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Swamp Fox Trail: Re-enactors draw 500 people to cotton field

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

It’s possible to spend a day or even a week retracing the paths Gen. Francis Marion took in beguiling the British during the Revolutionary War in South Carolina.

But it would require some serious research or joining a group of people led by a history scholar. Public interest is there. After all, the Revolutionary War was a “good” war that America won, and Francis Marion emerged as a legitimate hero in every sense of the word. The harder scholars dig, the better he looks.

Joe Long, education curator at the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia, said Marion prevented American Gen. “Light Horse” Harry Lee from lynching prisoners taken at Fort Motte. The museum currently has a display of memorabilia from Fort Motte in cooperation with the S.C. Department of Archives.

Patriot sympathizer Rebecca Motte advocated the Continentals set her roof on fire with flaming arrows to drive the British out. “One of the arrowheads is in the exhibit, which is just phenomenal,” Long said. Motte eventually moved to the Santee Delta, just across the Georgetown County line.

“There’s an awful lot of Revolutionary War history in this state, but it seems to be something kind of neglected,” Long said. “Half the population of Columbia has no idea about these Revolutionary War figures our streets are named after.”

Despite the neglect, history is a tourism draw. More than 500 people attended a Revolutionary War re-enactment at Graham Farm near Lake City last weekend. Owner Paul Graham found papers in the attic of the family farmhouse that included a handwritten receipt from Marion for two bushels of corn and dinner for 11 men. Marion brought prisoners to the farm and used it as a staging area for an invasion of Georgetown.

Erick Nason led the 2nd South Carolina Regiment, Marion’s unit, at the Lake City American Heritage Festival. He directed a mock battle in a cleared cotton field that saw American troops with a cannon rout a band of British Redcoats and Loyalists.

The heritage festival included a settlement of craftsmen, called sutlers, who supplied goods to the soldiers. Blacksmith Dale Smith of Johnsonville was there, demonstrating his craft and hoping to keep Revolutionary War interest alive until the state rediscovers it. The Francis Marion Trail Commission has not been funded in almost a decade. “It’s discouraging,” Smith said. “Maybe with a new governor something will happen.” He said Gov. Nikki Haley showed no interest in history. “She wouldn’t do anything,” he said.

Bob Hill of Plantersville, a gunsmith, was at the Lake City festival. He was hoping to boost interest in the colonial period within the original trail commission’s area of concentration: Florence, Georgetown, Charleston and Clarendon counties. “We used to do some things with the schools,” he said. “I don’t know. To tell you the truth, that’s the reason we are here trying to support this, hoping this will build into something near home. This is our back yard right here.”

Smith said it’s not often he finds Revolutionary War festivals as close as Lake City. “Kingstree has played out,” he said. “They still do a little thing in Marion.”

The Lynches Lake Historical Society in Lake City has compiled a list of 3,400 names of patriots who either fought in the war or contributed financially. Volunteer Kent Daniels said the names are painted on a mural of Francis Marion in the society’s facility at 238 E. Main St. Visitors can look up their Revolutionary War ancestors, he said. “We have all the indent, petitions for payment, over 10,000 files for the state of South Carolina.”

Darla Moore, a Wall Street financier who has contributed in a major way to restoring her hometown of Lake City, has boosted the prospects there. She arranged a bus tour of prominent Marion battle sites. Becky Donahue of Hemingway and Billy Jenkins of Kingstree are working to keep their towns’ history in the forefront, according to Smith.

Former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill’s mother, Peggy, gave the trail commission prints of her painting of Francis Marion in Williamsburg County to sell. But for every step forward, there’s two back. Smith said some folks arranged an 18th century dinner for supporters in Kingstree, and nobody showed up.

Piecemeal efforts aren’t going to develop the resource as a tourism draw, according to Ben Zeigler of Florence, the former Francis Marion Trail Commission chairman. “In order for it to work,” he said, “it has to have regional buy-in. Everybody has to be on board. The only way to do that is for the state to get behind it.”

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