Francis Marion, Archaeology, and Heritage Tourism:
 Archaeological Investigation of Francis Marion’s camp and Redoubt at D...
Slide          Discussion

1              Title: Francis Marion, Archaeology, and Heritage Tourism:
               Archaeo...
time we assume that he ordered Colonel John Ervin to construct a redoubt at
     Dunham’s Bluff, across the Pee Dee from S...
15          The Commission was excited by this find and allowed additional funding for a
     week of test excavations at ...
Thus the archaeological evidence indicates that partisans, at least Marion’s
                partisans, arrange themselves...
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Steven Smith Notes

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"Francis Marion, Archaeology, and Heritage Tourism: Archaeological Investigation of Francis Marion’s camp and Redoubt at Dunham’s Bluff, South Carolina"
Steven D. Smith
University of South Carolina

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Steven Smith Notes

  1. 1. Francis Marion, Archaeology, and Heritage Tourism: Archaeological Investigation of Francis Marion’s camp and Redoubt at Dunham’s Bluff, South Carolina By Steven D. Smith South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology This paper examines the results of archaeological metal detecting survey and test excavations conducted at a Revolutionary War campsite and redoubt associated with Francis Marion’s legendary hide out at Snow’s Island, South Carolina, located along the Pee Dee River in Marion County, South Carolina. Metal detecting revealed the camp location. Hand excavations revealed intact camp archaeological features. The redoubt was confirmed by hand excavation of a slot trench through the redoubt’s earthen parapet and 14C dating of a buried organic A horizon. Both sites have great archaeological potential not only to understand the material culture of a partisan camp and expand on our understanding of partisans and their associated community, but also offers interpretive potential for heritage tourism as the site is being developed as part of the Francis Marion Trail through the Francis Marion Trail Commission.
  2. 2. Slide Discussion 1 Title: Francis Marion, Archaeology, and Heritage Tourism: Archaeological Investigation of Francis Marion’s camp and Redoubt at Dunham’s Bluff, South Carolina. 2 Brigadier General Francis Marion was a partisan commander during the American Revolution. His district command encompassed the lowcountry of South Carolina where he became famous as the “Swamp Fox.” 3 Prior to being a partisan, Marion was the commander of the 2 nd South Carolina Regiment. Due to a fortunate break, he was not in Charleston, South Carolina when the British captured the city in May 1780. With the British in control of the state, he joined General Horatio Gates’ Army. The day before Gates was defeated at Camden in August, Marion was sent to take charge of the Williamsburg Militia at Witherspoon’s Ferry. From that point until the capture of Fort Motte in May 1781, he operated as a partisan. 4 Using typical guerrilla tactics, Marion ranged widely, avoiding large British forces while engaging in ambush and raid. However, like any guerrilla, he also required a secure support base for resting, resupply, and training. Snow’s Island, South Carolina was such a place and was his main base during his partisan campaign. 5 Snow’s Island is geographically defined as the land surrounded by the Pee Dee River, Lynches Creek (now river), and Clark’s Creek. But Snow’s Island was probably a regional place name, or what Dr. Larry Babits calls a “mailbox,” defined as a general location rather than a specific spot on the landscape. In this case it is possible that to the 18th century partisan, Snow’s Island, meant anywhere along the Pee Dee near the mouth of Lynches Creek rather than the island itself. 6 On the island and surrounding it was community of Whig families who supported Marion and his partisans by providing beef, hogs, forage, corn, iron, ammunition, and men. Marion in turn provided security. In fact, several pension applications indicate that men joined Marion primarily as his camp was believed to be the only safe place in the larger region. This slide depicts known Whig families at that time from deed, plat, genealogical and map research. 7 The Snow’s Island community had several strategic points controlled by Marion or local militia forces. These included ferry’s at least two redoubts, camps, and homesteads. This slide illustrates a selection of historical locations associated with the American Revolution. 8 Around mid November 1780 we get our first indication of Marion’s use of Snow’s Island as a depot, although other militia units had used it earlier. Marion himself was on the island only for two weeks in January 1781 and it was around that
  3. 3. time we assume that he ordered Colonel John Ervin to construct a redoubt at Dunham’s Bluff, across the Pee Dee from Snow’s Island. 9 At the end of March 1781 the British conducted a two-pronged assault against Marion to eradicate the camp. Although Marion conducted a brilliant campaign against one prong of the attack that approached him along the Santee River, the second prong under Colonel Welborne Ellis Doyle came from Camden, found and destroyed the camp. (Incidentally, the man who guided the British to Marion’s camp was later captured at Fort Motte, South Carolina hung and thrown in the fort’s ditch.) While the community continued to support Marion after the camp was destroyed, there is no historical record that he returned to Snow’s Island. He did make use of the region including signing a treaty with the Loyalists at Birches Mill about ten miles north of Snow’s Island. 10 Marion’s camp on Snow’s Island has not been found. Numerous historical sources, both primary and secondary, place Marion’s camp on Snow’s Island, other sources place his camp, or another camp, across from Snow’s Island, at Dunham’s Bluff where Ervin’s redoubt was built. Furthermore, sources indicate that through the nineteenth century Dunham’s Bluff was often called “Marion’s redoubt” and “Marion’s camp.” 11 Since 1991, I have been interested in locating Marion’s legendary camp supposedly on Snow’s Island. Several 18th century sites have been located around Snow’s Island, but nothing on Snow’s Island. 12 In 2005 I was awarded a contract from the Francis Marion Trail Commission to locate sites associated with Francis Marion. The commission’s goal is to develop a heritage trail across the South Carolina Lowcountry based on the theme of Francis Marion. My task was to locate archaeological evidence of 15 battlefields and camps of Marion, which would some day be sites along the trail and would also provide interpretive information. 13 Snow’s Island was one of the sites I was to investigate. However, since I had spent considerable time on Snow’s Island without luck already, I determined to look at Snow’s Island as Larry Babits suggested and consider Snow’s Island to be a generalized place name rather than a specific place. Therefore we took a regional approach, or perhaps a catchment approach as V. Kent Flannery would call it. With that we conducted metal detecting surveys around the Britton’s Neck and Snow’s Island region looking for evidence of Marion’s presence. 14 A cannon ball and various 18th century artifacts were found at a location fitting historical descriptions of “Marion’s camp” at Dunham’s Bluff, confirming a camp site and also probably the home of the Dunham family.
  4. 4. 15 The Commission was excited by this find and allowed additional funding for a week of test excavations at the site. The goals were modest: simply to find out if there were intact deposits warranting additional future work. 16 Excavations consisted of trenching to locate features, and 2 x 2 meter units. The results indicated that indeed there are intact features, including possibly a palisade ditch, a hard-packed floor with many small artifacts ground into it, and assorted postholes and trash pits. 17 One large feature produced not only 18th century artifacts, but also faunal material including a single deer and a single hog. Also recovered were oyster shells. The artifacts imply a single act of deposit. 18 These remains, plus primary source material noting that hogs, beef, and corn being provided to Marion by the local population (or in some cases requisitioned) clearly shatter the traditional notion of Marion’s men starving in the swamps living off sweet potatoes. 19 Other artifacts were consistent with domestic sites and we found only one musket ball large enough to be considered of appropriate caliber for a military weapon. 20 Another intriguing artifact was a silver sleeve button, with a block “I.” Button experts have never seen a button like it, but believe it represents an officer’s button. 21 With excavations on-going at the campsite, I took the opportunity to examine a ridge like feature nearer the bluff which had intrigued me since 1991, but never had funds to examine through excavation. I wondered if it could be Ervin’s redoubt. Robert Bass, Marion biographer, had said that Ervin’s redoubt was near the bluff. 22 A slot trench was excavated through the feature and revealed an A horizon below a slight ridgeline and ditch that resembled a rifle trench. 23 A carbon 14 sample from the A horizon gave us a date of 1600 + - 40, which geomorphologists Dr. Mark Brooks and Dr. Paul Nystrom, who provided a day in the field, thought was a good date. 24 The profile also provided evidence of piling dirt on top of the A horizon from the exterior ditch and evidence of a ditch line. 25 It appears we have found Marion’s redoubt and camp. The question remains is this THE Snow’s Island camp, or is it ONE of his camps. That is, is there still a missing camp on the Snow’s Island as geographically defined. Based on the historical evidence I still believe there is. This camp is one of Marion’s many detached camps in the region.
  5. 5. Thus the archaeological evidence indicates that partisans, at least Marion’s partisans, arrange themselves across the landscape in a dispersed settlement pattern, making use of natural landscape features and improving natural defensive landscape features by fortification. This includes individual camps, civilian homesteads used as camps, redoubts or defensive positions, and strategic choke points like ferry’s and swamps that can be made secure, at least until sizable conventional forces concentrate against them. Furthermore, Babits mailbox or regional approach is correct. Thus, Snow’s Island and the region around Snow’s Island was all “Marion’s camp.” When Marion wrote of detached camps, he did not mean widely detached across the lowcountry at any one time, but a series of small camps within a fairly concentrated controlled region, in this case the Whig community surrounding Snow’s Island. 26 Meanwhile the FMTC is to be saluted for attempting to locate precisely as possible sites associated with Francis Marion. While budget cuts have affected their progress like all state entities, I am hopeful the will eventually proceed to interpret the sites including Marion’s camp at Dunham’s Bluff.

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