[Minor revisions May 2, 2010]
By the end of May, 1780, the Continentals had been eliminated as a fighting force in South Carolina. Much of the state militia had been captured at the siege of Charleston and subsequently paroled. Other American partisans (or more precisely, armed Whigs) had been captured by the Loyalist militia.
The Loyalists of South Carolina began to declare themselves openly for Great Britain. Some, having been previously persecuted, sought to revenge themselves.
Joseph Gaston recalled with bitterness that "Bandilla of Traitors & Robers which English Policy decorated by the names of Loyalists began their work and privations on the defenseless Whigs." In his neighborhood, a "young man Captain John McClure... collected 32 Volunteers (whose Motto was Liberty or Death)." On or about June 6, 1780 they fought back and "attacked and Scattered the camps of the Loyalists under the Command of Colonel Houseman... at the place now known by the name of Beckhamsville" [see Note 1]. On account of this success, "This Spartan Band soon increased."
On June 3, 1780, British Lieutenant-General Henry Clinton issued a proclamation to the citizens of South Carolina, which read in part that "all the inhabitants of this province, who are now prisoners upon parole... are freed [as of June 20] and exempted from all such paroles, and may hold themselves as restored to all the rights and duties belonging to citizens and inhabitants." No doubt, this was intended to be a magnanimous gesture. In return, Clinton demanded that "all persons under the description before mentioned [i.e., the parolees], who shall afterwards neglect to return to their allegiance, and to His Majesty's government, will be considered as enemies and rebels to the same, and treated accordingly." In other words, it was not enough to grudgingly resign oneself to the British occupation, to remain at home and hope for a change in fortunes. Instead, anyone that did not actively support the British would be considered an enemy.
South Carolinian James Collins remembered that the British sent officers "out in various directions, with guards or companies of men, to receive the submission of the people. Vast numbers flocked in and submitted; some through fear, some through willingness, and others, perhaps, through a hope that all things would settle down and war cease." However, some Americans were alarmed by this proclamation. In Collins' words, "the patriots of the day could not submit to [these terms] and therefore determined to hold out a little longer."
These stalwarts described in pension applications and postwar memoirs, the beginning of wide-scale organized resistance to the British. This resistance began with determined individuals and small bands of like-minded men fleeing to the comparative safety of North Carolina.
To provide a few examples:
Samuel Gordon recalled, "The whole country was at this time so over run with the enemy it was impossible to return home, myself & 26 others... were under the command of Colonel Neel." They sought to join "the Army of the Whigs wherever we could find them."
Henry Rea "with nine other Whigs after the fall of Charleston rather than take British protection, fled, with Captain Jamison at their head to North Carolina."
John Weldon remembered being told "by a Tory Sergeant that... he must deliver himself up or join the Enemy... which rather than do he broke his parole collected a few of the men of his company took the command of them."
In the days and weeks that followed, these groups coalesced into a small army of militia on the edge of the chain of British outposts.
1. This is known as either the battle of Beckhamville or Alexander's Old Field; the latter was the name of the site at the time of the battle. For more on this engagement, see Michael C. Scoggins' history of the battle, Alexander's Old Field, or the Battle of Beckhamville, which appears in this issue (.pdf file) of Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution.
Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Joseph Gaston (.pdf file).
A complete transcription of Clinton's proclamation appears in William Moultrie's 1802 Memoirs of the American Revolution.
James Collins' 1859 Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier.
Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Samuel Gordon (.pdf file).
Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Henry Rea (.pdf file).
C. Leon Harris transcribed the pension application of John Weldon (.pdf file).