Sunday, May 2, 2010

Francis Marion “Character counts when hope is lost”

   After the third attempt of the British to take it, Charleston, South Carolina finally fell to the British. This surrender in Charelston left the colony in a unique situation. With the fall of Charleston there was no government in South Carolina except British. Governor Pickens had already been taken out of Charleston just before the fall to prevent his capture by the British. His escape route leads him to North Carolina where he was given protection. There was no Continental force in South Carolina and all military stores in the state where lost to the British in South Carolina. Under these circumstances who would have even contemplated continuing to fight for liberty? Who would under these circumstances step into this obis of hopelessness? What type of person would do this hopeless job with no military supplies, no money, and no chance of help from the Continental Government or Army to continue the fight for liberty in South Carolina?

   The answer is very simple now; it would be Francis Marion “The Swamp Fox.” In those bleak days after the fall of Charleston this was not the simple answer as it is for school children in South Carolina today. After the fall of Charleston he was a wanted man with a bad ankle injury on the run from the British and their Tory supporters who were trying to find him. Not the sly fox that would torment them for years from the swamps and back country roads of South Carolina.

   He escaped the fall of Charleston because of his ankle injury, a blessing later for causing his departure from Charleston before its fall, but at the time of his hiding a major hindrance. During this time of hiding with his family and friends in the Low Country on plantations and small farms he was safe as if he was with a full regiment. With the British and the Tories in full control of South Carolina he could have been turned over for the reward from the British or to prevent lose of farm, jail time or death for those who hide him. Instead he was protected by the people who knew him and his character and they were prepared to risk it all for their Francis Marion not the myth of the Swamp Fox as later would occur. They would protect him until he was well enough to go to North Carolina to join with General Gates as he rebuilt the Southern Continental Army. Why would these people from Kingstree to Georgetown hide Francis Marion with all they could lose if he was found with them? The answer is that these people knew Francis Marion and what he was made of. They protected him because he was one of their own; he was no stranger who would be viewed with suspension to the clannish people of Scots Irish decent and French Huguenots of which Marion was one. Marion is who they had chosen to represent them in the South Carolina Assembly to vote for independence. He was also the commander of the 2nd South Carolina Continental Regiment of the Line a full Lt. Col. of the National Continental Army who had fought at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island to protect South Carolina and lead part of the attack on Savannah as the Americans tried to retake Savannah and failed. His patriotism was without question as he had shown with his vote in the assembly and his sword. Once he was well enough to travel he started towards North Carolina to join Gates with a small group of around twenty men with just their own clothes, horses, and weapons to rejoin the fight against the most powerful nation in the World.

   As we have talked about in other articles, Marion’s reception was not that of a great warrior who had shown his metal many times and had gone through enemy territory at great risk to himself and his followers to rejoin the fight. Instead he was greeted with ridicule by the new Continentals who were reforming the army under Gates. The lone exception was Count Polanski who had fought with Marion in South Carolina and Georgia and he told Gates and all the others who would listen about the abilities of Marion which fell on deaf ears. Gates and his supporters could not get passed the external of Marion, a small man, up in age, still with a bad ankle, and with civilian clothes except for his leather cap of the 2nd SC. Gates character shown here by judging a man by his outer appearance instead of his deeds and words. Gates sent Marion and his band back into South Carolina to destroy boats to prevent Cornwallis and the British Army in Camden form escaping once he attacked him. As history shows Gates plans didn’t go as planned and a second Continental l Army was destroyed in South Carolina, again without Marion being taken or tarnished by defeat.

   This left Marion and his small band three choices, the first was to give up and take the kings pardon. The second was to go back into hiding in North Carolina and wait to see what happens. The third was the hardest, to stay in the Low Country and to keep the fight going. Marion chose the third option, which was to stay and fight. He did this with no military supplies, no money, and no hope of help from anywhere to continue the fight for liberty. Only a man of true character and dedication to the cause would have chosen this hopeless looking path.

   Once Marion had determined his course to continue the fight, who would fight with him? The answer is the militia of Williamsburg. These people were so loyal to Marion that if Marion was given the slightest rebuke or insult the men of Marion would at once went go after the man with or without Marion’s permission. On the other hand if a man was to let Marion or his brigade down it was a slight one ones character that would not be forgiven in the community for ever. Even after the war stories are told of how the worst thing a man could get was a rebuke from Marion, because all knew it was not given without reason and it followed him and his family to the end of days. These people of Williamsburg gave Marion the trust of their lives and the lives of their families, something that he never abused or forget unlike other leaders in South Carolina. These Scotch Irish fought for honor and not riches, which is something people must remember. The men of Marion were not after land or gold, but freedom. This fight for freedom and family shows how people with character and a righteous cause make much better soldiers and leaders.

     You might ask how many of these men followed Marion with the promise of nothing. A core group of sixty was at all times with Marion, with many more ready to come if they were called. The reason for this is twofold, the first is that Marion could not feed a big standing army and the second was that the smaller the group the less chance for the British to find them. When the call of Marion went out at times upwards of two thousand would come with their home spun clothes and personal weapons to fight with Marion. They came from the farms, plantations, and shops from Kingstree to Georgetown and all places in between. This is when the character of Marion and his men shine for liberty and keep the flame of liberty going in the dark times of occupied South Carolina.

   Character doesn’t show when people are looking and the times are good, character shows when times are bad and nobody is looking. This was that time in South Carolina’s history that tried men souls as Thomas Paine talks about. Out of this time of disappear Francis Marion and his Brigade road out of the swamps to attack the British when no one else would and rode nor only on to victory but also on the pages of history to never be forgotten by a state or a nation.


  1. A great definition of character that I use in the Police Dynamics training is: the inward motivation to do the right thing regardless of the circumstances... and regardless of the costs.

    The word "character" is of Latin origin and means a tool, like a chisel, used to make a lasting mark. And if you think about it, that's exactly what our character does - it leaves a lasting impression on the people around us. That is Francis Marion's legacy - a man of character who paid the price for doing the right thing and has left his mark on history...

    Sheriff Ray

  2. Thanks for the further information on character