South Carolina Independent Companies
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Origin and History
Independent Companies were part of the British Regular Army, but were not tied to any regiment. The purpose was to provide a representative number of regular troops, but without the need to support a full regiment or the associated costs. These formations were used as garrison troops and to raise the "King's Flag". There were four Independent Companies in New York to oppose the French in Canada and three Independent Companies in South Carolina to oppose the Spanish in Florida. In 1755, two additional Companies were stationed in the Caribbean; one company in Bermuda and one company on New Providence in the Bahamas. The cost of these 9 Independent Companies was £16,486 (1755). The cost for a Foot Regiment under the British Establishment (not under a campaign warrant) was £15,217, a relatively comparable cost.
In 1720, the colonists of South Carolina asked Great Britain to send four regiments for their defence against a potential Spanish invasion. They only granted a single independent company of 100 men contributed by independent companies garrisoning various places In Great Britain. These were garrison troops and not campaign troops, so the troops were often older and infirm, similar to the standard practice of employing Independent Companies of Invalids to garrison fortresses in Britain. Rank & file were strictly colonial recruits. Officers were often from the British Isles, but could be internally drawn from non-commissioned officers. Actual company size was typically closer to 50 men, not the authorized 100.
Independent Companies were very low on the British Army Hierarchy. Any officer desiring higher rank had to transfer to a regular regiment. There is some suggestion that the pay for both officers and the rank & file was lower than that in a comparable infantry regiment. These formations were terribly neglected by London.
The new company sailed from Great Britain on March 8, 1721 and arrived in Charleston on May 22. Although funded by London and not colonial assemblies, the Governor of South Carolina would routinely consider those troops as his to command. The South Carolina Independent Company initially garrisoned Fort King George at the mouth of the Altamaha River. In 1727, after the fort was accidentally burned, the company was sent to Port Royal. In 1730, part of the company was transferred to Fort Delegal on St. Simons Island. In 1737, the company was integrated in the 42nd Oglethorpe’s Foot who served in Georgia and would later be disbanded on May 29, 1749.
In 1744, three new companies were raised to serve in South Carolina. On June 22, 1746, the kernel (only 60 officers and men) of these new South Carolina Independent Company finally arrived from Great Britain at Charleston. The rest of the companies should be recruited locally. In the summer of 1749, these three companies were disbanded.
The last incarnation of the South Carolina Independent Companies was established in 1748. Although, the three Independent Companies were established in 1748, they were never embodied until after Oglethorpe’s (42nd) Foot was disbanded on May 29, 1749. Established at 100 men per company the South Carolina Companies were made up of drafts from Oglethorpe’s Foot. The senior captain of the companies was the former Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Heron of Oglethorpe’s Foot.
In 1749, the newly recruited companies were transferred from Georgia to forts in South Carolina, leaving only small detachments at Fort William and Fort Frederica.
In the fall of 1753, a large detachment from the Independent Companies accompanied Governor Glen to build a fort among the Lower Cherokee towns. This fort, named Prince George, was built at the request of the Cherokee. It was thought that having a garrison of British soldiers in the Cherokee towns would make enforcement of the trade regulations easier. Improvement in trade would not only enrich the colony, but improved Cherokee relations would provide a buffer between the colonists and the French and their allies.
When the French commander in the Ohio region refused to leave the area, after being ordered to do so by the Province of Virginia, Lieutenant-Governor Dinwiddie sent requests for troops from the surrounding colonies. South Carolina soon received orders from Great Britain to send one of the Independent Companies of South Carolina to Virginia to counter the French threat. Instead of sending one whole company, the fittest men were drafted to form a composite company, which was sent to Virginia under Captain James McKay.
- "As our Independent Companies have done duty by Detachments for several Years and are spread over the face of a widely extended Country, some of them being at the Fort that I lately built in the Cherokee Nation, above 300 Miles from hence, some at another Fort 160 Miles off, and some at another Fort 140 Miles, and some by his Majesty's Orders, at the southern Extremity of Georgia it was impossible to send one entire Company, but I send you a Number of Officers and Men equal to one Company, they are mostly picked Men, and I think I may safely say that the King has in no Part of his Dominions a finer Independent Company. I had Occasion to review them about a Month agoe, when they went through the manual Exercise, the Evolutions and Firings, with as great Address as any Troopes that ever I had seen in any Part of the World. They are well cloathed, and that they might be well armed I have given them the best that we had in our Armory, their own, by sixteen years Service in America, being not fit to be trusted to upon such an Occasion.
- They are lately returned from a long and fatiguing Expedition, most of them having accompanied me to the Cherokee Nation, a march which they performed with surprising Allacrity, and though we lay two months in the Woods and had some pretty severe Weather in November and December, yet I had the Happiness not to lose a Man. I furnished every Man with a good duffield Blanket before they set out and took care to supply them with plenty of good Provisions when they were out, without which little Service can be expected from any Men." Glen to Dinwiddie, March 25, 1754. (SCIA,483)
The South Carolina Independent Companies, along with all the other Independent Companies in North America, were disbanded in 1763. Those of South Carolina were to be drafted into the 60th (Royal American) Regiment, however captain Marcus Prevost found them to be mostly unfit. “old drunkards for the most part, who were dirty, insolent, and undisciplined.” (Prevost to Bouquet, January 1764; (Foote, 323) Few were placed into the 60th. Of those that were drafted, many deserted.
Service during the War
In 1754, a composite company, from the three South Carolina Independent Companies, was sent to aid the Virginians. They arrived on the frontier of Virginia in early June, in time to reinforce the Virginia regiment under George Washington. Washington and McKay had a dispute over rank. McKay, whose commission came from the king refused to take orders from a provincial colonel. The arrival of a force of Frenchmen forced to the two officers to cooperate, however. They were attacked at Washington’s hastily built fortification, aptly named Fort Necessity. The combined force held off the French for hours during a rain storm, By all accounts the South Carolina Company fought bravely, although there is some evidence the men got into the rum during the engagement. Lieutenant Peter Mercier and 9 privates were killed in this action. Ammunition running out, the fort was surrendered that night. After the fort surrendered, the defeated the South Carolinians and Virginians were allowed to march back to Wills Creek. Over the winter of 1754-1755 the South Carolina Company along with two New York Independent Companies built Fort Cumberland at Wills Creek.
In 1755, General Braddock arrived, along with the 44th Foot and 48th Foot. Captain Mackay returned to South Carolina, to be replaced by Captain Paul Demere. Sir John St. Clair reviewed the Independent Companies at Fort Cumberland prior to the general's arrival.
- "He had with him at the Fort (or more properly a small piece of Ground inclosed with a Strong Palisade joined pretty close) three Independent Companys, the one of South Carolina, and the other two of New York: the latter seem to be draughted out of Chelsea. The Excuse they make for having so many old Men does very little Honour to those Companys that are left behind at New York; for they say that they are draughted from them. The Carolina Company is in much better order and Discipline." (St. Clair to Braddock February 9, 1755, in St. Clair to Napier, February 10,1755. Pargellis, Stanley; Military Affairs In North America 1748-1765 Selected Documents From the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle; Archon Books; (New Haven, 1969); 62)
Governor Sharpe of Maryland certainly felt very little different from St. Clair.
- "I am sorry to find myself obliged to declare that the three Independent Companies by no means answer my Expectations, particularly those from New York, that from So. Carolina is much the best notwithstanding their Loss in the Action at the Meadows". (Sharpe Papers, Sharpe to Braddock February 9, 1755.)
The Independent Companies of South Carolina and New York accompanied General Braddock when he left Fort Cumberland for the expedition against Fort Duquesne. Logistics proved to be a nightmare, so when Braddock reached the Little Meadows, he split his force into two divisions. The composite South Carolina Company remained behind with Dunbar’s brigade to bring up the provisions. Part of the company was sent forward under Captain Adam Steven of the Virginia Provincials, with a herd of cattle and some flour. They joined the general’s division just days before the crossing of the Monongahela. Once they joined the advance division, the South Carolina men were placed with the New York Independent Companies. On the morning of July 9, the South Carolina Independents were in the rearguard. During the engagement of the Monongahela the South Carolina performed a valuable service. The rearguard was able to prevent the French allied Indians from totally surrounding the column.
- “The Rear Guard (tho’ only a Caps. Command) did more execution than the whole, among the Enemy, as the officer had time to recolect himself Consequently made a disposition and extended his Guard in advantageous posts behind trees by which he both repuls’d and kill’d a great number. (Anonymous Letter on Braddock’s Campaign; July 25, 1755. Pargellis, 117)
By doing this, these soldiers also gave the routed army an avenue of escape. Some helped off wounded officers, including the general. One of the soldiers of the New York Independents was able to retrieve a pair of colours from the enemy. These he turned over to a sergeant of the South Carolina Company. It may be that members of the South Carolina were some of the last to leave the field of battle.
- “Soon after Lieutenant Grey, with a Party of Dumary’s Company came by, who brought up the Rear; the firing was now Quite ceased, he told me the General was wounded, and got me carried off.” (Anon, The EXPEDITION of Major General BRADDOCK TO VIRGINIA with the Two Regiments of HACKET and DUNBAR. Being EXTRACTS of LETTERS from an OFFICER in one of those Regiments to his Friend in London, describing the March and Engagement in the Woods. TOGETHER with many little INCIDENTS, GIVING A lively Idea of the Nature of the Country, Climate, and Manner in which the Officers and Soldiers lived; also the Difficulties they went through in that Wilderness.; H. Carpenter; (London,1755), Letter IV; Kopperman, 176. Kopperman calls this witness British D)
Of the South Carolinians only lieutenants John Gray and Probart Howarth were injured. After Braddock’s defeat, the composite Independent Company, along with the other regulars, were marched by Dunbar to Philadelphia. From Philadelphia the company went to Perth Amboy in New York where they were drafted into Shirley’s (50th) regiment. The officers and NCOs were sent back to South Carolina to recruit.
In 1756, although not yet recovered from the loss of men following Braddock’s defeat, the three Independent Companies were once again drafted. In order to secure the alliance with the Cherokee another composite company was sent to build and garrison what became known as Fort Loudoun among the Overhill Cherokee. The expedition was originally under the command of Lieutenant William Shrubshoal, but he became sick at the Congarees and died. Captain Raymond Demere then took command of the expedition at Ninety Six. Demere remained in command at Fort Loudoun until he was relieved by his brother Paul in August of 1757. The Fort Loudoun garrison was the largest concentration of the South Carolina Independents for the remainder of the war. The remaining men of the three companies, were stationed at Fort Prince George, Fort Frederica, Fort Augusta, and Fort Moore, and Charlestown (including Fort Johnson, and other small outposts in the area). Most of the men remained in the various garrisons for the rest of the war.
In July of 1757, 15 men of the composite company garrisoning Fort Loudoun, along with 15 provincials were sent to waylay a party of Savannahs (Shawnee) lurking near the fort.
In 1758, it proved impossible to join the South Carolina Independent Companies to the forces under General Forbes destined for Fort Duquesne. The completion of Fort Loudoun had left the three companies scattered throughout South Carolina and Georgia, mostly in the various outlying forts.
In 1759, the 50 men of the Independent Companies, that formed the Charlestown garrison, accompanied Governor William Henry Lyttelton on his punitive expedition against the Cherokee for the killing of some of the outlying settlers. The campaign was bloodless and did nothing to convince the Cherokee of South Carolina’s martial ability. After Governor Lyttelton’s departure, the Cherokee closely watched Fort Prince George. In February, after the Cherokee lured Lieutenant Coytmore outside of Fort Prince George and shot him, Ensign Miln had ordered the Cherokee hostages, left by Governor Lyttelton, to be placed in irons. A fight ensued, and all the Cherokee prisoners were killed.
By March of 1760, Fort Loudoun was held under siege. Communication between the advanced forts and Charlestown were practically non existent. Anglo-Cherokee relations continued to deteriorate. By April the Cherokee had attacked all across the frontier of North and South Carolina. These warriors effectively rolled back the frontier at least 100 miles (160 km) and Governor Lyttelton was forced to ask General Jeffrey Amherst for aid. The general sent a force consisting of the 1st Royal and the 77th Highlanders under Lieutenant-Colonel Montgomery, to chastise the Cherokee. Montgomery withdrew, after the Battle of Etchoe Pass made his logistical situation impossible. This sealed the fate of Fort Loudoun. On August 8, after a lengthy siege, the garrison, including 100 soldiers of the South Carolina Independent Companies and 100 Provincials surrendered to the Cherokee. The defeated garrison marched toward Fort Prince George. In the morning of August 10, just one day's march from the fort the Cherokee attacked near Cane Creek. All of the Independent Company officers and most of the provincial officers were killed. Some 20 of the soldiers (both companies) were also killed. The rest were taken hostage by the Cherokee. The number of killed nearly approximating the number of Cherokee prisoners killed at Fort Prince George in February. Some of the prisoners were ransomed within the first few months, and others at various times over the next year. The remaining men were repatriated with the end of the Cherokee War, after Grant’s campaign forced the Cherokee to make peace.
In 1761, a few of the Independents, may have accompanied Grant’s expedition, as guides. Otherwise the South Carolina Independent Companies saw no further action for the remainder of the war.
The South Carolina Independent Companies, along with all the other Independent Companies in North America, were disbanded in 1763.
|Headgear||black tricorne laced white with a black cockade (left side)|
|Coat||madder red lined popinjay green (some evidences suggest linen lining for companies stationed in the warmer climates) with white metal buttons
|Waistcoat||madder red with small white metal buttons|
|Gaiters||brown with black horn buttons (marching) or white with black horn buttons (parade)|
Soldiers were issued muskets of various sorts. They were also issued Cartridge Boxes and Bayonets.
Officer’s uniforms were scarlet instead of madder red. They also had silver buttonhole lace. Hats had silver lace, also. Boots were most likely worn in place of gaiters.
Sergeants appear to have had scarlet coats (no lace) and waistcoats (with white lace buttonholes).
- Captain Alexander Heron (lieutenant-colonel in Oglethorpe’s Regiment from June 1743) 1748-?
- Captain Raymond Demere (captain Oglethorpe’s Regt. Jan. 1742) 1748-1761
- Captain James McKay (captain Oglethorpe’s Regt. from July 1740) 1748-1755
- Captain Paul Demere (lieutenant Oglethorpe’s Regt. from Dec. 1740) 1755-1760
- Captain Thomas Goldsmith (Oglethorpe’s Regt. From Aug. 1742) lieutenant 1748-1756; captain 1756(?)-1761(?)
- Captain Robert Rogers 1761-1762 (major Rogers' Rangers)
- Captain John Gray 1761-62, ensign 1748-1754, lieutenant 1754(?)-1761
- Lieutenant Peter Mercier 1748-1754
- Lieutenant Probart Howarth 1748 -1763(?); (lieutenant-colonel South Carolina Provincial Regt. 1757-1759), captain commandant at Fort Johnson 1761- (?)
- Lieutenant George Cadogan 1748-1756 (?)
- Lieutenant William Shrubshoal 1748(?)-1756
- Lieutenant Whiteouterbridge (?)-1763(?)
- Lieutenant Lauchlin Shaw 1756(?)-1761, ensign (?)-1756
- Lieutenant Charles Taylor (?)-1763(?)
- Lieutenant Richard Coytmore 1758-1760; ensign 1756(?)-1758
- Lieutenant Lauchlin McIntosh 1761-1763(?); ensign 1756(?)-1760
- Lieutenant James Dunnet 1761-1763
- Ensign John Bogges 1757-1760
- Ensign Alexander Miln 1758(?)-1761
- Ensign George Milligan 1760; surgeon 1755-1763
- Ensign Alexander Cameron 1761-1763
Drummer’s coats were reversed colours: popinjay green, faced in scarlet. The Coats were decorated with plain white lace.
- W.O. 34/35, f. 266 : The Memorial of George Milligen Surgeon to his Majesty’s three Independent Companies doing duty in South Carolina and Georgia, to His Excellency Sir Jeffery Amherst, Charlestown So. Carolina, 1 June, 1763
- W.O. 34/35, f. 186: William Bull to Jeffery Amherst, Charles Town, 18 December 1760
Anon, The EXPEDITION of Major General BRADDOCK TO VIRGINIA with the Two Regiments of HACKET and DUNBAR. Being EXTRACTS of LETTERS from an OFFICER in one of those Regiments to his Friend in London, describing the March and Engagement in the Woods. TOGETHER with many little INCIDENTS, GIVING A lively Idea of the Nature of the Country, Climate, and Manner in which the Officers and Soldiers lived; also the Difficulties they went through in that Wilderness.; H. Carpenter; (London,1755)
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William Jack for the initial version of this article
Kenneth P. Dunne for additional information on the origin of this unit
Daniel J. Tortora, author of Carolina in Crisis: Cherokees, Colonists, and Slaves in the American Southeast, 1756–1763, for additional information on officers of the unit