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Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Battle Of Williamson Plantation: Huck's Defeat In The Backcountry - July 12, 1780

Huck's Defeat at the Battle of Williamson Plantation 1780.
Artwork by Don Troiani (2014).

The Battle of Williamson Plantation
Huck's Defeat In The Backcountry
Wednesday, July 12, 1780


In the late spring and early summer of 1780, the Southern Campaign of the American Revolutionary War was going full force in upstate South Carolina. A small and bloody civil war between largely Scots-Irish Patriots and their Loyalist neighbors raged with acts of cruelty and retribution perpetrated on both sides. Families were divided over loyalty to the Mother Country and American independence, and old feuds between neighbors were being "settled" over the guise of patriotism and loyalty.

In the area between the Broad and Catawba Rivers and New Acquisition District -- present-day Chester and York Counties -- were the site of several major battles between Patriot militia companies and Loyalists militia backed by their British allies striking out from their northern outpost at Rocky Mount (near present-day Great Falls, SC).

The British commander of Rocky Mount, Lieutenant Colonel George Turnbull, maintained a garrison of about 150 British Provincials (American Loyalists formally enrolled in the British Army) which included elements of his own regiment, the New York Volunteers, and a troop of British Legion dragoons under Captain Christian Huck, not including local Loyalist militia. 

By July of 1780, Huck had quickly become one of the most feared and hated men in upstate South Carolina due to his brutality against the local population. He and his dragoons -- all of whom wore the hated and feared green uniform of "Bloody Ban" Tarleton's British Legion -- took delight in robbing and destroying the homes of local Patriots, arresting and killing suspected "traitors", and terrorizing the community. 

Huck himself, a blasphemous and hateful Pennsylvania Loyalist of German descent, had a special hatred of the local population, mostly Scots-Irish Presbyterians. He would order the homes of anyone found with a Presbyterian Bible to be burned and their farms plundered, all the while cursing the people and their faith.

His destruction of several meeting houses (Presbyterian churches Huck condemned as "sedition shops") and the homes of the Reverend John Gaston and William Martin in June showed his brutal contempt for the Christian faith. His later theft of horses from the Scots-Irish settlers along with the destruction of Colonel William "Billy" Hill's Ironworks and the subsequent loss to the community of needed farming and kitchen tools provided by the ironworks, and later theft of horses only served to anger the very people that the British plan for subjugating the American South relied upon to either stay neutral, or support the Crown. 

Now the British commander in the South, Lord General Charles Cornwallis, had to deal with yet another setback in the British plans to conquer the "rebellious colonies".

In North Carolina on Tuesday, June 20th, a force of 400 Patriot militia under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Locke Sr., a native to Ireland who lived near modern-day Rowan County, North Carolina, defeated a much larger force of around 1,300 Loyalists at Ramsour's Mill, now present-day Lincolnton, NC. This defeat set back the timetable for Cornwallis' advance into North Carolina. 

Despite this good news for the Patriots, upstate South Carolina was still under the control of the British and their Loyalist supporters, the latter of which continued to raid their Whig neighbors for supplies for the British outpost at Rocky Mount and the main British forces at Camden. Much of this foraging also included stealing newly cropped wheat from the nearby farms and plantations. While the Loyalists -- under Cornwallis' orders -- offered payment vouchers for the goods they took, the local citizens, many of which up till this point had been largely neutral in the fight, saw this as nothing but theft of their hard work and labor. 

Because it was now early July and time to harvest the wheat crops, many of those in the Patriot militia returned to their homes to work the fields and get badly needed food supplies for their own forces. This also included Captain John McClure from the Fishing Creek area (in Chester County) and Colonel William Bratton of the New Acquisition District. 

On Monday, July 10th, Lt. Colonel Turnbull received intelligence that many of the local Patriots, including McClure and Bratton, had returned home to check on their wheat harvest and to enlist recruits for Sumter’s Brigade. Bratton was distributing handbills in the area urging people to join the fight. Turnbull gave Huck instructions to ride up the South Fork of Fishing Creek and apprehend McClure and Bratton and disperse the rebels in the upper Fishing Creek and Bethesda communities.


Huck Marches North To New Acquisitions

That evening, after overseeing preparations for the new campaign, Huck set from Rocky Mount with a Loyalist force that consisted of 35 men of his detachment of the British Legion dragoons, 20 mounted infantry from the red-coated New York Volunteers, and 50 mounted Tory militia commanded by Colonel Matthew Floyd from the Spartan District and Lieutenant John Adamson of the Camden militia. 

After leaving Rocky Mount, Huck's detachment stopped for the night at the plantation of Nicholas Bishop located about four miles southwest of Walker's Mill near Brown's Crossroads (modern-day Lando, South Carolina). This Bishops were a Patriot family and the four oldest sons -- Henry, James, William, and Nicholas Jr. -- were all veterans of the early campaigns of the war. Henry Bishop, the eldest son, had departed Sumter's camp a few days earlier and returned to his home on Fishing Creek to visit his wife who had just given birth to their first child. The rest of the bishops, who still lived with their father, received word that Huck was approaching their plantation. They hurriedly evacuated their home and went to Henry's plantation, loaded his wife and newborn child into a wagon, and made haste for Sumter's camp. It was there that sixteen-year-old Bishop, the youngest son, promptly joined the militia. 

The next day, on June 11th, Huck's force marched toward Upper Fishing Creek toward the home of John McClure, located in what is now the Rodman community of northeastern Chester County. 

Unaware of Huck's presence in the area, McClure and his brother Hugh had already left for Sumter's camp with his men, leaving behind their mother, Mary Gaston McClure, with her youngest daughter Mary, her son James, and Edward "Ned" Martin, the husband of her daughter Olive. Most of the family was in the process of building a new room onto the house while James and Ned were busily behind the house melting Mrs. McClure's pewder dishes and casting them into musket balls for the militia; planning to catch up with the rest of the militia once they were finished. 

Huck's Loyalists caught them by surprise and found the bullets in the young men's pockets, proof that they were members of the rebel militia. Huck ordered the men bound with ropes and sentenced them to hang at sunrise the next morning. When Mrs. McClure protested the captain's decision, one his men struck her with the flat of his cavalry saber. 

In the confusion, the Loyalists failed to realize that the daughter, Mary, eluded her family's tormentors and rode north to Sumter's camp to tell her father and brothers of Huck's invasion of the area.

Huck then entered the house and threatened Mary McClure demanding to know the whereabouts of her two other sons. When the woman refused to say, Huck angrily took the family Bible and threw it into the burning fireplace. Mrs McClure managed to save the now singed family Bible from the fire, enraging Huck, who again cursed her and then ordered the destruction of the house. After looting the home, the Loyalists tore apart a partition and then set fire to the house. As they left, taking the two prisoners with them, the remainder of the family managed to put out the fire and save most of the house. 

The Loyalists then made their way north towards the New Acquisition's District. Along the way they made several stops at the homes of local Patriots, including the home of a local bricklayer, William Adair Sr., a friend of Colonel Edward Lacey Jr. of the local militia, and his wife, Mary. Adair's two sons, John and James, were with Lacey. Another son, William, was serving in Washington's Continental Army. The couple's daughter, also named Mary, was the wife of Captain John Nixon, who commanded the Rocky Creek Militia. 

Huck's men confiscated all of the cornmeal, flower, and other foodstuffs and valuables they could find. They even took the silver buckles from the shoes of Mrs. Adair and the rings from her fingers. A couple of Huck's dragoons then dragged Adair out into the yard and put a rope around his neck, preparing to hang him because his sons were rebels. A few of their local Tory neighbors in the militia pleading against hanging the older man, blaming Mrs. Adair for encouraging the sons to the rebel cause, sparing him from being lynched by Huck. One Loyalist officer implored Mrs. Adair to bring her sons in and tell them to take the King's protection.

Next Huck and his men stopped at the home of Edward Lacey Sr., father of Colonel Lacey, but a staunch Loyalist. There he and his officers were warmly welcomed by the older man and were served breakfast. Despite having one son who was a "rebel and traitor" Lacey's other son, Reuben, was with Huck's command. Reuben, who had a somewhat poor reputation in the area for being a slacker, had actually been a Whig earlier in he war, but switched sides before the fall of Charleston. The man would later switch side again before the war in the South was concluded.

It was probably around this time that a local man named Joseph Kerr arrived at the Loyalist camp. Kerr had been crippled since birth and walked with a noticeable limp. This meant he could not fight, although he was useful to the Patriot militia as a spy. Several of the local Tories -- including probably Lacey Sr. himself -- accused Kerr (rightly) of being a rebel. Kerr's protests and his physical handicap however convinced Huck who ordered Kerr to remain with him throughout the day.

The next stop for Huck's Loyalists was the plantation of John "Gum Log" Moore Sr, which sat on a branch of the South Fork of Fishing Creek. Moore was busy processing his newly harvested wheat crop separating the wheat from the chaff. Assisting Moore were William Moore, one of his younger sons, and Isaac Ball, a nephew to Moore's neighbor Samuel Rainey, who was now serving in Colonel Bratton's militia. Three of Mr. Moore's sons -- John Jr., Samuel, and Nathan -- were also serving with Bratton. Huck arrested "Gum Log" Moore, placing him with the other two condemned prisoners. He also confiscated the two horses of the younger men and likely took the threshed wheat as well. 


The Patriot Militia Responds

Meanwhile at General Thomas Sumter's camp on the east side of Old Nation Ford (near Charlotte, NC) the news that Captain Huck was once again out in force began to arrive on the early morning of July 11th by way of the Bishop family. By this point the militia companies of Colonels William Bratton, John McClure, William Hill, Edward Lacey and Andrew Neel arrived at the ford. 

Sumter himself was not in camp. He was in North Carolina meeting at the time with the South Carolina governor, currently in exile at Hillsborough. In Sumter's stead, his adjutant was the now recently promoted Colonel Richard Winn, who had only a month earlier routed Loyalists from Mobley's Meeting House. Winn gave orders to the militia officers to go find as many men as they could and to return to camp as quickly as possible.

Some of the local militia however were not eager to go after Huck's force -- which included the detachment of the hated and fear British Legion dragoons. Ever since the Waxhaw's Massacre, the green-coated cavalrymen of Tarleton's British Legion evoked fear into the hearts of the local populace. 

Despite this though a small but determined force of Patriot militia made up of Colonel's Bratton, Hill, McClure and Lacey's commands -- and those of other local militia captains between the Broad and Catawba Rivers -- prepared to go out and confront their hated enemy. All of these men had personal scores to settle with Huck. The men with them, though they feared the green-coated dragoons that accompanied the Loyalist militia, even more so they greatly hated Huck for his brutal and blasphemous attitude toward them and their families.

Late in the afternoon, John McClure's sister, Mary, rode into camp, bringing word that Huck had come to their home. The news that Huck and his men destroyed their home, captured his brother James and brother-in-law Martin, and that Huck had attacked his mother no doubt enraged McClure. 

That afternoon, the Patriot force prepared to set out towards Walker's Mill, where they believed Huck's force was headed to try and take him by surprise, unaware that Huck and his command were at that moment marching upon the Bratton and Williamson plantations.


Incident At The Bratton Home and Williamson Plantation

It was now late afternoon when Huck's forced proceeded into the what is now lower York County, proceeding to the Bratton plantation, hoping to catch Colonel Bratton at home. Bratton's wife, Martha, had been in the field reaping wheat that day, with the assistance of several of their older neighbors. 

The most detailed account of Huck's visit to the Bratton home was recorded later by Colonel Bratton's oldest son, Dr. William Bratton Jr., who was seven-years-old at the time. According to Dr. Bratton, the family's slave, Watt, had breathlessly come running to the field having already been warned ahead of time that a long line of "Red Coats" were on their way up the road. Martha Bratton then instructed Watt to go to Sumter's camp and warn Colonel Bratton that the Loyalists were in the area. Watt left on his mission only minutes before Huck's men appeared on the road. 

A British Legion dragoon threatens Martha Bratton
with a reaping hook on her front porch as
Lt. John Adamson of the Camden Loyalist militia
comes to her rescue, as depicted in a19th century
lithograph.
(Photo courtesy of the York County Culture & Heritage Museum.)
A small squad of soldiers under Lieutenant Adamson was the first to arrive at the Bratton home. Martha met them on the porch and Adamson asked her for the whereabouts of her husband. When Martha informed him that she did not know, one of the Loyalists called her a liar and swore that he would make her tell them. The man grabbed a reaping hook from a peg on the porch -- possibly one Martha had been using before to help harvest the wheat crop -- and placed it around her neck and swore that he would cut her head off while young William clung to his mother's dress, wide-eyed in terror. Again Mrs. Bratton calmly refused, telling the simple truth in deliberate and measured tones that she did not know her husbands whereabouts and, according to William Bratton's accounts, added that she would not even if she did.

Before the violent Loyalist dragoon could make good on his threat, Lieutenant Adamson himself drew his sword and struck the man in the side with the flat of it. The Tory let go of Mrs. Bratton and began pleading for his own life as the now angry Adamson repeatedly beat the man with his sword and kicked him off the porch down the steps into the yard. Adamson then turned to Martha, apologized profusely and assured her of his protection. Martha turned without a word and went into the house with her son still clinging to her dress, where she no doubt lost composure after her close brush with death. 

Following the incident the Loyalist soldiers waited in the front yard on Huck's arrival a few minutes later. Huck stepped up to the door and politely asked for an interview with Mrs. Bratton, which she granted. 

At first, Huck treated the family very courteous and polite, even allowing young William to sit on his knee and letting him play with his watch. Huck told Martha that he was authorized to offer her husband, Colonel Bratton, a commission in the Loyalist militia at his current rank in the rebel forces, along with payment if she could influence him to accept the offer. Martha replied that she had no influence over her husband in those matters, and that (according to William Bratton's account) "It is useless to prolong the interview if that is its purpose. My husband is in Sumter's Army and I would rather see him die there, true to his Country and cause, than have him live a traitor in yours."

After this Huck showed his true colors. He sprang up from his chair, throwing the young William from his lap, causing the boy to land on his face breaking his nose. The Swearing Captain then lived up to his word, cursing Bratton and swearing obscene oaths of vengeance against the Rebels and Colonel Bratton. Huck then ordered Martha to prepare a supper for him and his officers, which she did. Martha briefly considered poisoning the food, but realized that the vengeful Loyalists might kill the family in retaliation. Huck also stated his intention to burn the Bratton's home just as he had the McClure's home, but decided to let that task wait till the next day when he and his men would execute their prisoners and head back to Hanging Rock. 

Following supper, Huck made sure that the women and children in the house were confined upstairs and held prisoner. In addition to William, the family had four other children at the time: daughters Elisa (13), Jane (12), Martha (9) and Elizabeth (1). Huck also arrested the older neighbors who were assisting Martha in the field with the wheat harvest that day to prevent them from warning the Whig militia of his presence. 

Instead of camping for the night at the Bratton plantation, Huck made the fateful decision to move his force southeast a quarter of a mile to the home of the Bratton's neighbor James Williamson. The Williamson's had an oat field where the Loyalist cavalry could graze their horses. The house itself was an old two-story log house with several outbuildings and a corncrib near the south side of a small creek branch that fed into the South Fork of Fishing Creek near a spring. A wooden fence surrounded the house and also lined both sides of a short road called Williamson Lane off the main road. The oat field was situated across the lane. Four of Williamson's sons -- Adam, George, John, and Samuel -- were with Colonel Bratton's militia at the time. 

At the Williamson's home, Huck apparently arrested two other visiting neighbors -- Thomas Clendennen and Charles Curry -- and put them with his other three prisoners, threatening to hang all of them the next morning. Williamson's corn crib became a makeshift jail for the condemned prisoners taken during the day, posting a guard to make sure they did not escape.

The red coated New York Volunteers apparently set up camp in the lane itself, as the Tory militia was posted along the edge of the oat field about three hundred yards from the house. Another clear and open field was at the back of the house where the green coated British Legion dragoons were posted with their horses close at hand, ready at a moment's notice if needed. A peach orchard bordered this field. 

Huck also posted four guards to keep watch during the night. Huck then informed the Williamsons that he was spending the night at their home, while the rest of the family (sixty-seven-year-old Williams himself, his wife, daughters and daughter in law, along with four-year-old James Jr.) were locked upstairs under guard. 

At some point during the night, Joseph Kerr, managed to escape on horseback and went searching for the local Patriot militia.


In Pursuit Of Huck

The Patriot militia arrived in the vicinity of Walker's Mill around sunset that evening only to learn from an African-American "mill boy" that worked there that the Loyalists were headed up to Colonel Bratton's home. After a quick consultation of the officers they Patriot force set out northwest in pursuit of Huck's Loyalists.

By midnight, the Whig column was making its way up the Rocky Mount Road towards the Bratton home. Some of the Patriot militia fell behind and would miss the battle. There had also been some confusion after failing to find the Loyalists at Walker's Mill. Some of the men there didn't hear the order to go towards the New Acquisition District and instead headed back to Sumter's camp. Ultimately, by the time they located Huck's forces, the Patriot force itself consisted of about 150 men -- still more than the 120 Loyalists Huck had under his command. 

Around 2 AM on the morning of Wednesday, July 13th, the Patriots stopped at the home of John Price and inquired if he had seen Huck and his party. Price informed the men that Huck had gone ahead to Colonel Bratton's home. After leaving Price's, the militia proceeded to the plantation of William Adair Sr., about three miles south of the Bratton's, where they found the old man and his wife still awake. Adair told them what Huck had done to their farm, how he was nearly lynched, and how he took their foodstuff and valuables. 

Still distraught over what happened earlier the day before, Adair warned Edward Lacey that the British Legion would cut them all to pieces if they pursued and attacked them. Lacey was reported to have replied to the old man, "We will give them a good dressing before day light."  

As the Patriots were leaving, John Adair's parents told hold of him and attempted to keep him from going, convinced by the horror they endured the day before that Huck had the superior force and that the militia had no chance of defeating the Loyalists. The parents pleaded with him not to go, but he broke away from them and rode off on his horse, leaving them screaming and crying behind him. Young John Adair had his own score to settle with Huck now. 

Sometime around this time, Watt, the Bratton's slave, found Colonel Bratton and told him that Huck came to the family home.

Edward Lacey Sr. lived about a mile up the road from the Adairs. It was here that Colonel Lacey had to deal with an unusual security problem. As a die-hard Tory, the elder Lacey made it very clear to his son that he had every intention of revealing the local partisans' plans to Huck. Lacey left four men to guard the old man, who still managed to escape the house and briefly get away -- he was recaptured before he made it two hundred yards. Lacey Sr. was then tied to his bedpost and left guarded until the next morning.

The Patriot militia approached to within about a mile and a half of the Bratton home, dismounted, and tied their horses in the woods. Then they proceeded on foot, despite Colonel Bratton's objections in another consultation with the other militia colonels. Bratton understandably feared for his family, assuming them to be held hostage by Huck. 

It was there on the road that Colonel Lacey, accompanied by another militia officer, Lieutenant John Mills, encountered his brother Reuben on his way back toward their father's home. Reuben, who was blind in one eye and nearsighted, could not see very well in the dark, even with a clear waxing gibbous moon overhead. Disguising his voice, Lacey called out to his brother and pretended to be a "friend of the King" who had fallen behind the main force and wanted to find Huck's camp before morning. Reuben fell for the trick and informed Lacey and Mills that Huck was at Williamson's plantation down the road and the location of the sentries posted. After getting the information, they allowed Reuben Lacey to pass and proceed to his father's home, where he would end up joining the old man as a prisoner. 

More intelligence came to the Patriot militia force as Joseph Kerr, having made his escape, found them and gave them the exact disposition of Huck's forces and their numbers. Also finding the partisans were William Moore and Isaac Ball, who were determined to get their horses back after Huck confiscated them at "Gum Log" Moore's home the day before. The two men had waited until the Loyalists were asleep, and then sneaked into the their camp, retrieved their horses, and then slipped quietly away. This revealed that despite the precaution of four guards, the sentries on duty were not particularly alert for danger. 


The Plan Of Attack 

Colonel Bratton knew the countryside well and concealed the militia in a nearby swamp. After checking on his family to make certain they were safe, he personally went out and scouted the area. He quickly discovered the lax security as Kerr and the two young men had said, and there were no patrols out, just the four guards. All of the other Loyalists, including the British Legion dragoons, were asleep in their tents. 

Upon Bratton's return from his one-man patrol, the militia colonels conducted a council of war. The Patriots made plans to attack at daybreak and divided their forces into two companies. 

One group, comprised of largely New Acquisitions (York County) men under Bratton, Neel, Hill, and Winn would attack from the west end of the lane while the other group of militia largely from modern-day Chester County under Lacey and McClure would attack the east end, thus cutting off any chance for the Loyalists to escape to the main road.  

The two groups then separated with Bratton's group continuing northward and McClure's group leaving the main road to cut across the woods to the east of the lane. Both groups were to "raise a war-whoop" and rush the fences on either side of the lane simultaneous to the attack as soon as either group fired the first shots. Men under militia Captain John Moffett would take position in the peach orchard and move in on the rear of the house.

The group led by Bratton and Neel had little difficulty getting into position for the attack. They passed one of the sentries, who was asleep at his post. Private Samuel Williamson -- one of the family's sons -- was left to guard the sentry with orders to shoot him if he stirred and tried to sound an alarm. In the waning darkness of early morning, the men quietly took cover behind the fence along the lane and field. 

The second group under Lacey and McClure had less of an easier time getting into position. After leaving the road, they found their progress slowed by briar bushes, trees, and the small swampy branches of the South Fork of Fishing Creek. In spire of the assistance from a local militia captain and a private, this group was delayed in getting into position before daybreak. 

The Battle 

Daybreak on the morning of Wednesday, July 12, 1780, happened at approximately 4:52 AM EST. Some of Huck's men began to awaken and prepare breakfast. There was still not enough light for them to see the approaching Patriots creeping up from the trees and taking position behind the fences around the Loyalist encampment. The morning activities of their fellow Loyalists caused the drowsy sentries to stir. As soon as the sleeping Tory woke, Williamson shot him dead, as per his orders. Colonel Neal took aim at the sentry on the main road and dropped him. Lacey's men where within 25 paces of the third sentry when the shots were fired and he too woke and was shot dead. On the far side of the Williamson's peach orchard, the fourth sentry was far more fortunate. He saw the Patriots approaching through the orchard, fired a shot at them, then ran back towards the house and the detachment of British Legion dragoons, who heard the shots and were already preparing their horses. 

Inside the house with his hostages, Captain Huck took great delight in frightening the Whig family, flourishing his sword over their heads and threatening the country folks with destruction unless they convinced their sons and husbands to quit the rebel militia and take the Crown's protection. As he was about to walk out the door to see to his men, Huck reportedly turned to the terrified family and boastfully said, "We have driven the Regulars (Continentals) out of the country, and I swear if it rained militia from the Heavens, I would not value them."

No sooner had Huck uttered those words than the first shots of the battle were fired from the lane. Outside just as the sun was about to rise over the eastern horizon, Bratton's forces raised the "war-whoop" and started their attack from the fence line, firing into the New York Volunteers in the lane and the Loyalist militia in the field. 

The startled Loyalist officer rushed outside on the porch to see what was happening. When he did so, the elder Williamson rushed the door and slammed it shut. The family barricaded the doors even as musket fire outside began hitting their wooden home. Huck had left his green dragoon jacket and personal gear inside, and was thus unable to retrieve it. In his white cotton shirt and dragoon cap, still clutching his sword in hand, Huck raced for his horse and his detachment of Legion cavalry. 

Many of the Loyalist militia, completely surprised at finding themselves nearly surrounded, fired a couple of shots and then fled the battlefield slaughter on foot, abandoning their horses. The Provincials of the New York Volunteers, many of them awakened and not wearing their red coats, managed to stand their ground and return fire. The fence that Bratton's force hid behind acted as a makeshift breastwork, providing some cover for the Patriot militia, while the New York Volunteers formed a line of fire and attempted at least one bayonet charge against the fence -- a favored tactic of the British line. The Patriots behind the fence took careful aim with their rifles and muskets, dropping the Provincials and broke up the charge. 

Loyalist militia Colonel James Ferguson was among the first of the Tories shot down by the vengeful Patriot militia, his shirt blackened by gunpowder from several aimed shots at close range. Revenge for his part in commanding the squad that murdered young at Fishing Creek Church the month before. Some reports say that he tried to surrender and was shot dead. 

Huck mounted his horse and began to wave his sword over his head and shouted into the nearby peach orchard, "Disperse you damned rebels, or I will put every man of you to the sword!" 

The Patriots instead opened fire on the Legion dragoons, dropping several of them from their horses. Urged on by a ranting and raving Huck, the dragoons made several ineffective charges against the Patriot militia in the orchard, but could not get close because of the trees. 

Lieutenant John Adamson attempted to rally the Loyalists for one more charge and tried to spur his horse over a ditch and was thrown from his mount face first, landing on the stump of a pine sapling, impaled through the chest. He lay on the ground seriously wounded when the Patriot militia rushed forward and he surrendered to them.  

The other Loyalists and the New York Volunteers, seeing no chance for escape, quickly threw their weapons down and surrendered. After leaving some men to guard the prisoners, Bratton and Neel's men, along with some men from Lacey and McClure's command -- who were only now getting into position -- closed in on British Legion dragoons, opening fire on them at close to point blank range. 

The death of Captain Christian Huck of the British Legion
cavalry at the Battle of Williamson Plantation
"Huck's Defeat" on July 12, 1780.
Artwork by Dan Nance (2014).
Huck, realizing now that his position was hopeless, rallied a small group of four dragoons and tried to break for the main road near the Bratton house and escape. Two local Patriots, Privates John Carroll and Lieutenant Charles Miles, fired the shots that sent two small musket balls that struck Huck in the head. Carroll's shot went behind Huck's left ear. 

The "Swearing Captain" Christian Huck -- Pennsylvania Loyalist, member of Tarleton's British Legion, a man who helped slaughter Virginia Continentals at the Waxhaws, who had blasphemed the name of the Lord and mocked the faith of the local Scots-Irish population even as his men pillaged, burned and murdered them over the last six weeks -- was dead before the sword dropped from his hand and his body fell from his saddle and slammed hard into the ground.

Those Loyalist militiamen and Legion dragoons who hadn't surrendered spurred their horses, or took off on foot for their lives into the nearby woods back south towards Rocky Mount. They were pursued ruthlessly by Patriot militia for over a dozen miles. It was later reported that many carcasses were found in the woods for miles, some of the retreating Loyalists receiving "Tarleton's quarter" -- a phrase declaring bloody retribution inspired by the Waxhaws Massacre two months before that would be uttered over and over again throughout the summer and fall of 1780 by revenge-minded Patriots against their Loyalist neighbors.

The entire battle of Williamson Plantation (known locally as The Battle of Huck's Defeat) took less than 15 minutes.  


Martha Bratton And The Honorable Tory

After the battle was over, the five prisoners held captive by Huck's men were released from their corn crib prison. One story says that while the guard had been distracted by the battle, one of the prisoners reached out and grabbed his musket from his grip taking him prisoner. The Williamsons emerged from their home and embraced their victorious loved ones in the militia. 

The lane and the fields around Williamson's home were littered with dead and wounded Loyalists, some the Provincials in red and green uniform coats, others militia in simple hunting and farming clothes. 

The Patriots were surprised by the number of familiar faces they found among the Loyalists. Some of them were their neighbors and, in a few instances, family. The civil war in the backcountry would find many such battlefield meetings replayed over and over again.

Someone -- possibly one of the former prisoners -- told Colonel Bratton about the reaping hook incident the day before, and incorrectly told her it was Lieutenant Adamson who had preformed the deed. Enraged by this, Bratton and one of his officers, Captain John Chambers, searched the battlefield and found the fallen Loyalist officer on the ground bleeding profusely from his chest wound. 

Bratton confronted Adamson with the accusation, which the man denied. The Patriot officers called him a liar and a coward. Then Bratton and Captain Chambers drew their swords, preparing to deliver a little of "Tarleton's Quarter" on the man he believed threatened his wife. The wounded Loyalist then addressed them saying, "My life is of little consequence to me, sir, for you can only hasten the end which I feel is fast approaching, but I beg of you to consult Mrs. Bratton before you perpetrate so great a wrong." Something in the wounded man's voice caused Bratton to hold back. Still holding the wounded Tory at sword point, Bratton sent Lieutenant John Adair to locate his wife and bring her here. 

Throughout the night, Martha Bratton and her children had huddled in the second story of their home. When the battle took place, the family huddled together, though Mrs. Bratton made her youngest children sit in the fireplace for protection against a few stray shots that managed to hit the side of the house. One musket ball had actually passed through the upstairs wall, hit the fireplace, and fall to the floor, where young William Bratton grabbed it and would keep it as a treasured souvenir of the battle for years. 

Once it was daylight and the shooting had stopped, the Brattons left the safety of their home and went outside into the early morning sunrise. Wounded men lay nearby, some of the Loyalists who had been shot down escaping down the road. The sounds of the wounded and dying men must have been terrible for the family. Some of the Loyalist wounded were brought into the house, and lay on the first story floor closely together.  

The Bratton Home at present-day Historic Brattonsville,
where the reaping hook incident took place in the front
porch of the home. The home also served as a
makeshift hospital for the wounded Loyalists following
the battle.
The home is one of the oldest in York County, SC.

Lieutenant Adair found them and directed Mrs. Bratton -- with young William close to her -- to the spot where Adamson lay with Colonel Bratton and Captain Chamber standing over him, both holding swords to him. Relieved to see her husband was alive, and shocked by the carnage of the battlefield around her, Martha rushed over to him. 

Adamson was so pale and blood-soaked that she did not recognize him from the day before. He spoke to her, "Madam, you were sent for at my request, more to save your husband from a cruel injustice than for any service you may be able to render me. He has heard that it was I who threatened your life." 

Once she heard the man's voice, Martha realized who he was and why her husband was standing over him with a drawn sword. Quickly she told the men what had happened and confirmed that it was Adamson who had in fact saved her from the reaping hook. Both Bratton and Chamber's attitudes toward the fallen Loyalist officer changed. They offered the man rum to dull his pain, then helped carry him back to the Bratton house where he was nursed personally by Mrs. Bratton. The attention she gave to nursing him saved Adamson's life. After the war, while many former Loyalists were "encouraged" to leave America, a petition by the Bratton family on Adamson's behalf allowed the man to live the rest of his life in the new nation at his Camden home. 

Mary Moore Adair and several other local women helped Martha Bratton nurse the wounded Loyalists. Among them was the captain that directed her the evening before to tell her sons to surrender themselves. As she dressed his wounds, she informed him, "Well, captain, you ordered me to bring in my rebel sons. Here are two of them; and if the third had been within a day's ride, he would have been here also." The Loyalist officer acknowledged the chiding rebuke saying he had indeed seen them before -- in the thick of battle. 

Lieutenant Benjamin Hunt, Huck's second-in-command, gave the paroles for the remaining Loyalist prisoners, giving his oath not to take up arms for the duration of the war, or until properly exchanged. The Patriot officers provided three wagons for the Tory wounded and prisoners so they could be returned to Rocky Mount. 

One of the Loyalist officers who gave his parole was Major John Owens. After witnessing Huck's defeat firsthand, Owens decided to become a spy for the Patriots. He informed Colonel Winn that he had been at Rocky Mount the day before the battle. He made arrangements with Winn to gather intelligence about the layout and troop strength at the fort. This intelligence would prove invaluable to plans a few weeks later with General Sumter to attack Rocky Mount.

SC Historic Marker near the Bratton home site at
Historic Brattonsville in York County.
Aftermath 

A copy of the headstone dedicated to Watt, an
African-American slave of the Bratton family,
who helped the Patriot militia locate Huck's
Loyalist force prior to the Battle of Huck's
Defeat. This marker is located at Historic
Brattonsville. The actual headstone is located on
private land.
The defeat of Huck's forces was total. Around 35 killed, 30 wounded, and nearly 25 others surrendered. Only 24 managed to escape capture and return to Rocky Mount and report the disaster to a shocked Colonel Trumbull. Of the Patriot militia, there was only one man wounded in the battle, and other man named Campbell from Chester County who was killed. 

In the aftermath of the Patriot success, Martha earned recognition for her refusal to divulge her husband’s whereabouts under extreme duress. In addition, Watt’s endeavor to notify Bratton that Huck was in the area won him a place in local history. Both have markers in their honor: Martha's at Historic Bethesda Presbyterian Church where she is buried with her husband, and Watt's at Historic Brattonsville, both in York County. 

The destruction of Huck’s Loyalist force at Williamson’s Plantation on July 12, 1780 helped revive the morale of the local people in upstate South Carolina just when British victory seemed inevitable. It served as a rallying point for the backcountry Patriots to recruit more of their neighbors into the growing resistance against the British occupation. Although the numbers engaged were small, the importance of the skirmish was immediately clear, the entire backcountry seemed to take heart. Frontier militia had defeated soldiers of the feared British Legion, proving they were not invincible. Volunteers streamed in to join the patriot militia brigade of General Thomas Sumter. More volunteers would soon arrive at Sumter's camp at Old Nation's Ford.

SC Marker about the Battle of Huck's Defeat
(Williamson's Plantation) located on Brattonsville
Road off SC 322.
Many local Loyalists began to rethink their loyalties as John Owens had and joined Sumter's Patriots switching sides. In one incident Lieutenant Colonel John Lisle, second-in-command of Colonel Matthew Floyd's Upper District Loyalist Militia Regiment, seized the opportunity to return to his former allegiance and defected to Sumter's Brigade, taking with him most of Floyd's regiment and well as its British issued arms and ammunition. Such acts would destroy Cornwallis' overall confidence in the Loyalist militia.  

Indeed just as Colonel Turnbull sent Huck to his fate, General Cornwallis was issuing order to instruct the British outposts not to send small units of men beyond the confines of their posts and instead consolidate their forces when going on foraging expeditions. The news of Huck's defeat at Williamson's Plantation mortified the British general, who had just sent another letter to his commanding officer General Sir Henry Clinton in New York City proclaiming South Carolina a pacified colony. 

Equally outraged was Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton, at the defeat of the detached force of his British Legion at the hands of the backwoods militia, though that did not stop him from blaming the now dead Captain Huck for the defeat.  

The momentum for the Patriots following the Battle of Williamson's Plantation (Huck's Defeat) set the stage for the upcoming campaign by General Sumter in the upcountry, in conjunction with the offensive campaign of the now gathered Continental forces of the new Southern Army commanded by so-called "The Hero of Saratoga" General Horatio Gates. The results of these campaigns will be detailed in the next few blog posts in this series

Stone marker near the site of Huck's Defeat at
Historic Brattonsville in York County, SC.

For more information about the Battle of Huck's Defeat and its significance to American history please consult the following sources that were used to help with this blog post:
The outstanding books: The Day It Rained Militia by Michael C. Scoggins (2005) ISBN 1-59629-015-3
 Partisans & Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned The Tide of the American Revolution by Walter Edgar (2001) ISBN 0-308-97760-5
The Cultural & Heritage Museums of York County (SC).