This Day in History: The Patriotic women at the Battle of Huck’s Defeat
On this day in 1780, Americans win the Battle of Huck’s Defeat. You’ll love the bravery of a few patriotic ladies in the hours before the battle! They stood up to Captain Christian Huck, a Loyalist who was trying to locate and capture militia officers in South Carolina.
Huck wanted two men, among others: John McClure and William Bratton. By July 11, he was at McClure’s home. McClure was gone, but his mother, sister, brother, and brother-in-law were there. The two men were melting down pewter dishes to make bullets—a dead giveaway that they were militia.
Huck promptly took them prisoner, telling them that they’d be hanged the next day. In the meantime, he began harassing Mrs. McClure, trying to ferret out the location of her other sons. According to family legend, he threw a Bible in the fire, threatened Mrs. McClure, and struck her with the flat end of his sword.
Her response to that last insult? “Sir, that will be a dear blow to you!”
Huck ravaged the house and took his prisoners, leaving the women behind. Mrs. McClure promptly dispatched her daughter Mary to get help. In the meantime, Huck continued on his way, eventually arriving at Bratton’s homestead. Bratton wasn’t there, but his wife Martha was.
She wasn’t going to kowtow to the Loyalists, either.
One of Huck’s 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, by 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, and Martha was spared. Huck himself 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. By then, the American militia knew he was in the area, thanks to Mary and other informants.
McClure, Bratton, and others were coming to flush Huck out—except Huck had no idea.
They 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.
Huck’s Defeat came at an interesting time: The British had perhaps been getting a bit cocky, thinking that they’d finally squashed Patriot resistance in South Carolina.
In other words, Americans had won a stunning victory just when they needed it the most.
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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 (2d ed. 2009)
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)
Wayne Lynch, John McClure Rallies the South (Journal of the American Revolution; Dec. 4, 2014).