As recounted last month, Rev. William Martin, on June 4, 1780, preached to the Covenanters of Rocky Creek, South Carolina, and stirred them up to fight in the revolutionary cause. As we celebrate Independence Day in America, it is good for us to recall what happened in the following days that year. The story continues from Mrs. Green whose first-hand account can be found in William Glasgow’s History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, followed by a few personal reflections.
“Early upon Monday morning [June 5, 1780], the plough was left standing in the furrow, and the best horse was bridled and saddled and left standing at the door. Mrs. Anderson had been up since a little after midnight, making hoe cakes upon the hoe, and corn dodger in the oven, and while the cooking of meats was going on, she was busily plying the needle sewing up sacks and bags to hold provisions for man and horse upon a long journey. As soon as he had taken his breakfast, William bade his wife farewell, mounted and rode off. The effect of Mr. Martin’s eloquence was speedily apparent. At an early hour upon Monday morning, many of the conscientious Covenanters we seen drilling on the muster-ground seven miles from Rocky Mount, under the brave Captain Ben Land, while two miles above this, at a shop of a negro blacksmith, half a dozen more were getting their horses shod. Those at the muster-ground were changed upon by a party of British dragoons, having no previous notice of their approach, and were dispersed. The man who carried to the enemy the tidings of Mr. Martin’s sermon and the meeting of the Covenanters to drill, did not die in his bed. Their Captain being overtaken and surrounded by the dragoons, who attacked him with their broad swords, defended himself with his sword to the last, and wounded severely several of his enemies before he fell. The party at the blacksmith shop was also surprised, and one man killed. The dragoons then crossed Rocky Creek, and soon found their way to the rude stone hut which was the dwelling of Mr. Martin. They found the old divine in his study preparing a sermon, which was to be a second blast, and made him their prisoner, and carried him like a felon to Rocky Mount. There he and Thomas Walker were bound to the floor in one of the log huts. The enemy knew well what reason they had to dread the effect of Martin’s stirring eloquence.”
“The first log church erected by Covenanters was in the spring of 1774, and was situated on the same road as the “Catholic” church, and two miles east of it. It was burned by the Tories in 1780. The hands and hearts of the Covenanters were in the trying scenes of the Revolution. The men shouldered the musket and went to the defence of the country, while the women remained at home and attended to the farms. Mr. Martin was their leader, and did much for the cause of the country in arousing all the inhabitants of Chester to their duty as citizens. As a zealous Whig, and an eloquent preacher, Mr. Martin threw all his influence on the side of the Colonists, for which he was apprehended in June, 1780, and imprisoned at Rocky Mount and Camden by the British. Here he was confined for over six months. In December, 1780, and on the day of his trial before Lord Cornwallis at Winnsboro, he stood before him erect, with his grey locks uncovered, his eyes fixed upon his lordship, his countenance marked with frankness and benevolence. “You are charged,” said Lord Cornwallis, “with preaching rebellion from the pulpit. You, an old man, and a minister of the gospel of peace, are charged with advocating rebellion against your lawful sovereign King George the III. What have you to say in your defence?” Nothing daunting, Mr. Martin replied, “I am happy to appear before you. For many months I have been held in chains for preaching what I believe to be the truth. As to King George I owe him nothing but good will. I am not unacquainted with his private character. I was raised in Scotland; educated in her literary and theological schools; settled in Ireland, where I spent the prime of my school days, and came to this country some eight years ago. As a King, he was bound to protect his subjects in the enjoyment of their rights. Protection and allegiance go together, and when the one fails, the other cannot be exacted. The Declaration of Independence is but a reiteration of a principle which our Covenanted fathers have always maintained, and have lead this nation to adopt. I am thankful you have given me liberty to speak, and will abide your pleasure whatever it may be.” After his release from Lord Cornwallis, Mr. Martin went over to Mecklenberg, North Carolina, where he preached for some time. It was here he baptized Isaac Grier, the first Presbyterian minister born in Georgia and the grandfather of William Moffat Grier, President of Erskine College, Due West, South Carolina. When the news came to him that the British had evacuated Charleston, Mr. Martin carried the word to the neighborhood, adding the comment, “the British have taken shipping, and may the d---l go with them.” In the Fairfield District there lived one John Phillips, who was a man of wealth and talent. During the war, however, he became a rank Tory and was called “Tory Colonel Phillips.” He betrayed the cause of the Covenanters, and those who had often saved his life when he cast himself upon the mercy of the Whigs. He accompanied Tarleton to Little Rocky Creek, where he took Archibald McClurkin from his bed, when he was lying at the point of death with small-pox, and hanged him to a tree by the roadside. This barbarous act so aroused the righteous indignation of the Covenanters, that their military aid in behalf of the Colonists was thereby greatly increased. Many cold blooded deeds were attributed to this traitor Phillips. After the war he returned to Ireland, but was not there safe from the vengeance he had provoked in South Carolina. He was shot on the street in Bally-money by one of McClurkin’s brothers, but not fatally injured. He lived in constant fear of the avenger of blood and died a drunkard, himself in despair, and his family wholly destitute. In 1781, Mr. Martin returned to Rocky Creek and resumed his labors among the Covenanters, preaching in the “Catholic” meeting house.”
According to sources, Mr. Martin was set free because he had befriended one of Cornwallis’ aides many years earlier in Ulster. That relationship paid off when his life was on the line these many years later.
On a personal level, the account is meaningful because my many-greats-uncle, John Faris, also fought in the days after hearing Rev. Martin preach that fiery sermon. He was captured by the British around the time that Martin was captured and the RP church was burned. The British sentenced Uncle John to be hanged, and he was assigned two guards in a log jail. The night before he was to be hanged, he successfully broke free. Because the Rocky Creek neighborhood was fully of Tories, he fled to fight under the command of General Thomas Sumter. He gave his life for the cause of freedom later that summer through injuries sustained at the Battle of Hanging Rock, where he fought with the young Andrew Jackson. Uncle John’s only child was born shortly after his death. The child died in infancy. His widow, Elizabeth, later collected his pension for service in the Continental Army.
As you celebrate our Declaration of Independence, do not forget the cost. May we too throw our hearts and hands into the true cause of freedom as we serve Jesus Christ.