The Ancestors Of George & Hazel Mullins

by Philip Mullins

Chapter 2 - The Revolutionary War


Deposition of Henry Varnadore
02-1 (Click to view)

Regions of South Carolina
02-2 (Click to enlarge)

British Troop Movements During the American Revolution
02-3 (Click to enlarge)

Summary: The political and military situation in South Carolina was confusing and changeable throughout the American Revolution. The sons of Leonard Vernadeau fought on both sides of the conflict. The war ended when the British and their supporters left South Carolina.

South Carolina: division and hostility

The colonial government of South Carolina had its capital in the coastal city of Charles Town. The capital was surrounded by large plantations and it had a large population of well-established families. The sparsely settled and poor upland areas of the province were of little interest to the colonial government. The government provided little or no funds for government of the Piedmont regions of South Carolina. In addition there were no provincial militia in the Piedmont and large bands of outlaws operated in the hills. As early as 1755 the settlers organized vigilante groups to deal with the outlaws. These vigilante groups all called themselves Regulators . By 1767 the Regulators were sufficiently organized to defeat the outlaws, or as the outlaws were called, the marauders. Thereafter the Regulators acted as the de-facto governments for the Piedmont although they were not authorized, or even recognized, by the colonial government in Charles Town.

When the colonial authorities did appoint officials for the Piedmont the Regulators occasionally ran afoul of them. This happened in North Carolina in 1770 when the Regulators and the governor's troops exchanged gun fire. The troops crushed the Regulators and executed their leaders. The hatred of the Regulators in North Carolina for the British governor was to play an important role a few years later when the American colonies rebelled against Great Britain.

The situation in South Carolina developed somewhat differently. After the refusal of the Assembly in Charles Town to help in the Piedmont, the Regulators organized their own government. Even after the planters and merchants on the coast saw the need to establish the government's authority in the Piedmont, the people of Charles Town would not allow the governor's troops to leave the coastal area because of their fear of a slave revolt. Instead of sending officials from Charles Town, the governor commissioned some of the leaders of the outlaws as officers of the provincial militia. This was done partly to weaken the influence of the Regulators. Only after the people of the Piedmont organized to fight back did the Assembly initiate the reforms that the Regulators wanted. The Assembly in Charles Town was never able to fully assimilate or neutralize the Regulators. As a result of the animosity between the back country and the Assembly, the Regulators in South Carolina were pro-Tory in the beginning of the Revolutionary War precisely because the Assembly was so ardently Whig. In contrast the Regulators and their supporters in North Carolina were the backbone of the Whig or rebel party in that province precisely because the government of North Carolina was pro-British. The animosity between the poor people in the hills and the rich farmers and merchants who controlled the capitals was to make the coming revolution particularly difficult for both North and South Carolina.

The beginning of the revolution

The Whig , or pro-independence, party was very strong in Charles Town. The revolutionaries, who met under a large oak called the Liberty Tree, organized to boycott British goods and to support the New England radicals. The New Englanders, led by those in Boston, were resisting the new taxes that the British government had adopted. The taxes were supposed to make the colonies pay for their defense against the French and the Indians. A problem far greater than the new taxes was that the colonists had become accustomed to a greater degree of political and economic independence than the government of King George was willing to grant them. For one thing a large part of the maritime economy of New England was based on smuggling contraband goods. The merchants of New England understandable wanted to conceal their activities from government officials. Also many New Englanders were simple opposed to any authority and, in addition, the Crown did not always act in the interests of the Americans. It could and did veto laws passed by the colonial assemblies. For example several times prior to the Revolution the colonies passed laws restricting the importation of slaves. Each time the Crown vetoed the laws. The Americans gradually came to realize that the King's ministers in England could not adequately judge conditions in the colonies or, even worse, made decisions that benefited the merchants in London rather than the inhabitants of the Americas. Some Americans became convinced that home-rule was worth fighting for. The Whigs in South Carolina were in the forefront of this struggle. By 1775 they had declared Charles Town to be self-governing. It was this action that began the revolution in South Carolina.

The population of the province were by no means united on this question. When the first battle of the American Revolution was fought at the town of Ninety-Six on November 19-21, 1775, it was between rival Whig and Tory militias. Everyone of the participants in that opening battle of the War of Independence were Carolinians. Not a single British or German soldier was involved. On June 28, 1776, on the same day that Thomas Jefferson read the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, British naval forces made an unsuccessful attempt to recapture Charles Town. The Whig militia was able to defeat the invasion force.

Shortly after the unsuccessful British attack on the capital, the Cherokee Indians launched a series of raids from their homes in the Blue Ridge mountains. The Cherokee War of 1776 resulted in another defeat for the Cherokee and land concessions once again. Whether or not the British actually encouraged the Cherokee to launch the attacks is not known, but it was commonly believed in South Carolina that the British had done so. Most white Carolinians regarded this as an act of betrayal. The wide-spread belief that the British government had somehow encouraged the Cherokee uprising caused many Tories who were uncertain about their loyalties to reconsider. The Declaration of Independence accused the King of Great Britain of great crimes against the American people. Was this not more proof that he was "unfit to be the ruler of a free people"? The effects of the shift in public attitude was not felt immediately. The Whigs were identified with Charles Town and the central government and this was sufficient for the moment. In the interior of South Carolina the Tory or loyalist militia easily outnumbered those of the rebels.

While the Whigs in Charles Town were disestablishing the Anglican church and other British institutions amid mob violence, the Tories gained strength in the countryside. In March 1780, almost four years after the Declaration of Independence, Charles Town was finally captured by the British and their militias. The majority of the small southern Continental Army stationed in Charles Town was captured. In the summer of 1780 the British were able to organize a Tory militia of 4,000 men in western South Carolina. Within weeks of the fall of Charles Town all of South Carolina was under the control of the loyalists. The captured Whig militiamen were paroled and returned home. The remnants of the Continental Army were chased into North Carolina.

The sons of Leonard Vernadeau: Revolutionary Patriots

The German settlement at Orangeburg was considered to be pro-Tory at the beginning of the war in 1775. Nevertheless by 1778 the sons of Leonard Vernadeau were serving in the Whig militia or in the Continental Army. In September 1778, a year and a half prior to the fall of Charles Town, Mathew Varnedoore , one of the younger sons, along with four other men from Orangeburg, enlisted in the Continental Army. He and the others marched to Beaufort Island near Charles Town to join the main body of the southern Continental Army in a brigade commanded by General Sumpter. This command left Charles Town for Cambridge, North Carolina, and in that way avoided being captured with the bulk of the army in Charles Town in 1780. Mathew Varnedoore spent the next year fighting British troops as far north as Rocky Mount in north-central North Carolina. He returned to spend the winter in South Carolina in the "High Hills of Santee" under General Green. The next fall, in September 1781, he was wounded in his left knee by a musket ball at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. After being wounded he was discharged and returned to his father's farm on the Rocky Swamp Creek.

Mathew's older brother, Henry , served in the South Carolina Whig militia on three separate occasions. Before the capture of Charles Town by the British in 1780, he served for three months at the Orangeburg courthouse. A year and a half or two years later he was drafted for the second time. He served for three months. He marched to Eutaw Springs where he guarded the baggage wagons during the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781. The third time Henry was in the militia he was stationed around Orangeburg or at Col. Rumph's residence about six miles outside of town. He served for six months beginning in July or August 1782. His service ended in February 1783 by which time the British and Tories had evacuated Charles Town. The withdrawal of the British concluded the war and left the state in peace.

In addition to Mathew and Henry, Leonard Jr. served 167 days in the Whig or rebel militia. The youngest son, Isaac , served in the South Carolina Continental Regiment of Artillery as a gunner's mate. Of the six living sons of Leonard Vernadeau, only Samuel our ancestor, and one other failed to leave a record of military service on the rebel side during the Revolutionary War. This is not to say that Samuel Varnadoe escaped the fighting. He did serve in a militia for six months from June 14 to December 14, 1780. However the militia unit he belonged to was on the losing, the British, side of the war. He served, along with his brother Henry, in Captain John Salley's company of the Tory or loyalist Orangeburg militia. He was stationed near home, in Orangeburg and in the fork of the Edisto River. This was the only military service our ancestor saw. His brother Henry managed to sandwich this tour with the Tory militia between his service with the rebel militia.

Henry's career in the two opposing armies surely illustrates how confused the situation was. The two conflicting sides were not clearly drawn and individuals found themselves, motivated by either conviction or self-interest, caught up on one side or the other, or, as in Henry's case, both. Henry's mother Sarah Hutto was a member of a German family who probably remained loyal subjects of His Majesty as long as that was possible. Henry's father, a Frenchman, belonged to an ethnic group that was actively identified with the rebels. The conflict of interests inherit in a civil war such as the Revolution caused our ancestor to take up arms against his brothers, so to speak. The Varnadoe brothers may have felt little or no animosity toward the enemy. Whose militia they served in may have been dictated by purely personal and perhaps monetary concerns but it is also possible that the war created animosities that split the Varnadoe family.

Of the Varnadoe brothers, only Mathew returned home wounded. Other families were not so fortunate. According to tradition the Herlong family, resident in Orangeburg in 1754, lost four sons, all killed in the battle at Cowpens. Only one son, Nicholas, supposedly survived his military service in the war. His son, David Herlong , married Mary Varnadoe, a grand-daughter of Leonard Vernadeau. This Herlong family moved west to what is now Claiborne County, Mississippi, in the old Natchez District.

The end of hostilities

By 1780 there were no Whig or rebel troops in South Carolina. It appeared that the rebels in South Carolina had been defeated. The British General Cornwallis had begun to move the bulk of his forces out of South Carolina. In September 1780, as this large Tory force marched unopposed toward North Carolina, a group of hard-core Whigs from west of the Blue Ridge mountains captured the vanguard of Cornwallis' army. These so-called Back Water Men lived on the Tennessee frontier. The British government had offered to burn their homes if they did not cease their opposition to the government. In response the frontiersmen walked for several days to meet and then defeat 950 Tory militiamen and 150 regular provincial soldiers from New York. This became known as the Battle of King's Mountain. After the battle both groups quickly retreated. Cornwallis retreated back to Charles Town and the Back Water Men forced their 700 captives to carry the spoils of war back into the mountains. There the captives were released. All of the men involved in the Battle of King's Mountain were Americans except for the commander of the Tory troops.

In all, 137 battles were fought in South Carolina during the Revolution. Most of the combatants were Carolinians. The struggle became a guerrilla war which involved a larger proportion of the population and caused more destruction than in any of the other colonies. Both sides organized extensive militias. Both sides hung captives and confiscated property. Each side regarded the other as criminals. The War for Independence in South Carolina degenerated into organized murder, plunder and robbery. During 1781 the increasingly strong rebel resistance discouraged the British. After Tarleton's defeat at Cowpens and the departure of Cornwallis and his army of British regulars, the British felt it necessary to evacuate their interior garrisons to Charles Town. This they did in September 1781. The next month Cornwallis surrendered the bulk of the exhausted British army in the southern colonies to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia. A year later, in the fall of 1782, facing another war in Europe, the British simply gave up. They evacuated Charles Town by ship. Three thousand and eight hundred loyalist South Carolinians and 5,000 slaves sailed away into exile with the fleet. After a period of lynch law during which the victorious Whigs meted out "justice" to the remaining Tories, peace returned to South Carolina. The return of peace left the new state devastated and ruined far more than any other of the former colonies.

Back to Table of Contents | Chapter 3

Copyright © 1994-2005 by Philip Mullins. Permission is granted to reproduce and transmit contents for not-for-profit purposes.