By Sarah Christine Walters
Rebecca Brewton Motte was an ardent Patriot. Rebecca Brewton Motte, the daughter of merchante Robert Brewton, lived in Charleston, South Carolina when the Revolutionary War broke out in America. During the British occupation of Charleston, General McPherson took
residence in The Brewton House, where Rebecca and her family lived. Her husband Jacobm also a merchant, was very ill, and she cared for him upstairs as she also was expected to be hospitable to the British officers downstairs. She had sent all her slaves, furnished at her expense, to defend Charleston , and she had no son to serve the Patriots. Her daughters she kept carefully away from the British. Her husband died and she was granted leave to go with her daughters to “Buckhead” her plantation home that sat atop a hill in Calhoun County.
After the Patriots took Camden in 1781, the British commanders moved inland, though, and Mrs. Motte had only been at her home a couple months when a knock came at the door — Captain McPherson again! The British dug a huge trench around the property, cut her beautiful trees to construct a barricade around the property, and exiled Mrs. Motte and her children to a crude farmhouse about a mile away. Francis Marion and General Lee were told to take “Fort Motte.” Marion visited Mrs. Motte and explained that the British needed to be expelled; but the only way to do so would be to burn the house, something he dreaded doing to the lady whose husband had already died and who had already sent all her slaves, equipped at her expense, to help defend Charles Town. Rebecca Motte not only said she would be “gratified” for her house to be burned for such a reason, but she offered the bow and arrows for the job! The story goes that her brother, Miles Brrewton, had received this beautiful bow and arrows as a gift from a friend who had spent some time in the East Indies, where it was made. Marion’s troops set fire to the roof of the house, which forced the British troops out and into the waiting “arms” of the Patriot forces, who defeated them.
The Americans were able to put out the fire before it destroyed the entire house, and that evening Mrs. Motte served dinner to both the Patriots and their British officer captives! She had often discussed the issue of American freedom to McPherson as he dined in her home in Charleston, and she didn’t hesitate upon his defeat at Ft Motte to thank him for doing his part for the American cause! She had spunk, determination, and grace. She never remarried, but worked to restore her family’s lost wealth, and left her children an estate when she died in 1815.
(The sketch is from South Carolina, A History, p243, caption: Rebecca Motte and Francis Marion, May 1781. Cecil Hartley, The Life of Francis Marion (1866). Courtesy, South Caroliniana Library, USC, Columbia.)
Sarah Christine Walters, of Greenville, South Carolina, is a fifteen-year-old sophomore in high school. She currently serves as President of the South Carolina Society, Children of the American Revolution. She is also a cheerleader and a member of her Student Council. She would like to be a broadcast journalist one day specializing in history and politics. Women from history, especially those who rose to fame from ordinary lives, have been an inspiration to her.