Lost Patriots in the Grimké Files

A Revolutionary War era powder horn carving accurately depicting artillerymen with a field piece, limber, and team of horses. (Harold J. Peterson Collection)

Buried within the papers of Lt. Col. John F. Grimké are names of hundreds of artillerymen who fought in the 4th South Carolina Regiment of Artillery during the American Revolution. Most of the men can be found in well-known military records or other revolutionary sources and are hailed as Patriots. For fifty-four, however, the Grimké files may be the only evidence of their service.

John Faucheraud Grimké (1752-1819), barrister turned artillery officer, was a privileged son of Charleston colonial society. He did undergraduate work at Princeton and studied law at Oxford in England. When hostilities broke out in 1775, the twenty-four-year-old departed his London practice and returned to South Carolina.

He had a reputation for not only being intellectually brilliant, but also impetuous and prickly. Shortly after returning home, he became involved in a controversy with South Carolina powerhouse Henry Laurens. Grimké took exception to Laurens’ handling of confidential papers in the Council of Safety and demanded satisfaction. The result was a duel of misfires. At the time, Laurens described Grimké as “my Young Mad, inveterate antagonist.”[1] Whatever may be said of Grimké’s temperament, he was a stickler for details—to the gratitude of historians.

Grimké joined the South Carolina Regiment of Artillery, a provincial regiment drawing from Charleston companies which had honed skills during colonial conflicts including the French and Indian War and the Cherokee War, and led by prominent Charlestonians.[2]

The 4th South Carolina Regiment (Artillery) was attached to the Continental Army in 1776 and Grimké rose in rank from captain to lieutenant colonel. He was also appointed deputy adjutant general for the Continental Army in the Southern Department. Grimké saw action at Savannah, Georgia, in 1778 and was at Brier Creek, Stono Ferry and the siege of Savannah in 1779.[3] When Charleston surrendered on May 12, 1780, he was among ninety-three officers and men of the regiment who became British prisoners of war.[4] At that point, the 4th South Carolina ceased to exist, although it was not officially disbanded until January 1, 1781.

Like other officers, Grimké was held at Haddrell’s Point across the harbor from Charleston.[5] The British granted him a parole, then imprisoned him briefly again, an action Grimké felt nullified his agreement not to re-enter the war. Once freed, he immediately joined the Continental Army under Gen. Nathanael Green and fought through the end of hostilities in 1783.

Grimké left an impressive written legacy of his military tenure. Best-known is “Order Book of John Faucheraud Grimké, August 1778 to May 1780,” published in issues of the South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine (1912–1918). Much of his military correspondence and notes, however, are unpublished. For example, Grimké, a dedicated student of artillery arts, wrote at length on troop training, provisioning and pay for officers and men. He made notes on artillery experiments, foreign research, laboratory stores, and specifications for gunpowder, fuses, and cannon. He also amassed regimental records, among them company rosters and military returns containing the names of men in the 4th South Carolina.

Following the war, Judge Grimké’s analytical mind and prolific writings were hallmarks of a thirty-six-year legislative and judicial career. He was speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives and senior associate justice on the state’s highest court. Apparently, war did little to blunt Grimke’s passionate nature: in the courtroom he was “a terror to evil doers.”[6] After a long illness, he died in Long Branch, New Jersey, on August 9, 1819.

The next Grimké generation struck a different chord. Three of his children achieved prominence as reformers—ironic in light of their father’s affinity for law, structure and discipline.[7] Daughters Sarah Moore Grimké and Angelina Emily Grimké were early advocates of abolition and women’s rights. And his son, Thomas Smith Grimké, an attorney and judge, was a pioneer in the temperance and peace movements.

Inside the Grimké Files

No doubt Grimké’s law training contributed to the thoroughness of his military papers. The papers not only provide detailed insight into daily operations of the Artillery Regiment, they are also testament to the military’s demand for paperwork.

Lost Patriots are among 473 or more recorded names in company rosters and returns from Grimké’s papers spanning the period 1775 through 1780. The papers are in two collections, Grimké Family Papers 1678–1977 and Grimké Family Papers 1761–1866, housed at the College of Charleston Library, Charleston, South Carolina.[8]

The earliest documents are company muster rolls. One lists seventy-nine men who apparently were being transferred to recently commissioned Captain Grimké from Capt. Barnard Beekman, who was being promoted to major. The men on the list had served under Beekman from November 16, 1775 to September 16, 1776. The second document is an enrollment roster of Grimké’s new company createdon the day of the transfer, September 16, 1776. Grimké’s Enrollment not only contains names of 105 soldiers and noncommissioned officers, but, for many, includes enlistment particulars, physical descriptions and occupations. Twelve otherwise-unknown Patriots—men who do not appear on any other extant rolls—are from Beekman’s Roll and Grimké’s Enrollment.[9]

Lost Patriots are also in military returns composed from sometime during 1779 through May 1780 when Grimké was deputy adjutant general of the Southern Department. Some of the returns are lengthy, detailed tables of figures. Others are scribbled words on scraps of paper. Grimké’s subordinates produced the lists which tracked a variety of regimental activities, including ammunition supplies, clothing distribution, disciplinary actions and promotions.

One key list-maker was Thomas Ousby, quartermaster sergeant. The English-born Ousby was responsible for the regiment’s internal management. He recorded brigade and regimental orders and was the “go to” man for institutional history and procedures. Many returns bear his distinctive penmanship, including an especially informative document entitled, “Regiment of Artillery with their Descriptions.”[10] The roll contains 174 names of artillerymen. For thirty-six men, there is a bonus—enlistment details, occupations, physical descriptions, casualties and desertions. Thirty-nine previously-unidentified Patriots are from this Artillery Regiment roll.

Finally, four previously-unidentified Patriots are from lists of men who received attire and arms between the fall months of 1779 and Charleston’s surrender.[11]

Methodology

To confirm that these unknown Patriots were actually unknown, rather than misplaced or overlooked, names and their variations were compared to military records in the National Archives and Records Administration[12] as well as South Carolina audited accounts and payment stubs for Revolutionary War claims.[13]

Names were also cross-referenced with respected compilations, such as Bobby Gilmore Moss’s Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution (1994), and lists by J.D. Lewis in Carolana.com. Additionally, searches were conducted in records of the South Carolina Archives, heritage organizations and online databases.

Fifty-four men in the Grimké files had not been identified as Revolutionary War Patriots until now. Thirty-eight deserted, five died, six were discharged, one was exchanged; four are known only because they were issued clothing or equipment.

Lost Patriots in the Grimké files

Desertions                                                     38
Deaths in service                                          5
Discharges (official and probable)      6
Exchanges                                                         1
Received clothing or equipment          4
Total                                                                   54

So, who were the lost Patriots? The majority were deserters. Desertions were common in the Continental Army, due in part to harsh discipline and competing bounties among the states. The result was a desertion rate of twenty to twenty-five percent by some measures.[14] At times, the rate exceeded forty percent among South Carolina Artillery rank and file.[15]

Little is known about the thirty-eight who deserted other than their names or when they went missing. That is, except for two men. One was Hercules Ryall, age twenty-nine when he enlisted, 5’ 11 1/2” in height, a shoemaker from Maryland. He joined the regiment in May of 1776 and deserted on April 11, 1777. The second, Charles Vane, twenty-three years of age at enlistment, 5’6 1/2” tall, was a mulatto house carpenter from Charleston. He joined the regiment on December 18, 1775, and deserted in May 1777.

Vane was not the only man of color in Captain Grimke’s company on September 16, 1776. William Cochran, a known Patriot, enlisted December 2, 1775, and joined the regiment the same day as Vane. He was a mulatto from Charleston, twenty-seven years old, 5’7” tall and a bricklayer.[16]Grimke’s record is the only source indicating Cochran’s ethnicity.

“Deserted” appears next to the names of:

John B. Baux
Joseph Bevelle
Francis Bouchet
Stephen Cartouch
Peter Declass
Boniface Glouden
Michael Martin
John Paul[17] Francis Poisan
Peter Solain
John Sougnier
Joseph Touch
Joseph Velan

There are no dates recorded, so exactly when they left the regiment is uncertain, but probably sometime in 1779.

On the other hand, date notations reveal that twenty-three men left the regiment March through July, 1779.[18] The timing is noteworthy because it followed the American defeat at Brier Creek, Georgia, on March 3, 1779. The battle was a disastrous loss. Maj. Gen. John Ashe commanded an American contingent of about 2,300. Hundreds of Americans were killed, wounded, or captured; the British suffered only minor losses. Grimké, who commanded fifty men of the 4th Regiment, wrote that day, “Total Rout. Troops fled, saved themselves by swimming Bryar Creek & River Savannah in which many were drowned.”[19]

General Ashe was widely blamed for the debacle.[20]Col. Owen Roberts, regimental commander, barely contained his disgust when he wrote, “Nothing new in Comp., except that desertion is greatly increased since Mr. Ashe’s Affair.”[21] The British took note of American desertions. Across the Atlantic, theEdinburgh Observerboasted, “Many persons had since come into the Royal army & taken the oaths.”[22]

Beekman’s roll reveals that the following soldiers deserted after Brier Creek:

John Cema
Louis Declass
John J. Desdie
Francis Duquet
Thomas Emmit
Ian Jones
Antoine Lubelle
Michael Lynch
Joseph McIver
John Mead
Andrew Morelle
John Natalle
Sebastian Navarre
John Pierre
Peter Rabelais
Joseph Sauger
Edward B. Sewell
Conrad Sourevan

Whether by coincidence or coordination, five men slipped away on May 11: Thomas Audebert, Vincent Barre, James LeBran, Joseph Maugamere, and Seuvr Rosingnol.

Perhaps some of the deserters returned to military service by joining militia units, state troops or other Continental regiments, not an uncommon practice during the Revolutionary War. Some, as the Edinburgh Observer reported, signed on with the British. If any of these men returned to fight for Independence, there is no record of it.

Deaths and Discharges

Five lost Patriots died while on duty. Henry Webster[23] expired of his wounds on August 18, 1776, and Benjamin Rakliff died on October 12 the same year. Arthur Tooke, twenty-three, a farmer from Brunswick County, Virginia, died on August 15, 1777. Timothy Pram, forty-one, a cabinetmaker from Yorkshire, Britain, died on May 18, 1779, and Peter Dennis drowned on August 18, 1779.

Only one unknown Patriot, Daniel Wall, was officially marked “discharged” on Beekman’s Roll. He was released on April 7, 1776. Additional discharges may have been for men who enlisted for two years during 1775–1776 and served out their terms. If the men were not on the Artillery Regiment’s roll 1779–1780, it is reasonable to believe they fulfilled enlistment obligations and went on their way without a note in the record. For example, Martin Seagriss, twenty, a baker from Charleston, signed-up in 1775. He was still in the regiment when he was reduced from gunner to matross on April 2, 1777. Duncan Wilson, forty-five, a mariner from Burroughstonness, Scotland, joined on December 18, 1775, and was promoted to gunner sometime in 1776.

Three men joined in January 1776 for two years: Michael Rine, nineteen, a laborer from Tipperary, Ireland; wheelwright John Snyder[24] from Savannah, Georgia; and Abraham Steep,[25] a gunsmith from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

There was one exchange. Francis Regan replaced Lewis Linder on January 23, 1776, when Linder was promoted to corporal. Although Linder is a recognized Patriot, Regan is not. His name on Beekman’s Roll is the only indication that he was a soldier of the Revolution.[26]

Attire and Arms

Infantrymen were widely reported to suffer for lack of clothing and supplies before and during Britain’s lengthy siege of Charleston. Lt. Col. John Laurens, commander of the Corps of Light Infantry, wrote, “many of the Continental troops half naked.”[27]

Grimké’s military returns raise the possibility that the clothing situation for the 4th South Carolina was not so bleak. Artillerymen were issued clothes throughout the siege according to “Clothing Served Out to the Artillery Regiment from the 1st October 1779 (at the time it became his duty) to the 12th May 1780 (the time of the Capitulation) by B. Villepontoux.” The regiment even replaced caps and blankets, “lost when the town was captured.”[28] The corps may have had better access to supplies due in part to the staff’s procurement efforts. Or perhaps outfitting one hundred or so artillerymen was more achievable than providing garb for hundreds of infantrymen. Whatever the reasons, Grimké’s military returns suggest the Artillery Regiment fared better than most during a difficult time.

Benjamin Villepontoux, regimental paymaster, was responsible for the soldiers’ pay as well as clothing distribution.[29] Infantry privates were paid $6.67 per month, while artillerymen earned more: Gunners, $8.67 per month and matrosses $8.33. They also received a monthly subsistence of $10.[30]

Continental soldiers usually received essential clothing and arms at enlistment. If items were lost, stolen or destroyed, the cost of replacement was deducted from their pay and Villepontoux kept an accounting. Companies of the 4th Regiment were last paid on January 1, 1780, so when Charleston surrendered in May, all the outstanding accounts, and there were many, remained unpaid.

Four lost Patriots who were issued clothing and arms are not on company or artillery rolls in the Grimké documents. Thus, the only records of their war service are Villepontoux’s clothing distribution and a return entitled, “Accoutrements Etc. delivered to the Artillery Regiment.”[31] James Walters, a fifer, was issued a coat, waistcoat, and pair of breeches and Thomas Wrightman received a wardrobe of shirts, shoes, cap, woolen overalls, woolen jackets, plus a blanket. Robert Tink was issued a gun and bayonet; Mathew Curtin received a canteen.

Unfinished Stories

Not all men in the Grimké files are otherwise unknown, of course. The vast majority are in other Revolutionary War records. But a surprising number, nearly ninety, are Patriots who were never credited with their service in the 4th South Carolina.

Take for instance, the case of Peter Seurry. He was twenty-three, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, a joiner by trade, 5’ 6 1/2” in height with brown hair and black eyes. He joined the regiment on May 4, 1776, and deserted from Grimké’s company not quite a year later, April 22, 1777. However, he was not in South Carolina or federal military records, at least, not under the name Seurry.

About six months after Peter Seurry deserted, a matross by the name of Peter Scurry was in a New York regiment of artillery. He enlisted on October 24, 1777, with Capt. Sebastian Bauman’s company of the 2nd Artillery Regiment, Continental Troops.

Was he the fellow from South Carolina? The similarities are striking. The New York artilleryman was about the same age, size and complexion as the South Carolina artilleryman. He was also born in Newfoundland. Furthermore, he was a deserter, a habit which he seemingly could not break. When Scurry deserted the New York company a final time on November 11, 1780, the company may have breathed relief. The description of him as a deserter reveals that he was “A great Bully.”[32]

So, Peter Seurry was not lost after all. Yet, no one knew he was a South Carolina artilleryman. Without Grimké, his story would be incomplete.

Moreover, Grimké’s military papers set the record straight for fifty-four other Patriots of the American Revolution who were once lost and are now rediscovered.

 

[1]Henry Laurens to James Laurens, October 21, 1775, South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine5, no. 3 (July 1904): 128.

[2]“Officers in the South Carolina Regiment in the Cherokee War, 1760-61,” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine3, no. 4 (October 1902): 202-206; “Officers S.C. Reg., Continental Establishment,” Yearbook 1893, City of Charleston, So. Ca.(Charleston, SC: News and Courier Book Presses), 216-217.

[3]John F. Grimké, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, 1775–1783, M881, RG 93, Roll 884, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (NARA); John Faucheraud Grimké W11088, Mary Grimké BLWt888-450, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, M804, RG 15, Roll 1136, NARA; John Faucheraud Grimké, “Order Book of John Faucheraud Grimké August 1778 to May 1780,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 14, no.1 (1913): 45–57; 14, no. 4 (1913): 223; 16, no. 3 (1915): 123–128; 17, no. 2 (1916): 82–86; 17, no. 3 (1916): 116–117 (Charleston, SC: South Carolina Historical Society, 1912-1918) (Grimké, “Order Book”).

[4]William Moultrie, “Copy of a Return of Prisoners Made by the British,” Memoirs of the American Revolution, vol. 2 (New York: David Longworth, 1802), 114.

[5]“List of Officers Late at Haddrell’s Point 4 Aug 1781,” Yearbook 1897, City of Charleston, So. Ca. (Charleston, SC: News and Courier Book Presses), 417; Moultrie, Memoirs,2: 192–193.

[6]John Belton O’Neall, Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of South Carolina, vol. 2. (Charleston SC: S.G. Courtenay & Co., 1859), 68.

[7]Bill Grimké-Drayton, “John Faucheraud Grimké,” Bill Grimké-Drayton(Blog), June 13, 2011, Grimké.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/1298/; Mark Perry, Lift Up Thy Voice: The Grimké Family’s Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders (New York: Viking Penguin, 2001).

[8]John F. Grimké, Grimké Family Papers, 1678–1977, MSS 0176-01-3A, College of Charleston Library, Charleston, South Carolina; John F. Grimké, Military Returns 1779–1780, Grimké Family Papers, 1761–1866, MSS 1040-11-172, South Carolina Historical Society Special Collections, College of Charleston Library, Charleston, South Carolina.Transcriptions by P. M. Hinton.

[9]Grimké, “Copy of Captain Beekman’s Roll of his Company beginning November 16, 1775 to concluding September 16, 1776, Papers 1678–1977, 176-1-3A-204 (1); “Enrollment Roster of Captain Grimké’s Company of the South Carolina Artillery Regiment (16 Sep 1776),” Papers 1678–1977, 176-1-3A-204 (1-7).

[10]Grimké, Military Returns, 11-172-5A (6).

[11]Grimké, “Accoutrements Etc. Delivered to the Artillery Regiment,” Military Returns, 11-172-5 (7); “Clothing Served Out to the Artillery Regiment from the 1st October 1779 (at the time it became his duty) to the 12th May 1780 (the time of the Capitulation) by B. Villepontoux,” Military Returns, 11-172-3 (4).

[12]NARA including M246 United States Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783; M804 Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application; M853 Numbered Records Books; M859 Miscellaneous Numbered Records (The Manuscript File); M881 Compiled Service Records of Soldiers; T718 Ledgers of Payments.

[13]“Accounts Audited of Claims Growing out of the Revolution in South Carolina 1775-1856,” RG 108000, S108092, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina, 1985; South Carolina Treasury et al., Stub Entries to Indents Issued in Payment of Claims Against South Carolina Growing Out of the Revolution (Columbia: Printed for the Historical Commission of South Carolina by the State Co., 1910).

[14]Joseph Lee Boyle, “He Loves a Good Deal of Rum:” Military Desertions During the American Revolution, 1775-1783. Volume 1, 1775-June 30,1777 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 2009).

[15]Grimké, “Regiment of Artillery with Their Descriptions,” Military Returns, 11-172-5 (6). Of 174 men on the roll, nearly forty-two percent were deserters (seventy-three deserted; three were returned).

[16]William Cockran, 4th South Carolina Regiment, enlisted December 2, 1775. NARA M881; William Cochran, Sr., A023628, Daughters of the American Revolution; William Cochran in Bobby Gilmer Moss, Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994), 181. Presumably Cochran/Cockran were the same man. These sources do not identify Cochran as a man of color.

[17]A Jacob Paul was in the 4th South Carolina, Capt. Robert B. Roberts’ company. NARA M246; M881.

[18]Grimké, Military Returns, 11-172-5 (6).

[19]Grimké, “Order Book,” 14, no. 4 (1913): 223.

[20]General Ashe was charged with cowardice, but exonerated in a court martial and found guilty only of negligence. He returned to his home in North Carolina and resigned. He was later captured by the British and died of smallpox in prison October 1781. Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing but Blood and Slaughter: Military Operations and Order of Battle of the Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, Volume One 1771-1779 (Booklocker.com, 2004), 253-254.

[21]Col. Owen Roberts in Purrysburg, South Carolina to John F. Grimké at the Camp at Two Sisters, March 10, 1779, Grimké, Family Papers 1678–1977, 176-1-3A (40).

[22]The Edinburgh Advertiser, Scotland, May 4, 1779, 3.

[23]Not Henry Webster in the Virginia 10th Virginia Regiment, December 1776 through November 1777. NARA M881.

[24]Multiple men named John Snyder are in New York and New Jersey records. None appear to be the man from Savannah, Georgia. Snyder/Snider/Sneider searches proved equally unproductive. NARA M246; M881.

[25]Several Steep men are in Pennsylvania records of the Revolutionary War. However, none are Abraham Steep. NARA M246, M881.

[26]Lewis Linder was a sergeant on Capt. Harmon Davis’s company payroll January 1, 1780 and served through Charleston’s surrender. NARA M881.

[27]Lt. Col. John Laurens Letter to Anonymous, February 23, 1780, in Frank Moore, Materials for History Printed from Original Manuscripts. With Notes and Illustrations: Correspondence of Henry Laurens (New York: The Zinger Club, 1861), 174.

[28]Grimké, Military Returns, 11-172-2 (1, 3, 4).Clothing was distributed to 120 men.

[29]Benjamin Villepontoux, NARA M881.

[30]South Carolina Artillery Regiment, John Wickly’s company, Payroll November 1779–December 1779, NARA M246.

[31]Grimké, Military Returns, 11-172-5 (7).

[32]“Descriptive List of the Men Deserted from the 2nd or New York Regiment of Artillery,” NARA M881.

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2 Comments

  • Excellent article. Found very informative and enjoyable to read. Would like you to contact me via email.

  • Wonderful article! I wonder how much more of this type of information lies hidden away? Documenting Revolutionary War service in the south (and especially militia service) is very hard. It seems that commanders weren’t all that interested in paperwork (thankfully, most were interested in fighting) and paper was also in very short supply. I read a letter from Col/Gen Andrew Pickens to Gen Nathanael Greene something to the effect that ‘I would send you reports except I cannot obtain any paper. If you can spare me a few sheets, I should be able to send you some returns.’
    Thanks for digging deep into the original documents.

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