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Anecdote of Joseph Wigfall

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

When it was found necessary to call in the detachment of American troops which had been posted at Lampriere’s Ferry,1 opposite to Charleston, South Carolina, three men of General Hogan’s North Carolina brigade were by some accident left behind; who, being in danger of falling into the enemy’s hands, took shelter in the woods, and were travelling on towards Georgetown. In hopes of facilitating their march, and to profit by misfortune, one of them, who was clad in scarlet, suggested a stratagem of which his comrades approved, and which he carried into effect. He left his arms and ammunition with the other two, and went into the plantation of a poltroon Tory, or one of those mean-spirited wretches who ought forever to be stigmatized under the character of property men, and to be made fair game to all parties. These creatures were early eager and noisy in fomenting the present war, but withdrew themselves the moment in which their fears dictated danger to their persons or their estates.

The brave North Carolinian personated a messenger despatched by some of that tribe, and addressed the owner of the plantation in the following terms:—”Sir, I understand you are a friend to the King and his government.” The property man, not a little alarmed at the sight of a red-coat, hastily interrupted him, “Yes, yes, sir! I am as true, faithful, and loyal a subject as any in his Majesty’s dominions.” “I have been told so,” said the soldier. “I am sent by some of his Majesty’s friends to inform Lord Cornwallis of the approach of a rebel army from the northward, which is coming on very rapidly, and I am afraid will surprise that part of the King’s army which his lordship commands in this quarter of the country, unless his lordship is speedily apprised of their design. I have travelled through swamps and thick woods to avoid being stopped by the rebels; and last night had the misfortune to lose my horse, saddle, &c., &c. “Sir,” replied the Tory, “you shall have the best horse I am master of, my own riding horse, and I beg yon will be expeditious in delivering your message; for if the rebels come here I shall be ruined, perhaps hanged; I don’t know what they’ll do to me, because I am a faithful subject. Boy! saddle Spider, and bring him immediately for this gentleman—make haste.” Spider, a fine blooded horse, was produced, with saddle, bridle, holsters and pistols. This encouraged the soldier to intimate the loss of his side-arms. The turn-coat, with equal haste, supplied him with his own militia sword. When the soldier was ready to mount, he remarked the weather looked gloomy, and threatened rain, and that, among other articles, he had lost his surtout. “Sir,” said the apostate, “I have a very fine roculoe at your service; pray, make use of it, and go on as fast as possible, through wet and dry: your business is of great consequence.” Thus equipped, the soldier rode off, and presently rejoined his companions, who were waiting for him in the bush. The three, all armed, and one mounted, proceeded on their journey for Georgetown. When they had marched a few miles, they encountered two of the British light horse, who had been marauding and plundering helpless women of their apparel. These fellows they took into custody, and conducted them safely into Georgetown, together with Spider and his furniture, the captured cavalry and their accoutrements, the silver mounted sword, and the “very fine roculoe,” splendidly marked on the cape, Joseph Wigfall.

This genius, or a brother of his, had been a militia officer for a while, and affected to bear arms against the tyrant, as he then called his King. In a voyage which he made some time ago to Bermuda, his vanity prompted to take with him his regimentals, for showing away among the islanders. On his return, the vessel in which he was passenger, was chased by another, supposed to be a British cruiser. His apprehensions of being discovered in the sham character of a rebel officer, pointed out the necessity of concealing the blue coat with scarlet lappels, which he effected by putting it on the body of his wife, covered by her stays and gown. These circumstances were related on his landing in North Carolina, by himself, in great glee, as an instance of his sagacity, or, as he termed it, “being too cunning for the chaps.”2


1 After the British had been strengthened by the reinforcements from New York, on the 18th of April, they took post on Haddrell’s Point, and obliged the Americans to abandon their post at Lamprieres.
2 Pennsylvania Packet, July 15.