Tracking The Swamp Fox

by | Oct 7, 2005

I didn’t realize “The Patriot,” the Hollywood film starring Mel Gibson, is actually the story of Francis Marion, one of South Carolina’s Revolutionary War heroes. Marion was known as the “Swamp Fox” for his ability to use decoy and ambush tactics to disrupt enemy communications, capture supplies, and free prisoners.

Born sometime in 1732 in St. John’s Parish, Berkeley County, S.C., his parents were French Huguenots who lived and farmed along the Santee River.


After the capture of Charleston, South Carolina on May 12, 1780, Marion organized a small troop, which usually consisted of between 20 and 70 men–the only force then opposing the British in the state. Governor John Rutledge made him a brigadier-general of state troops, and in August 1780 Marion took command of the scanty militia, ill-equipped and ill-fed. With this force he was identified for almost all the remainder of the war in a partisan warfare in which he showed himself a singularly able leader of irregulars.

Today, there is a state-supported liberal arts college, a National Forest, a prominent Charleston hotel and a well constructed website that pay homage to Marion.

For another perspective, historian Christopher Hibbert said that Marion was “a wily and elusive character, very active in the persecution of the Cherokee Indians and not at all the sort of chap who should be celebrated as a hero. The truth is that people like Marion committed atrocities as bad, if not worse, than those perpetrated by the British.”

Apperently, this interpretation (and potential for controversy) led Hollywood producers to change Marion’s name in the film to “Benjamin Martin.”