Our Revolutionary Happy hour yielded a few surprises. During the planning of the event, Connie brought the picture that was displayed on an easel at Jill’s house.
Connie has moved this engraving around for years without understanding the subject. When she was invited to dinner at a Charlestonian’s home, she was surprised to see the exact same picture on their walls. Apparently it is an engraving by John Sartain of a picture painted by John B. White of Charleston. The original is in the Gibbes Museum here, and a copy is also at the Charleston Museum. Her host explained the legend of the photo of Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox”, a South Carolina hero of the Revolutionary war. Marion spent a good bit of time navigating the waters of Winyah Bay, just to our North. He may even have slipped quietly past Dewees on his way in and out of Charleston Harbor.
It is said that in late 1780, a British officer requested a meeting with Marion at his Snow Island, South Carolina, headquarters, to discuss the exchange of prisoners. Marion graciously invited him to dinner of roasted sweet potatoes, and the young officer accepted. The image easily portrays Marion’s generosity at this event. (from www.teachushistory.org)
According to Parson Weems, in his 1824 Biography of the Swamp Fox,
The dinner to which he alluded, was no other than a heap of sweet potatoes, that were very snugly roasting under the embers, and which Tom,
with his pine stick poker, soon liberated from their ashy confinement;
pinching them, every now and then, with his fingers, especially the big ones, to see whether they were well done or not. Then having
cleansed them of the ashes, partly by blowing them with his breath,
and partly by brushing them with the sleeve of his old cotton shirt,
he piled some of the best on a large piece of bark, and placed them
between the British officer and Marion, on the trunk of the fallen pine
on which they sat.
After the meal, when the officer returned to the British forces, he was asked about it, and the officer replied that the British should be worried:
“Why, sir, I have seen an American general and his officers, without pay,
and almost without clothes, living on roots and drinking water;
and all for LIBERTY! What chance have we against such men!”
This article in the July 2007 issue of Smithsonian Magazine explains the context of the picture more fully. It also looks more deeply into the history and explores the role of Oscar, the African American depicted in the picture. And they provide a bit about the officer:
According to a legend that grew out of the much-repeated anecdote, the British officer was so inspired by the Americans’ resourcefulness and dedication to the cause—despite their lack of adequate provisions, supplies or proper uniforms—that he promptly switched sides and supported American independence.