Little is known about the colonial-era history of Hammond’s Store, though the site appears to have been a local meeting place prior to the American Revolution. A 1775 proclamation of South Carolina’s Second Provincial Congress listed “Hammond’s old store” as the election polling place for the newly established “Little River” electoral district. A letter from an anonymous source to the Patriot Henry Drayton dated September 12, 1775, may make reference to this election: “There was but a small gathering—the chief of the whole were liberty boys. They put fourteen members up, but did not close the poll, while the 26th of the month which is appointed, will be at Hammond’s Old Store on Bush river.”
The will of Little River District Patriot militia leader James Williams describes an old store located on a 150-acre tract Williams purchased from Col. Leroy Hammond. “Is it possible Williams’s heirs owned the land on which this skirmish [Hammond’s Store] was fought?” ponders Williams’ biographer, William T. Graves.
When Continental Gen. Daniel Morgan and his flying army arrived at Grindal Shoals on the Pacolet River on December 25, 1780, his orders from Nathanael Greene were, in part, “to give protection . . . and spirit up the people” west of the Catawba River. However, neither the Patriots nor Loyalists of western South Carolina needed assistance eliciting the spirit of vengeance. Following the American surrender of Charleston to the British in May 1780, the political tensions that had mostly been contained by five years of Patriot administration in South Carolina erupted into vigilante violence throughout the colony, with atrocities on both sides. Though Greene had been in command of the Southern Army for less than a month as December 1780 drew to a close, he was growing increasingly concerned about the state of civil war ravaging the South Carolina countryside. “The Whigs and Tories pursue one another with the most relent[less] Fury killing and destroying each other wherever they meet,” he lamented.
British Col. Banastre Tarleton played no small role in setting the brutal tone for the Carolinas’ dirty war. Most infamously, Tarleton oversaw the murder and maiming of scores of Continental troops and Patriot militia at the Waxhaws on May 29, 1780. As the mixed force under the command of Continental Col. Abraham Buford attempted to flee that day, Tarleton’s hard-charging dragoons cut them down, even after many attempted to surrender. For his administration of the day’s butchery, Tarleton earned the nickname “Bloody Ban,” while the term “Tarleton’s Quarter” became local slang for British brutality.
But Patriots were no innocents when it came to partisan atrocities. Dozens, perhaps scores, of Loyalist militia were similarly murdered after they attempted to surrender at King’s Mountain on October 7, 1780. And such brutalities were not limited to the battlefield. In one noteworthy incident from before the British occupation, the crippled, epileptic brother of Loyalist William Cunningham was murdered by a Patriot marauder named Ritchie, and Cunningham’s father was abused while Cunningham was in exile in Savannah. Cunningham eventually returned to the backcountry and killed Ritchie in revenge.
By the time of Morgan’s arrival, such brutalities had become commonplace in the Ninety Six District—the western region of colonial South Carolina, administered from Ninety Six, now in Greenwood County. A prominent Cherokee trading post during the colonial era, the British had established a military outpost at Ninety Six in summer 1780. One Patriot wrote that the Whig residents of Ninety Six District were “like sheep among wolves,” their Tory neighbors “set to Rob us taking all our living, horses, Cows, Sheep, Clothing . . . in fine Everything that sooted them. Until we were Stript Naked.” But according to Loyalist accounts, the Patriots were wolf-like themselves: following the war, in April 1782, Loyalists of the Ninety Six and Camden districts filed a petition with the British House of Lords listing the names of three hundred men “massacred in this province” by Patriot marauders. And the actual number of murdered was fully “thrice that number,” the petition claimed.
The loyalties of individual back country settlements often depended on the political leanings of its leaders. During the American Revolution, many of the Little River District’s Loyalists were led by Robert Cunningham, who may have been a cousin of William Cunningham. Jailed by the provincial government for his Loyalist sentiments early in the war, Robert Cunningham returned to Little River District following his release, his local prominence so great he was elected to South Carolina’s pro-Patriot Provincial senate in 1778, defeating his Patriot rival James Williams. During the election, tensions ran high. At a campaign appearance, Williams attacked Cunningham, with Williams’ wife participating in the fisticuffs.
As the war progressed, James Williams became commander of the Little River District’s Patriot militia regiment.Just a few weeks after the fall of Charleston, Williams’s property was seized by Tory militia. In his memoir, Loyalist David Fanning claimed to have taken part in this capture with William Cunningham.
A stockade on Williams’s property established by British Maj. Patrick Ferguson a few weeks later would remain a prominent Loyalist outpost until the British evacuated Ninety Six in the summer of 1781. “Williams Fort,” as this outpost was known, was located on the Little River, “in what is now Laurens County, near the Newberry Line” not far from Hammond’s Store.
Grindal Shoals was a popular crossing on the Pacolet River in what is now Union and Cherokee counties. Arriving there with Morgan that Christmas Day in 1780 was his “Flying Army” of 320 Maryland and Delaware Continentals, along with two hundred Virginia Rifleman. They camped on land belonging to the prominent local Tory Alexander Chesney, which had been secured the day before by the Little River militia, now under the command of Joseph Hayes, who assumed command of the Little River Regiment after James Williams was killed in the fighting at King’s Mountain in October 1780.
At Grindal Shoals, Morgan plundered Chesney’s property of grain and supplies. Though such plunder may have been necessary to feed his hungry troops, it also served to intimidate the local Tory populace, the practice of terror and intimidation not limited to militia regiments.
Also detached to Morgan’s “Flying Army” but traveling separately on a more southerly route was Lt. Col. William Washington’s regiment of approximately eighty Continental light dragoons. Almost immediately upon arriving in the Ninety Six District, Washington found himself embroiled in the region’s civil war. Reporting to Greene on Sunday, December 24, from the property of Robert McClary, probably just south of the Enoree River on the main road from Grindal Shoals to Hammond’s Store, which continued on to Ninety Six, Washington described Tory marauding in the region: “The Distress of the Women and Children stripp’d of every thing by plundering Villains cries aloud for redress.”
Morgan undoubtedly received several such pleas for “redress” as Patriot militia units streamed into his camp during the last days of 1780; perhaps Greene’s instructions to “spirit up the people” were much on his mind when he received word of a Tory raiding party operating about twenty miles from his Grindal Shoals camp. The news may have come from William Washington himself. “On the 27th [of December] I received Intelligence that a Body of Georgian Tories About 250 in Number had advanced as far as the Fair Forest and were insulting and Plundering The good people in that Neighbourhood,” Morgan later recounted to Greene. Morgan “dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Washington with his own Regiment and two hundred Militia Horse, who had joined me, to Attack them” on December 29.
William Washington was a native Virginian and distant cousin of George Washington. A seminary student prior to the war, Washington was commissioned captain in the 3rd Virginia Continentals in February 1776, and was wounded twice during the New York and New Jersey campaigns. In 1777 he was commissioned major in a new regiment of dragoons, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Washington had been operating in the southern theater since late 1779 or early 1780 in support of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s garrison at Charleston, South Carolina. “He possessed a stout frame, being six feet in height, broad strong, and corpulent,” recounted William Henry Lee, who knew him well. “His occupations and his amusements applied to the body, rather than the mind . . . Bold, collected, and persevering, he preferred the heat of action to the collection and sifting of intelligence . . . and was better fitted for the field of battle than for the drudgery of camp and the watchfulness of preparation.”
After escaping to eastern North Carolina during the final days of Charletson’s siege, Washington restored his regiment with new recruits and eventually rejoined the Continental Army, where he was assigned to the light corps commanded by Morgan.
Several secondary accounts report that the militia troops accompanying Washington were commanded by Maj. James McCall of the nearby Long Canes settlement in the Savannah River region bordering South Carolina and Georgia. Gen. William Moultrie’s memoir, published in 1802, appears to be the first source to list McCall, followed by an 1805 account in the book History of Georgia, written by James McCall’s son, Hugh McCall. However, no primary sources list McCall as the expedition’s militia commander. According to the pension application of militia soldier Robert Long, Joseph Hayes was the militia commander at Hammond’s Store. Morgan reported only that Hayes and Thomas Brandon of the Fair Forest Regiment were with the party when they returned from the action, never mentioning McCall in this capacity.
Learning of Washington’s pursuit on December 29, the Tories retreated “upwards of Twenty miles.” About noon the next day, December 30, Washington and his detachment finally came upon them at Hammond’s Store, about forty miles from Grindal Shoals.
Primary accounts suggest what followed was a slaughter on a scale with both the Waxhaws and King’s Mountain. “When we came in sight, we perceived that the tories had formed in line on the brow of the hill opposite us,” recalled Thomas Young, a young militia soldier in Thomas Brandon’s Fairforest Regiment. Washington placed the militia on his wings, where they lagged behind the Continental dragoons. “We had a long hill to descend and another to rise. Col. Washington and his dragoons gave a shout, drew swords, and charged down a hill like madmen.”
Writing a day after the event, Morgan reported: “150 were killed and wounded & About 40 Taken Prisoners. What makes this success more Valuable it was Attained without the Loss of a man.” For perspective, 113 Continentals and Patriots were killed at the Waxhaws, compared to five British deaths; at King’s Mountain, approximately 160 Loyalist militia were killed, with twenty-eight Americans killed.
Writing decades later, Young’s account indicates many of the Tories were cut down as they attempted to flee Washington’s charging dragoons: “The tories fled in every direction without firing a gun. We took a great many prisoners and killed a few.”
Young remembered one incident that characterizes the cruelty: “In Washington’s corps there was a boy of fourteen or fifteen, a mere lad, who in crossing Tiger River was ducked by a blunder of his horse. The men laughed and jeered at him very much, at which he got very mad, and swore that boy or no boy, he would kill a man that day or die. He accomplished the former. I remember very well being highly amused at the little fellow charging round a crib after a tory, cutting and slashing away with his puny arm, til he brought him down.”
Little is known about the Loyalist regiment decimated at Hammond’s Store. Their flight in the face of Washington’s charging dragoons suggest they were inexperienced in battle. In his report to Greene, Morgan reported the Tories were led by “Waters,” probably a reference to prominent Georgia Loyalist Thomas Waters of Wilkes County. However, no direct evidence places Thomas Waters at Hammond’s Store. Robert Long’s pension application claimed the Tories were led by an officer named “Moore,” whom the historian Lyman Draper suggests was Loyalist Col. John Moore of Tryon County, North Carolina, the Tory commander at the skirmish at Ramsour’s Mill in North Carolina on June 20, 1780. Patriot militia soldier Joseph McJunkin recounted the Tories were led by a “Col. Pearson and Major Ben Wofford.” Aside from these recollections, the composition and leadership of the Tory force remains a mystery. No Loyalist account of the fight has emerged.
Following the attack at Hammond’s Store, the retreating Tories fled toward Williams Fort, the Loyalist stockade located on the confiscated property of James Williams, approximately seven miles south. Washington ordered Joseph Hayes’s militia along with a small detachment of approximately ten dragoons under Cornet James Simon to pursue them.
Now in command at Williams Fort was Robert Cunningham, whom Cornwallis had appointed brigadier general of the Loyalist militia in the Ninety Six District on November 22, 1780. With Cunningham at this time were approximately two hundred men of the Loyalist Little River Militia commanded by Patrick Cunningham, Robert’s brother, and probably including William Cunningham, who is listed in the roles of Patrick Cunningham’s militia regiment during this period. According to one account, upon arriving at Williams Fort, Simon granted Robert Cunningham and his men thirty minutes to consider terms of surrender. While Simon waited, Cunningham and most of the men deserted the fort. However, British accounts submitted to Cornwallis reported that Cunningham and the majority of his militia abandoned the fort for Ninety Six on the night of December 30, leaving it for Hayes and Simon to capture the following morning; five Loyalists were killed and between twenty and thirty were captured in the ensuing action.
Hayes and Simon burned or demolished Williams Fort, then rejoined Washington. Growing worried about the advanced position of Washington’s detachment, Morgan ordered them returned to camp at Grindal Shoals, then dispatched two hundred of his men to secure Washington’s retreat.
Greene apparently found nothing unusual about the casualty reports from Hammond’s Store, expressing only satisfaction in his correspondence with Morgan: “Nothing could have afforded more pleasure than the successful attack of Lt. Col. Washington, upon the Tories. I hope it will be attended with a happy influence upon both Whig & tory, to the reclaiming of one, and encouragement of the other.” As the southern campaign progressed, Greene would become despondent, at times morose, about the carnage plaguing both sides of the Revolutionary cause; after Hammond’s, he suggested naively it might sway opinion to the Patriot cause.
And if the casualty figures from Hammond’s Store hint at war crimes, William Washington’s historic legacy remains untarnished by it, largely due to his heroics at Cowpens just nineteen days later. Washington’s letter to Greene from December 24 yearning for “redress” indicates his state of mind, yet historian Lee. F. McGee notes many of Washington’s Continental dragoons were relatively raw recruits, serving with him less than a year, the Patriot militia fighting alongside them notoriously undisciplined. Given the partisan tensions and bloodshed enflaming the region, any officer may have struggled to restrain his troops under similar circumstance, such arguments suggest. Yet the Waxhaws was a similar melee, and Banastre Tarleton’s historic legacy is undeniably tarnished by it. Such are the spoils of war.
Though today we are perhaps more sensitive to such equivocations, nineteenth-century historians found little in the massacre to suggest moral ambiguity, instead preferring to cast the action at Hammond’s Store as just desserts for Tory depredations. “It was a flight and not a conflict that ensued,” admits William Johnson, writing in the 1820s. “Such were the bloody sacrifices at that time offered up at the shrine of civil discord! Posterity will ever conceive an adequate idea of the dreadful state of society then prevailing in that unhappy country. Yet let not unmerited censure fall on the officers who commanded. Men who had been in the habit of giving no quarters naturally expected none, and in their flight the unerring rifle brought many of them to the ground.”
Writing six decades later, historian David Shenck adds: “It was a bloody retribution that so early overtook these marauders. These men, cowardly and vindictive, had come to plunder and oppress their neighbors, supposing that there was no resistance to encounter, and they fell victims of justice before an outraged foe . . . Such fiends deserved every vengeance that justice could inflict.”
One person who was disturbed by the reports from Hammond’s Store and Williams Fort was Cornwallis, who had initially been nonplussed by news of Morgan’s westward expedition, finding in it the opportunity to mount his long-planned invasion into North Carolina without significant Continental opposition. However, Cornwallis’s North Carolina invasion still awaited the arrival of 1,500 reinforcements from Gen. Alexander Leslie, mired in the South Carolina mud as they marched toward Cornwallis’s camp in Winnsboro. Upon receiving intelligence that the action at Hammond’s was precursor to an assault on British outposts at Ninety Six and Augusta, Cornwallis decided he could no longer ignore Morgan’s presence on his western flank.
At this time, Tarleton was camped at Brierly’s Ferry on the Broad River, roughly halfway between Winnsboro and Ninety-Six, about forty miles south of Morgan’s position on the Pacolet. With him were the 550 cavalry and light infantry of his own British Legion, along with two hundred from the British 71st Regiment and two three-pounder cannons. On January 1, an aide-de-camp from Cornwallis arrived there with orders for Tarleton to cross the Broad River and move toward Ninety Six to defend against a possible attack from Morgan. The next day, Cornwallis wrote to Tarleton: “If Morgan . . . is anywhere within your reach, I should wish you to push him to the utmost . . . Ninety-Six is of so much consequence that no time is to be lost.”
Learning that Washington had returned to the Pacolet after Hammond’s Store, and Ninety Six was not in danger, Tarleton halted at Brooke’s River Plantation, just twenty miles north of Brierly’s, to provision his men and forage his horses. Here he proposed a scheme to Cornwallis: “When I advance, I must either destroy Morgan’s corps, or push it before me over Broad River, toward King’s Mountain.” Meanwhile, Tarleton suggested, Cornwallis could move north with the main army, putting Morgan in a trap between the two British divisions. “The advance of the army should commence (when his lordship orders his corps to move) onward’s for King’s Mountain,” Tarleton wrote. Cornwallis replied the next day, January 5. “You have done exactly what I wished you to do and understand my intentions perfectly.”
Though weather, logistics, and strategy delayed Tarleton’s full-scale pursuit of Morgan until January 15, the action at Hammond’s Store initiated the circumstances that led to the battle of Cowpens on January 17, approximately twenty miles from Grindal Shoals. “This affair, the burning of Williams’s stockaded house, and the threat in general posed by Morgan set in motion the train of events that culminated in the disaster at Cowpens,” writes Ian Saberton, the editor of Cornwallis’s papers, in a sentiment echoed by other historians of the Southern campaign.
Today, Hammond’s Store is perhaps best remembered as the instigation of Tarleton’s pursuit of Morgan, leading to Morgan’s decisive victory at Camden. Yet the action’s role as an escalation in South Carolina’s partisan civil war receives less attention. This perspective extends dramatically just one year later to November 1781, when William Cunningham returned to the Ninety Six District from exile in Charleston commanding a force of three hundred Loyalists to extract revenge against Col. Joseph Hayes and other Patriots he deemed worthy of his vengeance. Sometime around November 17, 1781, Cunningham found Hayes at Hayes Station, Hayes’s fortified house, where he and a small band of Patriot militia were stockaded. With Hayes were Daniel and Joseph Williams, the teenaged sons of James Williams.
After a firefight, Cunningham set fire to the house, forcing Hayes and his men to surrender. Offering no quarter, Cunningham ordered Hayes and Daniel Williams hung from the pole of a fodder stack. When the pole broke, Cunningham “cut them into pieces with his own sword, when, turning upon the others, he continued on them the operations of his savage barbarity, till the powers of nature being exhausted . . . he called upon his comrades to complete the dreadful work by killing whichsoever of the prisoners they pleased.” Fourteen of Hayes’s command were thus murdered, including both young sons of James Williams. Before he returned to Charleston, Cunningham and his men are believed to have murdered approximately one hundred in revenge for Patriot atrocities. Today we can only speculate that the slaughter at Hammond’s Store served as some motivation for Cunningham’s vengeful “Bloody Scout.” Yet of its role in a brutal cycle of civil war and revenge in western South Carolina, a “Dirty War” that too often escapes the pages of conventional history, we can be certain.
J.B.O. Landrum, Colonial and Revolutionary History of Upper South Carolina (Greenville, SC: Shannon & Co., Printers & Binders, 1897), 41-42. This proclamation divided the region “between the Broad and Saluda rivers” into three congressional districts: the Upperor Spartan District; the Lower District, “commonly called Dutch Fork;” and the Little River District, “bounded as follows: By Saluda River to Saluda Old Town to where the said river crosses the Indian boundary line; by the said Indian line to where it crosses the Enoree River, thence down the Enoree to road above described, which bounds the lower district.”
William T. Graves, Backcountry Revolutionary: James Williams (1740-1780) with source documents (Lugoff, SC: Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution Press, 2010), 275. This information appears in a footnote to Appendix 17, “The Memoir of Joseph McJunkin.”
Nathanael Greene to Daniel Morgan, December 16, 1780, in The Papers of Nathanael Greene, 13 vols., eds: Richard K. Showman and Dennis Conrad (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1976-2006), 6: 589-590. Hereafter cited as NG with appropriate volume and page numbers, e.g. 6: 589-590. Spelling grammar, punctuation, and capitalization are presented as in the original.
Walter Edgar, Partisans & Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution(New York: William Morrow, 2001), 71. For this account Edgar references Rachel N. Klein, Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 100.
Joseph Johnson, Traditions and Reminiscences Chiefly of the American Revolution in the South: Including Biographical Sketches, Incidents and Anecdotes (Charleston, SC: Walker & James, 1851), 484. Background on Robert Cunningham also taken from William T. Graves, Backcountry Revolutionary: James Williams (1740-1780) with source documents, 24; and Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution: 1780-1783(New York: McMillan & Co., 1902), 24-25.
Lee F. McGee, “The Better Order of Men,” SCAR, 2: 12. McGee admits there is no direct evidence linking this intelligence to Washington, though Washington was campaigning in this vicinity based on his to Greene dated December 24.
Pension Application of Robert Long (S7157), transcribed by Will Graves, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements and Rosters, www.revwarapps.org/s7157.pdf, accessed on October 23, 2018.
Thomas Young, “Memoir of Major Thomas Young,” Orion Magazine, November, 1843, www.carolinamilitia.com/memoir-of-major-thomas-young/, accessed October 6, 2018.
“Memoirs of Major Joseph McJunkin, prepared by Reverend James Hodge Saye,” South Carolina Loyalists and Rebels, sc_tories.tripod.com/memoirs_of_major_joseph_mcjunkin.htm, accessed October 23, 2018.
Isaac Allen to Charles Cornwallis, December 31, 1780, in Cornwallis Papers, edited by Ian Saberton (East Sussex, England: The Naval & Military Press, 2010), 3:290. (Hereafter CP, with volume and page number.)
David Schenck, North Carolina, 1780-’81: Being a History of the Invasion of the Carolinas by the British Army Under Lord Cornwalls in 1780-’81 (Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton, Publishers, 1889), 202-203.
Cornwallis to Rawdon, December 30, 1780, CP, 3: 232-233. Cornwallis wrote, “From every thing I hear of his [Greene’s] force I do not think it possible for him to strike any blow that would materially affect my movements, and by advancing on the west of the Catawba I should, I think, oblige Morgan and Washington absolutely to quit the country before me.”
Cornwallis to Rawdon, January 3, 1781, CP, 3: 239. Cornwallis wrote: “On the evening of the 1st I received accounts that Washington had surprised and routed a party of militia near Williams’s stockaded house on the 30th . . . It was reported that Morgan was marching with two pieces of cannon to Ninety Six. I immediately ordered Tarleton to cross Broad River with the Legion and 1st Battalion of the 71st and to proceed with utmost dispatch to the relief of Ninety Six or pursuit of Morgan.”