve much with so green a force.  The loyalties of many of his men lay, not with the newly forming United States, but with their farms and plantations in South Carolina.  Marion found early on that if he tried to go too far afield of his homeland, many of his men would simply desert and go back home.  On the flip side, Marion also found that if he brought his men too near their homes they would desert as well, spending a few precious days with their families at home before returning to service again.  Still, Marion was able to harness his men into brilliant victories, such as the battle of Black Mingo where Marion’s force took a fully occupied and garrisoned British fort in only fifteen minutes.  This is a true testament to Marion’s leadership abilities.

In addition to leadership, Marion also possessed a great mind for military tactics.  In fact, the Continental Army never lost a battle that was commanded by Marion.  Some of Marion’s favorite practices were hit and run attacks at midnight on British encampments.  In one instance, the attack was such a surprise that they killed a number of British officers who still had cards in their hands from the game that had been taking place when the men struck.  Marion’s men would invade the camp, fight for about an hour, and then retreat from the camp before the British could regroup and fight back.  These attacks were so successful that Marion hardly ever lost men, while wiping out a large faction of the British army.  Another favorite tactic of Marion’s was to divide his men into two groups.  The first group would hide in the forest, while the second group attacked.  As the first group started to lose, Marion would call a retreat, and his men would run through the waiting ambush.  Of course the British would follow afterwards, and then be cut down by the second force.  This tactic worked well for Marion several times against the supposedly superior British forces.  Due to the irregularities of his troops, Marion was often forced to think creatively when dealing with the well trained British forces, but as they never lost a battle, it is evident how successful these new ideas were.

Although not as well known today as he was in the past, Marion’s legend lives on today, and for very good reason.  Through understanding his life, we can clearly see how instrumental Marion’s humane treatment of others, his talents in leading unconventional troops of men, his understanding of military tactics, and his refusal to back down contributed substantially to the colonists winning the Revolutionary War.  Without Marion’s skill and knowledge, who knows what the outcome of the war would have been in the south.  It probably would not have been so favorable.

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