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#Today In Charleston History: May 12

1780 – The Surrender of Charlestown.

At 2:00 pm Gen. Lincoln and Gen. Moultrie met the British commanders at the horn work and gate and surrendered the city of Charlestown. It was the British army’s greatest prize of the Revolutionary War, capturing the majority of the Southern Continental Army regulars. Sir Clinton wrote:

Whatever severe Justice might dictate, we resolved not to press to unconditional Submission a reduced army whom we hoped Clemency might yet reconcile to us.

He ordered all regular army and militia to “bring all their arms with them, guns, swords and pistols.”

Henry Laurens also complained about surrendering the troops, “Thousands of Muskets … useless in Charles Town which might have been shouldered in our defence.”

A marked man by the British, Gov. John Rutledge traveled to Philadelphia and spent the rest of the war living with other Southern refugees. He spent most of his time trying to secure help from Congress for South Carolina.

Casualties during the Charlestown siege were:

  • American: 150 dead; 138 wounded
  • British: 99 dead; 217 wounded.

British soldiers were given the power to arrest people on any pretext’ citizens could be jailed without a pre-trial hearing. They also cut down the Liberty Tree on Mazyck’s Pasture and burned the stump. Thus began a two-and-a-half year occupation.

1781-American Revolution. 

motte1Rebecca Brewton Motte’s plantation home on the Congaree River in St. Matthews Parish, was called Mt. Joseph. It had fallen in British hands, by British Lt. Donald McPherson with over 150 men who threw up earthworks and dug a deep ditch around the house. The British called it Fort Motte.

Rebecca Motte, whose Charleston home was also being occupied by occupying British officers, was distressed that both of her homes were now in British hands. The British ordered Motte to gather what belongings she wanted and move to her overseer’s house nearby – a rough structure, covered with weather-boards, and only partially finished.

Patriot leaders were determined to re-take Ft. Motte. Gen. Francis Marion thought that the best thing would to be set fire to the mansion house and burn the British out. When Rebecca was told of their plans she:

“immediately and cheerfully consented, assuring him that the loss of her property was nothing compared to the advancement of their cause.”

Imacon Color Scanner

Rebecca Motte directing Gen. Marion and Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Harry Lee to use the arrows to ignite her house.

To facilitate the effort she handed three special arrows to Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Harry Lee. The arrows had given to her by her deceased brother, Miles Brewton. These East Indian, chemically-tipped arrows, were supposed to be “ignited upon contact with any hard substance.” The arrows had been kept in the plantation house, but Rebecca had managed to take them with her as she evacuated to the cottage.


Ft. Motte as the combustible arrows ignite the house’s roof. In this painting Lt. Col. Lee consoles Mrs. Motte while Gen. Marion watches.

The combustible arrows were fired from a musket; two of them sputtered out, but the third hit its mark and set fire to the roof of the house. The British, sneaking out of the attic dormer windows in effort to the flames, were easy targets for the Patriot riflemen and were quickly driven back inside. Lt. McPherson ran up the white flag, fearing they would be blown up if the gunpowder stored in the house were set on fire. Together, British and American soldiers put out the flames, saving most of the house.

Rebecca then invited both the American and British officers to join her for dinner in the main house.

State legislature met in Columbia for the first time, in a newly constructed wooden State House. Gov. Charles Pinckney presided during the writing of a new state constitution.

The South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company (SCC&RR) was chartered, and the Charleston & Hamburg Rail Road became one its projects. Elias Horry was the president of the SCC&RR.

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