On May 29, 1780, British Colonel Banastre Tarleton defeated American Colonel Abraham Buford at the Battle of Waxhaws near Lancaster, South Carolina, between Columbia and Charlotte. American losses were heavy with one hundred and thirteen being killed, one hundred and fifty being wounded, and fifty-three being taken captive. Reports of the battle vary, but many American reports painted Tarleton as a savage and merciless butcher. What quickly became known as the Buford Massacre stirred up the countryside and eventually became fodder for the opening conflict in Mel Gibson’s movie The Patriot.Only seventeen days earlier, General Cornwallis had taken Charleston, South Carolina as he sought to move the war against the Continental Army to the south after General Washington had outmaneuvered the British in the north. Cornwallis banked on strong loyalist support in the Carolinas to buoy his army as he would seek to move from south to north. And so, Lord Cornwallis commissioned Tarleton and his cavalry to route the fleeing remains of the Patriot forces in South Carolina and secure the region. As we know, Cornwallis won the battle, but lost the war. The Scots-Irish Presbyterian population of the upcountry Carolinas played a significant role in the ensuing conflict, some who were Tories and others who were Patriots. Included in that number were the Covenanters of Rocky Creek, South Carolina, some thirty miles west of the site of Battle of Waxhaws. Most had arrived from Ulster in 1772 under the leadership of the Rev. William Martin, a powerfully influential Reformed Presbyterian pastor, who had in 1757 been the first Covenanter pastor to be ordained in Ireland.
Over the next few days, I will post anniversary-date accounts of how the lives of those Reformed Presbyterians changed forever as they responded to the Battle of Waxhaws and the invasion of the Redcoats.
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