Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Ferreting Out the Tories"

As a 16-year-old, James Collins first saw combat at the battle of Williamson's Plantation. He later participated in the battles of Fishing Creek and Cowpens. In his postwar autobiography, Collins described how the American militia systematically rid the South Carolina Backcountry of Loyalists at the end of the war. Striking is the nonchalance with which he described a campaign of terror.

"We were for the most part kept in motion, and considerably harassed until after the evacuation of Charleston by the British. Shortly after this event we commenced ferreting out the Tories, particularly the worst ones, and such as had been in habit of plundering, burning and murdering. Those we called the “pet Tories,” or neutrals, we never disturbed, but those that had been very troublesome, had to pay the piper. We would meet at a time and place appointed, probably at a church, schoolhouse, or some vacant building, generally in the afternoon, lay off our circuit and divide into two or more companies, and [go] off after dark. Wherever we found any Tories, we would surround the house, one party would force the doors and enter sword in hand, extinguish all the lights, if there were any, and suffer no light to be made, when we would commence hacking the man or men that were found in the house, threatening them with instant death, and occasionally making a furious stroke as if to dispatch them at once, but taking care to strike the wall or some object that was in the way, they generally being found crouched up in some corner, or about the beds. Another party would mount the roof of the house and commence pulling it down; thus the dwelling house, smoke house and kitchen, if any, were dismantled and torn down, at least to the joists. The poor fellows, perhaps expecting instant death, would beg hard for life, and make any promise on condition of being spared, while their wives or friends would join in their entreaties; on the condition that they would leave the country, within a specified time, and never return, they would suffer him to live, and I never knew an instance of one that failed to comply and numbers put off without any such measures being enforced. There was no property molested except the buildings, nor was there anything taken away. They were at liberty to do the best they could with everything but their lands; those they had to leave… I usually stood as the horse guard, or was posted in the yard, as sentinel, while the others were engaged in pulling down the house. "


James Collins. (1859). Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier.


  1. Wow, talk about a forgotten story of the American Revolution. I have heard that the Carolinas were the worst for retribution of this nature. This was a great account of a terrible time. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. This time period made the civil war look like childs play in the Carolinas. Sumter really brought this forward when he took tories horese, land , and belongings to pay for his State Troops.