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Chapter 9
Who was Francis 'SwampFox' 

The George Washington of the South

Meet the Swamp Fox

Francis Marion has been one of my favorite heroes of the Revolutionary War. When I moved to Charleston in 1988, I was thrilled to find he was born here in Berkley County to French Huguenot parents in 1732. According to his first biography, written in 1824 by General Horry and reinterpreted by Parson Weems, young Francis overcame many obstacles, including malformed legs and a traumatic shipwreck at the age of fifteen. In spite of these events, he was determined to make his way in life. His experience in the French and Indian War later prepared him to defeat the British by learning how to conceal his men in the backwoods and mount surprise attacks like he had witnessed by the native Indians (the introduction of guerilla warfare). Because the British never knew when and where he would attack next, they had to divide their forces, helping Marion’s men win the war.  Col. Banastre Tarleton, sent to capture or kill Marion in November 1780, despaired of finding the "old swamp fox," who eluded him by traveling along swamp paths. Tarleton was hated because he burned and destroyed homes and supplies, whereas Marion's Men gave the owners of "requisitioned supplies". Tarleton supposedly said "as for this old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him." Based on this tale, Marion's supporters began to call him "the Swamp Fox". Marion’s leadership inspired patriotism among the locals and ultimately forced the British out of Charleston. He died in 1795.

How Did America want him to look?

The second part of Marion’s story is the making of his legend in the nineteenth century. It explains how the accurate depiction of the man described as visually unattractive was replaced by the romantic image of Marion, created through the distribution of art prints and literary works. The biographic accounts of his ingenious and unorthodox way of life became the inspiration and identity of the South before the Civil War. The legacy of Francis Marion is a great example of how one nation could perceive the same iconic figure in separate ways. Consider how art represents power and authority.  Click the link below for a lesson plan.

Walt Disney brought the story to life! I was six years old when I first watched this series. I still get chills! 

Walt Disney's The Swamp Fox: Part 1 "The Birth of the Swamp Fox" Walt Disney talks about the Birth of Swamp Fox Legend - Francis Marion in the Pee Dee | Walter Edgar's Journal Podcast,sailed%20to%20the%20West%20Indies.

The Life of General Francis Marion by Brig. Gen. P. Horry and Parson M.L. Weems

John F. Blair Publisher, Reprint of 1854 edition, Library of Congress


1-Francis Marion Crossing the Pee Dee River is a painting by William Tylee Ranney in 1849. Francis Marion and his band of men are on their way to attack the British forces under his nemesis, Colonel Banastre Tarleton in 1778. Tarleton is credited with giving Marion the nickname "the Swamp Fox," for his craftiness in eluding pursuit in the Carolina swamps.

2-General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share his Meal was painted by John Blake White in 1836. 

In early 1781, Revolutionary War militia leader Francis Marion and his men were camping on Snow’s Island, South Carolina, when a British officer arrived to discuss a prisoner exchange. As one militiaman recalled years later, a breakfast of sweet potatoes was roasting in the fire, and after the negotiations, Marion, invited the British soldier to share breakfast. According to a legend that grew out of the much-repeated anecdote, the British officer was so inspired by the Americans’ resourcefulness and dedication to the cause—despite their lack of adequate provisions, supplies or proper uniforms—that he promptly returned to British headquarters saying, "I will have no further share in depriving such brave and courteous men as Marion of the rights due to them." This painting was reproduced dozens of times and became one of the most familiar images of the American Revolution in the nineteenth century (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). 

3-The Life of General Francis Marion by Brig. Gen. P. Horry and Parson M.L. Weems

4-The Life of Francis Marion: The True Story of South Carolina's Swamp Fox by William Gilmore Simms 

5-Francis Marion: Young Swamp Fox by William O Steele 

6-Film clip from Walt Disney's Swamp Fox Series

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