However, Marion and Lee, realizing that they had to act quickly, decided to set Mrs. Motte’s house on fire. Lee asserted in his Memoirs that upon informing Mrs. Motte of their decision she offered them bow and arrows for the task, but William Dobein James, a Marion biographer, dismisses this story, stating that the fire was started by slinging burning rosin onto the roof.

Fort Motte was the plantation home of Rebecca Motte that was fortified by the British during the Revolutionary War. Located on a high prominence overlooking the Congaree River, the fort served as a depot for supply convoys between Charleston, Ninety Six, and Camden. The fort consisted of the Motte house surrounded by a ditch and a parapet. After the capture of Fort Watson, Brigadier General Francis Marion and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee moved north on May 6, 1781, and began a siege. In the fort were Lieutenant Donald McPherson with 140 British regulars plus a small detachment of dragoons. A British relief force under the command of Francis Lord Rawdon came within sight on May 11, giving hope to the besieged garrison. However, Marion and Lee, realizing that they had to act quickly, decided to set Mrs. Motte’s house on fire. Lee asserted in his Memoirs that upon informing Mrs. Motte of their decision she offered them bow and arrows for the task, but William Dobein James, a Marion biographer, dismisses this story, stating that the fire was started by slinging burning rosin onto the roof. Either way, Mrs. Motte’s home was set afire and Marion’s six-pound cannon kept the British from putting it out. The British were forced to surrender. The fire was extinguished, and that evening Mrs. Motte entertained both the British and American officers. Although only two men died in the battle, several Loyalists were hanged the next day. Marion saved another.

James, William Dobein. A Sketch of the Life of Brig. Gen. Francis Marion. 1821. Reprint, Marietta, Ga.: Continental Book Company, 1948.

Lee, Henry. The Revolutionary War Memoirs of General Henry Lee. 1869. Reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1998.

Rankin, Hugh F. Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox. New York: Crowell, 1973.

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Citation Information

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  • Article Title Fort Motte
  • Author Stephen D. Smith
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/fort-motte/
  • Access Date January 23, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date May 17, 2016
  • Date of Last Update October 4, 2016