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Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Burning Of Justice Gaston's Home: The Loyalists Strike Back - June 11, 1780

The Burning Of Justice Gaston's Home 
The Loyalists Strike Back
Sunday, June 11, 1780 

By: C.W. Roden 

In the space of three days, those upcountry Patriots who were content to sit out the rest of the war following the fall of Charleston the month before struck back against their oppressive Loyalist neighbors and their British allies in two short, but important battles. These acts of defiance alone were not enough to completely erase the fear of the British occupiers. Yet they were enough to send a clear message to the British commander at the Rocky Mount outpost, Lt. Colonel George Turnbull, that the upstate was not completely in British control. That many of the Patriots in the New Aquisition and the upper District between the Broad and the Catawba Rivers still had not submitted to the Crown's authority, nor would they lay down their arms without a fight.

Since taking the post at Rocky Mount days earlier, Turnbull, in keeping with the overall British Southern strategy, had been actively organizing a Loyalist militia regiment to reinforce his own New York Volunteers and detachment of British Legion dragoons. But the incidents at Alexander's and Mobley's had demonstrated the Loyalist militia's lack of fortitude in the face of the more experienced Whig partisans. Turnbull had little confidence at that point in the royal militia's abilities.

Loyalist spies informed Turnbull that Patriot colonels William Bratton and John McClure were camped at Reverend Simpson's meeting house and were rallying men to their cause, both men winning support with their recent successes at Beckhamville and Mobley's Meeting House.  

Turnbull realized that a show of force was going to be necessary to keep the rebels in the Piedmont area in check. 

On Saturday, June 10th, Turnbull dispatched his detachment of British Legion dragoons under the command of Captain Christian Huck and mounted militia under Loyalist Captain James Ferguson with orders to kill, or capture, McClure, Bratton, Simpson and other Patriot leaders; as well as commandeer any supplies of wheat, corn and horses in the area. 

"The Swearing Captian" 

Christian Huck, an officer of the British Legion cavalry, was born in one of the German principalities of Europe about 1748 and immigrated to Pennsylvania sometime before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War where he became a successful lawyer in Philadelphia. Because of his outspoken Loyalist views, the State of Pennsylvania branded Huck a "traitor" and confiscated his property in 1778. That same year Huck formed a company of Loyalist militia and joined the British Army in New York where he was commissioned a captain. 

By 1780, Huck and his men were a part of Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton's British Legion cavalry and took part in the Siege of Charleston. Huck was also among Tarleton's cavalrymen at the Battle of the Waxhaws the month before where Virginian Continentals under Abraham Buford were all but slaughtered in what many in the South Carolina backcountry saw as a massacre. 

Huck was a loudly profane man who hated the South Carolina Upcountry and had a special dislike of the largely Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. He was arrogant, short-tempered, profane, and blasphemous to those he considered rebels and traitors to the Crown. His tendency to use such colorful language earned him the nickname "the Swearing Captain." 

He considered the Ulster Scots people who lived in South Carolina's upstate and their Christian faith to be beneath him. During his raids on the local farms, Huck and his men would be known to burn the homes of those found with Presbyterian Bibles, swearing blasphemous insults at those he rendered homeless. 

On one occasion, after stealing the horses of a local group of Whigs, Huck mocked them and the Patriot militias in the backcountry declaring: "Even if the rebels were thick as the trees, and Jesus Christ would come down and lead them, he could defeat them!" Such statements, matched by his brutal contempt for the local population and their faith, would make Huck's name an anathema across the upper districts. Even to this day, the name Christian Huck is remembered infamously in Chester and York Counties in the same breath as his infamous commanding officer, "Bloody Ban" Tarleton. 

Huck's Raid On Fishing Creek 

On Sunday, June 11th, Captain Huck arrived in the upper Fishing Creek settlement with his dragoons and Ferguson's Loyalist militia riding hard toward the Fishing Creek Meeting House (Fishing Creek Church), where intelligence put McClure, Bratton, and most of their Patriot militia, along with a number of Simpson's Presbyterian congregation attending morning worship service. Huck planned to catch them by surprise. 

Huck's forces then stopped at the neighboring home of Janet "Jenny" Strong, a widow and sister of Justice John Gaston. Her family were known to be staunch Patriots. Her eldest son, Christopher, was 20 and had served in the local militia for years. Her younger son, William, was 17 and had joined the local Patriot militia earlier that year. 

Huck's men entered the Strong home and plundered it of anything valuable, with emphasis on corn and wheat. When some of his men entered the barn where her youngest son, William, was hiding and reading his family Bible. The Loyalists shot him dead and dragged his body from the barn into the yard. There several of the Legion soldiers began to hack at the body until the grieving Mrs. Strong rushed from the house and covered her dead son's body with her own to stop the mutilation. 

According to one local account, a tame pigeon landed in the yard drawn by some of the accidentally scattered wheat, and was cut in half by Huck's saber. He then said in mockery to Mrs. Strong: "Madam, I have cut the head off of the Holy Ghost." The grieving woman reportedly responded by saying, "You will never die in your bed, nor will your death be that of the righteous!"

Huck then ordered the Strong home and barn burned, leaving Mrs. Strong homeless in the yard with her dead son. The Loyalists then marched on towards the Fishing Creek Meeting House. 

As they approached the Loyalists surrounded the building and went inside, finding the place empty with no Rebel militia in sight. From local Tories, they learned that the Whig militia -- tipped off that the Loyalists were on their way -- had already left the day before headed towards the New Acquisitions District (York County). Furious at missing his chance to capture the Patriot leaders, Huck ordered his dragoons and Ferguson's men to sack and burn the meeting house.

Huck then ordered his men to remount and proceed to the Simpson's home where they hoped to capture the Whig minister. Several of Reverend Simpson's slaves were standing nearby and overhead Huck's declaration to "burn the rascal out." They hastened to the Simpson home. 

Monument dedicated to the memory of Reverend John Simpson
(1740-1808) at Fishing Creek Presbyterian Church.
Fishing Creek Presbyterian Church is located on SC Highway 32
(Fishing Creek Church Rd.) near the Town of Edgemoor, SC
in Chester County.

A quarter mile away at the Simpson home, the pastor's wife, Mary Simpson, was having breakfast with her children when she heard the sound of gunfire. The slaves arrived just ahead of Huck's Loyalists and alerted Mrs. Simpson of the destruction of the meeting house and Huck's imminent arrival. She directed them to take the children and hide in the woods nearby.

The Loyalists arrived moments later, demanding that Simpson surrender himself. Mrs. Simpson informed them that he was gone, sending Huck into another blasphemous rage. He ordered the home plundered and burned to the ground. 

The Loyalists stole clothes, family silver, and anything of value they could find; even tearing open the feather beds with their bayonets and scattered the feathers in the yard. Huck himself threw the Reverend Simpson's Bible into the fireplace, intending to burn it. Mrs. Simpson quickly saved it, further enraging Huck. Once the house was aflame, Huck's men also set fire to the barns and an outbuilding that the Reverend Simpson used as a study. 

As the British soldiers departed, Mrs. Simpson ran into the burning study at great risk to her life -- she did in fact suffer terrible burns -- and saved two aprons full of the books. She and her children were now homeless and had to stay with a neighbor. 

Huck and his forces then returned to Rocky Mount, having failed in their mission to capture Simpson, McClure and Bratton, but having inflicted some degree of punishment to the rebellious Scotch-Irish Whigs. 


Huck's raid on the Fishing Creek community, and the subsequent cruelties he and his British Legion detachment and Loyalist militia subjected the local population to over the next month, would add to the reputation of the British Legion and continued to strike both fear and a great deal of resentment to much of the South Carolina Upcountry's population.

As bad as his destruction of the Fishing Creek Church and the Reverend Simpson's home would be, Huck's next act of terror would have long-lasting repercussions to the people of the Chester and York County areas. 

For more information about Huck's Raid on Chester County please consult the following sources that were used to help with this blog post:
The Chester County Historical Society: http://www.chestercohistorical.org/
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

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