The South Carolina backcountry in mid 1780

The War Years (1775-1783)

May 24, 2017
by Ian Saberton Also by this Author


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Its occupation by the British, the character of its inhabitants, and its flora, fauna and terrain

Overall, I am of opinion that militarily the broad picture of the Revolutionary War has not markedly altered since the 1970s, but almost all interpretive works are written from an American perspective that does not always coincide with my aim to provide an accurate, balanced and dispassionate account of the war and the actors in it, as is evinced by my recent articles in this journal.[1] Ipso facto, I have preferred to base my own conclusions mostly on primary and secondary material rather than on the reworking or interpretation of it in tertiary form, even though there is to some degree a measure of agreement between the latter and myself.[2]

When we come to the South Carolina backcountry, to which The Cornwallis Papers preponderantly relate, I myself was struck by the fact that, on extensively reading the literature on the southern campaigns, nowhere did I find a comprehensive sketch of this vast region or of the life and character of its inhabitants at the time that the British occupation began. Scattered items of information were to be found, but nowhere were they collated into an overall picture. Yet in my opinion such a picture was essential if one was to place, for example, The Cornwallis Papers in context and fully understand how backcountry society and the character of its inhabitants impacted on the revolutionary irregulars’ barbarous conduct of the war. It is a purpose of The Cornwallis Papers and this article to fill that gap.

The occupation was set in train on May 18, 1780 as Cornwallis began to march from Manigault’s Plantation with some 2500 men for Camden.

By now appointed to command in the southern provinces, he describes the circumstances of his appointment in a letter of November 12, 1780: “When I came to town after the surrender, Sir Henry mention’d my going with him to the northward. I said that I was ready to serve wherever he thought fit to employ me, and had no objection to remain in Carolina if he thought my services cou’d be usefull in that province. He said something civil about the climate. On my assuring him that it was no objection, he then wished me to take this command. However painfull and distressing my situation has been, and however dark the prospect then was, it cannot be supposed that as a military man I shou’d not rather chuse to command to the southward than be third at New York … I did not interfere in any degree with Sir Henry’s arrangement [the appointment of Brig. Gen. James Paterson as Commandant of Charlestown], nor did I say more or express myself stronger on the subject of my own staying than I have described …”[3]

Crossing the Santee at Lenud’s Ferry with part of his corps, Cornwallis marched up the eastern side of the river while Col. Francis Lord Rawdon with the rest proceeded by way of Monck’s Corner and Nelson’s Ferry.[4] Camden was reached on June 1.

At first named Pine Tree Hill, the village lay to the east of the Wateree about thirty-five miles from its confluence with the Congaree. Settled about 1750 and laid out in plots and streets around a square, it was now inhabited mostly by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, whose meeting house and that of the Quakers were features of the place. Besides Joseph Kershaw’s country store, it was home to saw- and grist-mills, one or more taverns, breweries, distilleries, a pottery, and various other artisan shops. Nine years earlier a courthouse had been built. All in all, trade was brisk and by now the village had become a principal entrepôt for the back settlements.

Politically, occupation of Camden was of course inevitable, but militarily its location left much to be desired. As Rawdon remarked many years later, “Camden had always been reprobated by me as a station, not merely from the extraordinary disadvantages which attended it as an individual position, but from its being on the wrong side of the river and covering nothing, while it was constantly liable to have its communication with the interior district cut off.”

Headquarters at Camden was established in Joseph Kershaw’s mansion. He was a leading incendiary.[5]

As Cornwallis approached Camden, Lt. Col. Nisbet Balfour began his march for Ninety Six, a village which lay to the south of the Saluda River some sixty miles west of its confluence with the Broad. In the backcountry it was second in importance to Camden. Leaving Charlestown on May 26, Balfour commanded a mixed corps of some 600 men comprising three companies of the 7th Regiment (the Royal Fusiliers), a detachment of light infantry, the Prince of Wales’s American Regiment, and Major Patrick Ferguson’s American Volunteers. His advance along what was once an Indian trading path is minutely set out in Allaire’s Diary as read with Balfour’s correspondence in The Cornwallis Papers. Ninety Six was reached by Balfour and Ferguson’s men on June 22.[6]

The backcountry is an amorphous expression describing the vast swathe of territory now entered by the British. Though other interpretations are wider or more restrictive, it is used here to refer to the then Districts of Camden and Ninety Six. In the east the outer boundary began at the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree, extended northwards to the North Carolina line, continued westwards along that line to the Cherokee nation, and followed the Georgia line to a point just below Augusta. From there it proceeded in the south to a point on the Saluda midway between the village of Ninety Six and the Broad River before following the Saluda and Congaree eastwards.

Today the backcountry presents a very different aspect from that encountered by the first white settlers in the middle of the eighteenth century. It was then a region interspersed with extensive plains widely covered by cane; with open forests of elm, hickory, oak, pine, poplar and walnut, between which lay a rich carpet of peavine; and with numerous ponds, rivers and streams, along which stretched vast canebrakes. It was partly flat, partly undulating, and partly hilly terrain, which rose to the Great Smoky Mountains in the distance. It abounded in many species of game ranging from bison, deer and elk to turkeys and other wildfowl. Common were the beaver, muskrat, opossum, raccoon, and squirrel. Among beasts of prey, the bear, polecat, puma, wildcat, and wolf were numerous, while the rattlesnake was widely to be found. Edible fish such as the shad were prolific.

By 1780 the backcountry had become dotted with small farms and settlements, but much of the landscape remained as it was thirty years earlier. The bison and elk had been hunted to extinction there, but the other wild animals were still to be found, though in diminished numbers.

The backcountry had yet to evolve into a uniform society. Of the national groups the Scotch-Irish were the most numerous. Disliked by others, they were aggressive, courageous, emotional, fiercely intolerant, hard-drinking, and in many cases inclined to indolence. Of the other groups the Germans from the Palatinate, who had settled mostly in the Dutch Fork, predominated. Better farmers, they were pacific, law-abiding, temperate, and devoted to the ideal of a well-ordered society. The rest were composed of other immigrants from the Old World or their descendants, a number of whom ― less than ten percent of the back inhabitants ― were slaves. Clannishness, through which many clung tenaciously to their cultural heritage, was the order of the day, while mutual dislike or suspicion more often than not triumphed over brotherhood and charity. Not a melting pot, the backcountry was more akin to the Tower of Babel.

By 1776 the proportion of South Carolina’s population living above the fall line had soared to some 83,000, fifty percent of its entire population and seventy-nine percent of its white inhabitants. By the opening of the seventies the small farm had become the means by which ninety-five percent of the backcountry settlers made a living. Nevertheless, clearing land and developing a farm involved too much backbreaking toil for some, who contented themselves with a small corn patch and hunting. Overall, the backcountry had begun to produce an amazing amount of grain and meat, and towards the end of the colonial era as many as 3,000 waggons per year were being sent down from there to Charlestown.

Living in log cabins or primitive shelters on the edge of western civilisation, very many backcountry settlers no longer conformed to accepted standards of behavior, as a recent article of mine has made clear.[7] Criminality, immorality, and irreligion were rife, accentuated by the severe shortage of clergymen and the lack of education. Admittedly, odd meeting houses were to be found, for example at Bush River, Camden, the Dutch Fork, Fair Forest, Fishing Creek, Turkey Creek, and the Waxhaws; itinerant preachers came and went; but in general the vast majority of the population caught neither sight nor sound of a minister. “In the back parts of Carolina,” recalled Major George Hanger many years later, “you may search after an angel with as much chance of finding one as a parson; there is no such thing ― I mean when I was there. What they are now, I know not. It is not impossible, but they may have become more religious, moral, and virtuous since the great affection they have imbibed for the French. In my time you might travel sixty or seventy miles and not see a church or even a schism shop[8]. I have often called at a dog-house in the woods, inhabited by eight or ten persons, merely from curiosity. I have asked the master of the house: ‘Pray, my friend, of what religion are you?’   ‘Of what religion, sir?’ ‘Yes, my friend, of what religion are you ― or to what sect do you belong?’   ‘Oh! now I understand you; why, for the matter of that, religion does not trouble us much in these parts.'” As to honesty, Cornwallis would soon observe, “I will not be godfather to any man’s honesty in this province.”

The ignorance and illiteracy of most backcountry settlers went hand in hand with a lack of intellectual curiosity. According to the Reverend Charles Woodmason, “Few or no books are to be found in all this vast country,” besides a few religious works. “Nor do they delight in historical books or in having them read to them …, for these people despise knowledge, and instead of honouring a learned person or any one of wit or knowledge, be it in the arts, sciences or languages, they despise and ill treat them.”

Quite a few of the settlers would once have been the orphaned or neglected children who swarmed over the backcountry on the eve of the Revolution. Described as then living “expos’d in a state of nature,” they had been “oblig’d almost to associate with villains and vagabonds for subsistence.”

Of the few meeting houses most were attended by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, who surpassed all other sects in bigotry and fierce denominationalism, going to lengths which are almost unbelievable. Men of God, their ministers brought politics into the pulpit, exhorted rebellion, and in some cases ― for example the Reverend John Simpson of Fishing Creek ― took up arms themselves.

Scattered among the backcountry population was a body of hardy, illiterate and lawless backwoodsmen whom the British came to fear more than most. They tended to have no settled habitation and lived partly by hunting and partly by preying on their neighbors. “This distinguished race of men,” declared George Hanger, “are more savage than the Indians and possess every one of their vices but not one of their virtues. I have known one of these fellows travel two hundred miles through the woods, never keeping any road or path, guided by the sun by day and the stars by night, to kill a particular person belonging to the opposite party. He would shoot him before his own door and ride away to boast of what he had done on his return … I speak … of that heathen race known by the name of crackers.”

Despite the vaunted levelling spirit of the backcountry, a gentry of sorts had arisen composed of the wealthy who had acquired extensive land holdings, merchants, surveyors, lawyers, and men of status in other fields. Few though they were, their influence was profound, but sadly for the British almost all were of the revolutionary persuasion.

An endemic vice in all ranks was the excessive consumption of alcoholic liquor. Rough cider and peach or apple brandy were common beverages, rum was consumed in large quantities, but rye whiskey, favoured in particular by the Scotch-Irish, was the grand elixir. Except the temperate Germans, who preferred their beer, almost everyone drank to excess: the morning bevvy, the dinner dram, the evening nightcap, and the more or less frequent tipple in between times. Taverns, still houses, and drinking cabins did a roaring trade, whereas stores commonly held among their stock a pretty liberal quantity of something to keep the spirits up.

A recurring problem was incursions by native Americans, which led to savagery on both sides. The settlers’ experiences with such intermittent warfare would soon be reflected in the equally merciless way in which revolutionary irregulars behaved toward their loyalist neighbors.

Amid the hardships of backcountry life a high old time was had with recreational pursuits. From the simple pleasures of hunting and fishing they extended to horse racing and shooting matches, but more often than not they centred around the tavern, where drunkenness, gaming, cheating, quarrelling, and brawling were commonplace, particularly on days when court or other public business was transacted. Completing the picture were communal harvest days, dances, and occasions such as musters and vendues, all of which gave ample rein to the wild frolicking common on the frontier.

Of the factors that had led about half of the backcountry settlers to remain loyal to the Crown, a combination of three predominated. Partly it was a sense of belonging to a wider British community besides being Americans; partly it was a feeling of gratitude to the Crown for the grant of land; and partly it was antagonism to the low country élite, whose gross neglect of the backcountry only a few years earlier had turned many settlers against them and the revolutionary cause which they came to espouse. Admittedly, a framework of local government had recently been established, representation in the legislature was lately secured, but memories of past grievances were long.

Now divided politically, as well as in other ways, the backcountry was a place where emotions often ran free, unrestrained by concepts of civilised behavior. A powder keg waiting to explode, it would be ignited by the coming of the British.



Anthony Allaire, “Diary,” Appendix to Lyman C Draper, King’s Mountain and its Heroes (Cincinnati, 1881)

Carl Bridenbaugh, Myths & Realities: Societies of the Colonial South (Atheneum NY, 1976)

John Abney Chapman and John Belton O’Neall, The Annals of Newberry (Newberry SC, 1892)

William Henry Foote, Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical, illustrative of the Principles of a Portion of Her Early Settlers (New York, 1846)

Robert Gray, ‘Colonel Robert Gray’s Observations on the War in Carolina’, The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, XI (July, 1910), 139-159

George Hanger, The Life, Adventures, and Opinions of Col. George Hanger (London, 1801)

George Howe, History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina (Columbia SC, 1870)

J B O Landrum, Colonial and Revolutionary History of Upper South Carolina (Greenville SC, 1897)

Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States (Revised edition, New York, 1869)

John H Logan, A History of the Upper Country of South Carolina (Columbia SC, 1859)

Ian Saberton ed:, The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War, 6 vols (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2010)

Charles Stedman, History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War (London, 1792)

Henry Alexander White, Southern Presbyterian Leaders (New York, 1911)

Charles Woodmason, The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution, edited by Richard J Hooker (University of North Carolina Press, 1953)


[1] See Journal of the American Revolution, September 2016 through March 2017.

[2] I use “secondary” to describe material emanating from interviews or conversations with persons who had taken part in, or lived through, the war. By “tertiary” I mean material that is neither primary nor secondary and, to the extent that it relies on other tertiary material, needs to be treated with a measure of caution.

[3] For a biographical note on Paterson, see Ian Saberton ed:, The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War, 6 vols (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2010) (“CP”), 1: 49.

[4] For biographical information on Rawdon, see CP, 1: 151-2.

[5] For a biographical note on Joseph Kershaw and his brother Ely, see CP, 1: 144.

[6] For biographical information on Ferguson and Balfour, see CP, 1: 37-8 and Ian Saberton, “The Revolutionary War in the South: Re-evaluations of certain British and British American Actors,” Journal of the American Revolution, November 21, 2016.

[7] See Ian Saberton, “George Hanger ― His Adventures in the American Revolutionary War end,” Journal of the American Revolution, February 17, 2017.

[8] meeting house.


  • My goodness! It seems that George Hangar and the Good Rev Woodmason expressed some very unfortunate opinions concerning the fine people of the South Carolina back country. Perhaps their comments should be tempered with a few observations concerning their personal experiences with the back country residents. Rev Woodmason was an Anglican minister doing missionary work among the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of the back country. He was known to be especially vocal against the Presbyterians and Baptists, spouting condemnation against them. In turn, Scotch-Irish that they were, the Presbyterians gave back as good as they got. Very likely, when Woodmason expressed anxiety at not finding many Clergymen, he discounted the Presbyterians like the very wonderful and colorful Rev Simpson of Fishing Creek. Few of us know the story but it comes down that Simpson’s widow, when faced with a burning house, ran back in to save his books. Not family heirlooms mind you, but an apron filled with the most prized possessions, books. As an additional aside, I recently reread Will Graves wonderful book about James Williams. He describes a nice library prized by the militia leader from Little River.

    And, of course I have seen Major Hangar’s observation about Crackers before. Not sure what to think about a man who takes a licking and then goes off to pout and bad mouth his betters. Perhaps the Major’s opinions of back country residents were colored by his poor performance at Charlotte when the British Legion refused to follow him against a few local ‘Crackers’. The performance caused Lord Cornwallis to mention something in a letter to Balfour that the Legion was very different without Tarleton to lead them. The head Cracker (William Richardson Davie) even had the audacity to report the Legion’s failure as having been directly caused by Hangar’s mistakes.

    1. Very interesting! Wayne, do you know anymore information on Rev. John Simpson and Fishing Creek Presbyterian Church, and/or sources with this info? I am very interested in this church’s history.

      1. Thanks Harry. Most of what I know about Rev Simpson comes from Elizabeth Ellet’s volume III of the Women of the American Revolution. She devotes a number of chapters to the women (and men) of Fishing Creek. Amazing people that, in my opinion, do not much resemble the descriptions from Rev Woodmason and Major Hangar. In any event, you should check out the chapter on Jane Boyd. She was a daughter of Rev Simpson and the source of the information concerning her mother’s emphasis on saving the good preacher’s books.

      2. Harry, I did some checking around this morning in a book called the History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina. On page 424 of volume 1 there is a nice write-up on Rev Simpson to include his educational background. The volume also contains a great deal of information on the growth and development of the Presbyterian Church in the back country. I think you will find the Church far more extensive and influential than indicated by Rev Woodmason and Major Hangar in their quotes above.

        1. Thank you for this information Wayne! Fishing Creek Church is very close to me, as many of my ancestors over previous generations were members there. I have heard bits and pieces about the church’s Revolutionary history, as well as a little bit about Rev. Simpson and his role, but would love to know more. I will be looking into these links that you have provided! Thanks!

      3. You may be interested to know the “History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina,” Howe, George, 1802-1883, available online from Cornell University Library, mentions Rev. John Simpson, and gives some descriptions of places & people of the SC backcountry, in some detail.

    2. I was interested as ever to read your views both here and below, but again as ever, I fear we must agree to disagree, whether as to your interpretation of events in the south or the characters in them. There is, as Will remarks below, a tendency among American historians to look at the war through rose-tinted spectacles and to gloss over events and characterisations that cast the revolutionaries in an unfavourable light. On reading your own published material I conclude, if I may respectfully say so, that you broadly but not entirely fall into this class. Permit me to offer a few specific comments on your response.

      First, on Hanger, whose name you misspell and whose character, service in the south, and quoted comments you choose to disparage. Until the publication of my article to which note 7 above refers (being one of three) the historical record had little but criticism of him to offer, but as set out there, it was misplaced. He played an important part in the victory at Camden and, if Major Joseph Graham, a revolutionary officer, is to be believed, a largely commendable part in the events in and near Charlotte — a part which you demean. If I may say so, you appear to take no account of that article and choose to rely on the inaccurate portrait of him appearing before its publication. Whether there or in his “Address to the Army” (London, 1789) Hanger has proved to be a knowledgeable commentator on the war in the south from a British perspective. His opinions, I submit, have stood the test of time.

      On Tarleton, my own re-evaluation is set out in my articles published in the JAR in October and November 2016. You clearly disagree, but I am content for readers to form their own conclusions.

      On Woodmason, we need to bear in mind that he was not writing for public consumption so that there is no reason to doubt the instances he cites of the Presbyterians’ bigotry and fierce denominationalism. Whether it was right for their ministers, being men of God, to bring politics into the pulpit and take up arms, I leave readers to decide.

      Finally, the backcountry was a frontier society whose features were, as often is the case, largely unedifying. My portrait presents the facts, warts and all, and I see no reason to resile from it. Whether the settlers were “the fine people” to whom you refer, I am again content for readers to determine.

      1. Good evening Ian. As always, I am delighted to hear from you. I hope the times get better soon as you guys have our complete support regarding the Manchester bombing.

        Somehow I knew we would continue to disagree.  After all, I’m sure you realized there would be much opposition to these statements by Woodmason and Hanger. (sorry to have misspelled his name, I had been so careful to make sure it was Hangar. But I do not remember where I picked it up.) On Woodmason, I never once doubted the inhabitants were disposed against Woodmason. He came to convert them away from their religion. What reaction did he expect? However, the statement by him that I found most disparaging and in need of contradiction was the part about “these people despise knowledge, and instead of honoring a learned person . . . . despise and ill treat them.” Consistently, the back country residents are seen choosing the most educated among them as leaders, military and political. In one instance that I recently revisited, a fellow named William Cocke gained an unfortunate reputation for cowardice in combat. Instead of being despised or ill treated, Cocke was greatly valued as a capable and intelligent man. He was later reelected by his men to serve as captain and spent a lifetime as elected official. Many of the militia leaders that I research show as much education as any man around. Even in Watauga we find men of education such as John Tipton and John Sevier. Men who understood the law and were well versed in Constitutional issues. No surprise they would be the ones leading each side later in the State of Franklin episode. I find this characterization of the back country inhabitants not only unfortunate but also incorrect. But, that is an opinion that I too am content to have continued disagreement over.

        I don’t think it takes away from the bias shown by Woodmason in his description that it came from a journal written at the time. At the time of the writing, Woodmason was deeply involved in very bitter relations with the people of the back country. They were busy rejecting his attempts to convert them and very agitated by his continued condemnations of their religion. That he disparaged them in a very general way in his journal simply reflects that bias in the man’s mind. Or, that is certainly my view. Woodmason’s work is valuable but that particular passage definitely needs to be considered with a few grains of salt.

        I believe it is almost always a mistake to generalize a large group of people in a negative way. But, again, that is simply my view.

        Major Hanger is not really a fellow I feel comfortable taking his word on. I first ran across him by review of his work supporting Ban Tarleton. He didn’t mind making positive statements and judgments concerning events he didn’t even witness. It has been a while but I was unimpressed with his work. Since then, other than your recent articles, I had not run across much about Major Hanger. Well, other than his low opinion of the folk he unsuccessfully fought against. While I don’t doubt the Major became ill following the episode at Charlotte, I wonder if he didn’t have an extra problem dragging a wounded ego around.  If I am being too hard on the man, then I apologize sincerely. However, he should also have known better than to make disparaging remarks that generalize a large group of people. Tends to be a tad provocative.

        Tarleton is for another day and another bullfight. I only mentioned him to Mr. Monk because I believe he might have been thinking about my sometime spirited challenge to Banastre’s character. I appreciate not being thought of as totally biased. (Although I don’t think I agree about my fellow countrymen. There seem to be quite a few Loyalist apologists and other anglophiles running about these days.) In fact, I have an upcoming work that I mentioned to you privately. I believe you will like that work better than my prior thoughts about Tarleton.

        Stay well Dr. Saberton. And please hold the children of Manchester close. You guys are in our hearts and prayers.

        1. William Cocke is my GGGG step-grandfather. He married the widow Sims and was good to her and her many children, after first Jefferson and then Madison had burned the Sims Intruders out of their houses across the Tennessee line into what was soon Alabama. At Columbus, MS, Cocke built a two story cross-hall dogtrot log house on the banks of the Tumbigbee, now the site of the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. A great pile of logs, he said of his house. He was, like Andrew Jackson, controversial. His DNA descendants don’t think he was a coward, ever. He was an eloquent orator, and the Sims Intruders were literate and some of the next generation were well-schooled. Only after the Civil War did learning decline in the family.

          1. Yes, I had one of Cocke’s descendants lecture me recently in the comments to that old article. I tried to insist that I enjoyed learning about William and found him quite an interesting character with his struggles through life. Did no good. 🙂

        2. While I state that “most” backcountry settlers were ignorant, illiterate and lacking in intellectual curiosity, I do not state all. There were a few exceptions among leading members of backcountry society, for example Brig. Gen. James Williams, but even among them there were others such as Brig.Gen. Andrew Williamson to which my general critique applies.

          You accuse me of inappropriate generalisations, but they are founded on what I consider to be convincing evidence. By contrast I do not see any specific support cited for your own. You simply form unsupported conclusions as you will to support your own point of view, and there is the rub.

          For my part I shall now, if I may, close our interesting exchange, which, if anything, goes to prove that the writing of history is an entirely subjective affair.

          Thank you for your good wishes.

          1. Delighted to notice your reference to Brig Gen Williams rather than Colonel Williams. 🙂 (makes me happy) But, I am a bit curious as to why Williamson was singled out. I realize he was unable to write but he doesn’t really feel like a man without significant intellect and leadership skill. I believe his home (Whitehall?) and lifestyle were likely far more significant than anything described above. He had fine military success until he foolishly sided with the British in 1780. He showed great skill in advancement over others. William Henry Drayton and the other political leaders had great confidence in Andrew. Was there reason other than illiteracy for using him as an example here?

            I am puzzled that you don’t consider my sources that paint life and people of the back country differently than the view of Rev Woodmason. Examples of back country men and women who seem far above those dim descriptions would seem ample evidence to refute generalizations. So, I will mention a couple of others from over toward the Ninety-Six District. The Hammond Family comes to mind. Their writings seem quite well done. The old Loyalist, Moses Kirkland, comes to my mind. His letters are almost laughable in terms of spelling but he was clearly quite clever and capable of playing political systems to his advantage. Also, I believe that both Kirkland and Williamson did business with the Indians. Both may have been guilty of a little swindling here and there. Now, don’t ya know that also takes a bit of maneuvering. 🙂 In any event, I truly believe that getting to know more of the individuals of the back country and taking notes from some other sources is just the right path to understanding how narrow-minded Woodmason’s descriptions were.

            I do hope you will return for more discussion on the Andrew Williamson question. I probably should not have come back to comment again but I do promise to grant you final word here in your thread should you care to provide some added thoughts on Brig Williamson.

      2. Ian, I reread my reply just now and I noticed the term ‘provocative’ a couple of times. Please be aware that I only mean it in terms of provoking a response, at least in my view. I am totally at ease with differing opinions and love a good intellectual debate on the southern campaigns. So rare to find such opportunities. I would have probably moved on to other things long ago had it not been for such evidentiary contradictions and delightful complexity in the accounts from the southern theater. I suppose it appeals to my experience making judgments about the sufficiency and quality of evidence in other venues.

        That said, I also noticed that my smiling faces did not appear in the text. I hope it is obvious that I was a joking about Major Hanger’s wounded ego. The little joke face disappeared when I posted the comment.

  • There is a remarkable amount of anti-British bias in recent literature on the Revolution, even from the best regarded authors. I am amazed several editors and publishers allowed it to remain.

    1. Will, To be honest, I considered what response to make here (if any) overnight to consider whether my comment above reflected anti-British bias. In truth, I don’t think it does. I am aware that my refusal to back away from critical comments toward the recent white-washing trend of Ban Tarleton and a few others often considered villains of the revolution has resulted in accusations of anti-British bias. If that refusal equals said bias then I will cheerfully accept the characterization. I don’t really think it does but others may disagree. The article above presented a couple of dreadful descriptions generalizing the people of South Carolina as almost sub-human creatures not yet civilized enough to accept religion and education. These generalizations came from men whose bias against those citizens was well known and documented. I believe there is ample evidence contradicting those descriptions and should be considered. I apologize if clarifying this situation has offended you. However, let me merrily pull your leg a bit here with an additional thought. For those who read and study American History (and particularly the era of the revolution), the British are not always thought of as the good guys riding white horses. 🙂

    2. Thank you, Will. As you will see from my response above to Wayne, I entirely agree with what you say. I have nothing to add to my comments there about Wayne’s approach to the war and the characters in it.

  • Intriguing work and very well supported. Descending from colonial citizens of the South Carolina backcountry (Newberry and later the Pendleton District), I found this article interesting in that it painted a picture of everyday life. I would be interested to learn more about this region post-war. Mr. Saberton, please keep the great work.

    1. Most grateful for your appreciative remarks, Zach. You may wish to read above my response to Wayne’s criticism of the article.

      1. Also enjoyed the article, Ian. I am also a descendent of colonial citizens of the SC Backcountry, and some of my distant ancestors were members of Fishing Creek Presbyterian Church. I am still closely connected to the church and especially enjoy learning about SC and its role in the Southern Campaign.

  • Ian Saberton says: “Of the few meeting houses most were attended by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, who surpassed all other sects in bigotry and fierce denominationalism, going to lengths which are almost unbelievable. Men of God, their ministers brought politics into the pulpit, exhorted rebellion, and in some cases ― for example the Reverend John Simpson of Fishing Creek ― took up arms themselves.” My last-arriving ancestors, the Copelands, were on the Reverend William Martin’s Free Mason, at Charleston in late December 1772 and allowed ashore by the first days of January 1773. William Martin did indeed preach a fiery sermon and take up arms against the British, who burned his church. Given their long mistreatment in Ireland, the lengths to which my Presbyterians went seem to be quite believable, even when people given large farms in western South Carolina a very few years later took up arms against the British.
    I do not recognize my Revolutionary South Carolina Boyds, Glenns, Tindalls, Gilmores, Stewarts, Aikens, Thompsons, Copelands, and others in this article by Saberton. My impressions of what their lives were like in the 1780s, I realize, comes primarily from their wills, some drawn up somewhat later, and from the pension applications by them and their neighbors under the 1832 law. I find a great deal of information about their lives in the 1780s in the pension applications. As a Depression Okie I can’t claim that my standards have not been debased, but I quite admire these Revolutionary folks and enjoy their company the more I learn about them.

  • My Rankin & Cox ancestors were Scots-Irish who apparently were patriots while George ancestors may have been on both sides and I don’t know about Harbisons or Moffatts, but all were from both sides of the North Carolina/South Carolina border (Tryon/Anson County NC, etc.). There may have been some Adams, Williams, and Eaton/Paton? ancestors too as I have a book dated July 1778 Tryon County, Broad River with Adams, Williams, Eaton/Paton? names in it.
    Knowing the tragic history of the Scots-Irish in both Scotland and Ulster and understand some of their fierce determination to have their own land at almost all costs. But the brutality in the back country on both sides is difficult for me to comprehend – admittedly many years and circumstances removed from their realities.

  • Where can we go for documentation of the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in western South Carolina in 1780? Very few letters, very few diaries, very few newspapers (even articles printed in distant newspapers). Very few early histories.
    I said wills. Most of the wills of Revolutionary people have later dates on them, of course, but even so the wills tell a great deal about life as it was in 1780. Even better, the pension applications under the 1832 law are a vast source of information about life in 1780. Such information comes in offhand comments of the applicants, but it also comes in the supporting affidavits, which can be from women as well as men, and women’s requests for extensions of pensions frequently have details about the Revolutionary period. Some county histories and church histories have details about life in western SC in 1780. Now, the plats of land granted to many in western SC before the Revolution and the later transfers of land are extant in sufficient quantity to constitute another source of documentation, especially since the original grants list owners of surrounding properties. What am I not thinking of? Military records? My point here is that rather than naming a conspicuous western South Carolinian or another to represent the whole, we have a pretty significant mass of documentary evidence about western South Carolinians in 1780. I am of course talking about the lives of ordinary people. Among those I have met and gotten to know, none of them strikes me as anything like the grotesques that Woodmason depicted.

  • Wayne, when I mentioned anti-British bias I was not talking about your comment at all. I was referring to nationally known authors like Gordon Wood and the late Page Smith, among many others. In fact, one author claimed in a recently published book that he would be neutral, and then called Lt. Col. Francis Smith a “dolt” and two other British officers “haughty.” I hope that clarifies the matter : )

  • How do we access those pension applications – and the original land grants? Do you have to know the exact county involved, and what were the South Carolina counties in 1780? North Carolina counties in 1780??

    1. Here is the link to searchable database filled with pension applications already transcribed. They are alphabetical. best way to search is by officer names of who the person may have served under.

  • Who was Brig. General James Williams? My old copy of William Sherlock’s “Treatise on Death” from 1778 has the name M.D. Williams written in it.

    1. David, you will find the answer in the biographical note on page 295, vol I, of “The Cornwallis Papers” (Uckfield UK, 2010), which is still in print.

    1. If you enter in Google “brigadier general james williams” or “james williams revolutionary war” you will also find links to information about him.

  • Thanks Ian and Wayne for a lively discussion. I am interested in any differences between life in the southern backcountry from that on the northern frontier. They both are marked by conflicts with Native Americans, violent clashes between rebels and loyalists, some levels of religious intolerance, small investments in education, lawlessness and clannish behaviors. The backcountry was a dangerous place and people fiercely stuck together for safety. The local conditions in New York’s Mohawk Valley or Vermont’s New Hampshire Grants appear to be the same as you both describe in the southern colonies.

    it was a unique culture that those living outside of the region had a hard time understanding. It was neither bad or good, just different given the local conditions.

    Lastly, Ian and Wayne, your willingness to disagree makes for a much better reading and learning experience!

    1. Thank you, Eugene. Glad to hear that the article and Wayne’s and my views have been instructive.

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