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Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Destruction Of Hill's Ironworks: Huck's Reign Of Terror Continues - June 17, 1780

Living history re-enactors portraying Captain Christian Huck and officers of the British Legion Cavalry and Loyalist Militia.
(Photograph courtesy of Historic Brattonsville)

The Destruction Of Hill's Ironworks
Huck's Reign Of Terror Continues
Saturday, June 17, 1780  

By: C.W. Roden

On June 11th, the same day that a detachment of the dreaded British Legion and Loyalist militia under the command of Captain Christian Huck was destroying Reverend John Simpson's home and library, another pastor, Reverend William Martin, and his congregation were meeting at their church on Rocky Creek. So many people turned out in fact that the service had to be held outside under the shade of the trees. 

Though none of those assembled were yet aware of Huck's activities to the north along Fishing Creek, they were fully aware of the recent Fall of Charleston and the massacre of Buford's Continentals at the Waxhaws the previous month, and very much aware of the more recent responses of many of their neighbors and relatives at Alexander's Old Field and Mobley's Meeting House

That Sunday morning, Reverend Martin preached a sermon full of righteous fire and anti-British sentiment that was long remembered in the Rocky Creek community. In the sermon, Martin reminded the largely Scots-Irish congregation of the hardships that their fathers had suffered, that they had been forced out of Scotland and again out of Ireland, had come to America where they were free men and where they had built their homes and church. Now the British were coming and would once again drive them from their homes. He told them that there is a time to pray and a time to fight and the time to fight had come. This sermon inspired many of them to take up arms against the British and their Loyalist neighbors. 

The next morning, Monday, June 12th, a group of Martin's churchgoers and local Patriots assembled at a muster ground seven miles from Rocky Mount and began drilling under the command of Captain Ben Land. Unknown to Land and his men, a local schoolmaster and Loyalist named Montgomery had tipped off the British commander at Rocky Mount about the militia gathering. Huck's green-coated dragoons caught the Patriot militia by surprise, then charged upon them, slashing them with their sabers. The militiamen ran for their lives. Captain Land himself was surrounded by the dragoons and attempted to defend himself with his sword, managing to wound a couple of the horsemen before he was cut to pieces and killed. 

About two miles from the muster ground, about half a dozen of Martin's neighbors assembled at the shop of a local blacksmith and free-man-of-color, George Harris. These men were getting their horses shod when the Legion dragoons also surprised them and killed one of their number. Huck's men then proceeded to the home of Reverend Martin, where they arrested and then took him back to their post at Rocky Mount a prisoner. Huck's dragoons also put Reverend Martin's home to the torch. The Patriot minister was transferred to the jail at Camden where he would remain for several months before being released by General Cornwallis. 

D.A.R. marker at the site of Reverend Martin's Rocky Creek
"Covenenter" Church (Meeting House) located 2 miles
east of the Catholic Presbyterian Church.

The Meeting At Hill's Ironworks

On the same day that Reverend Martin was captured, a meeting took place in the New Acquisitions District at William "Billy" Hill's Ironworks. A Loyalist envoy had been sent there from Lord Rawdon to the assembled locals with a British proclamation claiming that the Continental Congress had abandoned Georgia and South Carolina. The envoy also claimed that George Washington's Continental Army was in flight before General Sir Henry Clinton's British and Hessian Forces in the north. After making these bold claims, the Loyalist envoy then encouraged the people of the New Acquisitions District to take the oath pledging loyalty to the British Crown. 

At this point Hill interrupted the commissioner and refuted the claims made by the officer. Hill informed the audience that the Continental Congress had not abandoned them, that instead Washington himself was sending one of his best officers south to form a new Southern Continental Army to take back South Carolina from the British occupation.

As the operator of a large ironworks that supplied weapons and material to the Continental Army, Hill had extensive contacts with important officials and prominent citizens in Charlotte, Salisbury and throughout western North Carolina. These contacts kept Hill well informed of developments with the war in the north and with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  

Hill was correct for the most part about the new Continental Army being formed in North Carolina. Two brigades of Maryland and Delaware Continentals under the command of Major General Johann DeKalb (also known simply as Baron DeKalb) would arrive in Hillsborough over a week later, forming the nucleus of a new Southern command. These Continentals were among Washington's best soldiers. Also included in this new army were Virginia and North Carolina militia volunteers. The Board of War appointed by the Continental Congress however overruled Washington's choice to command the Southern Army Major General Nathaniel Greene and instead appointed Major General Horatio Gates, the so-called "Hero of Saratoga" to the job. This choice would later have serious and disastrous consequences. 

The crowd's reaction to these revelations was immediate. They sided with Hill and the  Loyalist envoy left quickly with his proclamations for fear of being detained, or possibly tarred and feathered by the angry crowd of Scots-Irish Patriots. The men of the New Acquisitions agreed to form a new militia regiment and elected Andrew Neel as their colonel with Hill acting as lieutenant colonel. Hill's Ironworks became the headquarters of the reconstructed New Acquisitions Regiment. Word quickly spread about the formation of the unit, and soon men from Georgia and western South Carolina added to the growing Patriot force.

The British & Loyalist Response 

On Wednesday, June 14th, Colonels Neel and Hill both received intelligence that an Irish Loyalist named Matthew Floyd was raising men in the Broad River settlements to join his militia regiment to reinforce the British outpost at Rocky Mount. The reports also mentioned Floyd's Loyalists terrorizing Patriot inhabitants along the river. 

Upon hearing this news, Colonel Neal collected a number of men and set off in pursuit of the Loyalists, leaving only a small garrison to guard the ironworks during his absence. Floyd and about 30 of his Loyalist neighbors from the Broad, Tyger and Enoree Rivers headed to Rocky Mount to offer their services to the British command there, unaware that he and his men were leaving their homes and friends unprotected.

Floyd and his men arrived at Rocky Mount on Thursday, June 15th about the same time that Captain Huck and his forces were returning from their foraging expedition. In addition to confiscation horses and food supplies from known local Patriots and destroying the homes and churches of Scots-Irish Presbyterians, whom Huck held in particular disdain; Huck informed the commander of the post, Lt. Colonel Turnbull that the local Whig militia under Colonels Edward Lacey and William Bratton had "fled to the mountains" (a reference to the hilly area of the northwestern part of modern-day York County, SC). 

Turnbull was pleased to have Floyd and his men fill the ranks, considering the staunch Loyalist an asset and giving him a Royal commission of Colonel of militia in the Upper Spartan District (modern-day Spartanburg County). Floyd's son Abraham was granted a commission of captain. 

Later that evening, a courier arrived with intelligence that Neel and his forces had left Hill's Ironworks and were advancing on the area west of the Broad River wreaking havoc on the Loyalist settlements where Floyd and his men lived. 

Turnbull knew that the ironworks were a refuge for Rebels, as well as a source of weapons in the upcountry and that the time had come to deal with it. The British officer ordered Huck with a mobile force of British Legion cavalry and sixty mounted Loyalist militia under the newly commissioned Captain Abraham Floyd to march on Hill's Ironworks and to destroy it along with any Whig forces in the area. 

Huck and his Loyalist forces set out early the next morning on Friday, June 16th. 

At the ironworks, Colonel Hill received word that now General Thomas Sumter was north in Salisbury, recruiting men and preparing to join Patriot General Griffith Rutherford, who commanded the Salisbury Militia Brigade, at Charlotte for a major attack against Loyalist forces near Ramsour's Mill. 

Hill made plans to rendezvous with Rutherford at Tuckasegee Ford on the Catawba River in North Carolina. He left about 15 men to guard the place, taking the rest of his militia north, unaware that Huck and his Loyalists were on their way to the ironworks.


The Destruction Of Hill's Ironworks

After securing his camp, Captain Huck set out for Hill's Ironworks in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 17th. Employing a local loyalist named John Dennis as a guide, Huck's men made their way into the New Acquisition District.

Along the way Huck's Loyalist force stopped at the home of local Whig militiaman, James Simril, along Allison Creek, a tributary of the Catawba River. There they confiscated what provisions they could find, and then set fire to the barn before they left. Next they arrived at the home of Moses Ferguson, another Whig sympathizer who lived on Rocky Allison Creek about two miles south of Hill's Ironworks. Huck ordered Ferguson under threat to kill him and destroy his home to show him the best route to take in order to outflank and take the Patriot militia stationed at the ironworks by surprise. 

Captain John Henderson of the Patriot force left at the ironworks had been scouting the area for Loyalists when he was captured by Huck's advance forces. Huck confiscated Henderson's horse and saddle, then sent the prisoner under guard to Rocky Mount while he continued to the ironworks. 

The store, furnace, and mills that made up the ironworks themselves were built on the south side of Allison Creek. The Patriot militia accordingly set up their encampment there and prepared for an attack from the same direction they believed Huck would come from. Two of Colonel Hill's sons, Robert and William Jr., procured a one-pound swivel gun manufactured at the ironworks and set it up on a hill overlooking the south road, where they could train it on the approaching Tories. 

Huck however had anticipated such a defense and instead attacked the Patriots from the north, catching the defenders completely by surprise. After exchanging a couple of volleys with Huck's forces, the outnumbered Patriots mounted their horse and road north to North Carolina. Huck overtook the rear of the militia's detachment killing several and taking about four prisoners. Huck also captured both of Hill's sons, though later released them. The Loyalists stripped the prisoners of their belongings -- including reportedly their rings.  

One of the men captured by Huck was Hill's iron molder, an Irishman named Calhoun. Calhoun was hung by the neck and ordered to tell Huck where Colonel Hill was, but being true to his employer he refused to do so. The Loyalists left him hanging there, but one of Hill's slaves who had been hiding and witnessed the whole thing, cut Calhoun down and helped restore the man to health.

That afternoon, the Loyalists then plundered the ironworks and Whig camp of everything they could, and once that task was completed, Huck ordered the ironworks and all of the surrounding buildings burned to the ground. Huck burned the forge, furnace, sawmills, all of the outbuildings and even the slave huts. Around 90 African-American slaves were also taken as "contraband" and several would end up becoming servants to the British commander of Rocky Mount, Turnbull, and a few of Huck's officers.  

After demolishing the ironworks, Huck moved his forces southwest down to Fergus Crossroads, where the town of York, South Carolina stands today, and made camp for the evening. 

Immediately following the destruction of the ironworks, Huck and his taskforce moved back down Fishing Creek towards Brown's Crossroads. In addition to the Whig prisoners and captured slaves, Huck sent a dispatch with a report to Turnbull claiming that he had "defeated 150 rebels" and completely destroyed the ironworks. 

Aftermath

The destruction of Hill's Ironworks was not only a serious blow to the Patriot cause in the South Carolina backcountry, but also to the American cause itself. The ironworks had been a major producer or guns and ammunition that supplied the Continental Army in the north.

Worse for the people of the area, it was also a major producer of both kitchen utensils and agricultural implements depended on heavily by the farmers in the surrounding communities along the border of both Carolinas. The destruction of the ironworks was nothing less than a complete disaster which literally meant that some of these farmers had to return to briefly return to the wooden plough. 

Because of the latter, the destruction of Hill's Ironworks, while a legitimate act of war because of the former, ended up working badly against the British cause of pacifying the SC backcountry. It also added to the list of grievances that the people of the local area had against Captain Christian Huck -- a list of abuses that would rapidly grow over the next month. 

Believing that he and his men had dispersed the last body of armed Whigs from the district and secured the region for the Crown, Huck began to send his men throughout the area, posting notices and notifying the inhabitants of the region informing them that Huck would be holding an assembly at the Brown's Crossroads  on Thursday, June 22nd, where the citizens could sign the oath of allegiance and take British protection. 

Since most of the young men in the area were now in North Carolina with Colonels Hill, Bratton, and Neil at General Thomas Sumter's camp, the only men who attended Huck's assembly were primarily older citizens from the New Acquisition District and the upper part of what is modern-day Chester County. 

There it was reported to Colonel Hill by eyewitnesses that Huck verbally harangued the locals, spitting out blasphemous statements that no doubt deeply offended the Scots-Irish Presbyterians, and then proceeded to order his men to confiscate their horses. The "Swearing Captain" then went on to reportedly declare: "God almighty had become a Rebel, but if there were 20 Gods on that side, they would all be conquered!" As the now outraged local men were forced at bayonet point to disperse and now walk many miles home on foot, Huck reportedly made his most infamous statement: "Even if the rebels were thick as the trees, and Jesus Christ would come down and lead them, he could defeat them!" 

Because of this most of these men refused to take the Oath of Allegiance. Indeed, some of these men had, until then, been neutral in the fighting. Huck's theft and blasphemy, along with his destruction of the ironworks ended up having quite the opposite effect that he'd intended on the locals.  

The Bible makes it very plain that God will not be mocked. Huck himself would learn that lesson the hard way, and it would be at the hands of those faithful Patriots that he insulted and terrorized that the Lord's vengeance would be delivered upon the Pennsylvania Loyalist less than a month later at a place called Williamson's Plantation in York County.


The grave of Colonel William Hill in the churchyard of historic Bethel
Presbyterian Church near Clover, South Carolina.

(Front):
William Hill, who served in the American Revolution 
and was present at many battles, built an ironworks 
near here on Allison Creek about 1776. Hill and his partner, 
Isaac Hayne, manufactured swivel guns, kitchen utensils, cannon, 
ammunition, and various farm tools. His ironworks 
was burned by British Capt. Christian Huck in June 1780.

(Reverse):
Rebuilt 1787-1788 near here on Allison Creek, Hill's Ironworks 
consisted of two furnaces, four gristmills, two sawmills, and about 
15,000 acres of land by 1795. Around 80 blacks were employed here 
as forgemen, blacksmiths, founders, miners, and in other occupations. 
A nail factory with three cutting machines was operating here by 1802.

For more information about the destruction of Hill's Iron Works 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

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