“We Have Sacrificed Our All.” Thus, stated eleven loyalist officers from Ninety-Six and Camden Districts of South Carolina in a petition intended for the King of England. What happened to them, and the three hundred more named in the petition, is part of the equation leading to the question of how many families lost husbands and fathers in District Ninety-Six. Should the Loyalist families of these three hundred murdered men – or is it more like nine hundred? – be considered an addition to the fourteen hundred widows and orphans thought to have lived in Ninety-Six District? If not, is it conceivable that an unbearable one in five families came out of this horrific civil war made up only of widows and orphans? In truth, all we will ever know is that a murderous civil war, tightly coiled inside a revolution, sprang forth along the frontier of South Carolina.
In August 1783, Francisco De Miranda, one of several liberators of Venezuela, visited Charleston, South Carolina, as part of his worldwide tour of countries that interested him. Miranda, an aristocrat who disliked anyone who thought noble birth conveyed worthiness, mingled effortlessly with Charleston’s elite. He met and conversed with such notables as generals Nathanael Greene and William Moultrie. In the weeks that followed, Miranda made good his pledge to learn as much as he could about the American Revolution, even if it meant he must speak to every woman in Charleston, a promise Miranda had already made good on when in Russia, chatting with no less than Catherine the Great, and conversing so well he became her lover. Miranda, in his travels, never failed to collect a souvenir “inamorata” as a memento.
In his tour about Charleston, viewing charred buildings, meeting maimed men, inspecting foreboding deserted fortifications, Miranda became impressed by something he heard, perhaps from someone of “good judgment, considerable education and a love of the sciences, society and humanity” (was it David Ramsay, author of The History of the American Revolution?). Miranda was told that in the distant, remote backcountry of South Carolina, in the Ninety-Six District, the Revolutionary War made eighteen hundred widows and orphans.
Two years later, contemporary historian Dr. David Ramsay wrote: “The single district of Ninety-Six, which is only one of six districts into which the state of South Carolina is divided, has been computed, by well-informed persons residing thereon, to contain within its limits fourteen hundred widows and orphans, made so by the war.”  This would have been out of an estimated population of 24,677 women and children. Ramsay’s referring to Ninety-Six district as one of six districts tells us he was writing about the area that became the eight modern counties of Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenville, Laurens, Newberry, Pendleton and Union.
The simple fact is, neither Ramsay nor Miranda told us how they came to know their numbers; yet their estimates were not viewed by the better informed about them as wildly exaggerated. We do know that Ramsay got his number of fourteen hundred from “well informed persons residing” within Ninety-Six District, and that he “had access to a vast number of historical records,” many of which are no longer available.
Years later Patriot Maj. Gen. William Moultrie, who certainly would have, along with Ramsay, talked with Miranda about the war, continued to have on his mind the inhumanity of the backcountry conflict. It is not known if Moultrie used Ramsay as a source or if there is a common source from which both men drew the same conclusion. Moultrie wrote in his memoirs that “It is generally said, and believed, that in the District of Ninety-Six alone, fourteen hundred unhappy widows and orphans were left to bemoan the fate of their unfortunate fathers, husbands and brothers, killed and murdered.” How Moultrie chose to frame this sentence suggests he likely used Ramsay as his source. Regardless, it is clear General Moultrie did not find such numbers extreme.
In January 1776, Col. Richard Richardson, commanding the largest army yet in South Carolina, wrote an exuberant letter to the Council of Safety in Charlestown. Having tramped through snow in Ninety-Six and Orangeburg Districts, rooting out loyalists, a somewhat immodest Richardson made what appeared to be an extraordinary claim. A less humane man, he wrote, could have “on the rivers, had I burnt, plundered, and destroyed, ten thousand women and children must have been left to perish.” Within a few years, a less humane man than Richardson, as will be seen below, paid the widow of Richardson a visit, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “rooting out” an enemy.
Perhaps the number – was it fourteen hundred, eighteen hundred, or something else? —or the reliability – how could anyone really know the true number of widows and orphans, without some type of census?  — is equally important to the fact men such as Miranda, Ramsay and Moultrie continued for years to be impressed, and to single out this one South Carolina district, far distant and removed from Charleston. I contend, regardless of what the real number may be, what took place in the Revolutionary War era in the Ninety-Six District, was a civil war, a social upheaval that obliterated the social and cultural fabric of numerous families to the point that many lived for a time in stone age conditions.
Certainly Nathaniel Greene thought what took place in the South Carolina backcountry, if not stopped, would result in the near annihilation of many families and small settlements: “Nothing but blood and slaughter has prevailed among the Whigs and Tories, and their inveteracy against each other must, if it continues, depopulate this part of the Country.” Greene, writing to his wife, perhaps thinking of his own home, told her, “You have nothing but the mournful widow and the plaints of the fatherless child; and behold nothing but houses desolated and plantations laid waste. Ruin is in every form and misery in every shape.”
What is curious in the numbers given by these men in far-away Charleston is they suggest attention was mainly being given to widows and orphans of rebels; loyalist families without husband or father do not seem to be of much concern, although given the fact so many families switched from one side to the other, it is inconceivable some loyalist families are not included in this fourteen hundred.
It takes a careful reading of Ramsay to support this conclusion. Ramsay often spoke of the widows and orphans resulting from the “careless” concern of the British toward “the civil rights of the inhabitants. They conducted as tho interior order and police were scarcely objects of attention. The will of the strongest was the law.” He then added a clue that his interest was in what happened to rebel families: “Such was the general complexion of those who called themselves royalists, that nothing could be expected from them but outrages against the peace and order of society.”
For this reason — the possibility Ramsay and Moultrie were talking mainly about rebel wives and children – I suggest my imperfect ballpark estimate of one in twenty families left without husband and father may be too low. A better estimate will come when we know to what extent loyalist widows and orphans were included in this fourteen hundred. For the moment, this is the best that can be done, using rough population numbers, along with the “first attempt within the knowledge of the census authorities,” to project populations prior to the first Federal census in 1790.
What would happen, I wonder, if included where the loyalist families who also lost husband and father, forced to leave Ninety-Six District and not known or considered by Ramsay’s source? When I reflect on this possibility, I reach the sad, startling conclusion that in the Ninety-Six District was not only a civil war within a revolution, but an effort to eliminate, by murder, intimidation, starvation and death by exposure, all opposition to either King or a new nation, depending on what side was the strongest at the moment. What took place in Ninety-Six District would get a name nine years later, in another revolution. The French came to see what happened to them as populicide, a “slaughter of the people.”
It was more than just slaughter. What happened to women and children at the slightest sign of opposition often resulted in slow starvation and death by exposure. Hesitation in signing a loyalty oath – either for or against the King – brought about destruction of everything needed for family survival—shelter, clothing, blankets, food, tools and livestock. Sometimes just the absence of a militia-age male about the farm was reason enough to destroy. Sometimes the presence of a male at home, not with the right militia command at that moment, got him murdered. Sometimes wives and children were punished for something done by husbands and fathers. One of the more curious aspects of this backcountry civil war are accounts of men leaving behind their families, fleeing upon sight of an approaching enemy. These husbands and fathers would hide nearby, watching what happened to their families. I have come to realize this was the last, most imperfect strategy of survival left to these men. There was zero chance if a husband or father remained; but some chance his family might make it out alive if he were not there. This kind of desperate thinking is beyond my reckoning.
Even the dead and buried were not immune to savagery. Old Colonel Richardson, the man above who could have made ten thousand widows and orphans if he were less humane, now a general, died in 1780. British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, today undergoing a revision by historians who suggest his reputation for brutality is undeserved because he did not conduct himself outside the norms of these times, allegedly had his men dig up the grave so he might gaze upon the face of a despised enemy. James Piecuch, a very good readable historian, says this never happened: “South Carolina Governor Rutledge wrote that the British claimed to be seeking the recently deceased Richardson, but that if they really wanted to find him all they would have had to do was dig up his grave near the front door.” The fact that Tarleton had an interest in the grave of a dead rebel general has, to me, a ghoulish intrigue about it, even if the grave was not opened. Tarleton, an example to his men, was not above thinking about plundering the dead. After gazing, or not, on the face of the dead general, Tarleton had every animal on the plantation, even the chickens, rounded up and put in a barn which was burned. Another widow was made even more destitute.
The methods of killing in the Revolutionary War were medieval, but the kinds of atrocities committed on those who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and for the most innocuous of reasons, such as carrying or reading a Presbyterian Psalm book, suggest a determined effort was being made by both Whigs and Loyalist to exterminate all signs of opposition.
Certainly many of the old men who survived the war thought so. They used words such as “butchery,” “massacre,” “inhuman,” “cruel,” and a term particular to the times, “breaking up” to describe what happened to families. In discussions of the revolutionary war in the backcountry, historians such as Lambert repeatedly used the word “savage.” To the Journal of the American Revolution list of favorite quotes I offer another famous one by Nathaniel Greene: “The Whigs and Tories pursue one another with the most relentless fury, killing and destroying each other whenever they met … The great bodies of militia … employed against the enemy and in quelling the Tories have almost laid waste the country.” What Greene was telling us was the war in the South was not like the one he experienced in the North. “The war here,” he wrote, “is upon a different scale to what it is to the northward. It is a plain business here.” My sense is that Greene meant “plain business” as in brutal, relentless, and savage.
Neither Patriot Greene nor British Southern Commander Cornwallis ever came to grips with what took place in and around Ninety-Six District. Almost every major figure who went there, British or rebel, remarked upon this “breaking up” of families. Lord Rawdon, a man who encouraged inhabitants of the backcountry to commit atrocities by offering “ten guineas for the head of any deserted … and five guineas’ only if they bring him in alive,” wrote to Lord Cornwallis that, in the dead of winter, one of his patrols came upon a dazed woman “left standing in her shift,” beside her “four children stripped stark naked.” Her home had been “stripped of everything that could be carried off.” Unfortunately, Rawdon failed to tell us which side committed this atrocity, or what became of a mother and her four naked children in the dead of winter.
Reading the pension applications of these old veterans is often a melancholy journey to the past. Thomas Witten states he took part “in several little skirmishes, and was an eye witness to some of the many instances of inhuman butchery and massacre committed upon the frontier families within the range of his marches.” Ezekiel Croft told of how the “numbers & butcheries had multiplied” among the settlers, following the defeat of Gates at Camden in August 1780, an event considered the start to British control of the Backcountry.
Historian Lambert concluded “… the British reputation for pillaging, giving no quarter in battle, and for mistreating prisoners was well established by the end of the summer of 1780.” But then came Autumn, and Kings Mountain. The pendulum swung, and the rebel reputation for pillaging, giving no quarter and mistreatment of prisoners became equally earned but often glossed over by those of us on the western side of the Atlantic who now look at these things.
Following years of relative calm in the Ninety-Six District, after the British took Charleston, there was a brief ascendency of about two or three months in the summer of 1780, and more hopeful than reality, where the British attempted half-heartedly to restore civil government. They failed to do so miserably, in part because no one appeared to accept civilized “standards of behavior.” Lord Cornwallis assumed too quickly, “from every information I receive, and numbers of the most violent rebels hourly coming in to offer their services, I have the strongest reason to believe the general disposition of the people to be not only friendly to Government but forward to take up arms in its support.” This optimism of Cornwallis was part of the failure of the British strategies—there was more than one – in the South, and a contributing reason to why things quickly got out of control. The British were interested in restoring government – justices, courts, rule of law – only to the extent their eastern flank was secured. The Carolinas were little more than a march route to be used to close the gap between Charleston and New York.
I have come to regard this as one of Cornwallis’s greatest strategic mistakes: failing to recognize the extent to which a potential slaughter smoldered in the Backcountry, waiting for the smallest breeze to burst into flame. Rather than walking around a hornet’s nest, Lord Cornwallis bumped his head against it.
The inability of the British to control “men cloathed in green” and newly formed, barely disciplined provincial loyalist companies – all plundering opportunists – were circumstances leading to the only type of justice found in this backcountry anarchy: revenge, retribution, hatred, plundering and the rule of the momentary mighty. Time and again, Cornwallis and his officers wrote about the vulnerably of loyalists who sought British protection, and what would happen if regular British troops moved too quickly from one area to another in their haste to move north. The British never created the structures permitting vulnerable groups to have genuine access to the King’s protection. I find it remarkable that British Lt. Col. Nisbet Balfour, even before he arrived at Ninety-Six, made an observation similar to that of Greene. Balfour, within a month of the fall of Charleston, wrote to Cornwallis, “Allowing rebels on parole to return to their homes is something I confess I think ought immediately to be stopped, for this will be otherwise a constant dissatisfaction and these gentry will throw every impediment in the way of settling the country.” Then, completing his frustration, he added this postscript: “Some stop ought to be put, if possible, to the depredations of the cavalry, who in small partys and as expresses commit every enormity.” Balfour placed the emphasis on if possible. (Poor Col. Balfour soon got out of this hornet’s nest and back to the civilized war of Charleston, only to hit his own head against another hornet’s nest, embroiled in what was considered one of the greatest British war crimes of the revolution, the execution of Isaac Hayne.)
On the other side of the coin was that most peculiar sense of backcountry honor, never understood by the British, that allowed “violent, persecuting men” to find cracks in their paroles. I, for one, consider as a factor in the subsequent violence the understanding that men like Andrew Pickens had of their promise to remain out of the war. “My honor is pledged,” he stated, “I am bound by the solemnity of an oath not to take up arms, unless …” This “unless,” emphasis added by me, was either an invitation or awareness that no one could avoid this savagery. It would only be a matter of time for Andrew Pickens. Cornwallis understood how men like Pickens viewed honor, but failed to do much with this understanding other than refuse to be “godfather to any man’s honesty in this province.” Failure to remove “violent, persecuting men” and thereby reduce the capacity of influential men to control others by violence and brutal intimidation was a most serious omission in the British strategy to restore the King’s rule. All of Lord Cornwallis’s work to persuade leading men like Pickens to help restore control in the backcountry was undone ever so conveniently by the British themselves. Yet, in kindness to Cornwallis’s understanding of the situation, I note that whatever the British policy toward leading men in the backcountry might have been, other men, equally violent and persecuting, if not more so, would have taken their place, acting as government officials dispensing frontier justice. There was just too much “existing and past conflicts over land, power … language, religion and culture” in the different settlements to not have targeted groups and families, with no real protection or system of justice except what the powerful, at that moment, thought right.
In considering when a revolution becomes a civil war, I have had to rely upon soft, squishy sources, prejudiced toward the American side. There is, however, a most remarkable document sent to Lord George Germain in April of 1782. It was a petition signed by eleven well-known loyalists, living as refugees in Charleston, who were greatly offended by the reaction in Britain to the execution of Isaac Hayne. The list contains the names of more than three hundred loyalists killed in the Ninety-Six and Camden Districts. Although the list was not exclusive to the Ninety-Six District, most of the focus was on this area.
The petitioners made a rather amazing claim: a more complete list would contain “thrice that number” of “butchered and hanged.” Should these men and their families, I wonder, be added to the fourteen hundred widows and orphans claimed by Ramsey and Moultrie, or should they be considered already included? If added, the number of widows and orphans would push the ratio of families without a head of household to one in ten families. If “thrice that number” murdered is a reliable claim, this ratio would become an unbearable one in five, making the Revolution in the South Carolina backcountry comparable to what happened in the next civil war, eighty years later.
If most of the murdered Loyalists in the Germain petition were already in Ramsay’s and Moultrie’s estimate, much support is given to my claim that, at a minimum, one in twenty families in the South Carolina Backcountry lost their head of household. My suspicion is that many of these loyalist families were not being thought of by Ramsay and Moultrie; the real ratio is probably at least twice what I am unwilling to claim at this point.
On the Germain petition is the name of Col. Ambrose Mills. Mills was at the skirmish of Earle’s Ford and commanded the loyalist militia who brutally murdered two defenseless teenage boys, awakened and still in their tent. A few months later, he was the first of nine loyalists hung at Biggerstaff Farm, following Kings Mountain, and after a convoluted mock trial. Four months later, the man who hung Mills, Patriot William Merrill, was dragged from his home and taken back to Biggerstaff Farm. There he was hung from the same tree limb as had been Ambrose Mills. William, the son of Ambrose, just recovered from wounds so severe he had been left for dead at Kings Mountain, hung Merrill. Thus, one name on this petition, Ambrose Mills, selected by me from three hundred murdered men, not quite at random but simply by catching my eye because I am familiar with him, lead to twelve atrocities. Probably each of these men had a wife and at least one child, struggling to survive at barely subsistent levels.
Also on the list is “________ Dunlap, Major of Dragoons.” James Dunlap shared the command with Mills at the Skirmish of Earle’s Ford, where the two sleeping boys were murdered. Dunlap, not from the area and somewhat vaguely remembered by those who wrote this petition, did not leave behind his own widow and children in Ninety-Six District, but he left several dozen local families without husband and father. He also left one man without hope of a new wife. Mary McRea, a young woman who was kidnapped by Dunlap, died still his prisoner, and euphemistically was the object of his “amorous advances,”  needs to be added to this seemingly endless list of settlers who sacrificed all.
Lord Cornwallis was himself not above adding fuel to the raging backcountry fire. In a blundering, ill-conceived order, he commanded Dunlap to destroy Pickens’ home and, upon finding Pickens, to hang him “instantly.” Pickens’ “unless” came full circle.
When the pendulum swung back, Pickens ordered that, should any of Dunlap’s men be captured, to “not spare” any “that needed killings.” Those needing killing was left to the discretion of the captors.
The Germain Petition needs more study. On the list of murdered loyalists are the names of several suggesting that we do not have a full understanding of what happened to women and children along the frontier: “John Atkinson (aged 65),” “Arthur Carradyne (aged 76),” “James Clark, and a youth, his son,” “John Donahoe, aged 78,” “Thomas Keating, Major, aged 80,” “James Kane, and his son,” “Richard Love (killed while asleep and another man),” “Emanuel Miller – aged 70.” Where these men, many with elderly wives now elderly widows, along with hundreds more, known to Ramsay and Moultrie?
In 1782, as the British army prepared to leave America, Gen. William Moultrie traveled from Philadelphia back to South Carolina. His journey took him through shattered country. “It was the most dull, melancholy, dreary ride … not the vestiges of horses, cattle, hogs, or deer, &c. was to be found. The squirrels and birds of every kind were totally destroyed … no living creature was to be seen, except now and then a few camp scavengers [turkey buzzards], picking the bones of some unfortunate fellows …”
How many widows and orphans came from this backcountry Ninety-Six District, in their civil war we know as the American Revolution? Each time I looked at an individual who crossed my path in the investigation of this question, I discovered in their life multiple occurrences of murder, brutality and savagery.
 Karen Racine, Francisco de Miranda, Transatlantic Life in the Age of Revolution (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, Inc, 2003), 36.
 Robert D. Bass, Ninety Six: The Struggle for the South Carolina Back County (Lexington, SC: The Sandlapper Store, 1978), 9; Racine, Miranda, 34-36.
 David Ramsay, The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina, From a British Province to an Independent State, Volume II (Trento: Isaac Collins Publisher, 1785), 275.
 United States Bureau of the Census, “Population in the Colonial and Continental Period,” www2.census.gov/prod2/deconnial/documents/00165897chol.pdf., 7.
 David Ramsay, Ramsay’s History of South Carolina, from its first settlement in 1670 to the year 1808 (Charleston, SC: Walker, Evans & Co., 1858), 258.
 Robert H. Brunhouse, ed. David Ramsay, 1749-1815: Selected from his Writings, American Philosophical Society, Transactions, New Series, 55 (1965), Part IV, 139-140. Ramsay makes this observation in a letter: Ramsay to Belknap, March 11, 1795.
 William Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution, Volume II (New York, NY: David Longworth, Printer, 1802), 242.
 Bass, Ninety Six, 122.
 Paul R Sarrett, Jr, America online, Files.usgwararchives.net/sc/Spartanburg/census/1790/1790spar.txt; Daniel Wright, Assistant U.S. Federal Marshall, 1790 Federal Census of the United States, returned April 15, 1791.
 George Washington Greene, The Life of Nathanael Greene, Volume II (Bedford, MA: Applewood reprint, 2009), 208.
 Ibid, 351.
 Ramsay, The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina, 259.
 George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, From the Discovery of the American Continent, Vol IV (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1856), 128.
 S.N.D. North, Director Bureau of the Census, A Century of Population Growth: From the First Census of the United States to the Twelfth, 1790-1900 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1909), 9.
 Jim Piecuch, https://bantarleton.tumblr.com/post/118130184025/i-like-the-tale-of-how-banastre-tarleton-allegedly
 Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing but Blood and Slaughter Volume Two (United States: Blue House Tavern Press, 2004), 354.
 Ian Saberton, ed., The Cornwallis Papers (Uckfield, East Sussex: The Naval & Military Press, 2010), 1:151.
 Robert Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution, (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), 142.
 Editors, Journal of the American Revolution, ”Favorite Quotes”, March 25, 2014. https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/03/fav
 Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists, 141.
 Scott Aken, The Swamp Fox: Lessons in Leadership from the Partisan Campaigns of Francis Marion (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2012), 277n67.
 Michael J. O’Brien, A Hidden Phase of American History (New York, NY: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1919), 193.
 Rawdon to Cornwallis, December 5, 1780, Papers of Charles, First Marquis Cornwallis, PRO 30/11/14, 140, British National Archives.
 Leon C. Harris, transcriber. Thomas Witten Pension Application S6407, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters, revwarapps.org, as of 2016.
 Graves, Ezekiel Croft S16739.
 Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists, 142.
 Saberton, Cornwallis Papers, 1:33.
 Ibid., 1:54.
 Ibid., 1:40.
 Ibid., 1:80.
 Office of the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, 2.
 William R. Reynolds, Jr, “The Parole of Andrew Pickens,” Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Vol. 10, No. 1.0 Spring 2014, 13.
 Saberton, Cornwallis Papers, 1:33.
 “Petition to Lord Germain Dated 19 April 1782”, http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~eazier1/Young/Loya
 Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists, 211.
 Wayne Lynch, “Major James Dunlap: Was He Murdered Twice?” Journal of the American Revolution, January 14, 2016, https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/01/major-james-dunlap-murdered-twice/.
 Petition to Lord Germain, 2-3.
 William Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution, so far as it relates to the states of North and South Carolina, and Georgia, Volume I (New York, NY: David Longworth, 1802), 354-55.