Captain McCall & Alexander Cameron in the Cherokee War


April 22, 2013
by Wayne Lynch Also by this Author


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Named as the British Indian Agent to the Cherokee after the First Cherokee War, Alexander Cameron cultivated a very close relationship with the tribe.  He married a prominent Cherokee woman and purchased plantations near Long Cane just outside the Cherokee lands in South Carolina.   The couple raised 3 children and furnished their home in the finest style available.  The twin plantations named Lochaber and Diamond Hill represented enough wealth to maintain Cameron for life.  When he abandoned them and disappeared into the Cherokee villages in the summer of 1775, the settlers of the South Carolina backcountry took notice and sounded alarm at the situation.  Rumors of British sponsored Indian uprisings had spread like wildfire.  In an effort to stop the fear, John Stuart allowed an examination of his letters and papers.  He headed the Southern Indian Department and knew that no instructions had been received nor given for any assault.  Unfortunately, the examination actually caused greater fears as one of Cameron’s letters to Stuart had announced the Indians ready for Stuart’s instructions.  The Council of Safety reacted strongly which had triggered Cameron’s disappearance.[i]  Nothing stirred the passions of backcountry folk like talk of Indian raids and the South Carolina Council of Safety learned to use the rumors effectively.

By June of ’76, concern about Alexander Cameron and his continuing influence among the Cherokee grew among members of the Council of Safety.  New stories of Cameron and Stuart plotting against the frontier settlements had already spread through the backcountry.   Tired of this problem, the Council sent instructions to Major Andrew Williamson of the Ninety-Six District to take action.    Williamson chose James McCall of the Long Canes regiment for the task at hand.  Captain McCall was publicly instructed to lead a 33 man expedition into the Lower Villages of the Cherokee for the purpose of negotiating the return of property taken in recent raids against the colonists.  His true mission remained unknown in a sealed packet of orders from Williamson.[ii]

McCall’s expedition crossed the Savannah at Cherokee Ford on June 20th to begin their move into the Lower Villages.   Cane Creek marked the beginning of Cherokee country.  On reaching that entrance,  McCall broke the seal on his orders and advised the men of their true mission.  They were looking for Alexander Cameron and, once located, they would make an attempt to capture him for return to South Carolina.   Not a single voice of opposition came forward as the men unanimously determined to push forward.[iii]

Over the next few days, they traveled to a number of Indian villages.  At each stop, McCall would meet with local leaders and attempt to negotiate a return of property previously taken in raids.  He professed peaceful intentions and tried to convince each chief to return the expressions of good will.  Everything progressed smoothly until they reached the large village of Seneca on the 26th.  As usual, Captain McCall had the men make camp outside of town while he entered to meet with the chiefs and old men.  The meeting seemed to go well and McCall felt at ease.  The men spoke late into the evening  when, much to McCall’s surprise, a number of warriors rushed in and took him and his interpreter prisoner.[iv]

At the same time McCall was taken his camp also fell under surprise attack.  The troops had grown a bit lax in their sentry placement and the troopers were caught sleeping when a large group of warriors attacked late in the night.  Even though unable to organize a defense, some of McCall’s men gave a good account of themselves in fierce hand to hand combat with the Cherokee.  James Little of Georgia killed two braves with his knife but his courage would not be enough as Indians quickly overran the camp.  Lt. Calhoun and three of the soldiers were killed while the others scattered into the night.   It would be almost two weeks before they straggled back into the settlements in small groups of 3 or 4 at a time.[v]

On the night of June 30, 1776, the Cherokee attacked along the entire frontier from Georgia to Virginia.  Known as the second Cherokee War, the action came mostly from “small parties of Indians, who fell upon single families at a fixed period.  They murdered the weak and helpless, and made prisoners of a few” who seemed strong enough for a quick march back to the villages.   It was time for the wheat harvest and the Indians opened all the fences which allowed cattle and hogs free access to destroy the crops.  Hugh McCall later wrote that, while the people sheltered in stockades, “the promising appearances of a plentiful harvest, exhibited a mass of desolation and destruction.”[vi]

While wreaking havoc on the frontier, the Cherokee held Captain McCall in an Overhill  village deep in the heart of the nation where he remained captive for several weeks.  Even though the Indians remained apprehensive about killing McCall, they enjoyed putting him in great mental distress.  Several times over the period of his capture, McCall was forced to witness executions of other captives.  Once he described the torture of a young boy.  Warriors suspended the boy off the ground between two poles while they tossed burning darts into his body.  Whenever one succeeded in sticking a dart without extinguishing the fire, the whole crowd shouted and clapped.  This terrible scene went on over a two hour period before the boy died.  Maybe to torture him further or perhaps in sincere debate, the Indians frequently had meetings to decide McCall’s fate.  He would plead with the Indians and remind them the whites would likely be very angry should their emissary be murdered.[vii]

During captivity McCall tried several times to contact Alexander Cameron.  He even used an Indian woman as messenger but Cameron steadfastly refused to see him or to communicate in any way.  After telling the story later there would be speculation that Major Williamson had tipped off his old friend Cameron concerning McCall’s secret mission and therefore refused all attempts at contact.  The speculation grew more prevalent in 1780 when Williamson turned his back on the rebellion and returned his loyalties to the crown.[viii]

Early in September the Cherokee guards grew lax and distracted.  At that point, James McCall found an opportunity to escape.  The same Cherokee woman who tried to help him with Cameron now aided him again.  She provided a horse (but no saddle) and a few ears of corn.  Over the next nine days, McCall wandered up the rivers toward Virginia.  He finally met up with Colonel Christian at the head of his column from Virginia on their way to chastise the Overhill Cherokee.[ix]  McCall learned that reactions to the Cherokee attacks had gone very well.  Columns from North Carolina under General Rutherford and South Carolina under Major Williamson had already pushed through the Lower Villages and the Middle Villages.  They spared almost nothing as village after village was put to the torch.  There were a few small battles at first but mostly the columns moved unopposed with the Cherokee people in flight ahead of them.

After establishing himself with Colonel Christian’s army, McCall started wondering about his original mission.  He still wanted to go after Alexander Cameron.  Captain McCall requested permission to recruit a small group of rangers.  He planned to move several days ahead of the column and try again to find the hated Indian agent.   With three other men dressed as Indians they moved quietly into the Overhill territory.  McCall successfully infiltrated the main village but Cameron and Dragging Canoe had already headed south for Mobile.  The two leaders knew Christian had demanded they be handed over and wanted no part of it.  Traveling south with a mixed group of loyalist refugees and Cherokee Indians, they remained free and determined to avoid capture.

When Christian’s army arrived in the village of Chote, McCall recognized the hut of the woman who helped him escape.  She had saved his life and Captain McCall made sure her home was spared in return.[x]

As the war progressed, Alexander Cameron and Dragging Canoe returned from Mobile and established villages separate from the Cherokee who made peace.  The new group lived where northwest Georgia is today and established the Chickamauga tribe.  They continued to make war on the Patriots in the south and worked in conjunction with the British.  Sometime after John Stuart’s death, Thomas Brown became agent to the Cherokee and Creek tribes while Alexander Cameron was transferred to the post of agent to the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes.  He never got around to making a journey out to his new territory.  Instead, Cameron fell ill and traveled back to his house in Savannah.  He died there in 1781.

James McCall stayed active in the Patriot cause for the remainder of his life.  Refusing to give parole with Andrew Pickens after the fall of Charlestown, Major McCall joined with Elijah Clarke and fought at such little known engagements as Musgrove’s Mill, Siege of Augusta, Fish Dam Ford and Blackstock’s Plantation.  Following that service McCall was promoted to Lt. Colonel and given command of his own company of dragoons.  Even though a separate command, they joined William Washington’s cavalry and helped rout Banastre Tarleton at the Cowpens.

Source Note – Almost all of the details concerning James McCall’s mission to the Cherokee come from Hugh McCall’s book, The History of Georgia (volume one published in 1811 and volume two in 1816).  In that text, Hugh McCall has access to the Journal of James McCall.  Not much seems to be known of this journal and, other than references in Hugh’s work, it appears lost to time.


[i] Alexander Cameron, British Agent among the Cherokee, The South Carolina Historical Magazine, Volume 97, No. 2 (April 1996) by John L. Nichols

[ii] The History of South Carolina in the Revolution 1775 – 1780, Edward McCrady, 111 (1901)

[iii] The History of Georgia, Hugh McCall, 194 (1811, 1816)

[iv] Ibid, For identity of Cherokee town see; Nothing but Blood and Slaughter, vol 1, Patrick O’Kelley, 146

[v] Ibid, McCall noted the men later broke into 3 or 4 man groups.  Each group made its own way back to the settlements.  Most had arrived by the 10th of July.  Of course they were too late to warn the settlements.

[vi] Ibid at 195

[vii] Ibid at 195

[viii] Ibid

[ix] Ibid

[x] Ibid


  • Nice catch and thanks for pointing it out. Perhaps Todd can make the correction permanent. I notice his name is back to being Alexander later in the article. all I can think to say is that I got this story when researching Andrew Williamson and I must have gotten a bit dyslexic the day I wrote the first part. As to accuracy beyond that, I would only point to the footnotes and allow that most of what we know of James McCall comes from a single source, being Hugh McCall’s 1819 History of Georgia. To my knowledge, the actual Journal of McCall has been lost. Perhaps we could convince Mr. Lambert to provide some of his complaints and sources thereof here along with the link to purchase what is likely a very interesting book on the Cherokee War.

  • Thoughts from Dan on Indian influences on the American Revolution copied from another discussion:

    o Hi Wayne,
    Apologies for the delayed response. The Patriots definitely used rumors of British support for slave insurrection and Indian attacks to their advantage, and you pointed out one of the lines they found in the Cameron/Stuart correspondence that they used to this effect. (It also had the effect of weakening Stuart’s position, which helped delegitimize him among some of the Indian tribes). Regardless of whether or not the Patriot leadership was all that concerned about the threat posed by slaves and Indians, they definitely understood the propaganda value these rumors offered. If you’ve read the Journal of Alexander Chesney, an Irish immigrant who lived on the Pacolet River, he discusses his arrest in 1775 for sheltering Loyalists. He was given an option of avoiding prison by joining the Patriots, and spent some of the next couple years fighting Indians with the Patriots – particularly the Cherokee in 1776 – despite being a Loyalist, and he wrote that he had no qualms fighting with the Patriots against the Indians. Other loyalists also tempered their opposition to the Patriots when they learned the British might be trying to stir up the Indians. Robert Cunningham was just one example, and neutralizing the threat he posed went a long way in Drayton’s efforts to divide loyalist leadership in the backcountry in the summer of 1775.
    At the same time, as you noted, many backcountry residents remained loyal because they thought the British were their best protection against the Indian threat. The militia commanders in the three western – most districts, which bordered the Indian territory – remained loyalist and brought many of their men along with them – Thomas Fletchall in particular. So sometimes people chose the same side for what seemed to be completely opposite reasons.
    Rachel Klein, in her book The Unification of a Slave State, argues that the Patriots got lucky that their efforts to recruit Indian support mostly failed because it would have turned a lot of the backcountry against them. I don’t entirely agree with this. The Patriots knew they had a delicate line to tread regarding the Indians. As I’ve argued with the loyalists and slaves, they needed to deny Indian support to the British. At the same time, they had to be careful about how they did that. The Patriots never really sought active Indian support like the British did – they sought Indian neutrality instead – an important distinction. They declined sending the Indians large gifts of ammunition as the British did, but sent a small amount to the Indian headmen, who would be responsible for its management and distribution as needed.
    Even this was very controversial, as one of the shipments of gunpowder from the Council of Safety in Charleston was intercepted by a local committee, which wrote to the Council of Safety asking if the shipment was a mistake. The Council of Safety said it wasn’t and reprimanded the committee for stopping it, but this created a lot of resentment among those who might otherwise support them as it was thought the Council of Safety was arming the Indians. Richard Pearis defected from the Patriots to the loyalists at about this time, and used this episode for propaganda purposes to moderate effect. It was a small sampling of what would have happened if the Patriots tried to recruit large scale, active Indian support. In my opinion Klein doesn’t give the Patriot leadership enough credit. They knew what they were doing, and the precarious balance they had to maintain between denying the British Indian support and angering the backcountry inhabitants by supporting the tribes.
    As for using rumors of British support for Indian attacks against frontier residents, the Patriots engaged in some minor creative interpretation of British correspondence, but more than anything, careless British wording and even uncertainty about the Indians’ (and slaves’) role helped make the Patriots’ case for them. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of what it meant that the Indians were ready to act on behalf of the King when called upon. Until his death in 1779, Stuart stressed to all of his correspondents (Dartmouth, Germain, Prevost, Campbell) that the Indians would need a British force to show up near the Cherokee and Creek Nations (at Pensacola, for example) to escort the Indians to the coast. In part this was because of the vast distances from the Indian territory to Charleston, Savannah, or even Camden and Augusta. The Indians didn’t have the logistics or enablers to sustain that long of a march. It was also so that white British soldiers could ensure the Indians did not attack loyalists, women or children.
    The British commanders and officials, however, assumed Stuart would be there anytime during the war that British forces needed them closer to the coast. This was the interpretation that Patriots had of Stuart’s letters, namely that Stuart was preparing the Indians for an imminent attack, since they also knew the British were preparing for an attack against the southern colonies. While Stuart and his deputies did not want the Cherokee to attack in 1776, the lack of clarity about the Indians’ role meant that Stuart was constantly telling the Indians to be ready for the time British troops would arrive and they would attack. This kept the Cherokee constantly on edge, waiting for an order to attack that never came. Eventually Stuart and Co. lost control of large numbers of the Indians.
    One aspect of the Patriots’ pacification of the loyalists in the backcountry in 1775 that I think is wildly underappreciated is the role of William Henry Drayton. He had initially gone into the backcountry with William Tennent and Oliver Hart to explain the situation between the Patriots and British and try to win support. Many historians argue that this mission was a failure because they had little success with persuasive efforts (though rumors of British support for the Indians certainly helped). The Council of Safety had a much better understanding of the situation than these historians give it credit for though. They saw the hold that the loyalist leadership had over the backcountry inhabitants, and had authorized Drayton to the full use of coercive measures to subdue the loyalists. Drayton understood they would have to employ both a top-down and bottom-up approach to weaken loyalist support and isolate the leaders from the rest of the population. They used the militia and armed propaganda to intimidate inhabitants into signing the Association, depriving the leadership of supporters. They used economic coercion to prevent loyalists from trading with or traveling to Charleston, and prevented the storehouse and mill owners in the backcountry who had not signed the Association – many of them were loyalists – from supplying themselves from Charleston. This further cost them support among their neighbors since they could no longer supply them with the goods they needed. This had the most notable effect on Moses Kirkland, whose supporters largely abandoned him, leaving him exposed and forcing him to sleep in swamps, flee to Charleston to obtain support from the governor, and enter the city under cover of darkness.
    At the same time, the Patriots also took a top-down approach by taking steps to divide the loyalist leadership. Drayton used intimidation, superior intelligence, and clever positioning of his militia and provincial forces to force Fletchall into signing a treaty at Ninety Six in September without actually having to fire a shot. This removed Fletchall and his men from the conflict, dividing him from other loyalist leaders like Thomas Brown and Robert Cunningham, who would not agree to the terms of the treaty. They then arrested Cunningham, and Brown was forced to flee to the Cherokee Nation. Though Cunningham’s arrest brought his brother Patrick into the conflict, Andrew Williamsom forced another treaty at Ninety Six with Patrick Cunningham’s men, further weakening the loyalist opposition. Williamson also worked in clever wording into what was essentially a cease-fire, so that William Thomson and Richard Richardson would not be party to the cease-fire, and could finish the job of cleaning up loyalist opposition in the Snow Campaign that winter. The Patriots’ two-pronged pacification strategy was in stark contrast to the British effort later in the war to pacify the Carolinas largely through a top-down process by capturing or killing “high value targets.” The problem was without also weakening the base of support, there was always new leaders to take over from those captured. When much of the low country leadership surrendered with Charleston in 1780, and were sent to St Augustine, and men like Pickens and Williamson took paroles – backcountry leaders like Sumter, Marion, Davidson, and eventually Greene were able to take over. British efforts to then capture or kill those men temporarily sidelined men like Sumter.
    Henry Laurens never fully trusted Drayton, who as late as 1774 was still a vocal opponent of the Patriots (He though he was actually an agent of the British inserted into Patriot leadership to discredit it with his radical actions. Much of that pacification strategy in 1775 though was the work of Drayton, with input from other Council of Safety members like Arthur Middleton. Laurens would incrementally come to realize the importance of some of the more radical actions taken by the Council, despite his initial opposition, as he realized their benefit (the most notable example was the decision to intercept official mail in July – Laurens was horrified by the idea until he learned the contents of the letters between the southern governors and Dartmouth, and the actions the British were prepared to take against the colonists.)

  • Good Morning Dan. Certainly a pleasure to get another opportunity to correspond with you on the southern campaigns. I went ahead and numbered a few topics to discuss.

    1. Yes, I am aware that Chesney served against the Cherokee and that Robert Cunningham offered his services for Williamson’s Cherokee Campaign (he was turned down). I think it commendable of those men to understand the limits of political disagreement. However, they don’t really seem to represent all of the Loyalist population in that regard. I remember an event from August 4, 1775 reported to Drayton by Col. Thomson. He was camped near the Cherokee frontier and had sent out patrols and ‘spies’ seeking information on Alexander Cameron who had disappeared about 6 weeks earlier. The patrol brought in ‘two white persons’ who confessed that Cameron was camped about 30 miles away with ‘twelve white men’. Thomson marched to try and capture Cameron but was ambushed by a party of ‘thirty Indians and thirty white men’. Of course what this brings out is the perception (if not reality which I will discuss momentarily) that Loyalists and Cherokee were working together.
    2. A couple of weeks after that incident, Alexander Cameron wrote a letter to Andrew M’Lean (not entirely certain who this is) in which he reports on the loyalty of the Cherokee. “He says that he and his people are very cross about the usage their father [John Stuart] met with in Charles Town, and me at Long Canes being obliged to leave our houses. That they [Cherokee] plainly see that the white people mean a war with them, and they will be glad to know, if they intend it this winter or next spring, for the sooner they begin the better. They are to a man resolved to stand for the great King and his warriors.” He later emphasized, “The Cherokees are the most faithful Indians on the main. They would die, all hands, in my defense.” This letter appears in Gibbes Documentary History which states that it was intercepted at that time. The source seems to be Drayton’s papers and I sometimes wonder if this is one of letters thought to be a forgery used in propaganda. Any thoughts?
    3. A few days later, on the 21st of August, 1775, Drayton received intelligence from a fellow named Jonathan Clark. Clarke claimed to have second hand knowledge of Alexander Cameron holding a talk with 400 warriors in which he said the Cherokee “ought not to turn against their father, meaning the King, but that they should join his army against the people of America. . . . and then the whole assembly set up the war whoop.” I also wonder if this document was simply for use in Propaganda or if there was truth to it.
    4. The following year, when the Cherokee War broke out, reports continued to come in of Loyalists fighting with the Cherokee, first in the frontier raids and then against Williamson in his later invasion. Indeed, Loyalists continued to join and fight with the Cherokee until the end of the war. Even after Yorktown, there are reports of Loyalists caught on the frontiers. (and often of hanging them).
    5. My thoughts on the level of cooperation between the British and Indians in the Summer of 76 runs a little bit more aggressive than yours. I tend to think that Cameron and Henry Stuart (John’s brother) actively worked with the Cherokee to coordinate the attacks. The timing of the Cherokee attacks on the frontier coincide nicely with a rough coordination with the British invasion at Charles Town. As you mentioned, it was no secret that something was up. But, precise details are difficult. In other words, I don’t really think John Stuart lost control of the Cherokee so much as I think he lost control of Cameron and his deputies.
    6. I really enjoyed your inclusion of Moses Kirkland in the information. I recently worked with his Loyalist Claim and noticed that he attributed the loss of his supporters to a lack of arms among them. I tended to enjoy the descriptions of Moses dressing his son as a girl to avoid detection.
    7. Also enjoyed the emphasis on William Henry Drayton, or, as I like to call him, The Zealot. He is definitely an incredibly influential figure in turning the southern states to the cause. His leadership of the Secret Committee at the same time as President of the Committee of Safety gave him almost unprecedented power, which he used quite forcefully.
    8. When Fletchall was arrested, they found him hiding in a cave. 

    On a personal note, I noticed that the Southern Campaigns Org is having their annual roundtable discussion in Edgefield, SC (which I imagine to be very close to Augusta) on October 3. Is that something that you would be attending?

    1. Hi Wayne,

      1. Certainly, not all – or even most Loyalists – cared about British support for the Indians. Many even supported it. But some did care – and that alone was enough to warrant the Patriots’ propaganda efforts. There was really no downside to it.

      2. I couldn’t say for certain. Certainly possible. But the British agents – Stuart, Cameron, Henry Stuart, David Taitt, etc., spent damn near the entire war saying things essentially like this – that the Indians were “resolved to stand for the great King and his warriors,” that they were chomping at the bit and entirely on the side of the British (true for the Cherokee, not quite accurate for the Creek, but that didn’t really change the temper of the reports much). This was why Prevost and Patrick Tonyn expected large numbers of Indians to join them to defend Florida during the three attacks between 1776-1778. It’s why Campbell expected large numbers of Indians to meet him at Augusta. The fact that large numbers of Indians consistently did not meet the British as expected was one of many reasons why Cornwallis generally wanted them to just sit quiet and remain on the sidelines (until their help in the defense of Augusta in September 1780, after which he grudgingly acceded to some of Thomas Brown’s insistence that the Indians could provide valuable support).

      Not all of this was Stuart’s fault. As I mentioned in my previous comment, he repeatedly told whoever he wrote to that the Indians would need a decent number of British soldiers to meet them in the Nation before moving together towards the coast. Essentially Stuart and all of his military and political correspondents from 1775-1779 were never exactly on the same page about anything.

      3 and 5. Again, can’t say for certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised. The Cherokee were pretty firmly on the side of the British, in no small part because by way of proximity they had to deal the most with settlers’ incursion on their land. But this was my point about the 1776 Cherokee War. First, one of the immediate causes of the Cherokee attack was not even anything the British did, but news that the white frontier settlers were “building Forts along the Indian line from Savannah River to North Carolina.” The Indians were “somewhat disturb’d about the Forts being built so near their Country and were afraid that the bad people as they call them were going to fall upon them and destroy them.” Despite the white settlers’ insistence that they were only “preparing themselves for defence…and that the forts that they were building are to defend themselves against the Kings Troops which they understood were landed at Augustine [and] Pensacola,” tensions continued between the Cherokee and the rebels, particularly the residents of Watauga and Nolichucky.” (Hugh Hamilton to John Stuart, 7 June 1776, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/77)

      At the same time, however, Stuart was always expecting the imminent arrival of those British troops he had requested to meet the Indians before moving east. As a result, there was really never a time when the British did have the Cherokee on the verge of attacking, though they did not want them attacking without those British troops. Practically a year’s worth of war whoops and exhorting the Cherokee to “join his [the King’s] army against the people of America,” and stoking resentment by telling them the white settlers were taking their land and endeavoring to keep them poor, followed by…nothing. Telling lots of young warriors of any race, ethnicity, or historical period that they’ll be going into battle *any day now*, and stoking resentment against the enemy, and then not doing anything is not going to help you keep control of them (though it was a pretty bad movie, think of the movie Jarhead and it’s the same idea. There are other movies as well that play on the theme of frustration at not being in the fight).

      By 1776, Stuart and Co. realized they were having more and more trouble controlling the younger Cherokee warriors – and that many of the headsmen were as well. Henry Stuart tried more than once to warn the people of Watauga and Nolichucky – settlements on the Cherokee land – that they would soon be unable to control the Cherokee. The tenor of these letters makes it pretty clear, in my mind at least, that the British agents hoped to avoid the war. He learned the frontier settlers created a forgery of his letter, (which they sent on to other towns, committees, and eventually Continental Congress), saying that loyalists’ houses would be marked with a special marking so the Cherokee would know to pass them by. Henry Stuart was far too upset about this for someone who planned to have the Cherokee attack anyway. (Alexander Cameron to John Stuart, 7 May 1776, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/77; Alexander Cameron and Henry Stuart to the Inhabitants of Watauga & Nolichucky, 7 May 1776, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/77; Henry Stuart to John Stuart, 25 August 1776, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/77; Henry Stuart to Edward Wilkinson, 28 June 1776, The National Archives, Kew CO 5/77; Intelligence Contained in Mr. Cameron’s Letter, 8 November 1775, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/77; John Stuart to Henry Stuart, 24 October 1775, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/77)

      In any case, the Stuarts and the other agents did not think it would be successful without those British troops arriving at Pensacola. At one point in 1776, Stuart went to meet with Clinton at Cape Fear to discuss a coordinated attack. Moreover, when he had gone to Cape Fear, Tonyn – who hated Stuart, disagreed with him vehemently over how to handle the Indians, and constantly tried to undermine him – took advantage of Stuart’s absence to write to other Indian agents like David Taitt and Cameron. They were to “assure all the Indian nations that the King’s army is at hand” and ensure they were “well prepared to receive the plan Mr Stuart may be ordered to execute by General Clinton.” Stuart, however, somehow came away with the mistaken impression that Clinton intended to sent a British force to Pensacola – the thing he thought necessary to bring the Indians into the fight. Even after the defeat at Charleston, Stuart was still waiting for British troops to arrive in Pensacola. (John Stuart to George Germain, 20 March 1776, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/77; John Stuart to Henry Clinton, 9 May 1776, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/77; Patrick Tonyn to David Taitt, 20 April 1776 in K.G. Davies, ed., Documents of the American Revolution (DAR), XII (Dublin: Irish University Press, 1976), 108-110)

      4. Absolutely. I’d only refer back to my comment #1. Patriot propaganda was enough to turn some potential loyalists, even if just for a time during that critical period when they were trying to deny the teetering royal provincial government any loyalist support. That was a sufficient return on investment.

      6. I’ve read Kirkland’s Loyalist Claim, and to be perfectly blunt I don’t really buy it. In general, I’m wary of Loyalist Claims (and I’d guess similar pension applications by Patriot soldiers though I’ve never really made use of them). They have every incentive in the world to be self-serving. Richard Pearis, for example, claims in his that he supported Government from the very beginning of the conflict, which is a lie. He joined the loyalists only after he failed to secure recognition by the Patriots of land he had purchased from the Indians, and because he was passed over by the Council of Safety for the role of Indian commissioner, which went instead to George Galphin, a rival trader. (Pearis makes several other unbelievable claims – as in I literally don’t believe them – of his activity in support of the Crown for which there is little evidence to support him.

      Kirkland does much the same thing. He states his opposition to the Provincial Congress and the Patriots from the very beginning, but doesn’t mention his early active support for them before he was passed over for a commission that instead went to Major James Mayson. Kirkland did not join the loyalists until sometime in July. Kirkland then makes it sound like immediately after he assembled a loyalist army he wisely decided they should all retire to their homes since they lacked arms and ammunition before himself leaving for Boston via Governor William Campbell’s house in Charleston. That’s pretty much nonsense – Kirkland was active with the loyalists for several months. The decline in support among his followers came in September, not July.

      This doesn’t mean I don’t use Loyalist Claims, or that they are illegitimate sources. They’re quite valuable. It just means when there’s a contradiction, my inclination is to give priority to the sources written during the period in question.

      7. Drayton was incredibly important, and his role has been hugely undervalued. Zealot is a fair description, and clearly that was ingrained in his temperament as he was equally zealous in his support for government and his opposition to nonimportation, nonexportation and other resistance activities prior to 1774. He could do nothing part way. But once he settled on the side of the Patriots’ he had a much better understanding than most of what had to be done to control the loyalists, slaves and Indians and prevent them from supporting the British. His backcountry mission in the summer and fall of 1775 was classic pacification. As I mentioned earlier, while “moderates” (a term I don’t like using for them) like Laurens often opposed Drayton’s methods initially, they almost always changed their tune when they saw the fruits of Drayton’s efforts. Drayton was the man of action the Patriots needed (along with allies like Joseph Habersham in Georgia and Cornelius Harnett in NC).

      8. Yep. Fletchall was well respected, but in the moments of great crisis did not exactly prove himself a man of great courage. He also had a major drinking problem. Drayton used these two traits masterfully to create divisions between Fletchall and Brown/Cunningham, including a treaty agreed to with Fletchall at Ninety Six in September 1775 – one (important) step in weakening loyalist opposition.

      I’m afraid I won’t be attending that roundtable. I live in Ohio now. I’m receiving my PhD in a couple weeks and am currently in a job search that could take me anywhere along the east coast (or possibly somewhere else entirely). If you’re going, have fun!

  • Dan,
    Very excited to hear your PhD is imminent! Forgive me if you have mentioned it previously, but, what is the subject on your thesis? Feel free to respond privately to ly******@ya***.com

    I enjoyed your response this morning and am savoring it while formulating a response. Much to chew on. In the meantime, quick question. Is there internet access to those documents in the National Archives?

    1. Hi Wayne,

      Thanks. My dissertation is pretty similar to some of the stuff I’ve been talking about here: Essentially taking a new look at the failure of the southern strategy, but finding the answers more in the 1774-1776 time period than even the 1779-1782 time period. I’ll email you my abstract.

      As for the National Archives in London, as far as I know there’s no online access. When I was there about this time last summer they had people working there taking photographs of their documents, and my understanding is they eventually intend to get much of it online. However, when I was there the guy closest to me was working on medieval scrolls, so it will probably take some time to get to the late 18th century.

      There are some options you can try though short of flying to London. You may know about the Documents of the American Revolution series edited by K.D. Davies. It covers at least from 1770, if not before and there are 1-2 volumes for each year. Each volume includes probably the most important or most commonly used documents from the archives, formerly called the Public Records Office. Not all of them by any means, but a lot. I exhausted all of those volumes before I went to London.

      You may also know about the Colonial and State Records of NC series. The colonial part of the series has assembly records, Governors’ Council records, Board of Trade records, correspondence between London and the colonial governors, etc. My understanding is you do SC and GA more than NC, but it’s an option. It’s available online here:

      Also, the NC and SC state archives have microfilm of a lot of the records at Kew regarding their respective states. I never made it to the GA state archives since they lost funding, then closed for a while, and then transitioned to the oversight of the UGA system at the time I was doing my research, so it wasn’t worth the hassle, but they probably have microfilm as well for GA records at Kew. The NC State Archives in Raleigh also had microfilm of the Indian correspondence series (Stuarts, Taitt, Tonyn, Brown, etc). I’m not sure if you live in the Carolinas, but certainly a bit easier to get to Raleigh and Columbia than London.

      You might also be able to get access to these microfilm rolls from the state archives, other university libraries, or maybe even the US National Archives or Library of Congress, if you have access to a public or local university library that will do interlibrary loan for you.

      Hope this helps. — Dan

  • Dan,
    Always a pleasure to hear from such a kindred spirit. A true passion for unraveling the details involved in the southern campaigns of the American Revolution. Getting back to the discussion.

    1. Just to add a tidbit of information concerning the early back country loyalists and the Indian connections. Many of them, Kirkland, Grierson, Cunningham, Fletchall, Pearis, etc. had long standing relations with the southern tribes in their business as Indian traders. Issues involving the Cherokee were of personal importance to many of the Loyalist leadership.
    2. I am not at all certain what the expectations of Prevost and Tonyn were with regard to the numbers of Indians involved but, I think they did get support during the years 76 – 78 along the southern frontier. I was likewise unaware that Campbell was expecting a large Indian turnout in Augusta. I know he took Kirkland and some others with him hoping to find a loyalist population rising to support him but I didn’t know anything about Indians being involved. Learn something new every day. I will look for it next time I find myself in Campbell’s journal.

    I was delighted to see you bring up Cornwallis and his orders regarding the use of Indians during his occupation. To the chagrin of Brown, he opposed using the Cherokee. Although, during the 1st Augusta siege in September, there seemed to already be a considerable Indian presence. Enough so that Hugh McCall outlined some rather horrible acts done to wounded and prisoners after Clark’s retreat. British source admits only to some scalping.

    I recently failed to find the letter from Cornwallis giving Brown permission to use the Indians. Can you tell me the date? I was looking for it in establishing a timeline for the Long Cane uprising that began in December 1780. It has long been something of a theory of mine that one factor in causing the uprising (and thereby causing Andrew Pickens to break parole) was the Cherokee/Chicamauga threat that rose up after King’s Mountain. (one factor of several since I would not discount the effect of victories at KM and Blackstock’s)
    3. I remain convinced that the deputy agents, particularly Cameron, were far less excited about maintaining control of the Indians than they were reestablishing control of the back country. Stuart seems convinced involving the Cherokee was a bad idea but other British officers did not, often very high ranking individuals, as you point out. To me, it seems the key to knowing is trying to establish the actions of Alexander Cameron. A fairly hazy situation. While I am aware that you are not alone in thinking the British tried to hold back the Cherokee instead of stoking them, there are others who feel the other way. I ran across a 1996 article on Cameron from the South Carolina Historical Magazine while doing research on a James McCall paper. The author John Nichols) is deceased but he clearly believed that Cameron stoked the flames.

    Interestingly enough, it may not even matter whether or not Cameron actually stoked the Cherokee passion for war since it is really the perception of his actions in the minds of the back country residents that matters most.
    6. In my view, the Loyalist Claims are a little bit superior to Pension Applications. They were generally written much earlier in time and are less tainted by time and influence by contemporary historians. I often see similarities in Pension applications and McCall (or Ramsay) and wonder if the person was McCall’s source or if McCall is the pensioner’s source.  But what mention of doubt actually brings on is a discussion on Sufficiency of Evidence and Interpretation. I have a long history in auditing and forensic accounting in which we rank evidence according to our perception of it’s relative strength. For instance, 3rd party documentary evidence from a disinterested source would always be highly regarded while statements made after the fact by one accused of fraud or mistake are not very weighty. In regard to the southern campaigns, I would always like to see eyewitness accounts from both sides of a given event and contemporary records. Wonderful to get battle descriptions from commanders but always wise to look out for ‘perspective’. I prefer ‘perspective’ to ‘bias’ although they often might bring the same result. But ‘perspective’ goes further than bias and includes sincerely held beliefs of how and why events developed. And, with regard to battles & such, the more people write accounts, the more detail develops, etc. However, and unfortunately, the more people write accounts, the more conflicts can develop. Our discussion of Alexander Cameron is a wonderful example because we have contemporary correspondence that supports either contention. He was directly involved in coordinating the Cherokee War, or, He wasn’t. Perhaps some time I will make a list of the evidentiary documents tending either way and see if ranking them by weight might help in the analysis.

    As for Pearis and Kirkland, I tend to forgive them for describing themselves as original loyalists. Kirkland turned vehemently loyal early in the Summer of 1775. Pearis shows up as a prisoner for Charlestown after the Snow Campaign late in 1775. The documents refer to him as a ‘Scopholite captain.’ That is pretty early in the game for both of them to show leadership in the Loyalist movement. Before June 1775, I don’t think there was a Committee of Safety in South Carolina for them to resist.
    7. Just to add a tidbit or two about Drayton for anyone interested in our conversation, he was no ideologue dedicated to the cause. As far as I can tell, Drayton also had a clear influence from Indian issues in the revolution. Specifically, he wanted title to the Catawba Lands and his break with the royal council seems to revolve around John Stuart and others resisting his attempts to get said land. Drayton was promising to manage the property for the Catawba Indians but, clearly, he was a one man land grab trying desperately to happen.

    I also enjoy the story of Drayton trying to take advantage of Georgia’s political turmoil and distress from frontier raiding to annex the state to South Carolina. I believe it was Gov Treutlin who had Drayton banned from the state on pain of arrest as a criminal should he return. But yes, sadly, Drayton’s label as a Zealot comes more from his tough methods than from being concerned about the lofty ideals of American Independence.

    I hope you enjoy Ohio, I hear the people can be quite nice at times. Maybe not quite like in Georgia. I really like the premise of your thesis. I pretty much agree with it. In my own research, it is very clear that the southern strategy was completely dead by the end of 1780. However, did it even have a chance after the various times Loyalists exited the back country. Not only were more young men of fighting age a bit more rebellious and, therefore, Whiggish, but the Loyalists who would make good soldiers left the area in stages. Some left after the Snow Campaign to join the Indians on the frontier or with McGirth and Brown in East Florida. Others exited at various times with a large group leaving in 1778 around the time of confiscation. A fellow named Robert Davis published an article on the ‘March of the Scopholites’ a few years ago. I enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the tip on that series by K. D. Davies. I was completely unaware of it but found some volumes on Amazon this morning. I am giving them a try and see if I want to collect them up. I found a complete set of the NCColonial and State records a few years ago. Wonderful books. I think they are online and were being liquidated at 10 bucks a volume. I grabbed them.  I occasionally go the Clayton library here in Houston and get more copies from Draper manuscripts. I like to transcribe the letters on back country partisans in the Thomas Sumter Papers. Also recently transcribed some accounts from John Sevier’s son and grandsons. And they say I don’t know how to have a good time. 

    1. Wayne,

      1. Yep – and not all of them liked each other as a result – Galphin receiving the appointment as commissioner is one of the key reasons Pearis defected. Galphin had actually been James Wright’s personal agent with the Creek prior to the war, which frustrated Stuart to no end. He believed there were too many cooks in the kitchen on official Indian affairs, which weakened imperial authority with the Indians. He argued all official business with the southern Indians should only be done through him. This angered many of the frontier settlers looking to convince the Indians to sell their land cheaply to them, and created an environment of distrust between Stuart and many of the frontier settlers/traders even before the war started. Stuart’s insistence on concentrating so much power with the tribes with himself, and the subsequent disappointing turnout of the Indians (at least according to other officials’ expectations) were influential in causing Germain to break up the southern Indian Department between Cameron and Brown after Stuart’s death, and to fold the Indian Departments into the military command structure, so they wouldn;t again have the degree of independent authority Stuart had.

      2. Tonyn’s complaints to Germain from 24 July 1778 can be found in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, Volume XV, 168-169. I don’t have the Davies volume right now, so I can’t give you the exact quote, but he is complaining that no significant numbers of Indians showed up to defend St Augustine despite Stuart’s promise (which, again, the two men had different ideas of what Stuart was promising). The exception was the Seminoles, but they were close enough that they corresponded regularly with Tonyn rather than Stuart. Tonyn also despised Stuart, and took every opportunity he could to undermine him with Germain, Stuart’s deputies, and the Indians.

      Given that the Indians had not performed to the expectations Tonyn, Germain and others had for them based on their interpretations of Stuart’s assurances, the growing expense of the Indian Department met with increasing criticism from both men by late 1778, and even the Treasury, which initiated an audit of the Department’s expenditures. Germain informed Stuart that the Indians would be required “early in the winter [of 1778-1779] to reduce those provinces to the King’s obedience,” and told him in no uncertain terms that it would “be incumbent on you to exert all your influence to keep them in a disposition to [support the operation] when it shall be required.” (George Germain to John Stuart, 5 August 1778, DAR, XV, 179-180.)

      Stuart again expected that for an operation of that size, the British would be sending troops to join with the Indians and march into Georgia. As he was en route to Savannah from New York, Campbell asked Clinton to have Stuart “make a Diversion in our favor by the Back Woods of Georgia, even as far as the Frontiers of South Carolina,” and Augusta. At the end of November, though, Stuart informed Germain that, “No reinforcement of troops is as yet arrived here.” By 11 January, as Campbell had already taken Savannah and was well on his way to Augusta, Stuart was still telling Germain, “The promised reinforcement of troops to this province [West Florida] has given us all great spirits.” He assured Germain he would “wait with the utmost anxiety and impatience for their arrival, an event which has been long daily expected.” Not long after this whole episode, Stuart died, which led to the division of the Department and its subordination to the military commander in their respective districts (Archibald Campbell to Henry Clinton, 5 December 1778 in Archibald Campbell Journal, Hargrett Library, University of Georgia; John Stuart to William Knox, 26 November 1778 (Continued from John Stuart to William Knox, 9 October 1778), DAR, XV, 211-215; John Stuart to George Germain, 11 January 1779, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/80)

      As for the September 1780 siege of Augusta, the Indians just happened to be in town. They were staying outside of town when Brown called on them to help defend the town. By all accounts, Patriot, British and Loyalist, they performed admirably and saved the town. When he moved into the South Carolina backcountry, Cornwallis hoped “to keep the Indians in good humour, but on no account whatever to bring them forward or employ them.” He believed they were a distraction and that “it is not the intention of the Commander in Chief to make any military use of the Indians.”

      The letter from Cornwallis regarding the Indians was actually to Balfour from 27 September 1780. I’d have to go back through Balfour’s letters to see if and when he relayed this instruction to Brown. After he learned of the role the Indians played in the defense of Augusta, however, Cornwallis acceded to Balfour’s suggestion that “the best mode of at once stopping all these kind of expeditions appears to me to be the employing the Indians to clear certain districts where these people retreat to and resort.” Cornwallis told Balfour, “I see the necessity of making use of the Indians altho’ it is positively contrary to my instructions. I therefore would have it done under the restrictions you mention, and desire you will give orders about it.” (Charles Cornwallis to Nisbet Balfour, 3 July 1780, The National Archives, Kew, PRO 30/11/78; Charles Cornwallis to Thomas Brown, 17 July 1780, The National Archives, Kew, PRO 30/11/78; Nisbet Balfour to Charles Cornwallis, 20 September 1780, The National Archives, Kew, PRO 30/11/64; Charles Cornwallis to Nisbet Balfour, 27 September 1780, The National Archives, Kew, PRO 30/11/80.

      3. I’ll check out the Nichols article. Thanks.

      6. Fair point on the loyalist claims and pension applications and your forensic approach makes complete sense. Since my objective was to determine how the dynamics of local violence and other Patriot action affected how individuals acted, I much preferred sources from the time period in question than the rationalizations of years later. But you’re right that the loyalist claims are probably still more trustworthy than the pension applications.

      7. I give more credit to Drayton. Yes, he had his self-interested reasons, but I don’t think those are mutually exclusive from supporting the ideological arguments for the revolution. Historians have tried to separate the two, as though self interested reasons could not have fed into the ideological explanations. Woody Holton, for example, in Forced Founders argues the ideological reasons don’t apply because the Virginia elite were actually more interested in Indian land, tobacco prices, and getting themselves out of debt to British merchants. Well, yes, all of those apply, but their pereception of those issues fed directly into the ideological arguments. On all of those issues they believed, rightly or wrongly, that Parliament was ruling arbitrarily and tyrannically by purposely disadvantaging the planter elite at the expense of all other groups – Indians, merchants, etc.

      Such was the case with Drayton. He was suspended from the Council in February 1775 because of his authorship of the 1774 Letters of Freeman pamphlet and his presentments to the grand jury the previous autumn (but mostly because of Freeman). He turned against the Crown in mid-late 1774 for similar reasons – because he believed he and others were unfairly disadvantaged by the Crown, particularly through the use of placemen, or native British sent over to the colonies to fill offices in the place of native (white) Americans like himself. That kind of tyrannical and illiberal rule was leaving people like him behind. That was why he wrote the 1774 Freeman, which got him suspended from the Council. His uncle, the lieutenant governor and acting governor, William Bull, tried somewhat to prevent his suspension, though he too was disgusted by Freeman. After Drayton was suspended, he wasted no time throwing in his lot with the Patriots. His suspension was also more or less the end of his father’s time on the Council as well, as he just stopped going to meetings despite the demands of newly-arrived William Campbell that he attend. He was not as zealous as his son, but he had many of the same objections to British rule. (Barnard Elliott, another member of the Council, resigned the day after news arrived in Charleston of Lexington and Concord). So while William Henry Drayton certainly had self-interested motives, I’m not sure they’re that separable from the ideological arguments of the revolution, but rather fed into those arguments. Just my opinion. I’m a fan of Drayton. 🙂

  • All very detailed and interesting. But what happened to James McCall, who did fight at some many places during the Revolutionary War?

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