“Gross Outrage”: An Independence Day Celebration Gone Wrong

During my recent research of Adjutant Jacob Brice, I came across a place I had never heard of in relation to the Revolutionary War, called Haddrell’s Point in South Carolina. Brice was wounded and captured at the Battle of Camden in 1781 and was held at Haddrell’s Point as a prisoner of war. [1]

Haddrell’s Point was built in 1777 by the Continental Army and was intended for use as a barracks. By 1780, however, the site was being used as a military hospital instead. On April 26, 1780, Haddrell’s Point was captured by the British during the Southern Campaign. Just a few weeks after the capture of Haddrell’s Point, General Benjamin Lincoln and the Continental Army surrendered to the British led by General Henry Clinton at Charleston.[2]

Haddrell's Point

Map of Haddrell’s Point, South Carolina

The approximate 2,800 enlisted men that surrendered were housed as prisoners in the town of Charleston. The 274 officers, however, were sent to Haddrell’s Point.[3] 

Life as a prisoner of war at Haddrell’s Point was relatively privileged compared to that of prisoners elsewhere. The British allowed American officers to keep their weapons and build their own personal huts in the woods surrounding the barracks complex. Some men were even allowed to stay at nearby farms. The supervision of prisoners was also fairly relaxed. Men were trusted not to escape based primarily on their word and honor as gentlemen. They were given a considerable radius of six miles in which they could travel and often went to the nearby harbor to fish. Some accounts even report that many men cultivated small gardens during their imprisonment.[4]

The lenient atmosphere of Haddrell’s Point did not last, however. As time went on, the idleness of life as a prisoner of war gave way to frequent duels between officers and an increasing number of escapees capitalized on the laxity of their captors.[5] The British reached their breaking point on July 4, 1780. The officers’ celebrations on this, the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, became too raucous for the tastes of their British counterparts. Some of Charleston’s civilians joined the officers for music, dancing, and merriment. As a part of the festivities, officers began firing pistols.[6] Although the shots were not meant as a threat, this incident catalyzed a crackdown on the prisoners.

Many of the privileges officers enjoyed were taken away. They were no longer permitted to keep their firearms, swords, or any other weapons, for example.[7] General William Moultrie, who had been placed in charge of his fellow prisoners, tried desperately to justify the behavior of his men. He argued that celebrating the occasion was not a violation of parole and that, in fact, British prisoners of war had always been allowed to celebrate their national holidays.

“The Seventh Regiment, now in Charlestown,” he wrote, “celebrated the anniversary of St. George’s Day, when prisoners at Carlisle; and the convention troops kept the birthday of his Britannic Majesty both in the year ‘78 and ‘79, without the harsh animadversion of ‘indecent abuse of lenity’ and ‘gross outrage.”[8]

Despite his protests, the elimination of privileges continued.

The officers were not the only ones punished for the incident. Many of the paroled civilians that had participated in the Fourth of July celebration were exiled to Saint Augustine and forced to comply with new paroles.[9] Additionally, the enlisted men that were being housed in Charleston were relocated to prison ships. This was a direct violation of the terms of capitulation between the Americans and the British. The conditions aboard the prison ships were horrendous. Overcrowded with new prisoners from the Battle of Camden, among whom were many enlisted Marylanders, Lieutenant Colonel Levin Winder and Captain John Gassaway of the Second Maryland Regiment, diseases like dysentery and smallpox ran rampant. One third of the prisoners, approximately 800 men, died within a year.[10] Doctor Peter Fayssoux, an American, wrote,

“ After the defeat of General Gates [at Camden], our sufferings commenced. The British appeared to have adopted a different mode of conduct towards their prisoners, and proceeded from one step to another until they fully displayed themselves void of faith, honor, or humanity, and capable of the most savage acts of barbarity.”[11]

The officers at Haddrell’s Point, the enlisted men in Charleston, and the patriot civilians of South Carolina paid dearly for their Fourth of July festivities, but I suppose that very few of them regretted it. They celebrated, as General Moultrie put it,

“the warmth of a cause which the continental officers at Haddrell’s-point have embraced through principle; in which some of them bled; and for which all of them are now suffering.”[12]

The exchange of prisoners at Haddrell’s Point finally began in the summer of 1781.[13] By January 1, 1783, Adjutant Jacob Brice rejoined the Fourth Regiment and transferred to the First Regiment as a captain shortly thereafter. He served for the remainder of the war.[14] 

Notes:

  1. “Major Jacob Brice (Charlestown) to Maurice Simons,” June 27 1781, Maryland State Papers, Series A, MdHR 6636-47-49/5 [MSA S1004-66-10723, 1/7/3/56]; Maryland State Papers, Red Books, vol. 5, p. 209 [MSA S 989-7-59].
  2. Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission, “Haddrell’s Point Barracks-1777-Revolutionary War,” Mount Pleasant Historical, accessed July 16, 2019, http://mountpleasanthistorical.org/items/show/95
  3. Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission.
  4. Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission.
  5.  Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1780-1783, (South Carolina, Macmillan, 1902), 344-346.
  6. McCrady, 346.
  7. McCrady, 347.
  8. McCrady, 346-347.
  9. Richard H. Tomczak, “A Number of the Most Respectable Gentlemen”: Civilian Prisoners of War and Social Status in Revolutionary South Carolina, 1780-1782,” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 116, no. 3 (2015): 198.
  10. McCrady, 350.
  11. McCrady, 349.
  12. Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission.
  13. McCrady, 363.
  14. Rieman Steuart, A History of The Maryland Line in the Revolutionary War 1775-1783, (Towson, Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland, 1969), 32.

 

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3 Responses to “Gross Outrage”: An Independence Day Celebration Gone Wrong

  1. Christos Christou Jr. says:

    Very nice article. We often forget the leniency and conditions that were different for Officers vs enlisted men when held prisoner.

    Like

  2. John C Conradis says:

    Haddrell’s Point is located across Charleston Harbor from the city, along Shem Creek. It is in Mount Pleasant. I believe a ferry ran from Haddrell’s Point to Charleston harbor in the 17th century. A battery protecting the harbor was located here. Continental officers captured at Camden were interned here after the city fell to the British in 1780..

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