"The Back-Country Commission of Drayton, Tennent, and Hart," (1974)
by Loulie Latimer Owens
This essay discusses the uncertain political situation in South Carolina on the eve of the American Revolution, and efforts by the Colonial government in Charleston to garner support on the frontier for the Patriot effort. Presented as a companion to the William Tennent Journal, this draft of an article was published in 1976.
In late July 1775 the South Carolina Council of Safety elected William Henry Drayton (1742-1779), Oliver Hart (1723-1795), and William Tennent (1740-1777) to tour the meeting houses and rural settlements, to persuade the indifferent or undecided, and hopefully, to convert those hostile to the idea of independence to support the rebellion.
Unlike the low country parishes, where many attended services of the established Church of England, a majority of back-country residents identified as “dissenters” (i.e. Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Congregationalists, and Lutherans). To build trust with this population, the Council tapped the persuasive preaching talents of two ministers serving dissenting congregations in Charleston: Hart, a Baptist, and Tennent, a Presbyterian.
Often traveling separately, occasionally appearing together, the representatives hoped to diminish Loyalist sentiment by discussing the rising tensions between Great Britain and the American Colonies. Drayton, Tennent, and Hart faced a genuine threat of violent confrontation with local militia suspicious of government representatives from Charleston. Tennent described a tense meeting on 17 Aug. 1775, with Col. Thomas Fletchall (1725-1789), and three other leaders of the “Tory” Loyalists at Fairforest in northwestern Union County, S.C. (see Owens, pp. 9-13)
In researching this article, Owens, comparing agreement and contradictions among the accounts of this journey left by Drayton, Tennent, and Hart (see below). Unlike the immediacy of journal entries recorded by his two colleagues, Drayton wrote a more general overview of the evolving political and military situation that “summarized and commented on the progress” (p. 4). Hart wrote terse but daily entries. Tennent wrote in greater detail, but at times summarized events of several days: “Because Hart wrote daily and made it so plain how he crossed this creek or stopped at that house, his account is more reliable when it conflicts with Tennent’s.” (p. 5)
This essay, completed Nov. 1974, was published Jan. 1976 issue of the Sandlapper magazine (pp. 16-22). The published version lacks citations, unlike the digitized typescript presented here, which includes both footnotes and a bibliography. This volume is one of several research papers preserved among the Loulie Latimer Owens Papers and includes maps tracing the routes followed by the Drayton, Tennent, and Hart.
ACCORDING TO DRAYTON AND HART
A published version of William Henry Drayton’s record of events appeared in 1821, under the title Memoirs of the American Revolution as relating to the state of South Carolina.
Hart wrote portions of his diary in code, cautious lest the information endanger friends and family if it fell into the hands of British authorities. A transcribed, decoded and published version of Oliver Hart’s dairy appeared in the premiere issue of Journal of the South Carolina Baptist Historical Society (Nov. 1975, pp. 18-30). Edited by J. Glenwood Clayton and L.L. Owens, the article includes extensive footnotes identifying persons and locations mentioned in Tennent’s travel journal.
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