After the war a penniless Marion, whose plantation had been ruined, was awarded a gold medal, a full Continental colonelcy, and command of Fort Johnson in Charleston harbor.
Soldier. Marion, of Huguenot descent, was born in St. John’s Berkeley Parish, the youngest of six children born to Gabriel Marion and Esther Cordes. A planter, Marion in 1773 built his home, Pond Bluff, about four miles south of Eutaw Springs, a site now beneath the waters of Lake Marion. He commenced his military career in the parish militia in 1756 and joined the campaigns against the Cherokees (1759–1761), rising to the rank of first lieutenant. Having served in local offices, he was elected in 1775 to the First Provincial Congress. Commissioned a captain in the state’s Second Regiment in June, he participated in the capture of Fort Johnson in September. As a major, Marion distinguished himself at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island (June 1776), after which he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Continental army. Marion commanded the Second Regiment at the disastrous Franco-American attack on Savannah in autumn 1779. Away on sick leave due to an accident, he eluded capture when Charleston fell to the British in May 1780. Escaping to North Carolina, he and a small party linked up with Horatio Gates’s army preparing for an invasion of South Carolina. Detailed to destroy enemy communication lines, Marion was not present for Gates’s defeat at Camden in August.
With a militia commission as brigadier general, Marion organized a partisan force in the Pee Dee region. Between August and December 1780, in an otherwise dismal period for America, Marion gained national recognition for his actions at Great Savannah (August 20), Blue Savannah (September 4), Black Mingo (September 29), Tearcoat Swamp (October 26), Georgetown (November 15), and Halfway Swamp (December 12–13). While some counts place the number of “Marion’s Men” at more than two thousand, his band generally consisted of considerably fewer than that and included Continentals. Marion’s nickname, the “Swamp Fox,” reportedly came from the infamous British officer Banastre Tarleton, who, unable to snare Marion, called him a “damned old fox” and swore that “the devil himself could not catch him.” Marion’s small-scale hit-and-run tactics disrupted supply lines, intercepted communications, and hampered the enemy considerably. In December 1780 he established a camp on Snow’s Island between the Pee Dee and Lynches Rivers and Clark’s Creek. Conditions improved by the spring of 1781, when Marion became a vital part of General Nathanael Greene’s combined operations in South Carolina. In 1781 Marion’s troops participated in the battles at Fort Watson (April 23), Fort Motte (May 12), Quinby Bridge (July 17), Parker’s Ferry (August 13), and Eutaw Springs (September 8). His numerous command problems included Greene’s distrust of the militia, his need for Marion’s essential horses, an ongoing conflict over rank and command with General Thomas Sumter, and a feud between his subordinates Peter Horry and Hezekiah Maham. This latter feud came to a head while Marion was serving as a senator in the General Assembly at Jacksonborough and resulted in a defeat at the hands of the British at Wambaw Bridge in February 1782. Returning to command, Marion’s brigade saw its last engagement at Wadboo Creek in the summer of 1782. Throughout the war, which in South Carolina was a brutally vicious civil conflict, Marion was said to be “humain and Mercifull” but was also known as a severe disciplinarian. Although small in stature, with knees and ankles “badly formed,” Marion inspired great loyalty in his ill-clothed, ill-fed, and ill-equipped band.
After the war a penniless Marion, whose plantation had been ruined, was awarded a gold medal, a full Continental colonelcy, and command of Fort Johnson in Charleston harbor. He served in the S.C. Senate in 1783–1786, 1791, and 1792–1794 and was elected to the 1790 state constitutional convention. He continued as a brigadier general in the militia until his retirement in 1794. His finances improved when he married his cousin Mary Esther Videau on April 20, 1786. The union produced no children, but in less than a decade Marion’s fortune grew dramatically. Near the end of his life he owned upward of eighteen hundred acres and seventy-three slaves. He died at Pond Bluff on February 27, 1795, and was buried in the family plot at Belle Isle in St. Stephen’s Parish. His tomb escaped flooding by the Santee-Cooper project and serves today as a humble monument to the Swamp Fox. His comrade Peter Horry attempted to write a history of Marion’s brigade, but it was hopelessly mangled by Mason Locke “Parson” Weems, the first of many to take enormous liberties with Marion’s legend. See plate 12.
Bass, Robert. Swamp Fox: The Life and Campaigns of General Francis Marion. New York: Holt, 1959.
Rankin, Hugh F. Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox. New York: Crowell, 1973.
Simms, William Gilmore. The Life of Francis Marion. 1844. Reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1971.