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Francis Marion, Chapter I

Birth of Gen. Marion. His Ancestry. First Destination of Going to Sea. Voyage to the West Indies and Shipwreck. His settlement in St. John’s, Berkley. Expedition under Governor Lyttleton. A Sketch of the Attack on Fort Moultrie, 1776. And the Campaign of 1779.

FRANCIS MARION was born at Winyaw,1 near Georgetown, South Carolina, in the year 1732; — memorable for giving birth to many distinguished American patriots. Marion was of French extraction; his grandfather, Gabriel, left France soon after the revocation of the edict of Nantz, in 1685, on account of his being a protestant, and retired from persecution to this new world, then a wilderness; no doubt under many distresses and dangers, and with few of the facilities with which emigrants settle new, but rich countries, at the present day. His son, also called Gabriel, was the father of five sons, Isaac, Gabriel, Benjamin, Francis, and Job, and of two daughters, grandmothers of the families of the Mitchells, of Georgetown, and of the Dwights, formerly of the same place, but now of St. Stephen’s parish.

Of the education of FRANCIS MARION, we have no account; but from the internal evidence afforded by his original letters, it appears to have been no more than a plain English one; for the Huguenots seem to have already so far assimilated themselves to the country as to have forgotten their French. It was indeed a rare thing, in this early state of our country, to receive any more than the rudiments of an English education; since men were too much employed in the clearing and tilth of barren lands, to attend much to science.

Such an education seemed to dispose Marion to be modest and reserved in conversation; to think, if not to read much; and, above all, not to be communicative. An early friend of his, the late Captain John Palmer, has stated, that his first inclination was for a seafaring life, and that at the age of sixteen he made a voyage to the West Indies. The vessel in which he embarked foundered at sea, and the crew, consisting of six persons, took to an open boat, without water or provisions: but, providentially, a dog swam to them from the ship, whose blood served them for drink, and his raw flesh for food, for six days; on the seventh, Francis Marion, and three of the crew, reached land, but the other two perished at sea. Things which appear accidental at the time, often sway the destinies of human life.

Thus it was, that from the effect of this narrow escape, and the entreaties of a tender mother, Francis Marion was induced to abandon the sea, for an element, on which he was to become singularly useful. His mother’s maiden name was Cordes, and she also was of French extraction. Engaged in cultivating the soil, we hear no more of Marion for ten years.

Mr. Henry Ravenel, of Pineville, now more than 70 years of age, knew him in the year 1758; he had then lost his father; and, removing with his mother and brother Gabriel from Georgetown, they settled for one year near Frierson’s lock, on the present Santee canal. The next year Gabriel removed to Belle Isle, in St. Stephen’s parish, late the residence of his son, the Hon. Robert Marion. Francis settled himself in St. John’s, at a place called Pond Bluff, from the circumstance of there being a pond at the bottom of a bluff, fronting the river low grounds. This place is situated about four miles below Eutaw, on the Santee; and he continued to hold it during life.2 Others fix his settling in St. John’s, at a later period: this is of little consequence, but what is of some, was that in this most useful of all stations, a tiller of the ground, he was industrious and successful.

In the same year, 1759, the Cherokee war broke out, and he turned out as a volunteer, in his brother’s troop of provincial cavalry. In 1761, he served in the expedition under Col. Grant, as a lieutenant in Captain Wm. Moultrie’s company, forming part of a provincial regiment, commanded by Col. Middleton. It is believed that he distinguished himself in this expedition, in a severe conflict between Col. Grant and the Indians, near Etchoee, an Indian town; but, if he did so, the particulars have not been handed down to us, by any official account. General Moultrie says of him, “he was an active, brave, and hardy soldier; and an excellent partisan officer.”

We come now to that part of Marion’s life, where, acting in a more conspicuous situation, things are known of him, with more certainty. In the beginning of the year 1775, he was elected one, of what was then called the provincial congress of South Carolina, from St. John’s. This was the public body which agreed to the famous continental association, recommended by congress, to prevent the importation of goods, wares, and merchandizes, from Great Britain: they likewise put a stop to all suits at law, except where debtors refused to renew their obligations, and to give reasonable security, or when justly suspected of intentions to leave the province, or to defraud their creditors; and they appointed committees in the several districts and parishes in the state, which were called committees of public safety, to carry these acts into effect. These exercised high municipal authority, and supported generally by a population sometimes intemperate, inflicted singular punishments3 upon such as were not only guilty, but even suspected, of infringing the association. The provincial congress also, after receiving the news of the battle of Lexington, determined upon a defensive war, and resolved to raise two regiments of infantry, and one of cavalry. Marion was elected a captain in the second regiment of these two, of which William Moultrie was colonel. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Thomas Pinckney, since so much distinguished, were likewise elected captains in this regiment at the same time.

The first of Captain Marion’s appearing in arms against the British, was in the latter part of this year, when he acted as one of three captains under Colonel Motte, in taking possession of Fort Johnson, on James Island. On this occasion much resistance was expected, but the garrison abandoned the fort, and escaped to two British vessels, the Tamar and Cherokee, then lying in Charleston harbour. In the autumn of the same year a post was established at Dorchester, where it was thought prudent to send part of the military stores, and the public records out of Charleston; and here Captain Marion had the command. This is only worthy of remark in the circumstance, that as the climate of this place is remarkably bad in autumn, it shows that our patriots had already so much enthusiasm in the cause in which they had embarked, that they refused no station, however perilous.

As the provincial congress and committees of public safety exercised all the legislative and judicial powers in the state, as might have been expected, they soon became too complicated for them, and were thrown into great confusion. The criminal code was still left in force; but there were no judges to exercise that jurisdiction. The provincial congress, therefore, without waiting for a convention of the people, framed a constitution: by this they took the name of the general assembly of South Carolina, and limited their own continuance until the 21st October, 1776; and, in every two years after that period, a general election was to take place for members of the assembly. The legislative powers were vested in a president, the assembly, and a legislative council, to be chosen out of their own body. All resolutions of the continental and provincial congress, and all laws then of force, were continued. They passed a law, that only two thirds of the rice made in the state should be permitted to be exported, the other third was to remain in the country for its consumption, and for exchange for the necessary articles of life: and upon these prices were to be fixed; it was recommended to the people to cultivate cotton; the breed of sheep was directed to be improved; and, after a certain day, none were to be killed for market or home consumption; but the continental congress soon after, passed a law that no rice should be exported; and it was submitted to, without a murmur. A vice-president and privy council of six members were elected, and among other duties, were to exercise chancery jurisdiction; and other judges were directed to be chosen by the general assembly.

In a few years, such confusion followed, that we shall see the president, soon after denominated governor, and two of the privy council, exercising all the civil and military powers of the state. John Rutledge was chosen president, Henry Laurens vice-president, and ex-officio president of the privy council.

In this year, (1776,) Francis Marion had risen to the rank of major in the second regiment, and was stationed with his colonel in the fort at Sullivan’s Island. He was in the action of the 28th of June, between that fort and nine of the British ships, under Sir Peter Parker. Of the particulars of this battle, every one has heard, and they need not be narrated here. Two of the ships carried fifty guns, the ship Bristol, commodore Sir Peter Parker, and the Experiment; and as powder was very scarce in the fort, the orders were, “mind the commodore!” “Fire at the two fifty gun ships.” Col. Moultrie received the thanks of the commander in chief, of congress, Gen. Lee, and of president Rutledge, for his gallant conduct in that victory; and, what was more, the heart-felt gratitude of his countrymen. The fort was called by his name, and he was raised to the rank of brigadier general. His major then rose to the rank of lieut. colonel. This action excited the highest resentment in the breasts of the British rulers; and in the end they inflicted severe vengeance on the state of South Carolina. Three years, however, elapsed before they made another attempt.