Francis Marion (c. 1732-1795), for whom the university is named, was a partisan leader in the American Revolution, nicknamed by the British as "the Swamp Fox," and is one of South Carolina's best remembered Patriots. "Bloody" Banastre Tarelton tagged Francis Marion that "wily ole' fox of the swamps" in about 1781, giving rise to Marion's legend as the master of strategy -- never caught, rarely followed, yet seemingly always at hand, just when needed by the partisans.
Born sometime in 1732 in St. John's Parish, Berkeley County, S.C., his parents were French Huguenots who lived and farmed along the Santee River. He was the grandson of Benjamin Marion, a native of Poitou, who came to the province in 1690; and the fifth and youngest son of Gabriel Marion, who married Esther Cordes.
In 1761, he distinguished himself as a lieutenant of militia in an expedition against the Cherokee Indians. He rose to prominence in his community, and was a delegate in 1775 to the South Carolina Provincial Congress. He was named a captain in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment.
Promoted to major in February, 1776, he participated in the defense of Charleston on June 28. Later in 1776, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assumed command of the regiment. In October, 1779, he led his command in an unsuccessful assault against Savannah. Due to a broken ankle incident, which makes for interesting reading, he was spared capture in Charleston in 1780 when that city fell to the British.
At that point, organized resistance to the British in South Carolina became non-existent. Marion began his campaign as a guerrilla leader. His work in disrupting British communications and preventing the organization of the Loyalists from participating fully in the battle of King's Mountain, along with other assaults and skirmishes, helped to turn the tide of the war in the South.
In late 1780, he was appointed Brigadier General of the S.C. Militia. In cooperation with troops under the command of Henry Lee, he raided Georgetown and took Fort Watson and Fort Motte. He went on to support attacks on Augusta and Ninety-Six, S.C. He was elected in 1781 to the state senate and attended the general assembly of 1782.
After the war, he was appointed commander of troops at Ft. Johnson. He was re-elected to the senate in 1782 and 1784 and sat in the state constitutional convention. In 1786, he married Mary Esther Videau. The couple had no children and he died at his home "Pond Bluff," on Feb. 27, 1795. He is buried at Belle Isle, near present day St. Stephen, S.C.
Brief bios on Francis Marion can be found in the American Encyclopedia, Dictionary of American Biography. He was known as a thin, slight fellow with a long, "hawk-like" nose. Marion and his troops regularly roamed the "Pee Dee" area swamps (Pee Dee being the name of a local Indian tribe and two great rivers that run through eastern/coastal South Carolina). Snow's Island, at Johnsonville, S.C., near where the Great Pee Dee and Lynches rivers converge, is home of the hero's hide-out.
Marion wrote the first American military book on the development and use of partisan troops and guerilla warfare in the swamps and woods of S.C.
Larger works for reading about the Revolutionary War in South Carolina and its favorite Patriot include:
- Battleground: South Carolina in the Revolution (publisher: Post-Courier Book, 1983)
- Savannah to Yorktown (publisher: USC Press, Dr. Henry Lumpkin, dated in the 1970s)
- Swamp Fox, the Life and Campaigns of General Francis Marion, (by Dr. Robert D. Bass, published 1959; 1974 by Sandlapper)
- Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox, by Hugh F. Rankin, published 1973.
While many books have been written about Francis Marion, the last two are by far the most historically accurate, according to most historians. They trace Francis Marion's movements through the Pee Dee area (to include Horry County, present day Conway/Myrtle Beach) and pinpoint his location about every three to four days. These books also go into detail about many of the residents of the area and include a great number of local names, detailing how the soldiers would live off the land as they passed through the local areas.
For other biographical information, consult:
- The "Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Vol. III, 1175-1790" (by Bailey and Cooper, USC Press)
- Charles H. Lesser's "South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663-1721," p. 229
- The Swamp Fox at Pine Bluff, by J.A. Zeigler, 1957.
Also, there are good articles in the April 1958 American Heritage and January 1985 American History Illustrated.
Just a quick note from readings: It is estimated a third of South Carolinians remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolution, especially portions of Marion County, from the Lumber River (then called Drowning Creek) to Britton's Neck, were a loyalist stronghold. Two prominent farmers in that area, Macijah Gainey, and Jesse Barfield, led a loyalist regiment against Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, in several battles. In contrast, the Williamsburg County area, around Indiantown, was a Patriot stronghold, with a number of that community's leaders forming a local Patriot regiment, often fighting with Francis Marion.