Francis Marion’s Brigade Liberates Patriot Prisoners Seized by the British at the Battle of Camden
The Santee Wildlife Refuge has many scenic trails, and if you wander along the dirt paths in the Pine Island Unit you will likely be covering the same ground that Patriot Brigadier General Francis Marion crossed in late August 1780. In anticipation of the Battle of Camden, Patriot Major General Horatio Gates tasked Marion with destroying boats along the Santee River to block a British escape to Charleston. Marion and his local militia were successfully carrying out their mission when Marion learned of the devastating Patriot defeat at Camden. Fearing that his men would mutiny and disperse, he kept the demoralizing news to himself.
Marion received two other pieces of information that stirred his anger toward the enemy. He heard from a deserter that the British had just burned his home, Pond Bluff, below Nelson’s Ferry, and he was also informed that Captain Jonathan Roberts’s detachment of the 63rd Regiment of Foot was holding 150 Continental prisoners from Camden at Patriot commander Thomas Sumter's abandoned plantation, Great Savannah, near Nelson’s Ferry. After dark on August 20 or 25 — the historical record is unclear about the date — Marion initiated a surprise attack to release those prisoners. Startling a British sentry, who fired a warning shot, Marion’s men rushed Sumter’s home and, after a brief skirmish, liberated the Continentals. The Patriots killed or captured 22 British Regulars and two Loyalists. One of the prisoners was wounded. Ironically, of the freed Continentals, 85 refused to be liberated. They decided to accept whatever fate awaited them rather than be bound to Marion’s ragtag militia. Although the remainder of the freed men followed Marion, all but three had deserted him by the time he reached his camp in the Snow’s Island swamps. Their loss had little effect on Marion’s band of warriors, who remained devoted to their commander and his effective guerilla tactics.
August 20 or 25, 1780
Friends Joseph "Raleigh" West and Charles Lane discuss their work as conservationists, their journey to the field, the topographical and social factors that shaped the Revolutionary War, and what this history means for us in the present moment.