Revolution and Independence
The population of the colonies swelled in the mid-1700s, not only from an influx of slaves but a corresponding flood of European immigrants. The interior began filling up with Germans, Swiss, Scottish, and Irish settlers. Their subsequent demands for political representation led to tension between them and the coastal inhabitants, typically depicted through the years as an Upcountry vs. Lowcountry competition.
It’s a persistent but inaccurate myth that the affluent elite on the southeastern coast were reluctant to break ties with England. While the Lowcountry’s cultural and economic ties to England were certainly strong, the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts combined to turn public sentiment against the mother country there as elsewhere in the colonies.
South Carolinian planters like Christopher Gadsden, Henry Laurens, John Rutledge, and Arthur Middleton were early leaders in the movement for independence. Planters in what would be called Liberty County, Georgia, also strongly agitated for the cause. War broke out between the colonists and the British in New England, and soon made its way southward.
The British failed to take Charleston—the fourth-largest city in the colonies—in June 1776, an episode which gave South Carolina its “Palmetto State” moniker when Redcoat cannonballs bounced off the palm tree–lined walls of Fort Moultrie. The British under General Sir Henry Clinton successfully took the city, however, in 1780, holding it until 1782.
The British, under General Archibald Campbell, took Savannah in 1778. Royal Governor Sir James Wright returned from exile to Georgia to reclaim it for the crown, the only one of the colonies to be subsumed again into the British Empire. A polyglot force of colonists, Haitians, and Hessians attacked the British fortifications on the west side of Savannah in 1779, but were repulsed with heavy losses.
Though the area’s two major cities were captured, the war raged on throughout the surrounding area. Indeed, throughout the Lowcountry fighting was as vicious as anything yet seen on the North American continent. With over 130 known military engagements occurring there, South Carolina sacrificed more men during the war than any other colony—including Massachusetts itself, “Cradle of the Revolution.”
The struggle became a guerrilla war of colonists vs. the British as well as a civil war between patriots and loyalists, or Tories. Committing what would today undoubtedly be called war crimes, the British routinely burned homes, churches, and fields, and massacred civilians. Using Daufuskie Island as a base, British soldiers staged raids on Hilton Head plantations, looting, shooting, and burning.
In response, patriots of the Lowcountry bred a group of deadly guerilla soldiers under legendary leaders such as Francis Marion, “the Swamp Fox,” and Thomas Sumter, “the Gamecock,” who attacked the British in daring hit-and-run raids staged from swamps and marshes. A covert group of patriots called the Sons of Liberty met clandestinely throughout the Lowcountry, plotting revolution over pints of ale. Sometimes their efforts transcended talk, however, and atrocities were committed against area loyalists.
In all, four South Carolinians signed the Declaration of Independence (Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr., Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge), as did three Georgians (Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton).
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition