The Loyalists Routed
Thursday, June 8, 1780
Thursday, June 8, 1780
By: C.W. Roden
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, following the Fall of Charleston to the British Army on May 12, 1780, the British army established outposts across South Carolina in an attempt to reestablish the Crown's rule of the independent State and to recruit Southern Loyalists to join the fight against the rebellious Continentals. The British military presence in the Upstate at Rocky Mount in modern-day Chester County was enough to embolden the local Loyalist population to strike out against their Whig (Patriot) neighbors.
In the Fairfiled District -- modern-day Fairfield County -- a group of Loyalists, largely commanded by a local Tory militia leader Colonel Robert Coleman, established a camp at Mobley's Meeting House (also known as Gibson's Meeting House) located next to a high embankment on a branch of the Little River near a place called Shirer's Ferry.
From their outpost these Loyalists, encouraged by General Sir Henry Clinton's June 3rd Proclamation, informed the inhabitants of the region to take the oath of allegiance to the Crown, or be regarded as rebels and traitors. Emboldened they soon began to raid and plunder the homes and properties of their Patriot neighbors. Some of these acts were said to be revenge for similar plundering done by local Whigs following the Snow Campaign five years before where the Loyalists were soundly defeated.
Among the homes plundered were the plantations of Captains John and Henry Hampton, who were arrested and sent to British General Cornwallis's headquarters at Camden under guard.
Gathering Of Upcountry Patriots
A former Patriot captain of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment and prominent landowner in the district named Richard Winn started to organize a militia to fight back against the Loyalists. Such was the fear of the British authority by this time -- largely due to the presence of the infamous British Legion nearby at Camden -- that Winn was unable to find anyone in the district willing to oppose them.
Undaunted, Winn himself set out north to the New Acquisitions District -- modern-day York County -- and sought the help of local Patriot leaders he was well acquainted with there for assistance in raising a force to fight back.
Among the men Winn met with were Patriot militia leaders such as Colonel William Bratton who had been leading local Patriot militia since 1775, Colonel William "Billy" Hill (grandfather of future Confederate General Daniel Harvey Hill) who ran the local iron works making weapons for the Continental Army, Colonel Edward Lacey, and Captain John McClure who arrived along with most of the 33 men who led the successful surprise attack at Alexander's Old Field the day before.
With their help, Winn was able to raise a force of about 200 Upcountry Patriots from York and Chester Counties. Colonel Bratton was elected the overall field commander for the engagement. With this strong force of militiamen, all well-mounted on good horses, Bratton, Winn and the other Patriot leaders set out for Mobley's Meeting House.
On the early morning hours of Thursday, June 8th, the Patriots arrived in the vicinity of Mobley's Meeting House and scouted the area. As with the previous engagement at Alexander's Old Field, some of the people gathered at the site were armed Loyalist militia, while others were local citizens complying with Clinton's proclamation to take protection and join the Loyalist militia.
The Loyalist stronghold had both a fortified blockhouse and the sturdy-built log meetinghouse itself. Coleman's Loyalists were posted both inside and outside the meeting house. Coleman and his men were not particularly alert against the possibility of attack, despite the news of the recent events near Beckhamville several days earlier.
The strategy the Patriot militia agreed upon was virtually the same as the one McClure's men used at Alexander's Old Field: attack without warning and surprise the enemy. They fanned out through the woods and surrounded the fortified meeting house on three sides -- the fourth side faced the high embankment overlooking the little river that was both hazardous to climb, or descend in a retreat. The Whigs were certain that the Tories inside would not attempt to escape that way.
As the sun rose, Winn's party began the attack, catching Coleman and his Loyalists completely by surprise. So panicked were the Loyalists that many of them did in fact jump from the steep embankment in an attempt to escape. This accounted for most of the casualties in the battle, rather than deaths or wounds from musket and rifle fire.
The fight lasted for several minutes before the remaining Loyalists either escaped down the embankment, or surrendered to Bratton and Winn's Patriots. Several of the Loyalists were killed and wounded (the exact number is unknown) with no casualties among the Patriots.
Following the battle, the Patriots recovered from the captured blockhouse much of the loot that the Tories took from Whig plantations, including some 30 slaves, several wagons and teams, 30 horses, and the household furniture plundered from John and Henry Hampton. The plunder was later restored to their owners, and the Patriot militia commanded by Colonel Bratton and Captain's McClure and Lacey retired with their prisoners to the Upper Fishing Creek Presbyterian Meeting House in modern-day Chester County. The prisoners would be transferred to North Carolina, while most the Patriot militiamen would return to their neighborhoods until needed again.
Captain Richard Winn would immediately suffer the wrath of Loyalist reprisal. Knowing that Winn was one of the planners of the raid at Mobley's, and that he was still in the field with the Whig partisans; Loyalists from the Little River area visited his plantation, sacking it and then put all of his possessions to the torch.
British Lt. Colonel Turnbull, commander of the Rocky Mount outpost, alarmed by the the two attacks at Beckhamville and Mobley's Meeting House, knew that a show of force was going to be necessary to keep the Rebels in check.
In reprisal, Turnbull would send out the detachment of British Legion Cavalry under the command of Captain Christian Huck to punish the local Rebel population. His first target would be the home of Justice John Gaston, which will be discussed in the next chapter of this series.
|The SC historical marker is located in Fairfield County, SC |
on SSR 18 (Ashford Ferry Rd.) three miles north of the intersection with SC 215.
The site of the battle is about 1.5 miles west of the marker next to
the Little River on private land.
For more information about The Battle of Mobley's Meeting House 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