I’m going to age myself, but I remember when I was a boy, I eagerly watching the few episodes of Walt Disney’s Swamp Fox series (1959-61). We would turn on our black and white TV and listen for the theme song ‘Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox’, later sung by the star who played the Swamp Fox, Leslie Nielsen. I never realized at the time that the series was based on a real life Revolutionary War hero until later in life when I started getting hooked on history. To see a young 33-year-old Nielsen in the first of 7 episodes, watch the video below.
Francis Marion was born around 1732 on a plantation in Berkeley County, South Carolina. Educated in Georgetown, South Carolina, Marion became a sailor at age 15, but his first voyage to the Caribbean ended with the ship sinking and Marion along with others from the ship spending a week in a small boat.
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Marion decided to stay on land and returned to work on the family plantation but ended up joining a militia group in 1757. The militia group, led by Captain William Moultrie was engaged in the war with the Cherokee. That campaign taught Marion a lot about effective warfare as he watched the Cherokee use ambush and concealment in their fighting and he saw them use the terrain around them to their advantage.
Marion returned to civilian life and managed to buy his own plantation on the Santee River in 1773. His plantation was located several miles north of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina and due to its location, he named it Pond Bluff. Today, the location of his planation is just south of the lake that was later named for him, Lake Marion.
In 1775, Marion was elected to the South Carolina Provincial Congress. As news of the Revolutionary War reached the South Carolina area, the Provincial Congress formed three militia units and Marion was commissioned as a Captain with the 2nd South Carolina Regiment, led by William Moultrie. Marion was part of the South Carolina forces that built Fort Sullivan at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Through his outstanding service, Marion was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1779.
In March 1780, Marion felt an intense desire to leave a dinner party gone bad, so he jumped out a second story window and broke his ankle as he made his escape. The doctor told him to recoup at his plantation which was fortuitous for Marion as it kept him from being captured when the British took Charleston.
Upon the healing of his ankle, Marion formed a band of up to 70 men, whom he trained in the ways of guerilla warfare that he learned from his earlier battles against the Cherokee. Marion and his band used ambush and concealment to harass the British forces and interrupting the British supply lines. He used the South Carolina swamps to his advantage and was considered to be as sly and cunning as a fox, hence his nickname, Swamp Fox. It also earned him the rank of brigadier General by mid-1781.
On this day, August 13, 1781, Marion and Colonel William Harden set a trap for the British at Parker’s Ferry, South Carolina. They led British Major Thomas Fraser and his 450 men into an ambush 30 miles north of Charleston. Fraser’s command was mostly made up of American Loyalist to the British crown. The Loyalists were lured into the swamps in hopes of capturing the elusive Swamp Fox. When Fraser ordered his Loyalists to charge, the Patriots in hiding opened fire. After three volleys of musket fire, nearly half of the Loyalists had been mowed down and Fraser ordered a retreat. It was fortunate for Marion because his Patriots had used up most of the munitions on the three volleys of musket fire and had Fraser continued his attack, they could have captured and killed many of Marion’s men and possible Marion himself.
Some history sources place the date of the Parker’s Ferry Ambush as August 30 or 31, 1781, but many others list it as occurring on the 13th, so be aware that you may find some discrepancy in dates, but the facts and results are the same.
While Marion and Fraser were fighting, 3,000 British, French and Loyalist set sail from Charleston, heading north to engage George Washington. This was a vital turning point in the war as the British had decided to conquer South Carolina, splitting up the American colonies and then work north, conquering one colony at a time. The constant harassment of Marion’s Patriots and his defeat of Fraser at Parker’s Ferry thwarted those British plans.
On October 17, 1781, just two months after Marion engaged Fraser in South Carolina and disrupted the British game plan, George Washington acted swiftly and hard and managed to trap British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, bringing the Revolutionary War to an end.
Like Walt Disney stated in the beginning of the video above, many historians, especially those from South Carolina, believe that General Francis Marion, aka Swamp Fox, was a hero that directly contributed to the defeat of the British and winning independence for the newly declared United States of America.
On September 8, 1781, Marion led the North and South Carolina Militia to victory over the British at the Battle of Eutaw Springs.
In November, 1781, he was elected to the state senate and left his command in the hands of his subordinates.
In January 1782, after learning that his band was not faring well, Marion returned to take command.
In 1782 and 1784, Marion was re-elected to the South Carolina state senate. After serving his last term, Marion returned to Pond Bluff, his plantation and married his cousin.
On February 27, 1795, at the age of about 63, Francis Marion died at his beloved Pond Bluff plantation.
Today, Francis Marion is buried at Belle Isle Plantation, about 15 miles from where Pond Bluff plantation was. Belle Isle was owned by Marion’s brother Gabriel. The location of Pond Bluff plantation has since been claimed by the formation of Lake Marion.
Sources for the above includes: Patriots Ambush Loyalists as French Set Sail; The Battle of Parker’s Ferry; The Life of Francis Marion; Historical Dictionary of the American Revolution; Date in History: 1781; The Swamp Fox; American Heroes: Francis Marion, South Carolina’s “Swamp Fox”; American Revolution: Brigadier General Francis Marion – The Swamp Fox;