This Day in History: Revolutionary War Heroine Martha Bratton at Huck’s Defeat

On this day in 1780, Americans win the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation (or Huck’s Defeat) in South Carolina. The battle took place shortly after the surrender of Charleston and the massacre at the Battle of the Waxhaws. Those two battles had been demoralizing for the Patriot cause. The British were beginning to think that they’d squashed resistance in South Carolina. Perhaps worse, many Americans feared that they were right.

In early July, the British received intelligence that some of the militia officers were headed home to check on their harvests and to find more recruits. Loyalist Captain Christian Huck was sent to intercept them and take them prisoner.

He and his men arrived at the homestead of one of these officers, William Bratton, on July 11. Bratton wasn’t there, but his wife Martha was.

Some of Huck’s soldiers arrived at the Bratton house before Huck himself did. One of these soldiers confronted Martha, asking where her husband was. Martha replied that she didn’t know. Irate, another soldier grabbed a sickle hanging nearby and put it around her neck. He drew his sword and demanded Bratton’s location. Martha’s young son was apparently clinging to her, terrified, at this point.

How did she stay calm in the midst of this scene? Yet she did. “I told the simple truth,” she told the soldier, “and could not tell if I would, but I now add that I would not if I could.”

Another soldier intervened at this point, and Martha was spared. Huck soon arrived and forced her to cook dinner for his men. Oddly, though, instead of staying the night at the Bratton house, Huck moved to the plantation of her neighbor, James Williamson. Possibly, he wanted his horses to have the opportunity to graze on Williamson’s oat field. Little did he know that the American militia had heard of his presence in the area. They were coming to flush him out.

Americans arrived at the Bratton home before dawn on July 12 and discovered Huck’s new location at the Williamson Plantation. They planned an attack for dawn.

In a twist of irony, Huck was apparently boasting of British successes just moments before Americans descended upon him. “We have driven the Regulars out of the country,” he told the Williamson family, “and I swear that if it rained militia from the Heavens, I would not value them.”

Within moments, the militia were effectively raining down on him and his men! The American victory was quick and decisive. Huck was killed.

Americans had won a victory just when they needed it the most.

Primary Sources

  • Michael C. Scoggins, The Day it Rained Militia: Huck’s Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry (2005)
  • Terry M. Mays, Historical Dictionary of the American Revolution (1999)
  • Theodore P. Savas & J. David Dameron, A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution (2006)
  • Thomas J. Kirkland & Robert McMillan, Historic Camden: Colonial and Revolutionary (1905)