Peace Disturbed

On Saturday, I posted about the progress of the Revolutionary War as it moved to South Carolina in the spring of 1780. Word of the Battle of Waxhaws spread quickly around the South Carolina countryside in the final days of May, 1780. Most of the Reformed Presbyterians in Rocky Creek had settled the area only eight years earlier. The following first-hand account paints a picture of life in Rocky Creek for the Covenanter families who were hearing reports of war that was close at hand. This report sets the context for our next post, coming on Saturday, June 4.

A “Mrs. Green” wrote the account. She was born in 1750 in County Antrim, Ireland and came to South Carolina on one of the five ships filled with men and women recruited by Rev. William Martin. The story is recounted in William Glasgow’s History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America.

“Bounty lands had been bestowed by the government as inducements to emigration, and those who received such warrants, upon their arrival took great care to fix their location as near as possible to the central point, where a meeting house might be built. Their spirit was that of the ancient patriarch, who first built an altar. The spot selected for this purpose was the dividing ridge between the Great and Little Rocky Creeks [approximately equidistant between Columbia, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina]. Here, in the summer of 1773, these pious Covenanters might be seen from day to day, felling trees and clearing a space of ground upon which they reared a large log meeting house, many of them living in tents at home, till a place was provided in which they could assemble for religious service. A number of log cabins soon rose in the neighborhood, each with a patch of ground in which Indian corn was planted. The Irish emigrants were ignorant of the manner of cultivating this grain; but the first settlers, or ‘country-borns’ were ready to offer assistance and took pains to instruct them in its culture. The wants of small families were supplied with small crops, for corn was only then used for making bread, the woods affording abundant supplies of grass cane and wild pea vines to serve their horses and cattle for provender the whole year round. The streams abounded in shad and various other fish in their season, and the trusty rifle that hung upon the rack over the door, was never brought back without having performed its duty in slaying the deer, or whatever small game might be sought in the forest. Often have the old men who lived in that day spoke of the abundance that prevailed; a good hunter, when he chose, could make five dollars a day in deer skins and hams, while, if generous, he might give away the remainder of the venison to the poor. The hams and skins were sent to Charleston and exchanged for powder, lead, and other necessary articles. The wealth of these primitive Covenanters consisted in stock, their labors in tilling the earth, felling the woods and fencing their fields, while they were disturbed by none of the wants or cares created by a more advanced state of civilization. Such was the condition of the Covenanters, who had left their native Ireland, for the religious liberty found in the wilds of America. During seven years after their settlement in the woods, they enjoyed a life in which nothing of earthly comfort was wanting. Year after year the patch enlarged, the field becoming to the respectable dimensions of ten acres, and then a good clearing for a farm. Every Sabbath morning the parents, in their ‘Sunday clothes,’ with their neatly dressed and well-behaved little ones, might be seen at the log meeting-house; their pocket Bibles containing the old Psalms in their hands, and, turning over the leaves, they would follow the preacher in all the passages of Scripture cited by him, as he commented upon the verses. Their simple, trustful piety caused the wilderness to rejoice. But this happiness could not be lasting. The rumour of war which had gone over the land, was heard even in this remote section, and these refugees who had found peace could not but sympathize with their oppressed brethren. Some, it is true, from the vicinity, had been out in what was called ‘the Snow Campaign,’ an expedition undertaken towards the close of 1775 against the fierce Cherokee Indians and certain loyalists in the upper regions; and some had been present at the attack on Sullivan’s Island in 1776, and brought a report to those remaining at home. The desolation that raged in the North ere long took its way Southward, and the families which were unmolested, and had enjoyed the pure ordinances of the gospel, were now disturbed. This immunity was of short duration. John McClure, of Fishing Creek, came home and brought the intelligence of the surrender of Charleston, and his own defeat at Monk’s Corner. Still worse news came from across the river – of the inhuman massacre of Buford’s command by Tarleton’s corps at Waxhaws. This event gave a more sanguinary character to the war. Directly after this appalling announcement, spread the rumour that a strong party of British were posted at Rocky Mount [approximately eight miles from the Reformed Presbyterian Church building], that the people of Wateree were flocking to take protection as loyal subjects, and that the conquerors were sending forces in every direction to reduce the Province to subjection.”

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