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Brigadier General Francis Marion
|February 26, 1732
St. James Parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina
|February 27, 1795
Berkeley County, South Carolina
Marion's family was of Huguenot ancestry. His parents were Gabriel Marion and Esther Cordes Marion, both first-generation Carolinians. His grandparents were Benjamin and Judith Baluet Marion, and Anthony and Esther Baluet Cordes. Gabriel and Esther had six children: Esther, Isaac, Gabriel, Benjamin, Job, and Francis. Francis was the last born and was a puny child. Peter Horry, who served under Marion in the American Revolution, joked, "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."
The family settled at Winyah, near Georgetown, South Carolina. Marion was born in midwinter, 1732, at Gayfield Plantation in St. James Parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina. When he was five or six, his family moved to a plantation in St. George, a parish on Winyah Bay. Apparently, they wanted to be near the English school in Georgetown. In 1759, he moved to Pond Bluff plantation near Eutaw Springs, in St. John's Parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina. Francis Marion was fluent in both French and English.
When Francis was 15, he decided to become a sailor. His imagination had been stirred by the ships in the Georgetown port. When he asked his parents' permission, they willingly agreed. They hoped a voyage to the Caribbean would strengthen his frail physique. He signed on as the sixth crewman of a schooner heading for the West Indies. As they were returning, a whale rammed the schooner and caused a plank to come loose. The captain and crew escaped in a boat, but the schooner sank so quickly that they were unable to take any food or water. After six days under the tropical sun, two crewman died of thirst and exposure. The following day, they reached shore.
Despite his sea ordeal, Francis came back in better health. Peter Horry wrote, "His constitution seemed renewed, his frame commenced a second and rapid growth, while his cheeks, quitting their pale, suet-colored cast, assumed a bright and healthy olive." However, Francis was done with sailing after that one disastrous voyage.
Marion began his military career shortly before his 25th birthday. On January 1, 1757, Francis and his brother Gabriel were recruited by Captain John Postell for the French and Indian War to drive the Cherokee away from the border. In 1761, Marion served as a lieutenant under Captain William Moultrie in a campaign against the Cherokee. Peter Horry quoted a letter in which Marion spoke of this British-led campaign with sorrow:
"The next morning we proceeded by order of Colonel James Grant, to burn down the Indians' 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 tasseled shocks, filled with sweet milky fluid and flour, the staff of life; who, I say, without grift, could see these sacred plants sinking under our swords with all their precious load, to wither and rot untasted in their mourning fields."
In 1775, he was a member of the South Carolina Provincial Congress, and on June 21, 1775 was commissioned captain in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment under William Moultrie, with whom he served in June 1776 in the defense of Fort Sullivan and Fort Moultrie, in Charleston harbor.
In September 1776, the Continental Congress commissioned Marion as a lieutenant-colonel. In the autumn of 1779, he took part in the siege of Savannah, and early in 1780, under Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, was engaged in drilling militia.
Marion escaped capture when Charleston fell on May 12, 1780, because he had broken an ankle in an accident and had left the city to recuperate.
After the loss of Charleston, the defeats of Gen. Isaac Huger at Moncks Corner and Lt. Col. Abraham Buford at the Waxhaw massacre (near the North Carolina border, in what is now Lancaster County), Marion organized a small troop, which at first consisted of between 20 and 70 men—the only force then opposing the British Army in the state. At this point, he was still nearly crippled from the slowly-healing ankle.
He joined General Horatio Gates just before the Battle of Camden, but Gates had no confidence in him and sent him (mostly to get rid of him) to take command of the Williamsburg Militia in the Pee Dee area and asked him to undertake scouting missions and impede the expected flight of the British after the battle. Marion thus missed the battle, but was able to intercept and recapture 150 Maryland prisoners, plus about twenty of their British guards, who had been en route from the battle to Charleston. The freed prisoners, thinking the war already lost, refused to join Marion and deserted.
However, with his militiamen, Marion showed himself to be a singularly able leader of irregulars. Unlike the Continental troops, Marion's Men, as they were known, served without pay, supplied their own horses, arms, and often their food. All of Marion's supplies that were not obtained locally were captured from the British or Loyalist ("Tory") forces.
Marion rarely committed his men to frontal warfare, but repeatedly surprised larger bodies of Loyalists or British regulars with quick surprise attacks and equally quick withdrawal from the field. After the surrender of Charleston, the British garrisoned South Carolina with help from local Tories, except for Williamsburg (the present Pee Dee), which they were never able to hold. The British made one attempt to garrison Williamsburg at Willtown, but were driven out by Marion at the Mingo Creek.
The British especially hated Marion and made repeated efforts to neutralize his force, but Marion's intelligence gathering was excellent and that of the British was poor, due to the overwhelming Patriot loyalty of the populace in the Williamsburg area.
Col. Banastre Tarleton, sent to capture Marion, despaired of finding the "old swamp fox", who eluded him by travelling along swamp paths. Tarleton and Marion were sharply contrasted in the popular mind. Tarleton was hated because he burned and destroyed homes and supplies, whereas Marion's Men, when they requisitioned supplies (or destroyed them to keep them out of British hands) gave the owners receipts for them. After the war, most of the receipts were redeemed by the new state government.
Once Marion had shown his ability at guerrilla warfare, making himself a serious nuisance to the British, Governor John Rutledge (in exile in North Carolina) commissioned him a brigadier-general of state troops.
When Gen. Nathanael Greene took command in the south, Marion and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee were ordered in January 1781 to attack Georgetown, but were unsuccessful. In April, however, they took Fort Watson and in May, Fort Motte, and succeeded in breaking communications between the British posts in the Carolinas. On August 31, Marion rescued a small American force trapped by Major C. Fraser with 500 British. For this, he received the thanks of the Continental Congress. Marion commanded the right wing under General Greene at the Battle of Eutaw Springs.
In 1782, during his absence as State Senator at Jacksonborough, his brigade grew disheartened and there was reportedly a conspiracy to turn him over to the British. But in June of that year, he put down a Loyalist uprising on the banks of the Pee Dee River. In August, he left his brigade and returned to his plantation.
General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share His Meal by John Blake White; his slave Oscar Marion kneels at the left of the group. General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share His Meal by John Blake White; his slave Oscar Marion kneels at the left of the group.
After the war, Marion married his cousin, Mary Esther Videau. His nephew Theodore had hinted to his uncle that it was time to get married. His relatives and friends informed him that Mary always listened with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes when anyone began reciting the exploits of the Swamp Fox. Marion was in love earlier with Mary Esther Simons but she refused his proposal and married Jack Holmes.(Source The Simons folder at the SC Historical Society, Letters of James SIMONS, probably a letter from Harrier Hyrne Simons to Mary Simons (Mrs. Horatio Allen).)
Marion served several terms in the South Carolina State Senate, and in 1784, in recognition of his services, was made commander of Fort Johnson, practically a courtesy title with a salary of $500 per annum. He was originally supposed to receive 500 English pounds a year, but economy-frightened politicians reduced his payment to 500 Continental dollars. He died on his estate in 1795.
Gen. Marion's Epitaph reads:
Sacred to the Memory of BRIG. GEN. FRANCIS MARION,
Who departed this life, on the 27th of February, 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 HONOUR AND INDEPENDENCE, and secured to her the blessings of LIBERTY AND PEACE.