Backcountry Tories

Soon after Charleston fell in May 1780 bodies of British troops were dispatched into different portions of the state to enforce the proclamations of Sir Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis.  Among others, Col. Ferguson was sent on this enterprise.  The special object of his mission was to compel the Whigs to take protection and to embody the Tories and to train them to war with a view to further conquests.  In the prosecution of these designs he came in the month of June into that portion of Union District then called the Quaker Meadow, now the Meadow Woods.  In this section were a number of determined Whigs residing on Sugar Creek by the name of Blassingame.  One of these was arrested.

Thence Ferguson moved up into the Fairforest congregation, and seems to have made it his headquarters until about September.   During this time the community was taxed with the support of his army and the disciples of his school.  Five different positions were occupied at different times by his encampment.  His object in moving seems to have been to get nearer the means of support as he soon eat out the immediate vicinity of his encampment.  His horses were turned loose into any field of grain that might be convenient and foraging parties dispersed abroad.  The cattle round about were driven to his camp and slaughtered or shot down in the woods and left.  Every house was searched from time to time for provisions and plundered for every article of value.  As many Whigs as could be found were apprehended, not even excepting those who had taken protection.  A few had done this rather than forsake their families, but they were soon sent to Ninety Six and incarcerated in a loathsome prison and almost perished for want of food.  But at the time of Ferguson's arrival most of the males capable of bearing arms took refuge in North Carolina, so that he had an excellent opportunity of drilling his raw recruits and supporting his army of devastation and pillage.  Small parties of Whigs came into the neighborhood about often enough to afford good exercise in pursuing when they heard of their being in striking distance.

It may not be improper here to inquire: Who were the Tories?  That class of citizens who took up arms for the King and fought against his fellow citizens who were contending for the liberties we now enjoy.  Why did they think proper to pursue the course they did?  The Tories have been badly abused for the last sixty‑ five years.  They have hardly dared to offer apology for their conduct, yet they were numerous in many states and their descendants are now proportionately so, yet no man boasts of his relationship to them.  It has been a fashion to stigmatize their conduct and heap all manner of reproaches upon them.  The issue of the war and the verdict of Whigs of posterity has sanctioned this. No man now supposes that he would have been a Tory if it had been the will of Providence that he should have been an actor in the scenes of the Revolution.  Every man now supposes as he reads history of those events that he, as a matter of course, would have been on the right side, that he would have imperiled life and fortune in the cause of liberty.

But why do we think so?  Is it easy for us to imagine when we read of deeds of humanity, generosity and noble daring that we should have acted in the same manner if we had been placed in the same situation with those who performed them.  It is easy now to find a man professing the greatest devotion to the interests of the people, when a lucrative or honorable office is at their disposal.  Meet a candidate when you will, he is at your service; his bosom seems literally inflamed with generosity and friendship.  Meet him again and he treats you with shy reserve and casts upon you the conjectural glance of a stranger.  It is as true now as it ever has been "that a man may smile and smile and be a villain."  It is equally true that no man knows what he will do until he is tried, and it is perhaps equally certain that many persons who play at games of hazard prefer the winning side.  But to the question:  Who were the Tories?  The writer has tried various methods of getting light on this subject and would gladly receive information on it now.  From investigations had in relation to this matter, I came to the following conclusion:

Various classes of men were Tories. The following divisions comprehend the most of them:

1. There were some men in the country conscientiously opposed to war and every sort of revolution which led to it or invoked its aids.  They believed that they ought to be in subjection to the powers that be, hence they maintained their allegiance to the British crown.  The Quakers were of this class.  They were far more numerous in South Carolina then than now.  They were non‑combatants, but the weight of their influence fell on the wrong side.

2. There were many men who knew nothing of the merits of the question at issue.  The world has always been sufficiently stocked with men of this class.  Their days are passed in profound  ignorance of everything which requires an exertion of intellect, yet often the most self‑conceited, prejudiced beings that wear the human form ‑‑ perfect moles, delighting in dirt and darkness.  Hence they are fit subjects for demagogues and tyrants.  They followed their leaders in 1776 as at other times.

3. Another class thought the Government of George III. too good to exchange for an uncertainty.  Let well enough alone.  A little tax on tea won't hurt us, and as for principles and doctrines, leave them to the lawyers and parsons.

4. Another class thought that how ever desirable the right of self‑government might be, it was out of the question unless His Most Gracious Majesty might be pleased to grant it.   They thought the fleets and armies of Britain perfectly invincible.  Defeat and utter ruin must follow rebellion against the King.

5.  There was yet another class.  A set of men who give themselves a good deal of credit for shrewdness and management.  They pride themselves on being genteel and philosophical.  If they ever had scruples of conscience they amount to very little.  If they have religious principles at all they impose no self‑denial and forbid no sensual gratifications.  If they have a spark of patriotism it is because their country has a treasury and they see some prospect of getting their fingers in it.  Upon the whole, the needle is no truer to the pole than they are to the prospect of gain.  "Make money" is  their maxim; "make money honestly if you can, but make it."

 Accordingly, when Charleston fell in 1780 and the state was overrun something appeared in the proclamation of Sir Henry Clinton which was to them a law of promise.  Pardon was offered to all rebels, but such, &c.  That exception covered many persons of large estates and a far greater number possessed of comfortable means.  Here now the shadow of a golden harvest flits before their longing eyes.  The success of British arms is an inevitable result in South Carolina.  The excepted Whigs have property enough to make many rich if informed against by the zealous advocates of the officers of the crown.  The chance is too good to be lost by any of the Shylock family.  Feelings of humanity and tenderness weigh not a feather against the well cultivated farms of the proscribed Whigs now marked as available stock.

6. There was another class that had a bad representation among the Tories.  A class too, which, either on account of its numbers, industry or general influence, gave character to the whole fraternity.  The writer has frequently asked Revolutionary Soldiers the question:  "What sort of men were the Tories?"  The answer has generally been the same: "A pack of rogues."  An eminent example of this class was found in the person of Capt. S. Brown, who is understood to have been a notorious robber years before the war commenced.  Yet this Brown, like other men who have money, had numerous friends.  He had the shrewdness to perceive that the field suited him.  Accordingly, he rallied his followers, joined Ferguson and for a time proved a very efficient ally, and although he had been an outlaw for years, yet few brought under the Royal standard a larger share of natural and acquired talents for the position assigned him.  He now enjoys the liberty of plundering under the sanction of law and of arresting for reward those who have been long known as staunch defenders of honesty and justice.

Thus we perceive six classes among the Loyalists ‑‑ a conscientious class, an ignorant class, an indifferent class, a covetous, bargain‑making class; a roguish class, and we might add a disappointed, revengeful class.  The reader is not to suppose that these characteristics were never combined. Several of them have a natural affinity for each other and are almost in variably found united in the same person.  Men conscientiously opposed to war rarely take pleasure in those exercises useful as a preparation for it; they choose to keep out of its noise and din.  Cowards also prefer a peaceful fireside to the sharp shooting and broadsword of the battlefield.  Men indifferent in feelings to the issues of a contest generally avoid the exposure of toilsome conflicts.  But Ferguson's camp was soon crowded with men making high professions of loyalty and willing to serve the King in any capacity required.  And he set himself to work in training his raw recruits for the further subjugation of the country.  And from what we have seen, it is not wonderful that the Tories were as heartily despised by the British officers as by their own countrymen, the Whigs.  But Ferguson was not a man to be diverted from his purpose by acts of inhumanity and treachery.  The crown had honors and rewards to bestow and his eye rested upon them.  He knew that the "defender of the faith" generally gave more cash for one year of kind service in military enterprise than for a lifetime spent in such pursuits as exalt and ennoble human nature.

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