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  • Writer's pictureGlinda Coleman

The Battle of Alexander’s Old Field

It’s almost July and we are looking forward to celebrating Independence Day, the Fourth of July, the day of our nation’s birth with barbecue, hot dogs and fireworks. From the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 until the British surrendered at Yorktown, Va. In October 1781, the early national military forces and many local militia units fought for freedom from Great Britain and for the formation of the United States of America.

When you studied US History in high school, you probably didn’t study about the sheer number of battles fought in South Carolina. Yes, we’ve heard of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and Yorktown in Virginia, but more than 250 battles were fought across South Carolina.

Battle of Beckhamville Reenactment 2006

There were three battles within two miles of downtown Great Falls. Although Great Falls wasn’t inexistence, the Great Falls of the Catawba was and these battles each had an important significance. The Battle of Alexander’s Old Field, later known as the Battle of Beckhamville, was fought just outside what is now the town limit of Great Falls.

Charleston fell to the British on May 12, 1780 and Patriot General Lincoln surrendered the city and headed northwest toward North Carolina. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander left the British army in the hands of General Charles Lord Cornwallis whose goal was to subdue the rebellion and establish

British garrisons throughout South Carolina. He was determined to have all those who opposed the British to sign loyalty oaths to King George.

Battle of Beckhamville Reenactment 2006

The area around Rocky Creek and Fishing Creek in what is now Chester County had largely tried to stay out of the war. Even though the majority of settlers in the area were from Scots-Irish stock, and many

were Presbyterians who had no love lost for the British, they had largely stayed out of the conflict until it was brought to their door. The Battle of Waxhaws, also known as Buford’s Massacre had taken place on May 29, 1780 and the testimony from those who survived that Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton attacked and then would not accept surrender from the Patriots helped to spur resistance to the British across the

area. Historians now debate whether what became known as “Tarleton’s Quarter” (butchering those who sought to surrender) actually happened it was quite effective as propaganda.

When the Loyalists began the efforts to force those suspected of being disloyal to the Crown to sign the oaths of allegiance, a Colonel Houseman (although, according to late historian Michael Scoggins in his book “The Day it Rained Militia” he was Capt. Houseman) went to Justice John Gaston, who had much influence among the people in the area with some 50 Tory militia to “convince” him of the futility of

resisting the Crown and that he should convince the disloyal to sign the oath. Gaston, immediately after Houseman left, called on his older sons to gather the men of the area to pay a visit to the Loyalist Camp at Alexander’s Old Field and show them just how they felt about his demand that he convince people to swear an oath to the King. Most of the men who gathered on the evening of June 5, 1780 were either the sons or nephews of Justice Gaston along with others in the Rocky Creek, Fishing Creek and upper Sandy River communities.

Battle of Beckhamville Reenactment 2006

There were 32 men in all who gathered early on the morning of June 6 each armed with a knife and a rifle and headed ready to head to Alexander’s Old Field. The camp at the Old Field, which is located very near Rocky Creek and not far from a blacksmith shop that was owned by a free African American who helped the Patriots over the course of the remainder of the war, was occupied by approximately 200 Loyalists. Over the past few days, the Tories had posted notices around the area telling people to be at the Old Field to sign the oath and receive British protection.

The men summoned by the Gastons included McClures, Knoxes, Walkers, Morrows, Johnsons and two McKeown brothers who had already scouted the camp. That small band of men thoroughly routed the Tory militia. Although the exact number of killed and wounded are not know, there were some reports that said there were several killed on both sides.

Scott Coleman and Wade Noland repair the Battle of Alexander's Old Field historical marker located at the intersection of S.C. 99 and S.C. 97 just outside the town limits of Great Falls.

The Battle of Alexander’s Old Field has the distinction of being the first Patriot victory after the fall of Charleston. It was just the first of many battles in the upstate of South Carolina that led to victory over the British. It’s nice to know that the roots of freedom were firmly planted in our little corner of Chester County known as Great Falls.

Scott Coleman touches up the paint on the Battle of Alexander's Old Field historical marker. GFHTA helps to take care of the markers and on occasion put up flags to mark the site.

(I used the late Michael Scoggins book “The Day It Rained Militia” as a reference. You know he had ties

to Great Falls and did much research about the American Revolution in this area.)

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