Brown was among the most notorious Loyalist commanders in the South during the Revolutionary War. In one of David Ramsey’s histories of the war, Brown wrote an impassioned defense of his conduct in reply to charges of cruelty. Brown died on his St. Vincent Island plantation on August 3, 1825.
Soldier. Brown was among the most notorious Loyalist commanders in the South during the Revolutionary War. He was born on May 27, 1750, in Whitby, England. Having acquired large tracts of the “Ceded Lands” near Augusta, Georgia, he immigrated to Georgia in the autumn of 1774. Brown promptly established a sizable plantation and became involved in local politics, particularly in expressing his opposition to the revolutionary movement. On August 2, 1775, a committee of the local Sons of Liberty seized and tortured him when Brown refused to renounce allegiance to his king. Making an escape, he fled to the South Carolina backcountry where he joined an active group of Loyalists. He set to work against the commission sent to the interior by the Charleston Council of Safety to gain support for the American effort and assisted in organizing an armed Loyalist force. Brown was among the Tory leaders at a confrontation with a rebel force near Ninety Six in September 1775. After a truce, he went to Charleston to confer with South Carolina’s royal governor Lord William Campbell but was arrested by the Council of Safety and ordered to leave Charleston.
Finding refuge in British-held St. Augustine, Florida, Brown was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in June 1776 by East Florida’s royal governor Patrick Tonyn and authorized to raise a regiment of mounted rangers. In the early years of the war, the rangers and their Creek and Cherokee allies patrolled the Georgia–South Carolina frontier. By 1779 the British held most of Georgia, which made East Florida’s security seem certain. Brown’s regiment was deactivated in June and reorganized as the King’s Carolina Rangers, a regular provincial corps. That same month he was appointed one of two British superintendents of the Southern Indian Department, thereby putting Creek and Cherokee relations under his control.
At the onset of 1780, Brown established his headquarters at Augusta and directed the activities of Tories and Indians against the patriots. He was wounded in an attack on the town in mid-September 1780 by an American force commanded by Elijah Clarke. After the unsuccessful siege, Brown ordered thirteen prisoners hanged for parole violations. A second siege, led by Colonel Henry Lee of the Continental army and General Andrew Pickens of the South Carolina militia, forced Brown to submit on June 5, 1781. After being exchanged, Brown made his headquarters as Indian superintendent in Savannah, until the evacuation of that city by the British in July 1782, and then in St. Augustine. Following the return of Florida to Spain, he moved to the Bahamas to start life anew. In one of David Ramsey’s histories of the war, Brown wrote an impassioned defense of his conduct in reply to charges of cruelty. Brown died on his St. Vincent Island plantation on August 3, 1825.
Cashin, Edward J. The King’s Ranger: Thomas Brown and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
Lambert, Robert Stansbury. South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.
Olson, Gary D. “Dr. David Ramsay and Lt. Colonel Thomas Brown: Patriot Historian and Loyalist Critic.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 77 (October 1976): 257–67.
–––. “Loyalists and the American Revolution: Thomas Brown and the South Carolina Backcountry, 1775–1776.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 68 (October 1967): 201–19; 69 (January 1968): 44–56.