by Gerald Boerner
There were two major battles during the American Revolution that turned the tides of war in favor of the American colonists. These were the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Yorktown. The latter was fought after a defeat of the British in South Carolina. One of those defeats occurred during the Siege on Fort Motte.
Fort Motte was not built as a fort. It was a large country home of the Motte family that was occupied by a widow, but was confiscated by British troops. The widow Motte was moved to a smaller house on the property. The main house was fortified and and protected by a stockade around it. It housed British troops.
During the siege on Fort Motte, General Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion was given the OK by widow Motte to burn the house down to defeat the British contingent. This succeeded and was the second defeat for the British by the Swamp Fox, the other being at Mingo Creek.
These battles led up to the final confrontation at Yorktown, where Washington’s troops, backed by the French naval forces, captured the encircled British. This effectively ended the Revolutionary War and led to the formal Treaty of Paris that was signed in 1883. GLB
“A revolution is interesting insofar as it avoids like the plague the plague it promised to heal.”
— Daniel Berrigan
“I just think we’re living in a time of massive, amazing change, like the Industrial Revolution on acid.”
— Kelly Lynch
“Subsequent to the original Quicken, the whole idea that we, as a consumer products company, could actually make business products, that was a whole revolution in our thinking.”
— Scott Cook
“The Communists were interested in getting into key positions as union officers, statisticians, economists, etc., in order to utilize the apparatus of the unions to promote the cause of revolution.”
— John T. Flynn
“In the last five or six thousand years, empires one after another have arisen, waxed powerful by wars of conquest, and fallen by internal revolution or attack from without.”
— John Boyd Orr
“In March of 1933 we witnessed a revolution in manner, in mores, in the definition of government. What before had been black or white sprang alive with color.”
— Emanuel Celler
“I realized that I had traveled to Havana during what now seems like the childhood of the Cuban Revolution, if you think that Fidel has now been in power for 44 extremely long years. I started looking at the revolution as history, and not as part of the daily news.”
— Alma Guillermoprieto
“But with the Industrial Revolution and introduction of various industrial techniques for purifying sugar, we have a situation in which what we are consuming is not good nutritionally or ecologically.”
— Marvin Harris
The Siege of Fort Motte
The Siege of Fort Motte was a military operation during the American Revolutionary War. A force of Patriots led by General Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion and Lt. Colonel “Light Horse” Harry Lee set out to capture the British post at Fort Motte, strategically located at the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers. The fort was not much more than a mansion owned by the Motte family, but was garrisoned by roughly 175 British soldiers under Lt. Daniel McPherson.
Marion and Lee learned that Lord Rawdon was retreating towards Fort Motte in the aftermath of the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill. The Americans forces invested the place on May 8 and wished to capture the fort before Rawdon arrived. Two days later, Marion called for the British to surrender and McPherson refused. The next day, Colonel Lee informed Mrs. Motte that he intended to burn the mansion down to force the British out. On May 12, 1781, the American forces had entrenched themselves close enough to the mansion they were able to hit the roof with flaming arrows. Mrs. Motte, a Patriot, not only accepted Lee’s plan, but offered up her own set of bow and arrows. Marion’s artillery fire added to the desperation of the British and, by one o’clock that afternoon, Lt. McPherson surrendered the garrison to the Patriots.
What was Fort Motte?
Fort Motte (Fort Motte Station) was a temporary military outpost in what is now South Carolina during the American Revolutionary War. Later, it was considered as a possible location for the capitol for the newly-formed state of South Carolina (before Columbia was chosen).
British forces occupied and converted the recently-built plantation home of the Motte family, whose business was located in Charleston, South Carolina, into a stockade. The site is near a strategic river crossing of the Congaree River used by early traders. The Cherokee Path is nearby. It is also roughly in the area of an early town (1735) known as Amelia Town, South Carolina. There were several other less well-known forts in the area. Before the forts were established, there were sites which served as trading posts. Before the trading began, there were hunting grounds.
The South Carolina Department of Archives and History, the South Caroliniana Library, and the University of South Carolina have the earliest extant maps for this area.
In 1781 General Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion captured the location after the Siege of Fort Motte.
Great Britain’s “southern strategy” for winning the American Revolutionary War appeared in some ways to be going well after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March 1781. General Lord Cornwallis had defeated General Nathanael Greene, but his army was short on supplies and had suffered significant casualties, so he decided to move to Wilmington, North Carolina to resupply and refit his troops. Greene, while he had lost the battlefield, still had his army intact. After shadowing Cornwallis for a time, he turned south, and embarked on an expedition to recover Patriot control of South Carolina and Georgia, where British and Loyalist forces were thinly distributed, and smaller outposts were subject to attack from larger forces under the command of Greene or one of the Patriot militia commanders in the area.
He first ordered Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee to continue shadowing Cornwallis so that his southward movement was screened. Once he was on his way into South Carolina, he ordered Lee to abandon Cornwallis and instead join forces with militia Colonel Francis Marion in the eastern part of the state. Lee and Marion met on April 14, and first targeted Fort Watson, a small stockaded fort on the east side of the Santee River, which fell after a short siege. They then chased after John Watson, the fort’s usual commander, who had led a force away from it in search of Marion, but was forced onto the defensive when Lee arrived.
Lee and Marion then targeted Fort Motte, a key British supply and communication point not far from the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers.
Arriving May 8, Lee and Marion immediately surrounded the fort, which was dominated by the two-story Motte residence and garrisoned by about 140 British and Hessian regulars under Lieutenant Daniel McPherson. On the approach of the Americans they had evicted the widowed Rebecca Motte from her home, and she had taken up residence outside the fort.
As the forces of Watson and Rawdon were still active and might come to relieve the siege, Marion and Lee needed a method to rapidly bring the siege to a conclusion. At Fort Watson they had constructed a tower from which the attackers could fire into the fort, but this idea was not workable under the conditions at Fort Motte. The idea was then put forward to set fire to the buildings within the defenses. Mrs. Motte, apparently sympathetic to the Patriot cause, provided the arrows that were used to ignite the roof of the house on May 12. When the defenders tried to go onto the roof to extinguish the flames, the attackers fired on them with their six-pound gun, driving them off. The garrison surrendered shortly after, and the Americans moved quickly to put out the fires before the whole house was engulfed.
The captured garrison was released on parole to return to Charleston. Before they left, Mrs. Motte and the American and British officers shared a meal. General Marion then proceeded to the port of Georgetown, where the British garrison fled without resisting, while Lee was ordered by General Greene to assist in recapturing Augusta, Georgia.
Profile of General Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion
Francis Marion (1732 – 1795) was a military officer who served in the American Revolutionary War. Acting with Continental Army and South Carolina militia commissions, he was a persistent adversary of the British in their occupation of South Carolina in 1780 and 1781, even after the Continental Army was driven out of the state in the Battle of Camden.
Due to his irregular methods of warfare, he is considered one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare, and is credited in the lineage of the United States Army Rangers.
Marion was not captured when Charleston fell on May 12, 1780, because he had broken an ankle in an accident and had left the city to recuperate.
After the loss in Charleston, the defeats of Gen. Isaac Huger at Moncks Corner and Lt. Col. Abraham Buford at the Waxhaw massacre (near the North Carolina border, in what is now Lancaster County), Marion organized a small troop, which at first consisted of between 20 and 70 men, the only force then opposing the British Army in the state. At this point, he was still nearly crippled from the slowly-healing ankle.
He joined Gen. Horatio Gates just before the Battle of Camden, but Gates had no confidence in him and sent him (mostly to get rid of him) to take command of the Williamsburg Militia in the Pee Dee area. The general asked him to undertake scouting missions and to impede the expected flight of the British after the battle. Marion thus missed the battle, but was able to intercept and recapture 150 Maryland prisoners, plus about 20 of their British guards, who had been en route from the battle to Charleston. The freed prisoners, thinking the war was already lost, refused to join Marion and deserted.
Marion showed himself to be a singularly able leader of irregular militiamen. Unlike the Continental troops, Marion’s Men, as they were known, served without pay, supplied their own horses, arms and often their food. All of Marion’s supplies which were not obtained locally were captured from the British or Loyalist (“Tory”) forces.
Marion rarely committed his men to frontal warfare, but repeatedly surprised larger bodies of Loyalists or British regulars with quick surprise attacks and equally quick withdrawal from the field. After the surrender of Charleston, the British garrisoned South Carolina with help from local Tories, except for Williamsburg (the present Pee Dee), which they were never able to hold. The British made one attempt to garrison Williamsburg at Willtown, but were driven out by Marion at the Mingo Creek.
The British especially hated Marion and made repeated efforts to neutralize his force, but Marion’s intelligence gathering was excellent and that of the British was poor, due to the overwhelming Patriot loyalty of the populace in the Williamsburg area.
Col. Banastre Tarleton was sent to capture or kill Marion in November 1780; he despaired of finding the “old swamp fox”, who eluded him by travelling along swamp paths. Tarleton and Marion were sharply contrasted in the popular mind. Tarleton was hated because he burned and destroyed homes and supplies, whereas Marion’s Men when they requisitioned supplies (or destroyed them to keep them out of British hands) gave the owners receipts for them. After the war, most of the receipts were redeemed by the new state government.
Once Marion had shown his ability at guerrilla warfare, making himself a serious nuisance to the British, Gov. John Rutledge (in exile in North Carolina) commissioned him a brigadier general of state troops.
When Gen. Nathanael Greene took command in the South, Marion and Lt. Col. Henry Lee were ordered in January 1781 to attack Georgetown but were unsuccessful. In April they took Fort Watson and in May they captured Fort Motte, and succeeded in breaking communications between the British posts in the Carolinas. On August 31 Marion rescued a small American force trapped by 500 British, under the leadership of Maj. C. Fraser. For this, he received the thanks of the Continental Congress. Marion commanded the right wing under Gen. Greene at the Battle of Eutaw Springs.
In 1782 during his absence as state senator at Jacksonborough, his brigade grew disheartened and there was reportedly a conspiracy to turn him over to the British. But in June of that year, he put down a Loyalist uprising on the banks of the Pee Dee River. In August he left his brigade and returned to his plantation.
After the war, Marion married his cousin, Mary Esther Videau. His nephew Theodore had hinted to his uncle that it was time to get married. His relatives and friends informed him that Mary always listened with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes when anyone began reciting the exploits of the Swamp Fox. Marion was in love earlier with Mary Esther Simons but she refused his proposal and married Jack Holmes.
Marion served several terms in the South Carolina State Senate. In 1784, in recognition of his services, he was made commander of Fort Johnson, practically a courtesy title with a salary of $500 per annum. He was originally supposed to receive 500 English pounds a year, but economy-frightened politicians reduced his payment to 500 Continental dollars. He died on his estate in 1795, at the age of 63.
Other Events on this Day:
- In 1647…
Peter Stuyvesant arrives in New Amsterdam (later New York) to become governor of the Dutch colony.
- In 1792…
Captain Robert Gray becomes the first white explorer to sail into the Columbia Rivers, which he named after his ship.
- In 1858…
Minnesota becomes the thirty-second state.
- In 1947…
The B.F. Goodrich Company announces development of a tubeless tire.
- In 1997…
IBM’s Deep Blue vomputer beats world chess champ Gary Kasparov, the first time a computer defeats a reigning grand master.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Fort Motte…
Wikipedia: Siege of Fort Motte…
Wikipedia: Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion…
Brainy Quote: Revolution Quotes…