Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolutionby Walter B. Edgar, Walter Edgar
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In South Carolina, the Revolutionary War was all but a first Civil War, with Tories and Rebelssometimes from the same familyviciously fighting one another from the beginning of the conflict in 1775 to the colonists' victory in 1782. In this gripping, thoroughly researched volume, Walter Edgar brings to life the battles, the people, and the land that were a crucial front line in the struggle for independence.
With lively, evocative prose, Edgar tells the bloody tale of the British occupation: havng taken Charleston, the Redcoats swept across the Carolina backcountry like a firestorm, brutalizing and massacring innocent civilians. Yet deep in this land of rolling hills and luch valleys, the poorly organized and demoralized patriots stuggled valiantly, finally assuring themselves after many battles that they could defeat the Redcoats. A story of heroes and villains, betrayal and honor, this rousing chronicle is American history at its finest.
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The South Carolina Backcountry:
Taming the Southern Frontier
This is a very fruitful Spot, thro' which the dividing Line between North and South Carolina runs The Heads of P.D. [Pee Dee] River, Lynch 's Creek, and many other Creeks take their Rise in this Quarter so that a finer Body of Land is no where to be seen But it is occupied by a Sett of the most lowest vilest Crew breathing Scotch Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland.
Reverend Charles Woodmason, 25 January 1767
The "fruitful Spot" described by the itinerant Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason was the Waxhaws, a settlement along the border between the colonies of North and South Carolina. To Woodmason's friends in Charleston, the Waxhaws might as well have been on another planet. To the incredibly wealthy members of the South Carolina elite, the only world that mattered was their own the fabled Carolina lowcountry and it ended about fifty miles from the coast. In the lowcountry parish of St. George Dorchester was a crossroads called Parish End. The name said it all, except that it might have been more appropriately called World's End. The rest of the colony was dismissively referred to as the backcountry.
Much of the backcountry lay in the South Carolina piedmont a land of rolling hills and lush valleys. The topsoil was rich, but it was only about twelve inches deep in most places, and beneath it was red clay. The forests were predominantly oak and hickorywith a scattering of pine and gum trees. Dogwood, red maple, and spice bush were the understory trees. In low-lying areas, were dense canebrakes. In the springtime, native azaleas, buttercups, honeysuckle, Indian pinks, trillium, iris, and violets brightened the fields and forests.
Dozens of streams of all sizes rived the land, creating the valleys to which early settlers were drawn. Although many of these creeks and rivers began as crystal-clear mountain rivulets, they were soon clouded by soil and vegetable matter.
In the fields and forests could be found all sorts of wild game: beavers, deer, turkeys, quail, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, bears, foxes, squirrels, wolves, geese, and ducks. In the streams were trout, bream, and catfish. Flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the sky, and the howls of panthers could still be heard. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, when European settlement eliminated them, buffalo still roamed. Ironically, it was the buffalo runs or paths, transformed into trading routes by Indians and Europeans, that became the highways that helped open up the backcountry to settlers.
In 1740 there were very few Europeans in the South Carolina backcountry. By the American Revolution, nearly one-half of the colony's total population, and 80 percent of its white population, lived there.
The migration of predominantly Scots-Irish settlers transformed the lower South and, in the final analysis, was key to America's triumph over Great Britain in the Revolution. The Great Wagon Road that served as the settlers' highway began across the Schuylkill River from Philadelphia. From the Pennsylvania capital it went west to Harrisburg and then turned south, following the great Shenandoah Valley through Maryland and Virginia into the piedmont of North Carolina. The road veered slightly southeastward to the Moravian settlements at Wachovia, and then almost due south to the South Carolina town of Pine Tree Hill (Camden).
The Great Wagon Road traversed the Catawba River Valley from north to south en route from Wachovia to Pine Tree Hill. The Catawba River, arising in North Carolina and continuing into South Carolina, was a slow-moving, muddy river. Its valley was broad and fertile. Because of its lushness and accessibility, it was the site of some of the first backcountry settlements in South Carolina. The Waxhaws, one of the larger backcountry settlements, was situated in the Catawba River Valley. In 1769 John Stuart, who was royal superintendent of Indian affairs for the Southern District, wrote that "near the Boundary, that Country is full of inhabitants, which in my memory was considered by the Indians as their hunting Ground, such is their rage for settling far back."
What was it that caused this veritable flood of new settlers into the South Carolina backcountry? Cheap and available land was the primary attraction. South Carolina had a more generous land policy for settlers than did either Virginia or North Carolina. Each male head of household could claim one hundred acres for himself and an additional fifty acres for each member of his family and each servant. All that was required was that the settler enter a memorial at the land office in Charleston (something that many settlers neglected to do). South Carolina also had a long-standing tradition of religious toleration. And for those who thought about growing crops for export, South Carolina had a major port. So, while some settlers from Pennsylvania stopped off in Virginia and North Carolina, other settlers from those colonies joined the migration southward.
The initial group that headed south was made up almost entirely of Scots-Irish. These were ethnic lowland Scots who, because they were Protestant, had been encouraged by the English government to settle in northern Ireland. For years religious intolerance has been given as the reason for the Scots-Irish immigration. But the real reason was economics. In the early eighteenth century, absentee landlords began to raise rents and shorten leases. And in the 1770s, the linen industry was beset with difficulties. With very little hope of prospering in Ulster, the Scots-Irish immigrated to Pennsylvania. There, they ran afoul of the Quaker government, which had little concept of what was occurring on the Pennsylvania frontier. If there were problems, the Quakers in Philadelphia were sure that it was the settlers and not the Indians who were responsible.
Having little patience with governments with which they disagreed, the Scots-Irish decided to leave. They were a determined bunch, characterized by one historian as "undisciplined, emotional, courageous, aggressive, [and] pugnacious." But, he allowed, "they..."
Partisans and Redcoats. Copyright © by Walter Edgar. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Walter Edgar has authored or edited nine books on the American South, including South Carolina: A History. He is the George Washington Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina.
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