Bull’s Plantation, Port Royal Island, South Carolina
1-2 February 1779
After the British had taken the city of Savannah General Lincoln and General Prévost were facing across from each other at the Savannah River. Prévost ordered Major Valentine Gardiner to conduct a naval landing and occupy Port Royal Island. Prévost hoped that the landing would attract Lincoln’s army about thirty miles away, and would draw off any Patriot troops that could stop Campbell from capturing Augusta.
The British troops landed on Hilton Head Island and were fired upon by Captain Dougherty’s militia. The landing force pursued the militia and burned down two houses they had been occupying. The naval vessels accompanying the British landing force continued up the Broad River and anchored opposite the plantation of General Bull on Port Royal Island. Captain Patrick Murray was sent to burn the plantations of the owners who had fled. The first plantation put to the torch was the house of Captain Thomas Heyward, Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Captain Murray motioned for Heyward and his sons to come forward in order to save the plantation, but they stayed at a distance. Heyward and his sons fired on the British, then rode away. Murray ordered all the furniture taken out, then burned Heyward’s house down. He did preserve the overseer’s house for the women of the plantation. A tierce of indigo was taken from the plantation.
Two of Captain Heyward’s slaves had armed themselves and waited in ambush for the British under a bank of the creek. They did not conceal themselves very well because a sergeant of the Light Infantry found them and took them prisoner. In the evening when the raiding parties returned to the British ships a body of militiamen posted in Bull’s house fired rifles and muskets at them. The sniping continued throughout the night. The next morning the armed brig Lord George Germaine bombarded the house, chasing the militia out into the open. A landing force of the 60th Regiment, led by Lieutenant Breitenbach, drove them into the woods and kept them away.
All the furniture was removed from Bull’s house except a billiard table and 120 dozen bottles of liquor. This was distributed to the men. The ale was served to the soldiers and the wine was sent on board the ships for the officers. Afterwards the plantation was set on fire. Captain Mowbray later stated that the reason he had the house burned was because "they had either received very abusive language from the people on shore…or had found some illiberal words written with chalk on the walls, against them."
Captain John Francis de Treville and twenty Continentals had been left to guard Fort Lyttleton. When the British crossed the Savannah River Treville knew this was futile and ordered the guns spiked and the fort blown up. As the British ships were about to leave, three prisoners from the Patriot artillery in Port Royal told the British that the smoke on the horizon was from the evacuation of Treville’s artillery. A council of war was held and it was decided to seize Port Royal. This decision was not popular with all the officers. Major Graham and Lieutenant Mowbray were against the attack.