Marion’s Troubles: Wambaw Creek & Tidyman’s Plantation

The Journal of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution

Vol. 12, No. 1.1                                                                                                July 2018

Outfoxed – Marion’s Forces Dispersed by a Genius:

Wambaw Bridge and Tidyman’s Plantation February 24-25, 1782

                               Charles B. Baxley, David Neilan, and C. Leon Harris © 2018

After Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, the Treaty of Paris in 1783 seemed a foregone conclusion, but the war was not yet over in South Carolina. Before the British finally left on December 14, 1782 the state would witness numerous skirmishes of American Continentals and militiamen against British regular troops and Loyalists. Two such engagements are particularly noteworthy, because they were defeats of the American forces of Gen. Francis Marion by Lt. Col. Benjamin Thompson, a military novice. Marion earned enduring fame as the celebrated “Swamp Fox,” while Thompson later earned international acclaim as Count Rumford, the scientist.

For the rest of the story:

Outfoxed – Wambaw Creek Bridge and Tidyman’s Plantation

CAN PENSION APPLICATIONS BE TRUSTED?

by C. Leon Harris

            The short answer to the above question is, “Yes.” A slightly longer answer is that probably fewer than 4% of pension applicants made intentionally false statements about officers, engagements, and other details of importance to historians. The complete answer lies within a dark tale of dozens of worthy old soldiers robbed of their pensions and honor by dishonest agents, an incompetent District Attorney, and a feckless Pension Commissioner.

THE CASE OF THE LEWIS SPECULATING GENTRY

            The tale begins early in 1834 when the Pension Office of the War Department became aware of suspicious applications under the Pension Act of 1832 coming out of Lewis County in what is now West Virginia. The Secretary of War selected a newly-minted US District Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Washington G. Singleton, to investigate the applications. Having left his young family in Winchester Va., Singleton arrived in Lewis County in June 1834 and spent next several weeks riding through the rugged Allegheny Plateau interviewing every applicant for and recipient of a pension. In the days before telephones and when most men were illiterate his visits were unexpected, so the men had no chance to review what they had said in their pension applications. Singleton swore them in and took statements of their ages and service for comparison with what had been claimed months before.

            Singleton reported to the Pension Commissioner on 88 pension applicants in Lewis County, and he was able to reach a conclusion in 71 of them. Out of those 71 cases he judged that only 8 applicants were entitled to pensions. The other 63 cases he judged to be fraudulent, usually because the applicant told him he had done less service than declared in his pension application, had never served as a soldier, or had served after the Revolutionary War. Most of them had applied because pension agents convinced them they were entitled and tricked them into putting their marks on false declarations.

            Singleton referred to the crooked pension agents as the Lewis Speculating Gentry. There were about ten of them – lawyers, justices of the peace, and other leading citizens. One had just been elected to the Virginia legislature. The Lewis Speculating Gentry also offered their services in other counties of what is now West Virginia, creating an impressive total of 131 known applications. Singleton made a judgment on 107 of these applications, deeming 97 to be fraudulent. Details of the Lewis Speculating Gentry and Singleton’s investigation are in my appendix to the pension application of David W. Sleeth (S6111). Transcriptions of this and the other pension applications cited here can be found at the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution pension transcription site (http://revwarapps.org).

            Many of the declarations of service produced by the Lewis Speculating Gentry went on for pages in elaborate and convincing detail. Some of the authors could probably have made more money writing military histories rather than pension applications. Often after transcribing an application I was surprised to see in Singleton’s report that it was a complete fabrication. I had to wonder how many other pension applications had fooled me. Could pension applications be trusted at all?

SINGLETON’S INVESTIGATION

            Singleton continued his investigation until September 1835 with only a month off to confer with the Pension Commissioner in Washington. He interviewed applicants throughout most of what is now West Virginia, far beyond the grasp of the Lewis Speculating Gentry. His conclusions in these cases were only slightly reassuring. Of the 264 cases not tainted by the Lewis Speculating Gentry Singleton made a judgment in 161, and in 91 of those judgments were that the application was fraudulent. It was an improvement over the record of the Lewis Speculating Gentry, but 56% fraud is still intolerable. If that proportion were representative of pension applications in general, they would be useless to historians.

            But there was a striking difference in Singleton’s reports on these supposedly fraudulent cases compared with the frauds perpetrated by the Lewis Speculating Gentry: most gave a narrative of service that agreed in great detail with what was claimed in their pension applications months before. This would hardly be expected if the pension applications had been fabricated.

            Why had Singleton judge these claims to be fraudulent? In a large number of cases he gave no reason. After admitting that he had been “unable to procure any evidence touching” the application of Thomas Smith (S15989), for example, Singleton nevertheless concluded that it was fraudulent. Singleton stated that John Brookover (S5300) had “but a small portion of mind,” but he nevertheless took his sworn testimony and concluded “he never done one particle of service in my opinion.” In this and many other cases, the allegation of fraud was based partly on “neighbourhood opinion,” which Singleton picked up along the way. Not surprisingly, such hearsay was not always reliable. In his report on Andrew Johnson (S15905) Singleton wrote, “there is not a man in the county who believes that he has the slightest claim to a pension,” yet Johnson later produced a supporting statement signed by more than a dozen neighbors. In this case and several others Singleton also relied on his and neighbors’ opinions that the applicant was too young to have served, but census records showed otherwise.

            Singleton decided that the application of Edward Kearney (S15495) was fraudulent partly because “the opinion of his neighbours so far as I learnt it is highly unfavourable to him,” but also for the following reason: “he was rather too zealous in the cause. 18 months continuous service for a Militiaman, in three several tours, is in my opinion rather over doing the matter.” Yes, you read correctly: Singleton decided Kearney’s application was fraudulent because he volunteered to serve too much in the patriot cause.

            Singleton also judged some cases fraudulent because of the pension agent who drew them up. He had a particular animosity to Col. Joseph Johnson, labeling the application he wrote for Arthur Trader (S30169) to be a case of “Fraud Black & diabolical” for no apparent reason.

            For the Pension Commissioner, Col. James L. Edwards, the words “Fraud” or “Not entitled” on the cover of Singleton’s reports were sufficient to doom a claim to a pension. If Edwards read the entire reports there is no indication that they stirred any doubts about Singleton’s judgment. Edwards even allowed himself to be persuaded by Singleton that fighting Indians on the Virginia frontier during the Revolutionary War was not really military service, but a sort of volunteer neighborhood policing. About four dozen applicants were charged with fraud and denied pensions as a result, even though the act of 1832 and Edwards’s own regulations for administering it clearly provide for “Indian Spies” and volunteers of all kinds. This change in policy appears to have been ad hoc, since Edwards granted pensions to applicants who had fought Indians east of the Alleghenies and to those who defended their own neighborhoods from Loyalists in the Carolinas and elsewhere.

WHAT PROPORTION OF APPLICATIONS REALLY WERE FRAUDULENT?

            With only Singleton’s conclusions and Edwards’s decisions to go by, one might think that fewer than half of pension applications could be trusted. Comparing the applicants’ narratives in Singleton’s reports with what they claimed in pension applications, however, leads to a different conclusion. After excluding the applications associated with the Lewis Speculating Gentry, there are 181 files complete enough for such a comparison. Of these 181 cases, 154 (85%) showed a close agreement between the narratives and the pension applications. Only 27 (15%) showed significant differences between the narratives and the applications and might therefore be considered fraudulent. Of these 27, however, 19 merely overstated the length of service, which is seldom of interest to historians. Officers’s names, engagements, and other details in these 27 narratives were the same as in the declarations. Only 8 of the 181 applications were clearly false, with the applicant telling Singleton he never served or served very differently from what was claimed in the application. I conclude, therefore, that 8 out of the 181 pension applications (4%) appear to have been total fabrications.

WHAT IT MEANS TO HISTORIANS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR

            Assuming that pension applicants and agents in western Virginia (except for the Lewis Speculating Gentry) were neither more nor less honest than those elsewhere, these results suggest that only 4% of pension applications contained deliberately false statements about events of interest to historians. The percentage may actually be lower, because all the fraudulent claims were for militia service, and none was for service in the Continental Line. Since about one-fourth of all pension applications are for Continental service, it is likely that the actual proportion of false pension applications is closer to 3%. Even this may be too high, because Singleton’s investigation occurred in a part of the country where service in the militia was over-represented.

            To put it another way, probably at least 96% of pension applicants stated their officers’s names, engagements, and other details of historical interest according to their best recollections after some 50 years. One hundred percent would be better than 96%, but a historian who sets such a high standard will be left with no records from the Revolutionary War except whatever videotapes and satellite imagery may survive

            Pension applications do have the disadvantage that they were written a half century or so after events. In spite of that limitation some historians have made unique contributions by mining the 20 thousand transcribed and fully searchable pension applications for information that is not available otherwise. The most successful approach appears to be to use individual applications for color, and many applications for consensus.

            An example that comes to mind is Hershel Parker’s paper on “John Butler’s ‘Want of Good Generalship’” in the January 2015 issue of Journal of the American Revolution http://allthingsliberty.com/2015/01/john-butlers-want-of-good-generalship). Parker uses the quotations of individual soldiers to express their views of NC militia Gen. John Butler’s generalship in words that add both color and authenticity, judiciously avoiding relying on any one account as documentation. From a large number of accounts, however, Parker extracts a consensus view that is probably more honest than those previous histories and biographies. In this and probably many other cases, the pension applications, though vulnerable to fraud and the frailty of memory, are more reliable than anything found in conventional historical sources.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am grateful to Charles B. Baxley for suggesting that I write this article, and for so much more that he has done for Revolutionary War researchers. Thanks to Will Graves for transcribing many of the pension applications used in this research and for keeping the transcription project running so smoothly.

Posted on November 25, 2016, links added on November 29, 2016.

Gen. Andrew Williamson’s Self Defense

This amazing letter was first located by Will Graves, annotated and published in SCAR in May of 2005.[1]  Since we have learned so much about the geography of the Southern Campaigns and the particulars of the people in the last ten years, I thought it worthy of revisiting, updating the annotations, and slightly expanding.  This letter was written to Gen. Nathanael Greene by Gen. Andrew Williamson who surrendered himself with many of the western South Carolina backcountry militia leaders to the British after the fall of Charlestown in May 1780.  Thereafter, Williamson was courted by the British, no doubt offered money, property, and position to take an active leadership role for the British in South Carolina, and was considered by many contemporaries as colluding with the Enemy.  Some later writers have dramatically labeled him as the “Benedict Arnold of the South” though that tag is in no way deserved.[2]

For the rest of the story click here!

[1] Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution (SCAR), Vol. 2, No. 5 (May 2005) on-line; summary in the Papers of Gen. Nathanael Greene (PNG), XII:395

[2] Connor Runyan, “The Monument that Never Was”, Journal of the American Revolution (Sept. 2, 2015) on-line

Outfoxed – Marion’s Forces Dispersed by a Genius:

Wambaw Bridge and Tidyman’s Plantation

February 24-25, 1782

                      Charles B. Baxley, David Neilan, and C. Leon Harris © 2016

After Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, the Treaty of Paris in 1783 seemed a foregone conclusion, but the war was not yet over in South Carolina. Before the British finally left on December 14, 1782 the state would witness numerous skirmishes of American Continentals and militiamen against British regular troops and Loyalists. Two such engagements are particularly noteworthy, because they were defeats of the American forces of Gen. Francis Marion by Lt. Col. Benjamin Thompson, a military novice. Marion earned enduring fame as the celebrated “Swamp Fox,” while Thompson later earned international acclaim as Count Rumford, the scientist.

raid-20-feb1782-map-5-20160828

 

For the rest of the story click: wambaw-creek-bridge-and-tidyman-20160923!

Updated on September 27, 2016.

The Swamp Fox Rides Again:

Francis Marion’s War in South Carolina

Thursday, October 27, 2016 to Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Crossing Marion PeeDee Ranney

Tour guided by Charles B. Baxley

HQ: Georgetown, SC

This tour is sold out but we have a waiting list for cancellations.

Remember the stirring adventures of the “Swamp Fox” portrayed by Leslie Neilson in Walt Disney’s episodic series in the late 1950s?  Again in 2000, Mel Gibson starred as the composite Swamp Fox character in the movie “The Patriot.”  The authentic Swamp Fox story is even more exciting than either of its modern day adaptations.

Ride along the military career and partisan exploits of Brig. Gen. Francis Marion, a true American hero who challenged the might of the British army in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War with a few loyal men, along with a hearty supply of guts and guile.

On Thursday evening we’ll have a “meet and greet” with Charles B. Baxley who will provide an introductory talk on South Carolina in the American Revolution.

On Friday we will take a tour to Marion sites in and around historic district Georgetown, South Carolina. After lunch, we will take a boat trip with the tidal flow down the Great Pee Dee River to see the relics of the Southern rice culture and to retrace Gen. Marion’s and Lt. Col. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s January 1781 bold raid on Georgetown.

On Saturday we will tour sites of Marion’s “Bridges Campaign;” see the “War of the Posts” site of Ft. Watson; tour the Eutaw Springs battlefield where Marion led his militia to stand and fight like Continental soldiers in a linear battle; visit Pond Bluff Plantation, the site of Marion’s post-bellum home; pay our respects at the General’s tomb; and visit colonial St. Stephens Parish Church, one of Marion’s favorite campsites.

On Sunday we visit the site of Marion’s fight with Lt. Col. John Watson at the Sampit River Bridge; the Tarleton v. White Battle at Lenud’s Ferry; the Tarleton, Ferguson and Webster fight against Gen. Isaac Huger at Moncks Corner and Biggin Bridge; Colleton’s Fair Lawn Barony near Moncks Corner, SC with its extant Revolutionary War redoubt and the site of the Colleton mansion – a British hospital controversially burned by Marion’s men; the Avenue of the Cedars battlefield and where Marion discharged his legendary militia regiment to return home after the British evacuated Charlestown; and Goatfield Plantation where legend records where Marion was born.  We follow Marion’s troops on the “Dog Days of Summer” Campaign from Biggin Church and Wadboo Bridge to fight at Quinby Bridge and Shubrick’s Plantation.

Learn about  Marion’s troops’ defeats at Wambaw Bridge and Tidyman’s Plantation; his successful Parker’s Ferry ambush; his several raids on Georgetown; and his victories at Blue Savannah, Thomas Sumter’s home on Great Savannah, Tearcoat Swamp, and Dollard’s Tavern at Black Mingo Creek.  We will discuss the controversies with the British over sniping sentries on the Bridges Campaign, the British detention of Capt. John Postell under a “flag” of truce, and the composition of his 1780-1782 partisan militia brigade. We will thematically cover Marion’s early life and military training in the French and Indian War; his career as a South Carolina State Troop and Continental Line commandant; and his post-war political career. We will discuss Marion the man, the myths, and the amazing realities of his service to his State and Country.

You will join other Marion scholars along the way to share their expertise.  The fall weather in South Carolina is splendid for “battlefielding.”  Charles Baxley’s expertise on Marion promises a thorough exploration of beautiful areas where America’s freedom was torn from the British by cunning and grit. It will be a collegial group guided by the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution’s principles of fun, fellowship and scholarship.  We will see and know, ask, and learn about Gen. Francis Marion and his partisan warfare against the British, on-site where he and a hand full of men, dominated one-fourth of South Carolina, with little support from any government, and kept the dream of Liberty alive despite the extreme British oppressive measures and through erupting civil war.

Reserve your seat today as space is limited! The registration fee: $495.00. Register online with a credit card at www.AmericasHistoryLLC.com by clicking the Register link or phone: 1-703-785-4373; or you may send a check to: America’s History, LLC, P. O. Box 1076, Goochland, VA 23063.

Included: Motor coach transportation, a boat ride on the Great Pee Dee River, three lunches, beverage and snack breaks, a map and materials package, all admissions and gratuities, and the dynamic passion of our tour leaders. The hotel will provide a complimentary breakfast each day.  Tour goes out rain or shine. Please see America’s History, LLC’s website’s policy page for information about cancellations.

Hotel: Tour participants are responsible for transportation to the headquarters hotel, and securing a room reservation, if necessary.  We have arranged with the Hampton Inn by Hilton-Georgetown Marina, 420 Marina Drive, Georgetown, SC 29440 for a group rate of $99 (single or double occupancy. Please call the hotel at 845-545-5000 and ask for the America’s History group rate. This rate will be guaranteed until September 27, so please make your reservations soon.

Our Tour Leader:  Charles B. Baxley is the publisher of and co-founder of Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, an on-line journal.  His recent article on Gen. Nathanael Greene’s attack on Dorchester; his support of Cols. John Laurens’ and Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s attack on Johns Island, SC; and move to protect South Carolina’s General Assembly at Jacksonborough was published in the recent issue of Army History national magazine.  He has planned many symposia on the Revolution, is a founding member of the Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Roundtable, has conducted dozens of public and private tours and military staff rides, and is the co-editor of the Papers of Gen. Francis Marion.

This tour is co-sponsored by America’s History, LLC and Woodward Corporation d/b/a Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution.

Painting “Marion Crossing the Pee Dee” by William T. Ranney, c 1850.
Updated on September 19, 2016.

MASSACRE AT WAXHAWS: THE EVIDENCE FROM WOUNDS

Battle of Waxhaws engraving bw

C. Leon Harris

Early in 1780 with almost the entire Virginia Continental Army surrounded at Charleston SC, Virginia hastily recruited some 350 soldiers to be sent as reinforcements.  These troops, called the Third Virginia Detachment and attached to Gen. Charles Scott’s Second Continental Brigade, assembled at Petersburg under Col. Abraham Buford.  On March 29 the detachment marched South, getting as far as Leneud’s Ferry on Santee River, where they learned that Charlestown had surrendered.  On May 14 Buford began retracing his steps, and at Waxhaws settlement near the North Carolina line on 29 May 1780 he was overtaken by the legion of Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton comprising about 270 dragoons and infantrymen riding double. After rejecting Tarleton’s demand that he surrender, Buford bungled the defense.

An American defeat, clearly.  An intentional massacre of surrendering Continentals?  What can we learn from a modern analysis of the survivors’ stories and wounds?  Click here for the rest of the story:  Harris – Massacre at Waxhaws?

Updated May 15, 2016