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Patriotic South Carolina

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[Photos courtesy of Historic Brattonsville]
The oldest home in York County is the former home of Col. William Bratton.

By BETH D'ADDONO

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 23, 2000


With the release of the new Mel Gibson film, The Patriot, tourists may become more interested in the state's large role in the Revolutionary War.

Here's a question: Where were the majority of Revolutionary War battles fought in the Colonies?

You might answer Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Massachusetts. But you'd be wrong.

South Carolina saw the fiercest, bloodiest, most passionate conflicts in the war that created the new nation. Yet the South is more often associated with the Civil War than the Revolutionary War.

Comes now The Patriot, the film starring Mel Gibson that is sure to help educate the public as to the historic significance of such South Carolina towns and battle sites as Camden, Cheraw and Historic Brattonsville in York County.

In The Patriot, Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a reluctant hero who is swept into the revolution when the war reaches his farm and the British endanger what he holds most dear. He takes up arms alongside his idealistic patriot son, Gabriel, and leads a rebel American militia into battle against a relentless Redcoat army.

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Living history interpreters, seen at the Col. Bratton Home, don costumes to help explain the past in Historic Brattonsville.
Such native son militias did play a brave role in the War for Independence, but they were part of an oft-neglected drama, a bloody civil war that often pitted neighbor against neighbor in the Carolina backcountry.

The Southern Campaign began when the British failed in their efforts to control the rebels up north. Early on, British military strategists saw the South as a Loyalist stronghold. The British also coveted the South's tobacco, rice and indigo crops.

Settlers -- including Highland Scots and Anglicans, Indian traders, merchants and those running from the law -- all had reason to remain loyal to the Crown.

What the Brits did not count on, however, was the patriot hostility that caused regions, individuals and even families to choose sides. The war included violent civil conflicts, with raids, murders and reprisals the order of the day.

The rebels gradually gained strength, and subsequent battles in South Carolina at places such as Brattonsville and Cowpens turned the tide of the war, boosting Northern morale and initiating a chain of events that led to the rebels' victory.

These are among the facts to be learned while visiting in South Carolina's scenic back country. South Carolina's Olde English District -- a north-central area of the state that encompasses Chester, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lancaster, Union and York counties -- is a haven for history lovers. With Gibson's recent presence during The Patriot's on-location shooting, the locals are eager to share their heritage.

If you don't want to drive all the way to the Olde English District, fly into Charlotte, N.C., just over the state line, and rent a car for the 90-minute ride to many sites portrayed in the film. Here's a look at some locales:

n Historic Brattonsville: Mel Gibson is a pretty nice guy, according to Ed Schultz, who worked with the star and film crew for several weeks during the shooting.

Schultz is director of Living History Programs at the Colonel Bratton Home and Homestead, a collection of homes and farm buildings rich in architectural, cultural and historical context. Schultz gets fired up when he talks about the battles fought at Brattonsville. The Battle of Huck's Defeat was fought here on July 12, 1780, an important victory over Loyalists, especially in the wake of the patriots' resounding defeat in Charleston.

At Brattonsville, in rural York County, a farm and homestead is preserved as a living museum with 29 buildings on 720 acres. The Bratton home figures prominently in the film.

CAMDEN: The oldest inland town in South Carolina, Camden was occupied by the British under Gen. Charles Cornwallis for 11 months, beginning June 1, 1780. The historic Joseph Kershaw home, preserved and open to tours, was the British headquarters.

The disastrous Battle of Camden was the sad result of an attempt on Aug. 16 by American "Continentals" to take back the city. Defeats elsewhere eventually forced the British to evacuate. The tide of the war had turned, and Camden once again became a patriot stronghold. This town of 6,000, dotted with antiques shops and B&Bs, is taken over every fall by hundreds of re-enactors who re-create the town's past.

mapCHERAW: About 75 miles southwest of Charlotte, Cheraw may be best known as the birthplace of Dizzy Gillespie. But the picturesque town has its share of Revolutionary War lore.

After the fall of Charleston, the British included Cheraw in their strategic line of defense, along with Camden, Augusta and nearby Ninety-Six, and Cheraw endured burning and plundering by the British.

Visitors can tour the historic district, including Old St. David's Church -- used as both a barracks and hospital -- the church graveyard and Green's Camp of Repose, where the American general Nathanael Green spent several months and celebrated victory. HISTORIC BOYKIN: Although the battles fought in Boykin were in Civil War times, this community of historically preserved buildings deserves a visit. Located just southwest of Camden, Boykin includes a mill that produces fresh grits and meal produced as they have been for 200 years. Pay a visit to Susie Simpson at the Broom Place, where she crafts brooms by hand on 100-year-old equipment.

CATAWBA CULTURAL CENTER: The center, about 8 miles east of Rock Hill, preserves the heritage and culture of the Catawba Indians, hunters and gatherers who fought on the side of the Colonists during the Revolution. The Catawba Nation, a reservation of 97 families, is also home to what are believed to be the only traditional American Indian potters living east of the Pueblos.

Beth D'Addono is a freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia.

If you go

The Olde English District (the name refers to its settlement in the mid-1700s) is seven counties in central South Carolina where it meets with North Carolina. Interstate 77 cuts through the area.

For information about Revolutionary War sites and the war "trail" that begins in Camden and winds into North Carolina, contact the Olde English District Visitor Center at (800) 968-5909 or see the Web site, http://www.sctravel.net.

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