Old St. David's Church, Cheraw Hills
Headquarters/barracks for Maj. James Wemyss, May-Sep 1780
Where: 34.69589 -79.87990 Old St. David's Church
Maps: [map notes]
- Sarah Spruill, local contact for the Carolina Backcountry Alliance, E-mail to John Parker:
Garrison at Cheraw - Cheraw was part of the British Strategic Line of Defense that included Camden , Ninety Six and Augusta. They erected a barracks on the south side of town and used Old St. Davidís for a hospital and barracks. Maj. Wemyss was in Cheraw burning and plundering in May and September 1780. Maj. McArthur with the 71st Highlanders was left to "keep some kind of hold on the country side" in between. Three officers of the 71st died here and a number of enlisted men - probably from small pox or malaria. They are buried in the church yard. There was also a goal [jail] here. Patriot Gen. Harrington established headquarters here in the fall of 1780. Other American forces were in and out on a regular basis. From: Carolina Backcountry Alliance, List of Revolutionary War Military Sites, Chesterfield County and adjacent sites on the Great Pee Dee River in Marlboro County, South Carolina.
- Alexander Gregg, History of the Old Cheraws, Richardson And CompanY, 1867, p.266-267; 300; 302-307; 332
The distinction, of Whig and Tory took its rise during the previous year. Both parties in the interior country were then embodied, and were obliged to impress provisions for their respective support. The advocates for Congress prevailing, they paid for articles consumed in their camps ; but as no funds were provided for discharging the expenses incurred by the Royalists, all that was consumed by them was considered as a robbery. This laid the foundation of a piratical war between Whigs and Tories, which was productive of great distress, and deluged the country with blood. In the interval between the Insurrection of 1775 and the year 1780, the Whigs were occasionally plundered by parties who had attempted insurrections in favor of Royal Government.
** "Ramsay's Revolution vol. ii. p. 269.
[p. 300] Opening of year 1780 Wemys's Expedition up Pedee Houses burned, Adam Cusack hung, Reaches Cheraw ---
[p.302-306] In the journal of Mr.Pugh, the following entries appear: " May 17. Had the news of Charles-town taken. " May 18. Preached at Cashway a fast day. " May 22. At home much terrified about the English Light Horse coming. " May 23. Had certain news of Charles-town being in the hands of the British army. Our men came up. Mr. Hart up." The report of the Light Horse coming was but too well founded. It proved to be the rapid and devastating march of Major Wemys, to reap the first fruits on the Pedee of the recent success, and to fasten upon the popular mind the idea that the State was lost beyond recovery. The British conceived themselves in possession of the rights of sovereignty over a conquered country, and that therefore the efforts of the citizens to assert their independence any further, was chargeable with the complicated guilt of ingratitude/treason, and rebellion. Influenced by these opinions, and transported with indignation against the inhabitants, they violated rights which are held sacred between independent hostile nations. In almost every district their progress was marked with blood, and with deeds so atrocious that they reflected disgrace on their arms. This was emphatically true of Major Wemys, of the 63rd regiment. He marched, soon after the fall of Charlestown, from George-town to Cheraw, on the west side of the river, destroying property of every description, and treating the inhabitants with relentless cruelty.
The dwellings of Nathan Savage at the mouth of Lynche's Creek, of Jordan Gibson at Little Bluff, or Wiggin's Landing, and of Moses Murphy in the same neighbourhood, with many others, were burned. Among the first to feel the effects of the fury of this merciless officer, was Adam Cusack, a noted Whig, who had rendered himself particularly obnoxious to the enemies of his country. He had neither taken parole as a prisoner nor protection as a British subject ; and was charged with no other crime than refusing to transport some British officers over a ferry, and shooting at them across a river.* Another account states that he had shot at the black servant of a Tory officer, John Brockington, whom he knew, across Black Creek. He was taken prisoner soon after, and for this offence tried by a court martial, and, on the evidence of the negro, condemned.+ His wife and children prostrated themselves before Wemys as he was on horseback, for a pardon, who would have ridden over them, had not one of his own officers prevented the foul deed. From this scene he proceeded on to superintend the execution. Cusack was carried to Long Bluff and hung.++ Dr. James P. Wilson made an earnest effort to save his life, and came very near involving himself in a serious difficulty with the British officer.
*Ramsay's Revolution, vol. ii. p. 156. + James's Life of Marion, p. 58. ++ He was hung about the spot first occupied by the depot of the Cheraw and Darlington Railroad, at the foot of the hill, below the village of Society Hill, then on the public road leading from Cheraw to George-town.
Wemys lost no time in pursuing his way, and calling the people to submission. He reached Cheraw early in June. The following extracts from Mr. Pugh's journal will give, in few words, the sad picture of the conqueror's progress.
"June 11 . Went up to the Cheraws to surrender myself to the British ; lodged at Col. Lide's.
"Monday, 12th. Signed parole, as a Prisoner of War/' Agitated and distressed, and scarcely knowing what to do, he appears to have repented of his course, as a subsequent entry indicates."
"Thursday, 22. Went to the Court House in order to give up my parole, but could not do it."
"Thursday, 29th. Went to Dr. Mills's, took the Oath of Allegiance to the King ; and home."
"Saturday, July 2. Went to preach at Cashway, began my sermon, but the congregation broke up by the re (bels !) taking the horses"
Dr. Mills had either not sympathized heartily with his country at the first, or was possessed of one of those easy consciences which adapts itself with facility to a change of circumstances. He gave in his adhesion at once to the enemy; and from that time became a determined foe to the American cause. He was an evil counsellor for every desponding patriot within his reach, but, in due season, paid the penalty of his guilt. The declaration of allegiance imposed upon many of the people, was in these words : " I, A. B., do hereby acknowledge and declare myself to be a true and faithful subject to his Majesty, the King of Great Britain, and that I will at all times hereafter be obedient to his government ; and that whenever I shall be thereunto required, I will be ready to maintain and defend the same against all persons whatsoever." While Wemys was in the neighbourhood of Long Bluff, Dr. Wilson's house was burned, and such of his property as came within reach of the enemy, was destroyed. His wife was forced to seek shelter at Charlotte, North Carolina. The dwelling of Capt. Wm. Dewitt,* on Cedar Creek, on
* About the spot where the late Judge Evans resided. The late Major John Dewitt, of Society Hill, was a lad of fourteen or fifteen, and went with his father's family to Guilford.
this, or a subsequent occasion, was also destroyed. On the approach of the British, Capt. Dewitt took his family to Guilford, N. C., but immediately returned himself, and took an active part to the close of the war. When called upon to take the Oath of Allegiance to the King, he is said to have drawn with his sword a circle on the ground, indicating that spot to be his country, and standing thereon, to have uttered words of proud defiance to those who would thus have prohibited him from his sacred fealty as an inhabitant of Carolina and an American citizen. Similar to this in tone, was the spirited reply of Thomas Ayer, who, when urged by Magnus Corgill and other neighbours to take protection, and told, that if he refused, his property would be confiscated, warmly replied, " the question was not one of property, but liberty !" Many of the inhabitants submitted, others yielded nominally, intending to resist upon the first opportunity, while not a few hurriedly removed with their families, servants, and other personal effects, to places of safety, leaving their dwellings to the mercy of the enemy, but returning themselves to repel the foe. Those of the Whigs who so far submitted as to take the oath, intending not to keep it, felt, that being forced upon them, it was not binding. John Wilson and James Gillespie,
then young men, with a neighbour, had been to Cheraw to swear allegiance. After crossing the river on their return, they rode for some time in silence, as if absorbed in thought, and afraid to utter their sentiments ; at length one of them said, " Well, I don't think that amounted to much" and thereupon, all joined in a hearty laugh, finding a perfect agreement of opinion on the subject. The atrocities perpetrated by the British and Tories, for the latter gladly followed in the train of the conqueror, only served to drive the Whigs to desperation, and led to a terrible revenge when the time arrived for throwing off the yoke. And that time was not long in coming; for no sooner had the British withdrawn, than the spirit of liberty, crushed, but not subdued, began to rise to the ascendant.
On the 25th of July, Mr. Pugh wrote these few but pregnant words : " The people in arms against the English/' Major Wemys, after accomplishing the objects of his bloody visit, returned to George- town, to pollute no more the upper parts of the Pedee with his presence. And yet, this man, who had been guilty of so many atrocities, was made the recipient of that generous return which the injured people of Carolina so often extended to their heartless oppressors.* On the 12th of the following November, in attempting to surprise General Sumpter, near Fish Dam Ford, on Broad River, he was taken prisoner, having been severely wounded in the engagement. He had in his pocket a list of the houses he had burned at Williamsburgh and Pedee : with great trepidation he showed it to Sumpter, and begged he would protect him from the militia. Notwithstanding his atrocities, he was treated with indulgence, but became a cripple for life.+
* Ramsay's Revolution, vol. ii. pp. 188, 89. + James's Life of Marion, p. 73.
[p.307] Sir Henry Clinton now left for the North, and his command devolved on Lord Cornwallis. A temporary period seems to have been put to any organized resistance in Carolina. A partisan warfare, however, was here and there kept up, especially with the Tories, who were now bold and constantly marauding, wreaking their vengeance with bitter malignity on the Whigs of Pedee.
[p.332] The enemy were now much emboldened, and renewed their plundering expeditions, as they had done after the fall of Charles-town, in the spring and early part of the summer. Again Major Wemys made his presence felt in the country above George-town. The South Carolina and American General Gazette of September 20th, contained an extract of a letter from that place of the 16th, saying : "Major Wemys has been scouring the country to the northward of this. Several of the inhabitants who, after giving their paroles, joined Marion and Horry in their late incursion, have gone off with them. Some of their houses, &c., have been destroyed in terrorem. The persons of others, equally culpable, are secured, as they have, by their recent base conduct, shown themselves unworthy of being allowed to go at large."
- William Dobein James, A Sketch of the Life of Brig. Gen. Francis Marion, Excerpts from Preface, Chapter II, Campaign of 1780
Preface. I felt an early inclination to record these events; but Major Wemyss burnt all my stock of paper, and my little classical library, in my father's house; and, for two years and a half afterwards, I had not the common implements of writing or of reading. This may appear strange at present; but it is a fact, that even our general, when sending out a patrole, would request the officer to try to get him a quire of paper.
Chapter II.*Campaign Of 1780. But about the 27th day of August, when, having the command of only one hundred and fifty men, he heard of the approach of Major Wemyss, above Kingstree, at the head of the63d regiment, and a body of tories, under Maj. Harrison.
Maj. James was instantly despatched, at the head of a company of volunteers, with orders to reconnoitre, and count them. Col. Peter Horry was called in, and the general crossed Lynch's creek, and advanced to give battle. The night after Maj. James received his orders, the moon shone brightly, and by hiding himself in a thicket, close to their line of march, he formed a good estimate of the force of the enemy. As their rear guard passed, he burst from his hiding place, and took some prisoners. On the same night, about an hour before day, Marion met the major half a mile from his plantation. The officers immediately dismounted, and retired to consult, and the men sat on their horses in a state of anxious suspense. The conference was long and animated. At the end of it, an order was given to direct the march back to Lynch's creek, and no sooner was it given than a hollow groan might have been heard along the whole line. A bitter cup had now been mingled for the people of Williamsburgh and Pedee; and they were doomed to drain it to the dregs: but in the end it proved a salutary medicine. Maj. James reported the British force to be double that of Marion's; and Ganey's party of tories in the rear, had always been estimated at five hundred men. In such a crisis, a retreat was deemed prudent. Gen. Marion recrossed the Pedee, at Port's; and the next evening, at the setting sun, commenced his retreat to North Carolina.
At length Maj. James arrived. The news was, that the country through which Wemyss had marched, for seventy miles in length, and at places for fifteen miles in width, exhibited one continued scene of desolation. On most of the plantations every house was burnt to the ground, the negroes were carried off, the inhabitants plundered, the stock, especially sheep, wantonly killed; and all the provisions, which could be come at, destroyed. Fortunately the corn was not generally housed, and much of that was saved. Capt. James had fired upon a party at M'Gill's plantation; but it only increased the rage of the enemy. Adam Cusan had shot at the black servant of a tory officer, John Brockington, whom he knew, across Black creek. He was taken prisoner soon after, and for this offence, tried by a court martial, and, on the evidence of the negro, hanged. His wife and children prostrated themselves before Wemyss, on horseback, for a pardon; and he would have rode over them, had not one of his own officers prevented the foul deed; from this scene he proceeded on to superintend the execution. But these acts of wantonness and cruelty had roused the militia; and Maj. James reported they were ready to join the general. Marion, in a few days after, returned to South Carolina by a forced march.
On the 12th Nov. Major Wemyss attempted to surprise him near the Fishdam ford, on Broad river, at the head of a corps of infantry and dragoons. Col. Thomas Taylor, with his regiment, was posted in advance, and his men lay securely at their fires, thinking the enemy at a distance. But the colonel, from what has been termed a ~presentiment~, was uneasy and could not rest; he got up, and hearing the barking of dogs and some other unusual noises, he woke up his men, and removed them back from their fires. Soon after, the British appeared at them, and thus offered themselves to the aim of experienced marksmen. In the mean time Sumter came up to their aid, and the enemy was totally defeated. Major Wemyss was severely wounded and taken. He had in his pocket a list of the houses he had burnt at Williamsburgh and Pedee; with great trepidation he showed it to Sumter, and begged he would protect him from the militia. -- Notwithstanding his atrocities he was treated with indulgence; but became a cripple for life.
Hicks Creek Execution of Adam Cusack, Hem Branch, Black Creek 4 (Location in Chesterfield County unknown)
Confidence level:: See above.