Battle of Williamson’s Plantation Summary
After the British captured Charleston, South Carolina, General Charles Cornwallis established a series of outposts throughout the state. From the outpost at Rocky Mount, Lieutenant Colonel George Turnbull routinely sent Captain Christian Huck out into the countryside to harass American Patriots and sympathizers. On July 11, 1780, Huck harassed the families of Captain John McClure and Colonel William Bratton and burned their homes. McClure’s daughter rode to the Patriot camp and informed her father of the incidents. The two men gathered a small force together and surrounded Huck’s camp at Williamson’s Plantation. On the morning of the 12th, the Patriots launched a surprise attack, easily routing Huck and his men. Huck was killed in the battle, which ultimately helped turn the tide of the war in South Carolina.
Battle of Williamson’s Plantation Quick Facts
- Also Known As: The Battle of Williamson’s Plantation is also known as Huck’s Defeat.
- Date Started: The Battle of Williamson’s Plantation started on July 12, 1780.
- Date Ended: It ended on the same day.
- Location: The Battle of Williamson’s Plantation was fought at Brattonville, South Carolina.
- Theater: The battle took place in the Southern Theater of the American Revolution.
- Campaign: The Battle of Williamson’s Plantation was part of the Southern Campaign.
- Who Won: The United States won the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation.
Battle of Williamson’s Plantation Overview and History
In May 1780, American forces under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to General Henry Clinton, ending the Siege of Charleston. Afterward, Clinton sailed to New York City and left General Charles Cornwallis in command of the South. British forces spread out and occupied key locations in South Carolina, including Camden, Cheraw, Georgetown, Ninety-Six, and Rocky Mount.
British Outpost at Rocky Mount, South Carolina
The Rocky Mount outpost provided the British with a high elevation overlooking the area where Rocky Creek enters the Catawba River. The outpost was commanded by, Lieutenant Colonel George Turnbull, and was garrisoned by roughly 150 Loyalists, including men from Turnbull’s own regiment, the New York Volunteers, and a contingent of British Legion Dragoons — mounted cavalry — from the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. The contingent of dragoons was under the command of Captain Christian Huck, a Loyalist from Philadelphia.
Huck Terrorizes Patriot Sympathizers
Turnbull used Huck and his men and sent them on expeditions into the countryside to harass the leaders and sympathizers of the Patriot Cause. Like Tarleton, Huck had a reputation for dealing ruthlessly with the enemy. On June 11th, Huck destroyed the Blessing Creek Presbyterian Meeting House, and a week later he burned William Hill’s ironworks.
Around July 10, Turnbull received a report that many Patriot soldiers living in the area, including Captain John McClure and Colonel William Bratton, had returned home to check on their crops. They were also recruiting and enlisting men to serve in the brigade of General Thomas Sumter. Turnbull gave Huck instructions to engage McClure and Bratton and disperse the Patriots in the communities of Upper Blessing Creek and Bethesda.
Huck Visits McClure’s Plantation
On the evening of July 10, Huck left from Rocky Mount with 35 British Legion dragoons, 20 mounted New York Volunteers, and 50 mounted Loyalist Militia. Early on July 11, he visited McClure’s home near present-day Brattonville, South Carolina. McClure was gone, having already left for Sumter’s camp, and Huck was furious.
Huck found McClure’s younger brother, James, and his brother-in-law, Edward Martin, melting pewter dishes in order to make bullets. Huck took them as prisoners and sentenced them to be hanged the next day. He threatened McClure’s wife and slapped his daughter, Mary, with his sword, and then set their house on fire.
Huck Visits Bratton’s Plantation
Huck left McClure’s and headed to Bratton’s plantation. Along the way, he arrested some of their neighbors under suspicion of aiding the Patriot Cause. When Huck and his men arrived at Bratton’s, they found he was gone. Huck and his me responded by looting the house, threatening the family, and then setting fire to the house. After they left Bratton’s, they went to the neighboring plantation, which was owned by James Williamson, and spent the night.
Mary McClure Warns the Patriots
Meanwhile, Mary McClure rode 30 miles to Sumter’s camp. When she arrived, she told her father about the raid. McClure and Colonel Bratton gathered 150 men. They were joined by Captain Edward Lacey Jr., Colonel William Hill, and Colonel Andrew Neal, who had an additional 350 men. When all the men were assembled, they marched to Williamson’s Plantation.
Edward Lacey’s Father Restrained
Lacey’s father was a Loyalist and lived with him. When they approached his home, he took precautions and posted men to guard it, to make sure his father did not warn the British forces. His father tried to escape and was captured. Lacey ordered his men to tie him to his bed to ensure he would not go anywhere.
Patriots Prepare to Attack Huck at Williamson’s Plantation
It was still dark when the Patriots reached Bratton’s house, which was about a quarter of a mile from Huck’s camp at Williamson’s Plantation. They saw Huck and his men had pitched their tents on the road, which was lined by rail fences on both sides. Basically, Huck and his men had made a mistake and pinned themselves in on two sides.
The Patriots took positions along both sides of the road and hid behind the fences. They intended to use the rails to their advantage. First, they could be used to steady their muskets when they fired. Second, they would act as a barrier and protect them from a bayonet attack.
The Battle of Williamson’s Plantation Begins
At dawn, the Patriots surrounded the camp and attacked. Huck and his men were completely surprised. Most of them were cut off from their horses, and some, including Colonel Matthew Floyd, fled on foot and escaped into the surrounding forest.
The Loyalists fought back, but the rail fences kept them from charging with their bayonets and the steady fire from the Patriot muskets inflicted heavy casualties. Colonel James Ferguson was shot and killed while Lieutenant John Adamson of the New York Volunteers fell from his horse and was wounded.
Gunshots woke Huck, who was sleeping in Williamson’s house. He ran out of the house and jumped on his horse. Drawing his sword, he rushed in to rally his men. As he charged, he was shot through the head and mortally wounded.
Battle of Williamson’s Plantation and Huck’s Defeat Outcome
Of the 115 men in Huck’s camp, only about 24 men — half of which were from Banastre Tarleton’s British Legion Dragoons — were able to escape. The Patriots had one man killed. Young James McClure and Edward Martin were found alive, tied up in a corncrib, and freed.
The American victory improved the morale of Patriots in the area, and men volunteered to join Sumter’s growing army. The additional recruits allowed Sumter to attack the Rocky Mount outpost on August 1, 1780.
The loss of members of the British Legion Dragoons infuriated Tarleton when he found out. He blamed Lieutenant Colonel Francis Rawdon and General Charles Cornwallis for the loss of the men.
Battle of Williamson’s Plantation Significance
The Battle of Williamson’s Plantation and Huck’s Defeat is important to United States history because the outcome played a key role in turning the tide of the American Revolutionary War in the South. In the aftermath of the battle, Patriot morale in the South Carolina Backcountry increased. Huck’s Defeat was an early victory in a series of battles that helped the Americans loosen British control of South Carolina.