Fanning Outfoxes Marion

The War Years (1775-1783)

October 8, 2014
by Hershel Parker Also by this Author


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When news of Lord Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781 arrived in southeastern North Carolina well into November, the war there did not end. It did not end even after the British evacuated Wilmington on November 18, leaving local Tories without reliable supplies of ammunition. Instead, as William Ryan, a cavalry man under Captain Daniel Gillespie, recalled in his pension application, it got more brutal: “The Tories under Col Fanning and other tory leaders seemed to be driven to despair by the surrender of Cornwallis. They divided themselves into small parties and prowled about the country & sought every opportunity to commit the most cruel and unprovoked murders & so frequent were murders robberies & Arsons committed by them that the Counties of Guilford Randolph & Chatham were in a state of continual alarm throughout the fall and winter of 1781 & the spring & summer of 1782—and the tories did not give up the control until the British wholly evacuated South Carolina.”[1]

The most feared Tory in southeastern North Carolina, David Fanning (made Colonel of the Randolph and Chatham County Loyalist Militia in July 1781) led raids on Whigs through the first months of 1782 and carried on strange truce negotiations.[2] Then he set out on what he called “a small scorge,” the first business of which was the murder of a man in front of his sister and daughter.[3] Abruptly, it seems, he made a decision: “it was Better for me to try and settle myself being weary of the disagreeable mode of Living I had Bourne with for some Considerable time.” He would go to British-held Charleston before General Alexander Leslie evacuated it. Marriage suddenly on his mind after crashing a wedding where he casually slaughtered a guest, he chose a sixteen year old Chatham County girl for his bride and later claimed to have hidden her in the woods for her safety.[4]

On May 1, 1782, Fanning decided “to have a frolic” with friends before leaving—that is, to continue the “scorge.” The victim he seized, Andrew Hunter, sprang upon Fanning’s prized mare, Red Doe, already saddled, carrying holsters and silver pistols bestowed by Craig, along with papers. He got away. Fanning dragged off Hunter’s pregnant wife and kept her in the woods for three days, but on May 7th he released her and set off with his bride and Hunter’s slaves to “Major Gainnors truce land.”[5]        Before June 17, 1781, eastern South Carolina had been ravaged by civil war, as was also southeastern North Carolina. A realist, Micajah Ganey (or Gainey), the leader of the Loyalists in the Pee Dee region, made a truce on June 17 with Marion’s appointee, Lt. Col. Peter Horry, for the area sprawling from the Great Pee Dee River to the North Carolina border.[6] Ganey took the truce to apply only to that region, for Joseph Graham, a dragoon under General Griffin Rutherford late in 1781, recalled being attacked “about midnight by the noted Col Gainey of So. Carolina who was then under a truce with Genl Marrion but appears did not consider it binding in North Carolina.”[7] Ganey was helpless to control Tories who went from the Truce Land to fight in North Carolina and then returned. Nevertheless, Marion held to the 1781 truce, waiting, knowing that General Leslie would evacuate Charleston once a large enough fleet of empty ships arrived.

In May, 1782, with Ganey under pressure to aid Tory troops in North Carolina and to turn his own restive men against Marion, Fanning arrived at Ganey’s camp “with a party of thirty men,” hoping (says Marion’s biographer Hugh F. Rankin) “to recruit support and swearing he would get Marion ‘dead or alive.’”[8] Fanning had old grudges, if Marion’s foot soldier Isham Dickeson remembered right about Marion’s “scouring the country in various directions after Col. Fanning.”[9] As Rankin says, Fanning may already have been making the “dead or alive” threat, but that was recorded only months later, by General Nathanael Greene. In late May, and well into June, Fanning was indeed with Ganey, recruiting supporters, perhaps proclaiming threats, while certainly his presence was making the swamp land combustible.

On May 21, 1782 General Marion warned Horry to expect an attack from Ganey (and surely from Fanning). Until Marion arrived to help him, Horry would have to “make every defence possible.” Marion explained to General Greene, “Gaineys men have sixty five horse well Equipt & Appointed, and I have reasons to Believe that Fanning is Joined them with thirty more.” On the same day, South Carolina Governor John Mathews and Marion discussed terms for the new treaty with “Major Ganey & others.” Mathews ordered Marion to quiet “the discontents of the People on Little Pee Dee.” Yet even in this time of near-frenzy, the Governor hoped that “a cessation of Arms” could take place and that peace was “actually on the Carpet,” as Marion repeated to Horry. Marion was ready to fight but determined to exert extraordinary restraint. He was looking ahead, hoping to keep any more of his men from being killed just before the end of the war.

The 1781-1782 Truce Land extended from the Great Pee Dee River to the North Carolina border.  The treaty was renewed for 1782-1783 but the Truce Land began to dissolve soon after. Click to view full map. Source:
The 1781-1782 Truce Land extended from the Great Pee Dee River to the North Carolina border. The treaty was renewed for 1782-1783 but the Truce Land began to dissolve soon after. Click to view full map. Source:

On the first of June Marion wrote Greene: “In respect of Major Gainey & that party I hope to Come on such Terms as will prevent blood shed & terminate that Buisiness to Advantage.” The next day he wrote to Ganey bluntly about terms which could “prevent the Effusion of Blood and distresses of the women and Children.” Marion had proof to show Ganey that the British planned to evacuate Charleston and wanted to make peace, so Ganey would know that he had “no hope of being supported by them.” Ganey was to renew the truce before it expired on June 17 or face a battle “which must terminate in your own & your people’s destruction.” American troops from North Carolina, Marion assured Ganey, were on the march, and “near at hand.” On the 8th the new North Carolina Governor Alexander Martin had heard from Marion that he was marching to Drowning Creek, where he could “act in conjunction with the Troops” of North Carolina “in reducing Major Gainey, and the Tories under his command, to obedience.”[10] Marion expected to fight, and was not bluffing about being joined by North Carolina troops.

On June 8, 1782, Ganey and Marion signed a treaty similar to the one negotiated between Ganey and Horry in June 1781,[11] but that same day Marion warned Horry: “Colo. Fanning with 30 Men came a few days ago in the Truce & is thought will Endeavour to make his way to Chs. Town but it is not Unlikely he may make some attempt on your post [Georgetown], as his number is Encreased since he came, you will therefore guard against any sudden attack by keeping a Lookout at Wraggs & Black River ferries” (near Georgetown). On the 9th Marion indicated to Greene that Fanning in fact had been nearby during his hard negotiations with Ganey, although presumably not present when hundreds of Ganey’s men laid down their arms. A crucial point in the negotiations (unacceptable to many Patriots) was Marion’s giving “full pardon for treasons” to those who would profess “allegiance to the United States of America, and the state of South Carolina in particular.” Still worse was his giving safe conduct to British lines to men who had committed such crimes that patriots would have killed them if he had pardoned them and they had remained in the Carolinas.[12] Marion added: “Colo Fanning & a Major Andrews from North Carolina with thirty men Came to Gainey a few days before we concluded, & will now Indeavour to make his way to the British with his wife & 9 Negroes.”[13] Nothing was certain. Governor Mathews wrote Marion on July 18 still worried that Ganey might be “playing a fast & loose game”—that he had signed the treaty with no intention of adhering to it.

On June 12 Marion let Horry know how anxious he was and would continue to be until the new treaty was “properly Executed.” Loyalists in the Truce zone had two weeks either to pledge loyalty to South Carolina (under the Patriots) or else to go to Charleston. During that time, even on his way to Charleston, Fanning could foment chaos. Marion went on to say that “Fanning is very busy in Recruiting men”— this even while Ganey was planning a meeting of his people “to see who are to go to town [Charleston] & who stays.” After that meeting, Marion was prepared to “March over the river & overawe those who may be wavering, or will not Give up or go to Town.” When Marion wrote Greene on June 16 he was much relieved. He had showed himself “where the Dissaffected Live” and now prospects were good: “Fanning went of[f] two days ago with only one man towards Chas Town, he was seen at Black River, but cannot Learn where his men is gone, but Emagine they have taken the same rout as their Leader.” Fanning went his own way (without a safe conduct from Marion), and separate from Andrews, apparently.[14]

Long afterwards, Fanning portrayed himself as uncharacteristically hapless: “as I was Entirely a stranger to the Situation of the country and Roads I was obliged to procure a pilot to proceed to Charleston which I could not get one for less than 20 Guineaus.” He “fell in with the Rebel Dragoons commanded by Col. Baillie [George Baylor] from Virginia” and rode with them, brazenly pretending to be a rebel heading for “General Marions Quarters.” At Haddrell’s Point, Fanning got passage to Charleston, where he “immediately applied for a Flagg to send after Mrs Fanning and property.” Marion granted Ganey a pass for her but did “not let her have any of our property or even a Negro to wait on her,” Fanning complained.[15] Alexander Garden got the sequence wrong but told a believable story about Marion’s reasoning: “Most of the officers believed it bad policy, but the General justified his conduct, by saying: ‘Let but his wife and property reach the British lines, and Fanning will not fail to follow them; but, force them to remain—deny the flag required, and we fix a serpent in our bosoms.’”[16]

Having his bride in Charleston did not soothe Fanning. On July 9 General Greene warned Marion: “It is said that Fanning is determined to have you dead or alive therefore, take care of yourself.” Rankin goes farther: Fanning’s “anger festered and from this time on he almost daily solicited General Leslie for a command, and allowed he would ‘for a handsome reward,’ bring the heads of both Marion and Greene into Charleston.”[17] Furthermore, Fanning organized newly arrived Loyalists “to try to hold some foothold” in the country until they “got some part payment” for the property they had abandoned. Nothing came of this vainglorious plan, for Leslie wanted nothing to interfere with evacuation, once a fleet arrived.[18] Failing at gaining that “foothold,” and not exercising his legendary skills in trying to take Marion dead or alive, Fanning on September 5, he says, did something wholly unexpected. He made his way back to North Carolina to find his mare and hunted for her until the 22nd. Andrew Hunter and his daring ride, or daring rides, passed into legend.[19] There were witnesses in both Carolinas, but probably Greene, Mathews, and Marion never knew Fanning had returned. On September 13, speaking too soon, Governor Mathews assured Marion, “I don’t apprehend any danger now from Fanning.” If the dates in his own narrative are right, Fanning was not in Charleston on September 13 but nearer to Marion than they knew, near enough that they might well have apprehended danger. Fanning claimed to have returned to Charleston on September 28.[20] In his absence, loyalists had kept signing up to go to East Florida under his direction. He “ordered them all to get on board” the transport ship New Blessing and went on board himself on November 6 — but stayed in harbor for a week.[21] Even the Swamp Fox could not keep his eye on Fanning all the time.

[FEATURED IMAGE AT TOP: Marion Crossing the Pee Dee (1850) by William Tylee Ranney. Current location: Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas]


[1] I thank especially David Neilan and Dennis Northcott, but also Charles Baxley, Scott Aiken, JD Lewis, and C. Leon Harris, the transcriber of the pension application of William Ryan S7436, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters.

[2] I intend to follow this piece with a look at these early 1782 truce negotiations in the light of Fanning’s character. Some historians call Fanning charismatic and say that he did nothing worse than Francis Marion and other Patriots did. I disagree. To my mind, Fanning had become a psychotic murderer.

[3] The manuscript of Fanning’s narrative is destroyed or lost and the Peter C. Bliss, Jonas Howe, and Alfred W. Savary transcriptions are not adequately analyzed. I use Lindley S. Butler’s The Narrative of Col. David Fanning (Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press; Charleston: Tradd Street Press, 1981), which is based on the Jonas Howe transcription. The “scorge” and the murder of Balfour is on page 72. All editions of the Narrative have problems, as in Documents of the American South (22: 180-239): “I then proceeded to Major Rainey’s truce land in Peedee in South Carolina, where I had made a truce with the Rebels, some time before.” Rainey should be Ganey, who (not Fanning) had made the truce. In Butler (71) you encounter “Some time before while we where bereating with each other, I had Ordered and collected 25 men to have a cretain Dress made.” Savary excises this little passage, but the regularized 1861 Richmond, Virginia, text based on the Bliss transcription has “while we were treating with each other” and “certain dress.”

[4] Butler, The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, 76-77.

[5] Butler, The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, 79, 80.

[6] Most of the Marion, Greene, and Mathews letters quoted below survive because Peter Horry saved them. The Library of Congress has Peter Force’s transcription of the Horry trove, including the only known text for the June 9, 1782 letter from Marion to Horry. The June 17, 1781 treaty with Ganey is on pp. 98-99 of R. W. Gibbes’s Documentary History of the American Revolution, 1781-1782 (Columbia, SC: Banner Steam-Power Press, 1853).

Most of the letters I quote from April 1782 through September 1782 are (slightly regularlized) in Gibbes’s Documentary History of the American Revolution (New York: D. Appleton, 1857).

However, I quote all the letters by Marion, Greene, and Mathews from the scrupulous texts (with very helpful draft footnotes) generously sent me by David Neilan in advance of the publication of his edition of The Francis Marion Papers.

[7] Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters, Joseph Graham S6937, transcribed by Will Graves, who along with his collaborator, my Cockerham cousin C. Leon Harris, deserve Medals of Freedom for the many thousands of transcriptions of Revolutionary War pension applications they have made available in searchable texts.

[8] Hugh F. Rankin, Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1973), 283.

[9] Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters, Isham Dickeson R2823, transcribed by Will Graves.

[10] As I intend to show in the piece mentioned in note 2, North Carolina was perhaps as much better off when it replaced Thomas Burke with Alexander Martin on April 25, 1782 as his widow was when she replaced Burke with Major George Doherty on April 25, 1785.

[11] William Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution (New York: Longworth, 1802), 2:419-421; in Gibbes (1853), 98, in slightly different form.

[12] Colonel Lam Benton wrote Governor Mathews, August 20, 1782: “My feelings will not let me omit mentioning to you some Characters among them of Mr. Ganey’s truce men who have been received by Genl Marion as Citizens & are now doing Military duty, & enjoying Equal privileges with your best Soldiers & Citizens who have borne the burden & heat of the day.”

[13] Samuel Andrews in Bladen County had guided Fanning to houses of Whigs where Fanning could do his worst with arson and murder. The North Carolina Assembly act of pardon in 1783 excluded Fanning, Andrews, and one other, Peter Mallette, because they had been “guilty of deliberate and wilful murder, robbery, rape, or house burning.” “Acts of the North Carolina General Assembly, 1783” in Documenting the American South, 24:489-490.

[14] This letter, not in either Gibbes volume, has long been known to modern scholars. When I found a printing in a Boston paper, Dennis Northcott of the Missouri History Museum very kindly sent me the first printing of the letter in the St. Louis Republican for June 8, 1877. It says Fanning left with “sixty-one” men. The 30 plus those he recruited? No, just an 1877 mistranscription. David Neilan verified from the manuscript in the Library of Congress that his text, reading “one man,” is correct.

[15] Butler, The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, 80.

[16] Alexander Garden, Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in America with Sketches of Character (Charleston: A. E. Miller, 1822), 27.

[17] Rankin, Francis Marion, 284. The footnote on 325-326 fails to specify a source for “the heads of both Marion and Greene,” and despite his heroic efforts David Neilan has not found one. If anyone reading JAR knows . . . .

[18] Butler, The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, 81. This idea of a “foothold” was akin to Fanning’s fantastic demands early in 1782; see Butler, The Narrative of Col. David Fanning 68-71.

[19] In the many variant histories and legends of this return to North Carolina (and inland South Carolina) even the name of Fanning’s mare is in dispute. For all Marion knew, Fanning had remained in Charleston.

[20] Butler, The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, 82.

[21] Butler, The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, 83.



  • This article is a very fine reminder that action continued after Yorktown, especially the continuation of the civil war between rebel and loyalist. Yorktown has been so embedded in the public consciousness as the “end of the war” that articles like this help to underscore that the war went on and another two years were required to reach official end of hostilities.

  • This is an addition to Endnote 13.

    I had not seen any point of mentioning that Lorenzo Sabine in his book on THE AMERICAN LOYALISTS (p. 252) mistakenly said that the three men excluded from pardon in 1783 (Fanning, Andrews, and Mallette) had been excluded from pardon in the June 1782 treaty between Marion and Ganey.

    It looks as if Sabine is still misleading people. Patrick O’Kelley on p. 75 of his 1782 volume of NOTHING BUT BLOOD AND SLAUGHTER says (in a slight variation) that the 1782 treaty “was good for all Loyalists except Colonel David Fanning, Major Samuel Andrews and ‘Bloody’ Bill Cunningham. They were to receive no mercy.” There was no such provision in the treaty between Marion and Ganey.

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