The fort’s garrison included seventy-eight regular British soldiers and thirty-six Loyalists under the command of Lieutenant James McKay. With the strong garrison, the abatis, and the cleared land around the fort, Marion and Lee realized that a frontal assault to take the fort would be too costly.

Fort Watson, named for Colonel John Watson, was one of a series of British supply depots between Charleston and Camden during the Revolutionary War. The fort was located at Wright’s Bluff overlooking Scott’s Lake and was constructed between late December 1780 and the end of January 1781. Scott’s Lake has since been inundated by Lake Marion, and the fort site is protected by the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. The British constructed the formidable stockaded post on top of an ancient Indian mound, surrounding it with three rows of sharpened tree trunks and branches called abatis. On April 15, 1781, the Americans under the command of Francis Marion and Henry Lee invested the fort and began a siege that lasted eight days and ended with its capture. The fort’s garrison included seventy-eight regular British soldiers and thirty-six Loyalists under the command of Lieutenant James McKay. With the strong garrison, the abatis, and the cleared land around the fort, Marion and Lee realized that a frontal assault to take the fort would be too costly. At the suggestion of Major Hezekiah Maham, the Americans constructed a log tower near the fort. This allowed riflemen to fire into the fort and protected an assault party that pulled away the abatis, forcing the British to surrender. The fort was destroyed.

Ferguson, Leland G. “An Archeological-Historical Analysis of Fort Watson: December 1780–April 1781.” In Research Strategies in Historical Archaeology, edited by Stanley South. New York: Academic Press, 1977.

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 Watson
  • Author Stephen D. Smith
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/fort-watson/
  • Access Date January 23, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date May 17, 2016
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2019