The Papers of Henry Laurens

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William Henry Drayton to Council of Safety

GENTLEMEN:—I have been honored with your letters of the 31st of August and the first of September; and I beg leave to return you my most respectful thanks for the confidence you have placed in me by your letter of the thirty-first. I hope I shall prove myself worthy of it, and I make no doubt but that I shall fully answer your expectations in restoring the country to a state of quietude by eradicating the opposition.
I am sorry to find, that I have not been sufficiently explicit respecting the commotions likely to follow upon the apprehending of Kirkland alone, or a certain number of people including him. But this must plead my apology—whenever I have the honor of addressing you, I remember the proverb—"a word to the wise is enough." However, as it is my duty to reconcile what you looked upon as contradictions in my letter, allow me thus to do it; and as I keep no copies of the letters I write to you, so I must quote from yours of the 31st: "We learn that even the men under Fletchall's command, are active, spirited and staunch in our interest and capable of being a severe check upon the same Fletchall's people." Fletchall's command under the Governor, extends over the people about Lawson's Fork, and the frontiers on that side; yet these people are dissatisfied with his measures and conduct; and as I have formed them into Volunteer Companies, they are, from their being staunch in our interest, capable of being a severe check upon those of the same Fletchall's people who agree with him in opinion and are lower down in a very large district. And surely there cannot be anything surprising, new, or contradictory in this.
Again, "We are also informed that if only Kirkland is seized, without doubt a commotion will follow; that if a dozen persons are[Page 375] allowed to be at large, we shall be involved in a civil war in spite of our teeth. If the seizing Kirkland will infallibly cause a commotion, what will follow the capture or attempt to seize eleven others, among whom are men of infinitely more popularity and importance than Kirkland?" My information as above is just, and I thus beg leave to be more full upon the subject as an answer to your question. The seizing of Kirkland alone would draw on a commotion—because the other eleven consider him as of their party, that an attack upon him, is therefore, an attack upon them; and by being at liberty they would be enabled to raise a commotion either to revenge the attack, or to make reprisal, and procure a proper person to exchange for Kirkland. Such was their declared purpose, therefore, upon the seizure of Kirkland alone. I was warranted to say, without doubt, a commotion would follow. But your question is, if the seizing of Kirkland will cause a commotion, what will follow the capture of eleven others of the party? I apprehend you think the most ruinous consequences. I beg leave to own a contrary idea. If Kirkland was taken, a dangerous commotion would probably arise, because a number of leaders would be left to excite one. As Kirkland must be taken, so if the others were taken also, a commotion could but follow; which could not be continued any time, or be any thing animated or formidable; and more probably could not even be excited or raised, because the heads of the party would be in our custody. So that to me it is clear, that to seize the head men would be a safer step, by running a less risk of a formidable commotion, or of any, than by seizing Kirkland alone. So that I hope by my being now more explicit, you will be of opinion that all my explanation is comprehended in "the various parts of my intelligence above recited." The affidavit No. 2; shews the sense of the people respecting the capture of Kirkland to be, as I have represented it.
I shall now proceed to give an account of my conduct since my letter from Mr. Hammond's.
The letter number 1, was the first written information of Kirkland assembling armed men. That men were assembled in arms, and by Kirkland, appears by the affidavits No. 2 and No. 3. That the object of their attack was generally thought to be Augusta and Fort Charlotte appears by the above numbers 1, 2, and 3, and also the affidavits Nos. 4, and 5. That Kirkland had armed men about[Page 376] him appears by the affidavits Nos. 3 and 6 And that he had evil intentions in general, and of extending the opposition in particular, appears by all the above affidavits and by that marked No. 7. All which I inclose in one parcel. As I had no doubt of Kirkland's intentions, I lost no time in opposing them. In addition to the measure of which I informed you in my last letter, I issued the inclosed declaration and published it as generally as I could. It had the desired effect. And this with the assembling of the militia so terrified Kirkland's followers, that now he is in a manner alone, and having tried every effort to procure assistance on the south side of Saluda in vain, he is now invisible—is never two hours in a place, and never sleeps in a house. He has sent to me to make terms. He offers to quit the province, or to become a prisoner on conditions reserving his life. I have informed him I cannot grant any such. That as he has violated the laws he must stand his trial by those laws. That if he surrendered to the course of law, such a conduct would entitle him to mercy, and that he would be treated as gently as was consistent with the public safety. But that I neither could or would make any terms with him but on unconditional surrender to a due course of law. He means to flee the country as he is clear he cannot find any protection against our proceedings. Enclosed is a letter of his, No. 8, which I intercepted, and clearly shows his idea of danger. But I mean, if possible, to seize him. The assembling the militia was tedious. I marched from Mr. Hammond's last Wednesday after sun set, and arrived here on Friday evening with about one hundred and twenty men and four pieces of cannon. The whole country, that is the King's men as they are called, were terrified by the march and the cannon. We picked up a few prisoners, heads in that part of the country; and this has so completed their fears, that people of that party now daily come in from those quarters to make their peace. As the Georgians raised men to oppose Kirkland, they are come on with me. Their number is eighty-four men and officers. I have also one hundred and forty-one Carolinians—total 225 men and officers. Immediately upon my arrival here I sent a party to surprise Cunningham. He was absent from home since the day before; but our men took his letters, the most material of which I enclose to you. In particular I refer you to two letters from Fletchall.
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Yesterday I received notice that a party of men were forming about twenty miles off, and over Saluda. I immediately detached one hundred horsemen to observe their motions and to cause them to disperse. In their march they received what appeared to be well authenticated information, that Fletchall and all his party were joined with the above party and were to attack us about 2 in the morning. I received this information about 4 in the afternoon, just as I was going to dinner. I immediately consulted with Major Mason, Major Williamson, and Capt. Hammond. We had a choice of three steps; to retreat towards Col. Thomson then at the Ridge—to defend Ninety-Six—or to march and ambuscade the enemy. If the first put a small force out of reach of a greatly superior one, the retreat would dishearten our men, the enemy would be encouraged, and we should be, though safe, yet in some degree disgraced. The second was difficult—the court house was not musket proof—and the prison could not contain a third of our men. We chose the last, for these reasons: The enemy coming to surprise us, would never expect to be surprised by us. A surprise upon them, under no subordination and in the night, would be fatal to them, and it is a maxim, that it is better to attack than to receive one. I fortified the prison by mounting a gun in each room below, in each of which I placed a small guard; I lodged the powder in the dungeon. Nothing but setting the prison on fire could force it. In the mean time the body of horse had halted, and I sent Major Mayson to post them in ambuscade at a ford on Saluda, about six miles off. After dark, I marched 100 infantry about a mile and a half from Ninety-Six, and posted them to the best advantage in ambush on this side. If the enemy should defeat our forces at the river, they could not do it without a considerable loss. This must damp their ardor, and upon their falling into another ambush the same night and sustaining at least as heavy a loss as before, they must fly on all sides, be their numbers ever so great, and especially such soldiers as they are. Having posted these men about 10 o'clock, I then, with Major Williamson, mounted and proceeded to the river. I took the liberty, in as polite a manner as I could, to alter the Major's (Mayson) disposition, with the perfect approbation of Major Williamson. We now in good order awaited the approach of the enemy, for I thought it my duty to continue[Page 378] here to head the attack, which I saw clearly must defeat the enemy totally. In this expectation we continued till past two in the morning, when I received certain accounts, that the alarm was false. However, to have every thing safe, and as the horses were in a good pasture, I continued the men on the post, and about half past three, I arrived at Ninety-Six with the infantry; and then I sat down to dinner. I have the pleasure to assure you the men behaved with the most perfect obedience, and demonstrated the firmest resolution.
I flatter myself, gentleman, that your confidence in my prudence is not misplaced. I readily advise with those about me, who, I think, are prudent men, and then I form my own judgment, and you may depend upon it, that I shall continue in this conduct. I have been thus particular in my account of the steps taken, on the occasion of the above alarm, not out of any ostentation, but, because as this is a new business in my hands, you may fully judge whether I have conducted it with propriety, and discharge your trust from the public by committing it to other hands, if you should, by a view of my conduct, deem mine inadequate to this task.
Fletchall, Brown and Cunningham have been, since the first alarm that I wrote you of, and still are endeavoring to assemble men, as they yet have no force embodied; it is plain their influence is declining, and that their people are terrified. And this last, I assure you, is a fact. They never dreamed we would take the field; they thought their boast of 4,000 would ensure their security against us. And I have well-grounded information, that the assembling they are now endeavoring to make, is with a view to make terms of accommodation, so as they may be quiet (that is for the present, while the Governor cannot assist them, as he tells them) and trade to Charles Town, rather than with any design of fighting. I think Cunningham had only an hundred men at the meeting which gave occasion for our late alarm; and even these, I have received certain intelligence, have no determination. In three days I shall begin to march into the heart of Fletchall's quarters with about 800 men and 6 pieces of canon. I can now, in all human probability, promise to you, that this cruel opposition will be crushed without blood spilt in battle; and if I shall be unhappily mistaken on this point—the opposition, to all human appearance, will be rooted out without risk on our side.
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I enclose an affidavit[1] respecting the conduct of the Governor; the demand of the oath from the officers, is not warranted by the law. The demand casts an imputation on the officers. The demand is an insult to the subject. It is calculated to have a pernicious effect; for the country people do not understand the nature of such oaths, and a militia commission is valuable among them.
I beg to have some copies of the Association sent up, and some paper. I also beg you will excuse the inaccuracy of my letter, for I see, hear and answer so many people, being constantly interrupted; and the unusual fatigue of yesterday and the night, not being yet gone off, that I wonder the letter is so connected as it is.

I have the honor to be, gentlemen,
Your most obedient servant,


P.S. I expect Col. Thomson will arrive here to-morrow morning. Please to pay the Express £25.
Printed in Gibbes, Documentary History, I, 171-175; addressed "To the Honorable the Council of Safety:"; dated "Head Quarters at Ninety-Six, Sept. 11, 1775.".
[1.] The editors have been unable to find or identity the enclosures.