the plight of loyalists -- 4/12/21

Today's selection -- from Langdon Cheves of South Carolina by Archie Vernon Huff, Jr.  The case of Alexander Cheves, father of Langdon Cheves, future U.S. Speaker of the House, illustrates the plight of those living in the colonies that pledged loyalty to Britain during the American Revolution:

"Another change in Langdon Cheves's life came when his father openly espoused the Loyalist cause and returned to Great Britain in the wake of British defeat in South Carolina. From the begin­ning of the Revolution, Ninety Six District had contained the largest concentration of Loyalists in the state, but as long as the patriot government was strong, there was little Loyalist activity. After the Battle of Kettle Creek on February 14, 1779, South Carolina Governor John Rutledge had made an example of the Carolina Loyalists who were captured. Seventy were tried, fifty recommended for mercy, twenty were sentenced to death, and five were actually hanged. This action may have embittered the Loyalists in Ninety Six, but they did not bestir themselves again until the British, enlarging the Southern offensive that had begun with the capture of Savannah, succeeded in taking Charleston on May 11, 1780. Long before British troops arrived in Ninety Six, American Loyalists had taken command of the frontier outpost there. Belief was widespread in the backcountry that the war was over. A rumor spread across the frontier that the American Con­gress planned to abandon the Carolinas and Georgia, and most people seemed to accept British domination without opposition.

"As soon as the British established military control of South Carolina, they issued plans for raising a loyal militia. All able-­bodied men could be called for six months of service in the Carolinas and Georgia. Men over forty or those with three chil­dren were liable for duty at home. Alexander Cheves, encouraged to affirm his loyalty to Britain by her series of victories, enlisted in the Ninety Six Loyal Militia under the command of Major John Hamilton, who had been a backcountry trader before the war. Cheves was appointed a lieutenant and may have seen some ser­vice with Hamilton under the leadership of Colonel Patrick Ferguson, who had been appointed 'Inspector of the militia and commandant of the first battalion.'

"However strong the British might have seemed in Ninety Six after the fall of Charleston, Colonel Balfour, commander of the garrison at Ninety Six, was uneasy about the state of affairs in the district. 'Things are by no means in any sort of settled state,' he wrote to Lord Cornwallis in June 1780, 'nor our friends so nu­merous as I expected ... allthow at present overawed by the pres­ence of the troops, yet [the citizens of the whole district] are ready to rise on the smallest charge.' In July he wrote of the 'shaking faith of the newly adopted loyalists.' In October the British under Ferguson were defeated at King's Mountain; in January 1781 Tarleton's British forces were defeated at Cowpens; and in April General Nathanael Greene marched into Carolina. When Greene took the offensive in November, the British withdrew to within a few miles of Charleston.

"As the king's troops retreated toward Charleston, many Loyalist families sought their protection. The refugees from Ninety Six gathered outside Charleston in Rawdon Town, where Loyalists from Camden had gone before them. Colonel John Hamilton, the former militia commander, was appointed Inspector of Refugees from Ninety Six District. Among those who huddled in the wretched quarters of Rawdon Town, no doubt, was Alexander Cheves. His 'Dwelling house, Barns, and Stores' had been burned by a patriot raiding party along with records of debts owed him by the community. Fearing that his land would be confiscated by the victorious Americans, Cheves hastily trans­ferred the title to his property to his six-year-old son, Langdon, before he left the child in the care of his patriot brother Thomas. In September 1782, a British fleet arrived in Charleston to evacu­ate royal troops. Colonel Hamilton and his family, with 300 Loyalists, sailed from Charleston to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they arrived in November.

"In 1783 Parliament established a commission to compensate American Loyalists for their losses during the Revolution. The commission sat in London from 1783 to 1789, but two commis­sioners were dispatched to Canada to meet claimants there and obtain their testimony. Three hundred and twenty-one claims were filed from South Carolina, the second highest number among the American colonies. Of the South Carolina claims 93 were from Ninety Six District; only Charleston had more, with 113. By land of birth, Scotsmen seemed to be in the majority.

"A large number of Carolina exiles in Nova Scotia did not re­main in Canada but sailed to England, where they personally appeared before the claims commission. A group of Loyalists, including John Hamilton, arrived in London in late August 1784. A month later Alexander Cheves arrived and appeared before the commissioners on September 20. He testified in behalf of Hamilton and Nathaniel Wilson as well as himself. But he did not receive favorable hearing. The commissioners refused him 'any Allowance' and reported that 'there is that in this man's Case which always disgusts us .... Sooner than suffer a temporary In­convenience he takes Oaths to the Rebels the moment he is asked to do it.' When 'Great Britain shows herself in Force He remem­bers that he came from Scotland and returns to his former Allegi­ence.' The commission decided that the £800 which Cheves had lost in Ninety Six 'he has deservedly lost by his trimming .... He will probably not starve.' It was, no doubt, at this time that Alex­ander Cheves decided to return to America.

"Meanwhile, in South Carolina lawlessness prevailed in much of the backcountry. Until the state government could establish or­der, bands of marauders calling themselves Tories or Whigs plundered the countryside, and 'the poor white inhabitants trembled the moment a party of men appeared in sight.'"


Archie Vernon Huff, Jr.


Langdon Cheves of South Carolina


Coyright 1977 by the University of South Carolina


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