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Petition of James Williams' Little River Regiment

Manuscript, 3 September 1779, petition of the officers and men of James Williams' Little River Regiment, is a significant find that fills a gap in South Carolina political history.

The first elections held under the South Carolina Constitution of 1778 caused a political upset in the middle election district between Broad and Saluda rivers called the "Little River District." The voting population included many Crown sympathizers who were unhappy that the colonies had declared independence, and when they gathered at Hammond's Old Store, the district polling place southwest of present-day Clinton, they sent some new faces to Charleston.

Seats in the lower house formerly held by the staunch patriot Col. James Williams and his brother John went to Jacob Bowman and Henry O'Neall, who had been jailed by the patriots only three years previously for hijacking a Council of Safety powder shipment to the Cherokee Indians. In the first senatorial election ever held in the Palmetto State, James Williams stood for the district's single seat, only to be thrashed by opposition party candidate Robert Cunningham.

In fact, the thrashing extended to more than Williams's election returns. Area historian John Belton O'Neall later related an incident at a political stump meeting when Williams, preparing to speak to the voters, decided that Cunningham was crowding too closely at his elbow. "You stand too near me," he growled. "I stand very well where I am," Cunningham replied. Cunningham won the fist fight that ensued and went on to win the election.

The following year, the British invaded the South, and Williams' duties as commander of the district militia regiment took him away from the arena of politics and legislation. Still, his name appeared in the House of Representatives journal, this time as petitioner. On 3 September 1779, the house received "the Representation, Remonstrance and humble Petition of James Williams, Colonel, and the rest of the field officers, Captains and subalterns of the regiment of Militia commonly called the Little River Regiment in Ninety Six District, also of divers of the privates living within the boundaries of the regimental district whose names are thereunto subscribed, setting forth, as in the said Representation &c."

The journal gives no indication of what the petition was about. During the period leading up to the Revolution, South Carolina's house clerks had fallen into the unfortunate habit of omitting the texts of petitions. And although the South Carolina Department of Archives and History published the journal in 1970, the editors were unable to supply the missing text. Sometime in the past, the original manuscripts of legislative petitions from the Revolutionary period that should have ended up in the Archives's "Green Files" had disappeared from state custody.

One further procedural note appeared in the journal. According to the minutes of 10 September 1779, "A motion being made and seconded that Col. James Williams have leave to withdraw the Representation... presented to this House the 3d Instant and then referred to a Committee, a debate arose thereon. And the question being put, it passed in the negative. Ordered, That a Committee do report thereon at the next sitting of the House." The next session made no mention of any such committee report, and shortly thereafter, Charleston fell into British hands.

But the South Caroliniana Library has recently acquired a document that may be the missing petition. The manuscript is clearly a "representation, remonstrance, and petition" addressed to the General Assembly. It consists of two documents attached by wax seals, with text on the upper portion and signatures on the lower. The subscribers are Capt. Thomas Dugan, Lt. Levi Casey, Lt. Robert Dugan, and sixty-one rank and file.

The signatures account for only one or two companies, and they do not include Williams himself or any of his staff officers. It can reasonably be assumed that the petition originally existed in several copies, with different signatures attached to the various copies. The text discloses that even in his military role, Williams was getting some political heat from his district's Tory constituency. The document reads as follows:

To his Excellency John Rutledge, Esqr., Governor & Commander in chief in & over the State of So. Carolina; the Honourable the Senate & House of Representatives in General Assembly.

Whereas we (the zealous Friends to our Country, & to all who love & distinguish themselves in her Cause) do understand & are exceeding sorry to hear, that there are false & evilly designing Accusations either lying or about to be shortly laid against James Williams, present Colonel in & over Little River Regiment, of which we are a Part; representing him as distressing & very injurious to the Regiment, & designed (as we believe) by the private Enimies of our Country, to deprive us of so worthy a Friend to his Country in general, & good Officer to us in particular; & thereby do a very singular Piece of Service to the common Enimies of America: We do briefly & anxiously remonstrate thus; that we do experimentally know Colo. James Williams to have been a zealous Patriot from the Commencement of the american Contest with Britain; & to have always stood foremost in every Occasion when called upon to the Defence of his Country. We do further declare, that we have never known said Colo. Jas. Williams to distress any Individual in the Regiment, who voluntarily & judiciously, when legally called upon & commanded to the Field, have turned out in the Defence of their native Rights & Priviledges together with that of their Country; & we do avow it from our Knowledge, that whensoever Colo. Jas. Williams either directly or indirectly, executed any distressing Things, it was upon the stubborn & refractory, whose Practises & Obstinacy declare them innimical to their Country; & that this he did, as being the last promising Effort to reduce them to the dutiful Obedience of loyal & fellow Citizens. Without delaying you; We your humble Petitioners do earnestly beg, that you will hear this our faithful Remonstrance, & proceed with our respected Colo. Jas. Williams, & all such unjust & disaffected Clamours as may come before you against him, as your superior Judgements may direct; only beging leave to conclude with this one Remark, that doubtless you know, that such Clamours are frequently the necessary Effect of Disaffection to the Country."

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