Perhaps the story of British occupation is best taught through the perils of the women on the home front, especially those of the frontier settlements. Forced to reckon with Indian raids and bands of outlaws, these were not the women of the genteel plantations in the parishes outside of Charleston along the Cooper, Ashley, Stono, and Wando rivers. These women grew up in households that had survived and flourished in that dangerous land of the upstate of South Carolina far away from law and order. Their lives had been forged in the fire of threats and the cold reality of life and death struggles. So, when the British came with more of the same, is it any wonder that these bold women answered in like manner?
Martha Bratton stared down a sickle meant for her head and calmly spoke in defiance as the Red Coats demanded information about her husband. The farm estate located off Hwy 321 south of York, SC was situated in the rolling green hills of the piedmont. Forests and brooks were boundaries of fields and tilled soil. The wagon road, strewn with pine needles and oak leaves, wound down and then up again, across a good creek to the front of her small house in the back country. Foot paths were worn along deer trails through the lush green canopies to neighbors and friends in this hamlet of partisan families. It was along one of these hidden trails that word got to her husband nearby and he, and his militia, ambushed Captain Christian Huck (The Swearing Captain) at the Williamson’ homestead and caused the British troop to regret their threats upon his wife. This stand against Huck and his band put an end to a series of attacks in Chester and York counties where several homes were burned and many people from the community had been killed. On another occasion it is said that she blew up gun powder stored on her property and boldly proclaimed to the British, who were riding up, that she had done it in defense of her country.
Kate Barry was said to have been flogged by a Tory named Elliott, for not revealing where her Patriot husband was. On her family farm at Walnut Grove in Spartanburg County she was an accomplished rider of horse and a pious Presbyterian. Her maiden name of Moore is still a namesake in the community to this day. She was married in 1767 at 15 years of age to Andrew Barry, who had been a community magistrate and Captain in the local militia before the war with England. Legend has it that she rode as a scout on horseback and swam swollen rivers in the dark of night to carry word of British troop movements to the Colonials. In her 20s during the time of the revolution, she was the darling of her husband’s band of Rangers. She was instrumental in rallying the Patriot militia to assist General Morgan at Cowpens where the battle was won. At the end of the war her husband’s troop wanted justice for their lady of Liberty and urged Captain Barry to seek retribution against the man who had whipped her. He found Elliott hiding under a bed and, in the end, dropped him to the floor with a three-legged stool. He then walked away proclaiming, “I am satisfied, I will not take his life.” Kate and Captain Barry raised their children near her Walnut Grove after the war. One of her descendants is Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty) from the TV show “Gunsmoke”.
Mary Dillard, in like manner, is said to have swam the Enoree river to warn General Sumter of the British order of attack at the Battle of Blackstock’s. This information came to her after she had been forced to feed the British troops invading her home. Perhaps because she was just a small woman who stayed in the background or because the British felt strength and security in their numbers, talk of the impending order of battle flowed freely at the table. Realizing the information was vital and the lives of her family were in peril, she snuck away in the night from the farm and rode bareback on her horse to General Sumter’s camp, 20 miles away. Her toddler child had to be tied to the bedpost while she ran off into the night. During the battle it is reported that she untethered the British horses and marched them away from their masters and into the Patriot camp, thus further hampering the Red Coat plans. After the defeat Tarleton believes the battle was lost because of a woman that was seen spying on them across the river. Fearing for her children’s safety, she came home to find the house burned, though the children had been taken to the neighbor. The burned home was a scene that would repeat itself before the wars end and would place an exclamation point on the hardships of the times.
Dicey Langston,15 years of age, in the dead of night walked and ran five miles and crossed a swollen river to warn her brother’s Patriot band that Loyalist Bill Cunningham was in the area looking to kill them. Laurens County was a loyalist stronghold and she and her aging father were surrounded by Tory neighbors always watchful for her Patriot brother. Ever the fierce one, she was retrieving a gun hid for her brother when men showed up to the house claiming to be of his company. When she brought the rifle, she demanded the countersign given by her brother to test the validity of the men’s claim. When they dithered and made a comment that it was too late as she had the gun in hand, she quickly cocked the rifle and boldly threatened the men. The countersign was given, and laughter washed away the tense and potentially deadly encounter. Later she bravely stood in front of a British pistol that was meant for her ailing father and pled for her father’s life. Honest and brave, she was protector and Patriot in a time when youth and adulthood mixed at an early age.
These women Patriots lived a life in the back country of the Upstate of South Carolina where their whole families could be snuffed out by the war. They walked a delicate line as daughters, wives, mothers, house keepers, cooks and community members that, in many cases was as dangerous as their Patriot husbands and brothers faced on the field of battle. At least their men-folk had a fighting chance without the encumbrances of toddlers at their feet, questionable neighbors and opposing armies that come to call.
In the bloody civil war of the Revolution in South Carolina, sides had to be chosen and the families at the homestead were often the victims. These women, and the women like them whose stories were never told, chose not to play the victim. They chose independence over servitude. They chose to fight! Freedom Reigns!
Parker’s Guide to the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, John C. Parker Jr.
King’s Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It, Lyman Draper and Anthony Allaire