Life of GEN. Francis Marion

Author: Mason Locke Weems

Chapter 6.

Times growing squally — the author sets out a vagrant hunting —
gets into hot water — narrowly escapes with his life —
catches a host of vagabonds, but learns from experience,
that, though a rascal may do to stop a bullet, ’tis only the man of honor
that can make a good soldier.

"The devil," said George Whitefield, "is fond of fishing in muddy waters" — hence it is, I suppose, that that grand demagogue has always been so fond of war — that sunshine and basking time of rogues, which calls them out, thick as May-day sun calls out the rattle-snakes from their stony crannies.

In times of peace, the waters are clear, so that if the smallest Jack (villain) but makes his appearance, eagle-eyed justice, with her iron talons, is down upon him in a moment. But let war but stir up the mud of confusion, and straightway the eyes of justice are blinded — thieves turn out in shoals: and devils, like hungry fishing-hawks, are seen by the eye of faith, hovering over the wretched fry, screaming for their prey.

This was exactly the case in South Carolina. The war had hardly raged there above a twelvemonth and a day, before the state of society seemed turned upside down. The sacred plough was every where seen rusting in the weedy furrows — Grog shops and Nanny houses were springing up as thick as hops — at the house of God you saw nobody — but if there was a devil’s house (a dram shop) hard by, you might be sure to see THAT crowded with poor Lazarites, with red noses and black eyes, and the fences all strung along with starved tackies, in grape-vine bridles and sheep-skin saddles. In short, the whole country was fast overrunning with vagabonds, like ravening locusts, seeking where they might light, and whom they should devour.

"Good heavens!" said Marion to me one day, and with great alarm in his looks, "what’s to be done with these wretches, these vagrants? I am actually afraid we shall be ruined by them presently. For you know, sir, that a vagrant is but the chrysalis or fly state of the gambler, the horse-thief, the money-coiner, and indeed of every other worthless creature that disturbs and endangers society."

"Why colonel," replied I, "there’s a conceit in my head, which, if it could but be brought to bear, would, I think, soon settle the hash with these rascals."

"Aye," replied he, "well, pray give it to us, for I should be very fond to hear it."

"Why sir," said I, "give me but a lieutenant, sergeant, and corporal, with a dozen privates, all of my own choosing, do you see, and if I don’t soon give you a good account of those villains, you may, with all my heart, give me a good suit of tar and feathers."

My demand was instantly complied with. Then taking with me such men as I knew I could depend on, among whom was the brave lieutenant Jossilin, I set out from the Long Bluff, towards Sandhills. The reader will please to take notice, that in our hurry we had not forgot to take with us a constable with a proper warrant.

We had gone but a few miles, before we fell in with a squad of as choice game as heart could have wished, three proper tall young vagabonds! profoundly engaged at all fours, in a log tippling shop, with cards as black as their own dirty hands, and a tickler of brandy before them! and so intent were the thieves on fleecing each other, that they took no manner of notice of us, but continued their scoundrel work, eagerly stretched over the table, thwacking down their cards with filthy knuckles, and at every stroke bawling out, "there’s a good trick!"

"That’s as good as he."

"And there’s the best of the three — huzza, d—n me, at him again my hearties."

"Lieutenant Jossilin," said I, "grab them fellows."

You never saw poor devils in such a fright. But soon as they had recovered the use of their tongues, they swore like troopers that they were the "most honestest gentlemen in all Carolina."

"Aye! well, I am very glad to hear that, gentlemen," said I, "for I love honest men prodigiously, and hope the magistrate will confirm the handsome report you have made of yourselves."

So off we set all together for the magistrate. About dinner time I ordered a halt at the house of one Johnson, a militia captain, who appeared quite overwhelmed with joy to see me.

"Heaven bless us!" said he, "and now who could have believed all this? And have I, at last, to my heart’s desire, the great honor of seeing under my humble roof the noble major Horry?"

I told him I was much obliged to him, for his politeness — but, for the present, was rather too hungry to relish compliments. "Like sweetmeats, captain," said I, "a little of them may do pretty well after a good dinner."

"Oh, my dear major!" quoth he, "and how sorry I am now that I have nothing fit for dinner for you, my noble son of thunder — a saddle of fat venison, major; or a brace of young ducks; or, a green goose with currant jelly, and a bottle of old Madeira to wash it down, do you see, major! something NICE for you, do you see, major!"

"NICE," said I, "captain Johnson! We soldiers of liberty don’t stand upon the NICE — the SUBSTANTIAL is that we care for — a rasher of fat bacon from the coals, with a good stout lump of an ash cake, is NICE enough for us."

"Oh, my dear sir!" replied he, "now DON’T, DON’T be angry with me; for I was only sorry that I have nothing half so good for you as I could wish, but such as it is, thank God, we have plenty; and you shall have a bite in a trice." So off he went, as he pretended, to hurry dinner.

Now can any honest man believe that this same man, captain Johnson, who had been, as Paddy says, "sticking the blarney into me at that rate," could have been such a scoundrel as to turn about the very next minute, and try all in his power to trick me out of my vagrants. It is, however, too true to be doubted; for having purposely delayed dinner till it was late, he then insisted that I must not deny him the "very great honor of my company that night." Soon as my consent was obtained, he despatched a parcel of riders, to order in, with their guns, as many of his gang as he thought would do. In the course of the night, snug as master Johnson thought himself, I got a hint of his capers, and told my men to see that their guns were in prime order.

While breakfast was getting ready, (for Johnson swore I should not leave him "on an empty stomach",) lieutenant Jossilin came and told me he did not understand the meaning of so many ill-looking fellows coming about the house with their guns in their hands.

I replied that we should SEE PRESENTLY.

Breakfast then making its appearance, we sat down, and while we were eating, (our men all on parade at the door) Johnson’s men kept dropping in one after another, till there were, I dare say, as many as thirty of them in the room, ALL ARMED.

When breakfast was over, I turned to the constable, and desired him to look to his charge, meaning the three vagrants, for that we would start as soon as our men were all refreshed. Upon this captain Johnson said he believed he should not let the prisoners go.

"Not let them go, sir," said I, "what do you mean by that, sir?"

"I mean, sir," replied he, "that the law is an oppressive one."

I asked him, still keeping myself perfectly cool, if he was not an American soldier?

"Yes, sir," he answered, "I am an American soldier; and as good a one, perhaps, as yourself, or any other man."

"Well, sir, and is this the way you show your soldiership, by insulting the law?"

"I am not bound," continued he, "to obey a bad law."

"But, sir, who gave YOU a right to JUDGE the law?"

"I don’t mind that," quoth he, "but d—n me, sir, if I’ll let the prisoners go."

"Very well, captain Johnson," said I, "we shall soon try THAT; and if you and your people here, choose to go to the devil for resisting the law, on your own heads be the bloody consequences."

With this I gave the floor a thundering stamp, and in a moment, as by magic, in bursted my brave sergeant and men, with fixed bayonets, ready for slaughter, while Jossilin and myself, whipping out our swords, rushed on as to the charge.

A troop of red foxes dashing into a poultry yard, never produced such squalling and flying as now took place among these poor guilty wretches — "Lord have mercy upon us," they cried — down fell their guns — smack went the doors and windows — and out of both, heels over head they tumbled, as expecting every moment the points of our bayonets. The house was quickly cleared of every soul except Johnson and his lieutenant, one Lunda, who both trembled like aspen leaves, expecting a severe drubbing.

"Captain Johnson," said I, "don’t tremble; you have nothing to fear from me. A man who can act as you have done, is not an object of anger, but CONTEMPT. Go! and learn the spirit that becomes a gentleman and an American soldier."

I should have observed, that as we advanced to charge Johnson’s poltroons, one of the party, a resolute fellow, presented his gun to my breast and drew the trigger. Happily, in the very instant of its firing, lieutenant Jossilin knocked it up with his sword; and the ball grazing my shoulder, bursted through the side of the house.

As we rode off, some of Johnson’s fugitives had the audacity to bawl out, though from a very prudent distance, threatening us that they would yet rescue the prisoners before we got to the bluff. But they wisely took care not to make good their word, for they were only a pack of poor ignorant tories, who did nothing on principle, and were therefore ready to quit their purpose the moment they saw danger in the way.

Our success at vagrant hunting was marvellous. I hardly think we could, in the same time, have caught as many raccoons in any swamp on Pedee. On counting noses, we found, that in our three week’s course, we had seized and sent off to Charleston, upwards of fifty. With the last haul, I returned myself to the city, where I received the thanks of general Howe, for "the handsome addition," as he was pleased to term it, "which I had made to the regiment."

But on trial, it was found that such vermin were not worthy of thanks, nor were any addition to the regiment, except as disgust to the men and vexation to the officers. Destitute of honor, they performed their duty, not like soldiers, but slaves; and, on every opportunity, would run off into the woods like wild beasts.


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Chicago: Mason Locke Weems, "Chapter 6.," Life of GEN. Francis Marion, ed. Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907 in Life of GEN. Francis Marion Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022,

MLA: Weems, Mason Locke. "Chapter 6." Life of GEN. Francis Marion, edited by Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907, in Life of GEN. Francis Marion, Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Weems, ML, 'Chapter 6.' in Life of GEN. Francis Marion, ed. . cited in , Life of GEN. Francis Marion. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from