The city of Savannah is occupied by an invading foreign army and a battle has been fought and lost by American forces attempting to re-take the city.
The town of Beaufort is garrisoned by enemy troops and their soldiers march on coastal roads, recruiting your neighbors to join them.
The city of Charleston has recently fallen after a destructive siege and what remains of American armies has fled to the woods and swamps of the Lowcountry.
No, this is not the plot to some modern movie or alternate history. It is the reality of life in the Lowcountry during the American Revolution.
At a time when the Declaration of Independence has been signed and a new nation is being forged, South Carolina and the Lowcountry came under the heel of invading British armies. Whig fought against Tory, Patriot against Loyalist, neighbor against neighbor and even brother against brother.
As American armies melted away before the invasion, a few brave men and women fought on in the swamps and forests of the Lowcountry.
Among them was General Francis Marion, who waged a guerrilla war with hit-and-run tactics against the British that earned him the nickname “The Swamp Fox” by admirers and enemy alike.
Marion and his men left their mark on the Lowcountry and today you can follow his path along the byways and rivers on a journey through history and nature – and all just a short drive from home in Beaufort County.
By 1780, the American Revolution had been raging for over six years. Since the “shot heard ‘round the world” at Lexington and Concord, the young American colonies had become more desperate to become independent in the face of seemingly unbeatable British armies.
In South Carolina, all hope seemed lost but forces under General Francis Marion rekindled hope with sharp, small victories waged in the swamps and along the lonely roads of the Lowcountry.
Marion grew up hunting and exploring the swamps along the Santee River and now, a professional soldier, he used these lifelong skills to take the battle to the British on Carolina terms.
Beginning in fall of 1780 Marion gathered farmers, militiamen and others and ambushed British columns. Battles such as Tearcoat Swamp near Sumter, Parker’s Ferry near Jacksonboro and Four Holes Swamp near Ridgeway struck terror into the hearts of the British and provided much-needed American victories.
Most of these battlefields are hidden in the swamp, but a few are preserved and very easy to visit.
In 1781, Marion and his men lay siege to a British outpost built atop an ancient Indian mound and named Fort Watson. The Siege of Fort Watson cut British forces in two and paved the way for Continental armies to re-invade the Carolinas.
When you visit Fort Watson today you will find it well-preserved as part of the Santee National Wildlife Refuge located near Summerton on Lake Marion, up Interstate 95 from Beaufort and Hilton Head Island.
A visit to the modern refuge welcome and interpretive center will orient you, and the Indian mound fort is well-maintained with history signs and even wooden stairs to access an observation platform on its summit.
From Fort Watson you can treat yourself to an artistic diversion by visiting the towns of Summerton, Manning, Paxville and Turbeville. Artist Terry Smith has created a series of beautiful murals that decorate the walls and streets of these towns, and each illustrates scenes of American history and the life of Francis Marion.
You can then drive south along S.C. Hwy 6 along Lake Marion to the site of the Battle of Eutaw Springs. Here in September 1781, Marion and his men joined General Nathaniel Greene to defeat the British and force them into retreat to Charleston. A small clearing with stone markers and a brick wall rests on a quiet cove of the lake and makes for the site of a nice picnic or afternoon stroll.
You can then continue your journey along Hwy. 6 to the town of Cross and take S.C. 45 to a short road through the woods to the Tomb of Francis Marion.
The Swamp Fox died in 1795 and is buried at the site of a family plantation. The grave and small cemetery have become a shrine of sorts to liberty and South Carolina history and is well-worth a visit if only for the peaceful Lowcountry setting.
Just a short drive from Beaufort County along Lowcountry highways and byways will take you into an era of American history when brave men and women of South Carolina were key to victory for a young nation.
Liberty and freedom won in the swamps and woods of the Lowcountry made possible the life we have today. If you spend a day exploring some of the scenes of victory, you will come away with a new appreciation of those sacrifices made so long ago.
Fort Watson is part of the Santee National Wildlife Refuge and is located at 2125 Fort Watson Road in Summerton.
To get there, take I-95 north for 1.5 hours to Exit 102 and Hwy 301. Turn right onto U.S. 15 and look for the refuge entrance on the left. Admission is free and it is open year-round. Check here for more info: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Santee/visit/plan_your_visit.html
The Swamp Fox Mural Trail is spread between several small towns in Clarendon County and could be a day trip in an of itself. For info on the murals and how to visit go here: http://www.clarendonmurals.com/
The Battle of Eutaw Springs is located at 12933 Old Hwy 6 in Eutawville. It is a roadside park that is open dawn to dusk year-round.
The grave of General Francis Marion is located on General Francis Marion Avenue near Pineville. Take S.C. 45 and look for signs to the site. The tomb and grounds are maintained by Santee State Park and more info can be found here: https://southcarolinaparks.com/santee#jump. The site is remote but access is easy.