Civil War Era Field Desk
Marion Esther Videau Marion Display
Marion, promoted to brigadier general, was made head of a militia tasked with harassing the British. His force never amounted to more than two hundred men and was usually no more than just a few dozen. He became a master of guerrilla warfare, a tactic he used out of necessity. One of the many legends about him, one probably invented by that notorious writer of fiction in the guise of biography, Parson Weems, was that while in the swamp, Marion served sweet potatoes to a visiting British officer. During the meal Marion boasted his pride that he and his men weren’t paid. According to Weems, Marion’s dinner guest later remarked to his superior: “I have seen an American general and his officers, without pay, and almost without clothes, living on roots and drinking water; and all for Liberty! What chance have we against such men!” Rousing stuff and it was true enough that Marion and his men lacked supplies, lived off simple fare, and rarely if ever received pay. Marion earned the name “Swamp Fox” because of his ability to disappear into the swamps and his effectiveness of causing the British Army much pain and suffering.
But all was not rosy. Marion was constantly frustrated that his men came and went at will. Also, not all his men served willingly. Some were slaves and didn’t have a choice in whether or not they fought. Marion himself had with him a slave owned by his parents named Oscar Marion. Oscar was born on Goatfield Plantation along the Cooper River. Throughout the war he served with Francis, probably as a servant, though he likely as not did some fighting when the need arose. So was Francis grateful for Oscar’s service? He was not. When he died on February 26, 1795, he didn’t bother to free Oscar or any of his other seventy-three slaves. President George W. Bush and Representative Albert Wynn officially honored Oscar Marion on December 15, 2006.
The museum also has a display about Francis Marion’s wife, Mary Ester Videau. She married Francis on April 20, 1786, a boon for him because the war had ruined him financially and her fortune allowed him to forgo working for a living as he had been doing. Mary, born on September 17, 1737, was a native of Berkeley County and she, too, was of French descent (which is pretty obvious considering her maiden name). Francis was her cousin and, after the war, neighbor. It was her nephew, Theodore Marion, who suggested Francis call upon her. Because Mary was forty-eight when she and Francis married, it ought not come as a surprise the couple had no children. Instead they adopted their nephew, Francis Marion Dwight, as their heir. Mary died on July 26, 1815.
One of Francis Marion’s contemporaries and fellow plantation owners was Berkeley County’s Henry Laurens. He served as president of the Continental Congress in 1777 and 1778, and in September 1780 while sailing to the Netherlands he was captured by the British. Taken to England, he became, according to a museum information sign, “the only American held in the Tower of London during the American Revolution.” He was exchanged for no less a British prisoner than Lord Cornwallis himself. Despite being a supposed proponent of liberty, Laurens had made much of his fortune with his slave trading firm Austin & Laurens. As if human bondage weren’t bad enough, slave traders broke up about one in five marriages and separated from their parents fifty percent of children fourteen and under. In addition to slave trading, Laurens also owned over 300 slaves to work his rice planation. In 1790 Berkley County had 103,000 slaves, far larger than the white population of 30,000.