Biography of Francis Marion the “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution
Francis Marion was an officer in the South Carolina Militia during the American Revolutionary War, and was known as the “Swamp Fox.” He was a veteran of the French and Indian War and fought on the frontier in the Cherokee War. He entered politics and was elected to the South Carolina Provincial Congress, and in June 1775, he was commissioned as a Captain in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment, under the command of William Moultrie. Marion fought at Fort Moultrie during the Battle of Sullivan’s Island and helped stop the British attack on Charleston. In September 1776. he was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army and then participated in the Siege of Savannah. American and French forces, under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln, failed to take Savannah from the British and fell back to Charleston. In 1780, the British laid siege to Charleston, and Lincoln was forced to surrender. Roughly 5,000 American troops were taken prisoner, but Marion was not among them. He was recovering from a broken ankle and was not there. After a portion of the British army sailed north, Marion organized a small force of militia — “Marions’ Men” — and, for a time, was the only American military resistance in South Carolina. Marion and his men conducted “guerrilla warfare” against British supply lines. In July 1780, Marion and his men joined the army under the command of General Horatio Gates. Gates sent Marion on a mission to gather intelligence, and he was not present at the Battle of Camden, the disastrous defeat of Gates in the South. In November 1780, General Charles Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to capture him. Tarleton chased after him, but Marion escaped through a swamp. Afterward, he fought at the Siege of Fort Watson, Siege of Fort Motte, and commanded the right-wing of the army, under the command of General Nathanael Greene, at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. In January 1782, he was elected to the South Carolina Assembly and left the army. In 1790, he helped write the South Carolina Constitution and then retired.
This illustration depicts Francis Marion making his escape from Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Images.
Important Facts About Francis Marion the Swamp Fox
1. Francis Marion was a planter in South Carolina at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.
He was likely born around 1732, in the area of St. John’s Parish in Berkeley County, near Georgetown, South Carolina. He died on February 27, 1795, at his estate, Pond Bluff, in South Carolina.
2. Marion used unconventional tactics to fight the British.
In August 1780, he waged guerrilla warfare against Loyalists and British forces along the Pee Dee River and Santee River. He fought off three Loyalist groups and then attacked British supply lines. He carried out raids on Georgetown and escaped the British Dragoons under the command of Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton. Most likely, Marion developed his backwoods fighting skills during the Cherokee War.
Banastre Tarleton failed to capture Marion. Image Source: Wikipedia.
3. Marion earned the nickname “Swamp Fox” and was promoted to Brigadier General.
After Tarleton failed to capture Marion, he said, “as for this damned old fox, not even the devil himself could not catch him.” After that, people started to refer to Marion as the “Swamp Fox.” He was also promoted to Brigadier General by Governor John Rutledge.
4. Marion’s cooperation with Nathanael Greene helped force the British to the coast.
Unlike some South Carolina military leaders, Marion was willing to work with General Nathanael Green, who was in command of the Southern Army. In April 1781, Marion helped capture Fort Watson, and then Fort Motte a month later. Those two victories forced the British to leave Camden, South Carolina. At the Battle of Eutaw Springs, Marion commanded South Carolina Militia and helped gain a tactical victory in the last major battle of the war that took place in the Carolinas. Afterward, the British retreated to the coast, which eventually led them to find refuge in Yorktown, where they were trapped between the Continental Army and the French Navy at the Battle of Yorktown.
5. The legacy of Francis Marion has been memorialized — and exaggerated — by popular culture.
Marion’s exploits have been the basis of both television and film. “The Swamp Fox” was an 8-episode mini-series produced by Walt Disney Productions. The series, which was originally broadcast from 1959 to 1962, featured Leslie Neilson as Marion. In 2000, the feature film “The Patriot” used Marion, Marion’s Men, and Banastre Tarlton as the basis for its main characters.
General Francis Marion in the American Revolutionary War
Marion at the Start of the War
- In 1775, Francis Marion was a member of the South Carolina Provincial Congress.
- On June 21, 1775, Marion was commissioned to the rank of Captain in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. His commanding officer was William Moultrie.
- Marion was at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on June 28, 1776, where South Carolina forces fought off an attack by the British Royal Navy.
Siege of Savannah
- Francis Marion was commissioned to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army after the Battle of Sullivan’s Island.
- Marion was in command of the Second South Carolina Regiment.
- He was part of the Siege of Savannah, a failed attempt by American and French forces to retake Savannah, Georgia from the British.
Francis Marion Breaks His Leg and Escapes Capture at Charleston
- In March 1780, Francis Marion broke his leg, supposedly after he jumped out of a window to get away from a bad dinner party.
- Marion was recuperating on his plantation when the British captured Charleston. Many of the American military leaders were captured and held prisoner, including William Moultrie and John Laurens.
- He escaped to North Carolina and joined the Southern Army, under the command of General Horatio Gates.
- Marion did not participate in the Battle of Camden, which was a disastrous loss for the Americans.
Francis Marion Becomes the Swamp Fox
- After the Siege of Charleston and the Battle of Camden, Francis Marion gathered men into a small force.
- Marion operated in the South Carolina Lowcountry and attacked British supply lines and communication lines.
- He fought South Carolina Loyalists in the Georgetown District.
- Marion gained fame for his actions at Great Savannah, Black Mingo, Tearcoat Swamp, and Georgetown.
- General Charles Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to find Marion’s Men.
- Marion evaded capture by moving through swamps and forests.
Francis Marion Joins with Nathanael Greene
- Nathanael Greene replaced Horatio Gates as head of the Southern Department and took command of the army.
- Francis Marion and his men joined forces with the army led by Nathanael Greene.
- In April 1781, Marion and “Light Horse” Harry Lee captured Fort Watson on the Santee River.
- In May, Marion and Lee captured Fort Motte, which forced the British to evacuate Camden.
Francis Marion at the Battle of Eutaw Springs
- On September 8, 1781, Francis Marion and Brigadier General Andrew Pickens commanded advance lines at the Battle of Eutaw Springs.
- Eutaw Spring was the last major battle in the Carolinas during the American Revolutionary War.
- The British won the battle but suffered heavy casualties and were forced to retreat to the coast.
Death of Francis Marion
- After the war, Francis Marion returned to his plantation and became involved in South Carolina politics.
- Marion served in the South Carolina State Senate.
- In 1784, he was honored with a ceremonial command of Fort Johnson, which provided him with an annual stipend of $500.
- On February 27, 1795, Marion died on his estate.
- He was buried at Belle Isle Plantation in Berkeley County, South Carolina.
Significance of Francis Marion the Swamp Fox
Francis Marion is important to the history of the United States for his service in the South Carolina Militia and Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. His military exploits and reputation are somewhat legendary, and he went on to serve in the South Carolina Assembly and helped write the state constitution.