On or around this day in 1778, an all-but-forgotten hero makes the ultimate sacrifice. James Screven doesn’t make history books most of the time. He is forever lost in the shadow of acclaimed heroes such as George Washington. What a pity. Our Revolution would never have succeeded but for the willingness of everyday men and women to put their lives on the line for liberty.
Many of the details of Screven’s sacrifice have been lost to history. Various accounts exist regarding the day he received his mortal wound, and we may never know precisely what happened. But we at least know the gist of it.
His sacrifice came as British Lt. Colonel Prevost was leading a force through Georgia in late 1778. Prevost was destroying homes and fields as he went. In the meantime, 100 Continentals under Colonel John White were posted at Midway Church in St. John’s Parish. Their objective was to slow Prevost down until reinforcements could arrive.
Screven came to White’s aid; he was leading a group of 20 militia.
According to some accounts, when Screven arrived at White’s location, he told White that he thought he’d found a better defensive position. The troops were to be moved to “an advantageous piece of ground, about a mile and a half south of Medway meeting-house, where the main road was skirted by a thick wood.”
It didn’t go well. It turns out that Loyalist Thomas Brown was in the area. He was leading the King’s Rangers. As Screven led a reconnoitering effort, Brown ambushed him. Screven fell, wounded. At least one other was killed. The Americans retreated, and Screven fell into enemy hands.
Allegedly, as Screven lay bleeding on the ground, the King’s Rangers came up to him and began to shoot at him again. They were upset about an incident in which Captain Moore of the Rangers had been killed. Upset or not, shooting at a disabled man was considered very dishonorable!
Screven was taken back to the enemy camp, still alive.
The American and Loyalist officers heatedly exchanged letters. White was furious about the “equally ruinous and disgraceful warfare carried on by the troops under your command.” Prevost was less upset about the incident. He wasn’t happy about it, of course, and even acknowledged that he was “really unhappy to hear from [Screven] that one of the rangers shot him after he was already disabled.” However, he mostly seemed to blame the incident on the terrible resentment between the two sides. Also, he noted, these were irregular, not regular troops. He closed by promising to return Screven back to the American camp.
Unfortunately, Screven’s condition never stabilized. He passed away before he could be returned.
Another unsung hero who gave his all so that we might have freedom.
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Charles Colcock Jones, The History of Georgia: Revolutionary Epoch (1883) (Vol. 2)
Collections and Proceedings of the Maine Historical Society (Maine Historical Society; 1894) (Vol. 5)
Hugh McCall, The History of Georgia: Containing Brief Sketches of the Most Remarkable Events, Up to the Present Day (1816) (Vol. 2)
Lucian Lamar Knight, A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians (1917) (Vol. 1)
Rev. George White's Historical Collections of Georgia: Containing the Most Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, etc., relating to its History and Antiquities, from the First Settlement to the Present (1854) (Excerpt: Col. Thomas Brown's, of the King's Rangers, Reply to David Ramsay, 1786)
The Remembrancer; or Impartial Repository of Public Events for the Year 1778, and Beginning of 1779 (1779)
Wayne Lynch, James Screven—Ambushed! (Journal of the American Revolution; March 13, 2014)