Jacob Brawler And His 22 Sons
My Dad submitted this paper to his advisors at Drew University in New Jersey, in partial fulfillment of requirements for his Master's Thesis in Theology. He received his doctorate in history from the same institution in 2008. In preparation for this paper he traveled to South Carolina on several occasions, reviewed Revolutionary War records at Columbia as well as the major historical texts, newspapers, and other documents dealing with the Revolutionary War period and made several trips to the Pee Dee region.
Although he left us in 2017, I know that he would be thrilled if someone else was to pick up the research on this amazing tale.
By Dr. John J. McLaughlin
On a beautiful clear Saturday spring morning in March, 1998, I visited the Military Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina. During the Civil War, the town of Florence developed into a shipping center and a point of embarkation for troops.
A prison pen, south of the town, held more the 8,000 captured Union soldiers. Most of them succumbed to typhoid fever and were buried in what is now a national military cemetery on National Cemetery Road. The prison pen no longer exists, but the graves of the Union soldiers are well marked, well maintained, and an appropriate inscription exists to commemorate the sad event. Having just concluded a course on the Civil War, I was interested in visiting the site.
As I was leaving the cemetery, almost by accident, my eyes were drawn to a small, gray, granite marker at the foot of a larger Civil War monument. I gazed at the small marker and could hardly believe the inscription:
Since it was Saturday, the Cemetery Superintendents office was closed and my curiosity would have to wait. I had no camera with me at the time, so I copied the inscription and decided to research the matter at some future time.
When I returned home, I consulted my Revolutionary War texts in an effort to learn about Jacob Brawler. None of the name texts made any mention of Mr. Brawler. Gordon Wood, Bernard Baily, Gary B. Nash, Edmund S Morgan, and other well-known Revolutionary War historians made no mention of him. The Encyclopedia Britannica was likewise no help. I looked in the local library at every text available on South Carolina in the Revolution and was unable to find a single reference. Efforts to obtain information through the Internet were likewise unsuccessful. I began to telephone historians, historical societies, newspaper, and other sources in South Carolina. I met with limited success. Not only did the contacts know little or nothing about the Brawlers, no one knew how or when the marker was installed in the cemetery.
My curiosity deepened, and I determined to continue digging. I wanted answers to two questions: first, when was the grave marker installed and under what circumstances, and second, who were the Brawlers? Was their story myth or reality, and why were they unknown in history?
I was able to resolve the first question with certitude; the second and most important question about the myth or reality of the story is partially resolved, at least to my satisfaction. However, there is probably some more research that is necessary before all possible leads are exhausted.
My efforts continued over a period of sixteen months and finally led to another trip to South Carolina in July, 1999 to again visit the cemetery as well as other sources that seemed to be promising.
The motivation for the inquiry was the central question of how could it be that a man and his 22 sons could give their lives and so little is know about them? I thought of the five Sullivan boys, who lost their lives when the Cruiser JUNEAU sunk in the battle of Salvo Strait, off Guadalcanal, in World War II.2
President Lincoln composed one of the most famous letters in American history, when he
wrote the beautiful and poignant letter to Mrs. Bixby who lost five sons fighting for the Union.3
The recent motion picture, Saving Private Ryan, has as its central theme the extreme lengths our American forces will in order to save a surviving son, after others are killed in battle.4
Our country has a long and honored tradition of honoring its war heroes. Surely, the Brawlers deserved more than a small granite marker and virtual invisibility in our history books! I resolved to find out as much as I could about them. My search would involve examination of dozens of history texts, colonial records and newspapers, countless telephone calls, emails, and letters and ultimately take me back again to South Carolina in July, 1999 where I examined records in Camden, Florence, Marion, and Columbia. I looked at many historical texts and microfilm of Revolutionary date newspapers,5 and finally the Revolutionary War military records in Columbia.
Before I left for South Carolina, I tried to determine the facts surrounding the placement of the granite marker. I thought the first place to start was the cemetery itself. After several attempts, I was finally able to reach the Superintendent of the cemetery, Ken Lefuor, who told me that to the best of his recollection, the stone marker was placed there several years ago, but he was unsuccessful in locating any paperwork documenting the event. He advised me that no markers of any kind are allowed to be placed on the grounds without written authorization of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Director of Memorial Programs in Washing, DC.
I spoke in person to the Director, Larry De Meo, and he advised me that he had a faint recollection of the event, but would have to do some research and get back to me. Several days later he called and said that a thorough search of his files revealed no information but that authorization from his department would have been required to install the grave marker. All of the historians contacted expressed surprise at hearing of the marker, but none had any information about its placement. This mystery was resolved when I returned to the cemetery and met Ken Lefuor in person in July.
My earlier inquiries to him had prompted him to search his records, and he handed me a newspaper clipping from a local paper that ran a story about the Brawlers several years ago. It seems that a Mrs. Louise Tindal, then in her 80s, and a resident in a nearby county, was doing research on her own family and stumbled on the Brawler story. She was touched, no doubt as I was, that nothing had been done to recognize the huge sacrifice made by him and his family. She wanted to commemorate the Brawler family with a marker in the Square in Marion by the County Court house, but was informed by the Veterans Administration that an official memorial must be located at a cemetery. With the help of Sen. Strom Thurmond, the Tindals got approval to place the marker at the national cemetery. Mrs. Tindal was quoted in the news article as saying, Someone who gave what this man gave should really be given a place in history. One mystery solved. The second was to prove more difficult.
Telephone calls to the Florence Chamber of Commerce resulted in my locating Horace F. Rudisill, Director/Historian of the Darlington County Historical Commission. This was a productive contact, and Mr. Rudisill supplied me with three newspaper articles about Jacob Brawler. The first was from the Columbia, SC Sunday Morning Paper, dated November 19, 1905, and the others, each from local papers, one in 1940, and the last in 1959, the last two being essentially a repeat of the 1905 article without any new information. The 1905 article was a written version of an address given by the Rev. R.E. Stackhouse to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The subject of the Rev. Stackhouses talk was Marion County in the Revolution. Marion County, as well as South Carolina, has a proud record of participation in the Revolution and a long list of heroes, including, but certainly not limited to, the famous Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, about whom more will be said later. The talk was about Marion County in general during the Revolution, but at the very end of the address he directed his remarks to Jacob Brawler, and I repeat them here at length:
"The limits of this paper will not admit of reference to the individual citizens of Marion who deserve honorable mention for the part they took in that glorious struggle for independence, but exception must be made in the case of Jacob Brawler, who gave his own and the lives of 22 of this sons to the cause of liberty in Carolina.
Some time previous to the Revolution, Brawler removed from Tar River, North Carolina, to Liberty Precinct, and settled on Catfish, about 16 miles below the town of Marion. He was twice married and was the father of 23 sons and one daughter.
After the fall of Charleston, some of his sons were drafted for service, but the old man said there ought to be no division among them, that if one went, all should go, and he would go with them.
Twenty-three sons and the father, 24 in all, embarked in the strife, and almost incredible to relate, but one of the sons returned to tell the story of the slaughter. The almost frantic wife and mother went off, hardly knowing wither, in search of her loved ones, and after the fruitless search returned a broken hearted mourner. It is said that the parish assumed her support and she lived to quite an old age.
The one surviving son, weak in both mind and body, died in a few years, and the name became extinct in Marion County, but no name deserves a higher place in annals of Pee Dee, if in the story of the Revolution throughout the 13 colonies."
Rev. Stackhouse credits the Right. Rev. Bishop Alexander Gregg, D.D., as the source of his information. Bishop Gregg was the first historian to mention the Brawlers in his book, History of the Old Cheraws, written in 1867. The authority for Bishop Greggs account appears in a footnote on page 404 and is repeated herein in detail:
This account, which may appear almost incredible, was related to the Author by the late Hugh Godbold, of Marion, and confirmed in every particular, by William Shaw, a humble but worthy and respectable man, who was of age at the time, lived in the same neighborhood, and knew the family of Brawler well. Mr. Shaw was born in March 1759 and in the spring of 1859, when the Author spent a night with him at the house of Mr. Godbold, was possessed of astonishing vigor of body and mind for one of his years. Neither his sight nor hearing was very seriously impaired. He sat up to a late hour, listening with unabated interest to a conversation about the early days of the Pedee, taking part himself, and was as cheerful as a man in his prime. He said a red oak was then living which stood in Brawlers yard.6
Brawler was poor, but ingenious. He adopted the following method of catching bears: Driving sharp nails, pointing downward, in a bee-gum, he baited it at the bottom, having secured it well. The bear, putting his head down, would be caught beyond the possibility of extrication. William Shaw had passed his hundredth year when the Author saw him for the first and last time; and, considering his activity, was one of the most remarkable cases of longevity on record.
The skeptical will immediately move to discredit Shaws account since he was 100 years of age when he related it to Bishop Gregg, but there are two very important arguments. First, the story was originally told by Godbold, and then confirmed by Shaw: thus, there are two sources. Further, since the account of Bishop Gregg is critical to the very authenticity of the story, I asked every historian I encountered in South Carolina, about the reputation of Gregg for accuracy, and I never heard a word of criticism about him. Finally, additional circumstantial evidence was developed which supports the story.
Mrs. Gwen Hendrix, the Marion County Historian, examined cemetery lists, census reports, deed abstracts, wills, and pension abstracts and provided me with a written report. These searches proved negative, but she did come up with an important discovery. In Early Pee Dee Settlers by John M. Gregg, the author states that Jacob Brawler was in the Pee Dee region in 1776 in Catfish Creek.7
This is important because it places Brawler in a position to have served in the militia during the Revolution. Wills and estate records of the state of North Carolina list a Jacob Brawler as a debtor to the estate of Thomas Pearson.8
The Pearson estate was probated in 1749. The amount of the debt is not listed, but could Brawler have skipped to South Carolina to avoid debt? It would not be the first time someone left the state to give his creditors the slip. The date would put Brawler in South Carolina sometime after 1749, and this ties in with other evidence. Since Bishop Gregg in his account stated that the survivors the wife, one son and a daughter became wards of the local Parish, this might have been a fruitful search, but I was informed by local historians that, thanks to our General Sherman, most of the records in the area were destroyed.
Marriage and death records for rural area were rarely maintained. In his Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution, Bobby Gilmer Moss makes the following entry on page 96: Brawler, Jacob and his twenty-three sons served in Marions brigade while living in what is now Marion County. Brawler and twenty-two of his sons were killed or died in service and the remaining one came out of the war a crippled from exposure and hardships.
Yearbook, 1893; Gregg, pp. 403, 404
Bobby Gilmer Moss is a retired history professor from Limestone College, and I was able to communicate with him by telephone. He told me that the source of his information about the Brawlers was solely Gregg, but that Gregg enjoyed an excellent reputation for accuracy.
In the Camden archives, I came across Colonial Solders of the South 1732-1744 and found Jacob Brawler mentioned three times.9 He is listed as a private in the South Carolina Militia in the Muster Rolls of Colonel Gabriel Powells Battalion of South Carolina Militia in the 1759 Cherokee Expedition. According to this source, he served ninety-seven days under the command of His Excellency William Henry Littleton, Esq., Governor and Captain-General of the Expedition.
Against this positive evidence we have several sources where I would have liked to have found the Brawler name but unfortunately did not. The evidence in favor of the Brawlers service indicates that they served with Francis Marions militia after the fall of Charleston in May of 1780. They were from the Pee Dee region, Brawler definitely had military service in 1759 according to Clark, and we have the reliable Bishop Gregg validating the service with support by later historians.
Again, in Marions Men, William Bodie does not list the Brawlers.10 Another two books that purport to contain lists of those who served with Marion also did not contain the Brawlers names.11 McCradys authoritative two-volume history of South Carolina in the Revolution did not mention the Brawler name.12 The University of South Carolina, at Columbia, devotes an entire building, the South Caroliniana Library, to South Carolina history and has many volumes devoted to the Revolutionary War. These were examined, and except to the extent mentioned herein, contained no additional information.
The military records are kept at the archives just a few miles outside of Columbia and I thoroughly searched there with the help of their able and willing staff. Survivors were entitled to pensions, and all records of pension applications are kept there; however, there were no applications by the Brawlers, and no record of any payments of sums of money to them from records called Auditors General Index and Audited Accounts. Many of the historical volumes I examined in other locations were duplicated in the archives, and there were a few new ones, which also did not yield any important information. I suspect that there might be some additional searching that could be done, since a project of this type may never be completed, but, on balance, the evidence supports the existence of the Brawlers, and their service in the South Carolina Militia after the fall of Charleston, sometime from March of 1780 to the evacuation of Charleston by the British in December 1782.
There is additional important information that must be considered. It is a known fact that the militia equipped themselves by capture from the enemy, supported and sustained themselves from their plantations, and were neither paid nor promised payment by the State authority.
Neither Marion, nor any other of the Rebel commanders kept rolls or records of their men. Some came and went, almost at will, depending on the season, harvesting time, family problems, etc.
Then, it is commonly known that many of the men died from exposure and disease. These men were fighters not record keepers, and even those who compiled the lists admitted that they were not necessarily 100% accurate.
Contrast the anonymity of the Brawlers with the enormous hero status of their commanding General, Francis Marion, the famous Swamp Fox, known to every schoolboy! Some twenty-nine towns and seventeen counties throughout the land have been named for him. A local college in Marion bears his name. It is impossible to drive through the state of South Carolina without constantly seeing his name on storefronts, signs, street markers, etc. On the other hand, the Brawlers are commemorated with a tiny granite marker in an out of the way military cemetery in Florence.
Legends have been built on Marions life. He is truly an American Cincinnatus. Beginning early in the nineteenth century, Peter Horry, who served with him, produced a manuscript on Marion which on December 19, 1803 he presented to the Georgetown, South Carolina Literary Society.
Later, somewhere along the way, during the next three years, he met Mason Locke Parson Weems, an ordained Anglican minister who was then a traveling book salesman. Weems
had already written the highly successful Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington, published anonymously about 1800, which was to run through seventy editions. In the fifth edition he had added, for extra spice, the famous cherry tree story known to every child. At the time he met Horry he was casting about for another romantic figure on whom to focus his vivid imagination. Marion seemed to fit his needs, and Horry allowed Weems to rewrite the manuscript.
The result was a romantic Marion, clad in shining armor, smiting the Philistines both to the right and the left. When Horry saw what Weems had done he wryly commented, Most certainly, tis not my history but your romance,13 and thus the Marion legend was created.
It is a real pity that Weems did not hear of the Brawlers. Surely he would have loved to work that story over, and we would not now be so much in the dark about the true history of the family. Also, it is a certainty that Marion would have survived in history as a legitimate hero of the Revolutionary War, with or without the embellishment of Weems.
The glorious pantheon of Revolutionary heroes of the Revolutionary War should open its doors, and after a lapse of some two hundred and twenty years, welcome the Brawler family.
2. When President Roosevelt heard of the JUNEAU disaster and the fate of the Sullivans, he was profoundly moved. He wrote a personal letter to the parents. Later he directed the Secretary of the Navy that the next ship to be commissioned be named after the five Sullivan brothers, USS THE SULLIVANS.
3. It was later revealed that only two of Mrs. Bixbys five sons lost their lives in battle. Further, some historians believe that John Hay actually composed the letter. Regardless, it is a beautiful letter.
4. In the motion picture, General Marshall reads the Bixby letter to his subordinates as justification for the risky venture.
5. This is exceedingly difficult and time consuming, and although I confined my search to the most likely time period, namely January 1780 to December 1782, I was not able to complete this effort.
6. It was my intention to go to the area near Marion and see if I could locate that oak tree or any other evidence, but unfortunately, South Carolina after a very long dry spell, experienced four days of torrential rain and the area was flooded.
7. Early Pee Dee Settlers, by John M. Gregg, Heritage Books, 1993. In a note on page 403, the author states He and his 22 sons died in the Revolution.
8. Early Records of North Carolina, Vol. III, Loose Papers and Related Materials 1712-1798, abstracted by Dr. Stephen E. Bradley, Jr. (1993)
9. Colonial Solders of the South by Murtie June Clark, Genealogical Publishing Cp. Inc., Baltimore (1983), pp. 895, 920 and 926.
10. Marions Men by William Willis Boddie, Heisser Printing Co. (1938).
11. A Sketch of the Life of Brig. General Francis Marion and A History of His Brigade (supposed to have a list of those who served with Marion) by William Dobein James, AM., 1821; Roster of Patriots Serving With Francis Marion, by John M. Gregg, 1955.
12. The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, Russell and Russell, New York, 1902.
13. Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox, by Hugh F. Rankin, Thomas Y Crowell Company, New York, (1973), Preface, p. x.
John J. McLaughlin
Pardon the Interruption!
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