The American Revolution in South Carolina

Brigadier General Andrew Pickens


Andrew Pickens was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on September 19, 1739. Like many of the Scots-Irish, Andrew and his family moved south, traveling the Great Wagon Road in search of new land. Records show they lived first in Augusta County in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, later in the Waxhaw settlement along the North Carolina-South Carolina border, and, eventually, in the Long Cane settlement in present-day Abbeville County, South Carolina, bordering Georgia.

It was in the Long Canes that young Andrew Pickens would marry and begin a family. He not only farmed and raised cattle as many of the other Scots-Irish; he became acquainted with his Indian neighbors through a prosperous trading business. As the American Revolution approached feelings were strong in the South from the start, its inhabitants split between Patriots (Whigs) and Loyalists (Tories). Pickens, as many of his Scots-Irish neighbors, was an ardent Patriot.

It was in the Long Canes, too, that he emerged as a military leader, first in expeditions against the Cherokee, who had allied with the Loyalists in hopes of retaining their lands. In 1779, Pickens was to distinguish himself in a Revolutionary War battle. That year, British commander Sir Henry Clinton sent British soldiers to South Carolina and North Georgia to encourage Loyalist support. Colonel Pickens and his three-hundred man militia, in efforts to aid the Patriot cause, overtook and defeated a much larger force of 700-800 men under Colonel Boyd at Kettle Creek in North Georgia just south of the Long Canes.

The victory at Kettle Creek slowed the recruitment of Loyalists, but by 1780, the British dominated as they took Charleston, captured the southern Continental Army, and swept inland from coastal Carolina. The situation looked gloomy - so much so - that Pickens and other militia leaders surrendered to the British, and, on oath, agreed to sit out the war under British protection.

Pickens’ parole was not to last, however. When Tory raiders destroyed much of his property and frightened his family, he gathered his militia once again and resumed guerilla activities against the British. He was soon to play a key role in defeating British Colonel Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781. The victory came at a crucial time for Patriots in the South who had been repeatedly forced to retreat. Andrew Pickens, who with his militia, arrived as reinforcements, urged Continental Army Brigadier General Daniel Morgan to make a stand. According to one source, Pickens offered to stand alone with his militia if necessary.

Morgan was convinced to make a stand and relied heavily on Pickens’ militia in the ensuing battle. The militia, in fact, got off two shots before their planned retreat, something not done in previous battles, and reformed to help envelop the enemy. The bravery of the militia, combined with the well-disciplined Continental troops and Colonel William Washington’s cavalry, won the day in the battle that turned the tide for American forces in the south.

After the Revolution, Andrew Pickens acquired land in frontier South Carolina on the banks of the Keowee River, across from the old Cherokee town of Seneca. There, he built a house he called Hopewell and lived life as part of the backcountry elite. There, too, he served as a political middleman between the Cherokees and the new American nation and sympathized with Indian causes in his later years. Andrew Pickens borrowed heavily from Cherokee warfare skills and used those skills in partisan warfare including the courageous and brilliant victory at Cowpens. For his "spirited conduct" at Cowpens, the Continental Congress presented Pickens with a sword and the State of South Carolina promoted him to Brigadier General in the state militia.

Biography from Benson J. Lossing in his Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution [with minor edits]:

Andrew Pickens was born in Paxton township, Pennsylvania, on September 19, 1739. His parents were from Ireland. In 1752, he removed, with his father, to the Waxhaw settlement in South Carolina. He served as a volunteer in Grant's expedition against the Cherokees, in which he took his forst lessons in the art of war.

He became a warm Republican when the Revolution broke out, and he was one of the most active of the military partisans of the South. From the close of the war until 1784 he was a member of the South Carolina Legislature. He was commissioned major general of the South Carolina militia in 1795, and was often a commissioner to treat with the Indians. President Washington offered him a brigade of light troops under General Wayne to serve against the Indians in the northwest but he declined the honor.

He died at his seat in Pendleton District, South Carolina - the scene of his earliest battles - on August 17, 1817, at the age of seventy-eight years. His remains lie by the side of his wife (who died two years before) in the graveyard of the "Old Stone Meeting-house" in Pendleton.

In 1765, he married Rebecca Calhoun, aunt of the late John C. Calhoun, one of the most beautiful young ladies of the South. Mrs. Ellet, in her Women of the Revolution (iii., 302), gives some interesting sketches of this lady and her life during the Revolution. Her relatives and friends were very numerous, and her marriage was attended by a great number. "Rebecca Calhou's wedding" was an epoch in the social history of the district in which she resided and old people used it as a point to reckon from.

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