Francis Marion (February 26, 1732–February 27, 1795) was a military leader during the French and Indian War, who distinguished himself as a lieutenant of militia in an expedition against the Cherokee Indians that were making raids on frontier settlements in South Carolina.
He rose to prominence as a delegate in 1775, to the South Carolina Provincial Congress. He was named a captain in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. He became a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and later brigadier general in the South Carolina Militia during the American Revolutionary War. His ability to elude British forces by disappearing into swamps resulted in his "Swamp Fox" nickname. It was reportedly given to him by the British commander Colonel Banastre ("Bannister") Tarleton.
He and his men adopted many tactics used by the Indians he fought against, and as a result Marion is considered one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare, and is credited in the lineage of the United States Army Rangers. His actions played a pivotal role in reviving resistance forces in South Carolina after Charleston was seized by British forces in 1780.
Family and early life
Marion was a grandson of Benjamin Marion and Louise d'Aubrey, Huguenots who were driven from France and came to South Carolina in 1690. Their son, Gabriel, married Esther Cordes, and Francis was the youngest of the six children of this marriage.
The family settled at Winyah, near Georgetown, South Carolina. Marion was born in midwinter, 1732, at Goatfield Plantation in St. James Parish, Berkeley County. When he was five or six, his family moved to a plantation in St. George, a parish on Winyah Bay. Apparently, they wanted to be near the English school in Georgetown.
When Francis was 15, he decided to become a sailor. He signed on as the sixth crewman of a schooner heading for the West Indies. As they were returning, a whale rammed the schooner and caused a plank to come loose. The captain and crew escaped in a boat, but the schooner sank so quickly that they were unable to take any food or water. After six days under the tropical sun, two crewmen died of thirst and exposure. The following day, the survivors reached shore.
Returning home, Marion assisted his father in the care of his small plantation. In 1759, a year or two after his father's death, he became the owner of his own plantation at Pond Bluff, which was his home for the rest of his life.
Shortly after he settled on his new plantation, a war with the Cherokee Indians began. It is supposed that Marion took part in Colonel Montgomery's expedition to the Indian country in 1760, but there is some uncertainty on this point. In 1761, the command in South Carolina devolved upon Colonel James Grant, of the Royal Scots, and he was assisted by a regiment of 1,200 state troops under Colonel Middleton. In this regiment, Marion served as lieutenant, under the immediate command of Captain William Moultrie.
His regiment marched from Fort Prince George on June 7, 1761, and a few days afterward fought a bloody battle with the Indians at Etchoee. The conflict was soon over and from this time until 1775, Marion seems to have lived quietly on his plantation.
Service during the Revolution
In 1775, Marion was a delegate to the Provincial congress of South Carolina, which, shortly after the Battle of Lexington, resolved to raise 1,500 infantry, in two regiments, besides a regiment of 450 horsemen. Marion was appointed captain in the second of these regiments, of which Moultrie was colonel. His commission was dated June 21, 1775.
Marion took part in the bloodless capture of Fort Johnson, September 14, 1775, when Lord William Campbell, the royal governor, fled to a British ship in the harbor. He was soon afterward promoted to major. In the brilliant victory of June 28, 1776, at Fort Sullivan, which drove the British fleet from Charleston harbor, Marion played an important part, and was soon afterward promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Continental Army.
But for much of the next three years, he remained at Fort Sullivan, occupying the time by trying to discipline his troops. In 1779, they joined the Siege of Savannah, which the Americans lost.
As the result of an accident in March of 1780, he broke his ankle while in Charleston. This injury would lead him to leave Charleston to recuperate in the country. As a result, he was not captured when the British took Charleston that May. When Charleston fell it seemed all organized resistance in South Carolina had come to an end.
Marion, however, organized a small troop, which at first consisted of between 20 and 70 men—and became the only force then opposing the British Army in the state.
Marion began his famous guerrilla tactics in the northern and eastern districts of South Carolina. His first act was to attack two regiments of British regulars on their way from Camden to Charleston with 150 prisoners; with a loss of only one man killed and one wounded, he threw the enemy into disorder, killed and wounded twenty-seven of their number, and set free all the prisoners.
With his militiamen, Marion showed himself to be a singularly able leader of irregulars. Unlike the Continental troops, Marion's Men, as they were known, served without pay, supplied their own horses, arms, and often their food. All of Marion's supplies that were not obtained locally were captured from the British or Loyalist ("Tory") forces.
Marion rarely committed his men to frontal warfare, but repeatedly surprised larger bodies of Loyalists or British regulars with quick surprise attacks and equally quick withdrawal from the field. After the surrender of Charleston, the British garrisoned South Carolina with help from local Tories, except for Williamsburg (the present Pee Dee), which they were never able to hold. The British made one attempt to garrison Williamsburg at Willtown, but were driven out by Marion at Mingo Creek.
The British especially hated Marion and made repeated efforts to neutralize his force, but Marion's intelligence gathering was excellent and that of the British was poor, due to the overwhelming Patriot loyalty of the populace in the Williamsburg area.
His main camp at Snow's Island was actually a low ridge about five miles long and two miles wide. It was protected by the Peedee River on the east, Lynches River on the north, and Clark's Creek on the south and west. Swamps and a lake to the west offered even further protection. It would become his favorite and most famous base. In late March of 1781, while Marion repelled and pursued one British attack force, another under Colonel Doyle penetrated to Snow’s Island and destroyed the camp. Marion never used Snow’s Island again.
Col. Banastre Tarleton, sent to capture Marion, despaired of finding the "old swamp fox," who eluded him by traveling along swamp paths. Tarleton and Marion were sharply contrasted in the popular mind. Tarleton was hated because he burned and destroyed homes and supplies, whereas Marion's Men, when they requisitioned supplies (or destroyed them to keep them out of British hands) gave the owners receipts for them. After the war, most of the receipts were redeemed by the new state government.
Once Marion had shown his ability at guerrilla warfare, making himself a serious nuisance to the British, Governor John Rutledge (in exile in North Carolina) commissioned him a brigadier-general of state troops.
When Gen. Nathanael Greene took command in the south, Marion and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee were ordered, in January 1781, to attack Georgetown, but were unsuccessful. In April, however, they took Fort Watson and in May, Fort Motte, and succeeded in breaking communications between the British posts in the Carolinas.
Marion also commanded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs in 1781, under General Greene. Strategy for the Eutaw Springs attack is credited to the genius of General Francis Marion, who knew every foot of the Santee swamps and river. This last major battle in South Carolina completely broke the British hold in the South and, more importantly, denied needed aid to the North. Only six weeks later, General Charles Cornwallis succumbed to General George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown, and American Independence was assured.
Marion served several terms in the South Carolina State Senate starting in 1782, and in 1784, in recognition of his services, was made commander of Fort Johnson, practically a courtesy title, with a salary of $500 per annum. In 1784, he also married Miss Mary Videau, his cousin. He was 54 and she was 49. They had no children.
He commanded a peacetime militia brigade and served in the South Carolina Assembly until 1790, where he opposed punishing Americans who had remained loyal to the British during the war. He also opposed the Confiscation Act that would have taken property away from Tories.
In 1790, Marion became a delegate to the state constitutional convention, and then retired from public life. After a long decline in health, Francis Marion died at his plantation, Pond Bluff, on February 27, 1795.
He is buried at Belle Isle Plantation Cemetery, Berkeley County, South Carolina.
Marion's grave stone reads:
BRIG. GEN. FRANCIS MARION
Who departed his life, on the 27th of February, 1795,
IN THE SIXTY-THIRD YEAR OF HIS AGE
Deeply regretted by all his fellow citizens
will record his worth, and rising generations embalm
his memory, as one of the most distinguished
Patriots and Heroes of the American Revolution:
which elevated his native Country
TO HONOR AND INDEPENDENCE,
Secured to her the blessings of
LIBERTY AND PEACE
This tribute of veneration and gratitude is erected
in commemoration of
the noble and disinterested virtues of the
and the gallant exploits of the
Oscar Marion was the personal slave of Gen. Francis Marion (1732-1795). Like other slaves of the time, he was given his master's surname. The two were side by side during the seven years of the Revolutionary War, far longer than most men of the time served. In addition to his duties for the general, Oscar Marion also fought in the militia.
In a ceremony held December 15, 2006, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Marion was recognized as an African American Patriot. A proclamation signed by President George Bush expressed the thanks of a "grateful nation" and recognized Oscar Marion's "devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the Armed Forces of the United States"
The occasion was a result of diligent work done by his distant cousin, genealogist Tina C. Jones, who researched his identity and pressed officials to honor him.
As Jones researched paintings and portraits of the general, she became aware of several "that portray Francis with Oscar close by," she said. A prominent one, titled, General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share His Meal, hangs in a third-floor corridor of the Senate wing of the Capitol. Its common name, Jones said, is "the sweet potato dinner picture."
Painted sometime between 1815 and 1825, by South Carolina artist John Blake White, it depicts Francis Marion, in a military hat, talking to a red-coated British officer. He extends his hand in a gesture that includes Oscar, who kneels low behind a small table, cooking sweet potatoes on the fire.
The painting recreated a scene from 1781, when the enemies met to discuss an exchange of prisoners of war, and Francis Marion surprised the British officer by inviting him to share his modest meal.
In 1899, White's son donated the oil-on-canvas painting to the U.S. Senate, where it has hung since. The slave was not named, however, until Jones studied the painting and made a case that he was Oscar Marion.
The Francis Marion National Forest near Charleston, South Carolina, is named after Marion, as is the historic Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston. Numerous other locations across the country are named after Marion. The city of Marion, Iowa, is named after Francis, and the city holds an annual Swamp Fox Festival and parade every summer. More than 20 states have cities or counties named after Francis Marion.
Marion County, South Carolina, and its county seat, the City of Marion, are named for General Marion. The City of Marion features a statue of him in its town square and has a museum that includes many artifacts related to his life and times. The Marion High School mascot is the Swamp Fox. Francis Marion University is located nearby in Florence County, South Carolina.
In Washington, D.C., Marion Park is one the four "major" or large parks in the Capitol Hill Parks constellation. The park is bounded by 4th & 6th Streets and at the intersection of E Street and South Carolina Avenue in southeast Washington, DC.
In 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a monument to Francis Marion, to be built in Washington, D.C. sometime in 2007–08. The bill, however, died in the U.S. Senate and was reintroduced in January, 2007. The Brigadier General Francis Marion Memorial Act of 2007 passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March of 2007, and the U.S. Senate in April of 2008. The bill was packaged into a consolidated public lands bill (S. 2739) and passed both houses.
President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on May 8, 2008, as Public Law #110-229.
The Swamp Fox was a television series produced by Walt Disney and starring Leslie Nielsen that originally aired in 1959. Nielsen played the role of Francis Marion. The series ran for eight episodes. The Disney Channel reran Swamp Fox episodes in the 1980s and 1990s. The first three episodes of the series were also released in 2005 on DVD (in a set including three episodes of The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca).
Marion’s enslaved servant, Oscar, was a regular character in that series and sang its theme song, recounting Marion’s exploits.
The Patriot was a film released in 2000 and starring Mel Gibson. Marion was originally the lead character in the script, but because of controversy surrounding the historical accuracy of the script and to allow for more dramatic storytelling (that is, more fiction), Benjamin Martin was the name used for the character.
Chasing the Swamp Fox
Two filmmakers produced a film in 2006, called Chasing the Swamp Fox. The program was presented as a part of ETV's Carolina Stories series.
The producers, Dave Adams of ETV and artist/illustrator James Palmer, created the film as a historical visualization rather than a traditional documentary. The film is a unique blend of footage of historic Francis Marion sites throughout South Carolina, and interviews with noted historians such as Walter Edgar, Roy Talbert of Coastal Carolina and Dan Littlefield of the University of South Carolina.
- American Reolution, Francis Marion, Revolutionary War "Swamp Fox." Retrieved May 24, 2008.
- Tps.cr.nps.gov, Snow's Island. Retrieved May 24, 2008.
- National Register, South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Retrieved May 24, 2008.
- The American Revolution, The Battle of Eutaw Springs. Retrieved May 24, 2008.
- Roots Web, Marion Family Cemetery. Retrieved May 24, 2008.
- Sue Anne Pressley Montes, Post-Revolutionary Recognition, Washington Post. Retrieved May 25, 2008.
- National Park Service, Marion Park. Retrieved May 24, 2008.
- Yvonne Wenger, Scholar working to dress up S.C.'s park in D.C. Retrieved May 24, 2008.
- Steve Burns, Swamp Fox. Retrieved May 24, 2008.
- J.L. Bell, Oscar Marion: The Disney Version. Retrieved May 25, 2008.
- My ETV, ETV’s Chasing the Swamp Fox Takes a Closer Look at Francis Marion. Retrieved June 3, 2008.
- Bass, Robert D. 1974. Swamp Fox: The Life and Campaigns of General Francis Marion. Lexington, S.C.: Sandlapper Store. ISBN 0878440518.
- Boddie, William Willis. 1995. History of Williamsburg: Something About the People of Williamsburg County, South Carolina, From the First Settlement by Europeans About 1705 Until 1923. Baltimore: Clearfield Company. ISBN 0806345632.
- Boddie, William Willis. 2000. Traditions of the Swamp Fox: William W. Boddie's Francis Marion. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Co. ISBN 0871525283.
- Cornelius, Kay, and Arthur M. Schlesinger. 2001. Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox. Revolutionary War leaders. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0791059766.
- Gerson, Noel B. 1974. The Swamp Fox, Francis Marion. Atlanta: Mockingbird Books. ISBN 0891760016.
- Gregg, John M., and William Willis Boddie. 1995. A Roster of Patriots who Served with Francis Marion. Hemingway, S.C.: Three Rivers Historical Society.
- Myers, Jonathan, and Lola Myers. 2003. Swamp Fox. Apalachin, NY: Ambition Studios. ISBN 0974600008.
- Simms, William Gilmore. 2007. The Life of Francis Marion. Charleston, SC: History Press. ISBN 9781596292635.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
All links retrieved April 24, 2017.
- Amy Crawford, The Swamp Fox, Smithsonian.com 2007. Smithsonianmag.com.
- Wars and Battles, Francis Marion 1732-1795- U-s-history.com.
- The Online Books Page: Texts about Francis Marion- Onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu.
- Swamp Fox Murals Trail Society- Web.ftc-i.net.
- Annual Francis Marion Symposium- Web.ftc-i.net.
- Biography of Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox"-Sciway.net.
- J. L. Bell, 2006, Rediscovering Oscar Marion? Boston1775.blogspot.com.
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