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Francis Marion

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Francis Marion

1732-1795

Also known as: Swamp Fox

Born: WINTER, 1732 in South Carolina, United States, Berkeley County

Died: February 27, 1795

Occupation: General

Source Database: DISCovering U.S. History

Table of Contents

Biographical Essay | Further Readings | Source Citation

Hero of the southern campaign in the American Revolution, who was known for his mastery of the small-unit tactics necessary for effective guerrilla warfare.

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY

Francis Marion was born in the winter of 1732 (his exact birth date is unknown) at Goatfield Plantation in St. John's Parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina. His parents, Gabriel and Esther Marion, were of French Huguenot descent. The Huguenots were French Protestants who had suffered persecution for their beliefs during the reign of Louis XIV. Following the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which forbade the practice of Protestantism, 50,000 Huguenots left France. Marion's grandparents were among them. Along with 70 or 80 other Huguenot families, they farmed the banks of the Santee River near Charleston, South Carolina, where the land proved ideal for growing rice and indigo, a highly treasured blue dye which brought a good price in Europe. The cultivation of both crops spanned an entire year, so the planters were never idle, and they were rewarded with a comfortable lifestyle.

Because the land had been largely untouched before the Huguenots began farming it, much effort was expended preparing the land for raising crops, leaving little time for the acquiring of formal educations. Although the Huguenots were firm believers in cultural pursuits, Marion received only a rudimentary education, as his correspondence attests.

When Marion was five or six years old, his family moved to another plantation, Winyah Bay in Prince George Parish, near a port called Georgetown. Despite Marion's small, rather puny, stature and ill health, his young life was a continuous cycle of work. But as he farmed the land, his dreams took him to sea, and, at the age of 15, he received the consent of his parents to sign on with a schooner bound for the West Indies.

But nearly as soon as Marion's dreams of sailing became reality, the reality became a nightmare. On the voyage home, a whale rammed the schooner, ripping the seams and sending water into the hold. Before the schooner went down, the captain, along with his crew of six (young Marion among them) and a small dog, boarded a dinghy. The crew floated on the open sea without food or water, not knowing how far they might be from land. Succumbing to hunger and thirst on the fifth day, they killed the dog for nourishment. Two of the crewmen died on the sixth day. On the seventh, the remaining crew reached land.

Ironically, Marion returned to the family farm healthier and in better spirits than when he had left. Wrote Peter Horry, who would later serve under Marion: "His constitution seemed renewed, his frame commenced a second and rapid growth, while his cheeks quitting their pale, suet-colored cast, assumed a bright and healthy olive."

Apparently, this voyage ended his obsession with the sea, for he farmed his family's plantation for the next ten years. Gradually, his brothers and sisters married and moved away. Around 1750, his father died, leaving Marion to manage the plantation and care for his mother.

Though thethe began in 1754, it did not touch the daily lives of South Carolinians until the war's final years. At this time, Cherokees began threatening settlers along the South Carolina border, influencing Governor William Henry Lyttelton to enlarge his military forces. Marion and his brother Gabriel were among the Huguenot recruits. When an expedition led by Colonel Archibald Montgomerie was ambushed by Cherokees near the town of Echoe, Montgomerie's troops suffered heavy losses. The defeat alarmed the South Carolinians, who appealed to Lord Jeffrey Amherst, commander in chief of the British forces in America. Lord Amherst ordered Lieutenant Colonel James Grant and 1,200 regulars to prepare themselves for a war against the Cherokees. By January 1761, Grant had arrived in Charleston and was assembling men for battle. Marion was given the rank of first lieutenant in Captain William Moultrie's company of infantry.

In June, Grant led his expedition on the same route Montgomerie had taken. Sensing another ambush at a pass near the site of Montgomerie's battle, Grant dispatched Marion with 30 men to flush out the Cherokees. Using trees for cover, Marion's detachment cautiously advanced within range of the Cherokees, whereupon the Indians sounded their war cry and fired. By the time the pass was secured, only nine of Marion's men were left. Grant's column proceeded through the pass and engaged the Cherokees for several hours, until the Indians fled. Marion's capture of the pass allowed Grant to create a path of destruction in the Cherokee lands, burning 15 Indian towns and destroying their corn crops. Finally, Chief Attakullakulla, known by some as "Little Carpenter," surrendered.

Marion's courageous efforts in the Cherokee War did not go unnoticed. When he returned to his old lifestyle by leasing farm lands along the west bank of the Santee River, he was accorded great respect and became a successful planter. Although he spent considerable time hunting and fishing, he was well acquainted with details of the surrounding lands. He also had an active social life and regularly visited his brothers and neighboring Huguenot families. During this prosperous time, he attained a sizable degree of wealth. In 1773, he purchased a plantation, which he named "Pond Bluff," situated four miles south of Eutaw Springs along the banks of the Santee.

Although British parliamentary rulings aroused many of his countrymen, Marion appeared indifferent and uninvolved. Nevertheless, he was elected to South Carolina's first provincial congress by the people of St. John's parish. Apparently, other South Carolinians shared Marion's ambivalence, for, as the congress convened on January 11, 1775, instead of passing anti-British measures similar to those of other colonial legislatures, they ended the session by declaring their loyalty to the British Crown.

But six months later, the congress was again called to session in response to news of fighting between Massachusetts militia and British redcoats.

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