Soldier, legislator. John James, son of William James and Elizabeth Witherspoon, was born in Ireland on April 12, 1732. The family migrated to Prince Frederick’s Parish, South Carolina, shortly after his birth and James grew to be a prominent planter with large landholdings. Before the Revolutionary War, James owned at least 2,114 acres, including 354 acres on the Black River, 950 acres on the Waccamaw River, 710 acres along the Little Pee Dee River and Lynches Creek, and 100 acres near Indiantown in Williamsburg County. He married Jean Dobein on January 18, 1753. They had five children.
James gained his first military experience as a captain in the provincial militia during the Cherokee War (1759–1761). In 1775 and 1776 he participated in the Second Provincial Congress and the First General Assembly, representing Prince Frederick’s Parish. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he was elected a captain in the state militia and served in the defense of Charleston under General William Moultrie, commanding a force of 120 men at a skirmish at Tulifinny Bridge in 1779. Fortunately for James, he was not among those who surrendered when the British captured Charleston in May 1780, having been ordered by Governor John Rutledge to raise a militia unit in the Williamsburg Township region.
William Dobein James, John James’s second son, relates the story that after the fall of Charleston, the British demanded loyalty oaths from paroled Americans. James was chosen by the local inhabitants to meet with British authorities in Georgetown to ask if the oaths included the obligation to take up arms against their neighbors still in rebellion. Meeting with a British officer in Georgetown, James was told that not only their loyalty but also their service for the king was demanded. The unarmed James, believing he was being threatened, retreated from the meeting brandishing a chair in front of him. Once clear of the officer, he returned to Williamsburg to report the event. The news of this incident, and that of General Horatio Gates arriving in North Carolina to take charge of a new American army, induced the Williamsburg patriots to return to arms against the British. Once again, James was elected to lead them.
James turned his militia force over to Francis Marion in August 1781 at Witherspoon’s Ferry on Lynches Creek. James served under Marion as a major and took part in several skirmishes against the British, including the Battle of Eutaw Springs (September 8, 1781). Shortly after the battle, he was elected to the state legislature and served in the Fourth General Assembly (1782). After the Revolution, he worked to restore his properties, which were heavily damaged during the war, and was again elected to public service, representing Prince Frederick’s Parish in the Sixth General Assembly (1785–1786). James died on January 29, 1791, and was buried at Indiantown Presbyterian Church.
Bailey, N. Louise, and Elizabeth Ivey Cooper, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 3, 1775–1790. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1981.
Blanchard, Amos. American Military Biography: Containing the Lives and Characters of the Officers of the Revolution, Who were Most Distinguished in Achieving our National Independence. New York: Edward J. Swords, 1830.
James, William Dobein. A Sketch of the Life of Brig. Gen. Francis Marion. 1821. Reprint, Marietta, Ga.: Continental Book Company, 1948.