The Swamp Fox

When Mel Gibson portrayed Francis Marion in the movie “The Patriot” that portrayal was more like a Revolutionary period Rambo than the actual man himself known as The Swamp Fox. Most of the history of the American Revolution centers on George Washington. But, it was the courage, the stealth like cunning, and the tenacity that he displayed in a time when the future of America was really on the line that has cemented the Swamp Fox’s place in history as one of Americas Greatest Patriots and next to George Washington a true Revolutionary War hero.

To understand the true nature of the man is to go back in history to colonial America. The year was 1732. Ironically both George Washington and Francis Marion were born in the same year though history tends to put more focus on the life and times of George Washington. Nonetheless, it was Francis Marion who grew to become a symbol that embodied the fight for freedom in Americas darkest hours. It was in 1732 on his family plantation in Berkeley County, South Carolina that Francis Marion was born. He was the youngest of nine children of Gabriel and Esther Marion. Even as a small child the traits that he became known for were very apparent, small, crafty, and restless. By the time he was six his family moved to a plantation in St. George. This, because all of Gabriel’s children could attend school in Georgetown, SC.

Life soon was to take an unexpected turn for young Marion and at the age of fifteen, embarked on a career as a sailor. It is interesting to note the actual similarities of both George Washington and Francis Marion. Both born in the same year, both started their young adult life wanting to become sailors, both went on to become military men fighting for the freedom of their country and finally both retired to become plantation farmers after their military and public service. Around 1747 Francis joined the crew of a schooner bound for the Caribbean. It was during this maiden voyage when the schooner was struck reportedly by a large whale and sank that was instrumental in Francis Marion’s decision to pursue a military career on land. Incidentally, it was the quick action by Francis and some of the crew that they managed to escape in a dingy, the forerunner of a lifeboat. Being adrift for a week only reinforced Marion’s decision.

Once back in South Carolina Marion began working on his family’s plantation. But life there was short lived. Within a few years the French & Indian War had spread to the Carolina’s. It was then that young Marion joined a militia company in 1757. This was the beginning of a military career that would last all the way till the end of the American Revolution leaving a lasting legacy as a true Revolutionary War hero. Serving as a lieutenant under Captain William Moultrie, Marion took part in a brutal campaign against the Cherokees. In the course of the fighting Francis quickly gained the knowledge and tactics that would serve him well in the years ahead during the American Revolution. Another similarity between Francis Marion and George Washington both came to understand Indian guerrilla warfare tactics. The art of concealment, ambush, and utilizing terrain to gain an advantage were invaluable assets to both General Washington and the Swamp Fox. It was these tactics used by both George Washington and Francis Marion that were instrumental in wining the war for Independence.

This much we know of General Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox,” he was a Revolutionary officer from Berkeley County, South Carolina. Even though he was a commissioned officer in the South Carolina Second Regiment, he also led a band of irregular fighters in the back country swamps of South Carolina fighting the British troops that incidentally, were under Lord Cornwallis. To his credit he is generally acknowledged as the Father of Gorilla Warfare, and is recognized as such at most of the War Colleges around the United States, like West Point.

He was after all a man of diminutive stature. Rising to the rank of General by the end of the war Francis Marion was a lifelong citizen-soldier and planter, living for and on his plantation, Pond Bluff. It is too bad the sands of time have intervened though because today Marion’s plantation now lies under Lake Marion in Central South Carolina. As a young man he fought as a lieutenant in the French and Indian War in the 1750s, The Cherokee Campaign of 1760, as a captain at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on June 28, in 1776 and rising to lieutenant colonel at the Battle of Savannah on October 9, 1779. One interesting fact about his life is that he was carried out of Charleston in 1780 with a broken ankle suffered when he jumped out of a window to escape a Loyalist trap, thus avoiding the fall of Charleston under General Benjamin Lincoln and his 5,000 Continental Troops.

After Charleston had fallen and the Americans were driven from the field was when General Marion formed his band of irregulars. A mixed band with whites and blacks free and slave alike along with native Americans all coming together. At that time they were the only organized fighting force in action because General Washington’s army was at a stalemate outside of British occupied New York. It is said that Francis Marion was the first integrated fighting force in America.

The story of how Francis Marion acquired the name the Swamp Fox occurred when Nathanael Green took command over the southern region replacing General Gates. In order to by time for General Greene to arrive and take command Francis Marion and his band of irregulars kept harassing the British from Camden all the way to Charleston. With so much success it was British Colonial Tarleton who was quoted that after several unsuccessful capture attempts “as to this damned old fox, the devil himself could not catch him” Thus, the legend of the Swamp Fox came into being.

Francis Marion kept disrupting British supply lines, drawing their forces away from General Greene’s forces that paved the way to ensure the colonials victories at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Eutaw Springs and the eventual surrender at Yorktown. Many historians all conclude that without General Marion and his band of irregulars the British Plan to control the Southern colonies and split the fledging nation would have succeeded. Most fortunately the exploits of the Swamp Fox foiled the British Plan and secured the surrender that took place in Yorktown ensuring victory for the Colonies. The cause of independence and the birth of a new nation was secured because of two great American hero’s. General Marion is and always will be an authentic America hero and icon second only to George Washington.

In the years after the war he was elected to South Carolina’s state senate retiring in 1786. In the four years he served in the senate he supported a lenient policy toward the remaining Loyalists and opposed laws intended to strip them of their property. In 1786 as gesture of recognition for his services during the War the state of South Carolina appointed him to command Fort Johnson. It was largely a ceremonial post but, it brought with it an annual stipend of $500 which aided Marion in rebuilding his plantation. Retiring to Pond Bluff, Marion married his cousin he then later served as delegate at the 1790 South Carolina constitutional convention. For the last years of his life retired living a life of a gentleman farmer until he died at Pond Bluff on February 27, 1795. The legend of the Swamp Fox continues to fascinate us today.