University of South Carolina

Francis Marion
Francis Marion image, far right, courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library.

Archaeologist's research could boost SC's heritage tourism


Smith has been pursuing Marion's legacy ever since 1993 when he began to receive grant and contract funding from organizations like the Sonoco Products Co., the Lowcountry Council of Governments, and most recently, the trail commission, to confirm the authenticity of sites associated with the Swamp Fox.

Marion is "widely acknowledged as America's most successful partisan fighter."

Over time, the research enabled Smith to enter the Ph.D. program in anthropology at Carolina and begin work on his dissertation that focuses on the partisan community around Snow's Island, S.C., during the Revolution.

The area provided a base of operations, secure campsites, supplies, and men who helped Marion, who is "widely acknowledged as America's most successful partisan fighter," Smith said.

Smith's dissertation examines the Snow's Island community, including analysis of historic documents, landscape, and archaeology. It will also review the national memory of Marion from the early 19th century to the present.

In addition to Snow's Island, Smith's dissertation will examine another Marion site known as Dunham's Bluff, as well as Wadboo Plantation in the Moncks Corner area.

All told, he has examined 15 sites since the start of his research on Marion, five of which have turned up material evidence of a campground or battlefield where the Swamp Fox lived or fought, and which hold promise that they could be incorporated into some type of an interpretive center, trail, or program.

"Step one is to find the sites. Step two is to develop the infrastructure for interpreting those sites. And step three is the acquisition of the sites in order to preserve them," said Smith.

A long-range plan by the Francis Marion Trail Commission, he added, calls for facilities that would attract visitors at places like Francis Marion University, Moncks Corner, and Georgetown.

In addition to confirming the location of places frequented by Marion, as a result of his research, Smith has also begun to rethink how Marion fought the British. Increasingly, he said, archeologists and artifact hunters working with him are finding fewer musket balls than expected and instead are turning up smaller caliber lead shot in battlefields.

That indicates to Smith that Marion's forces relied more on smooth bore trade guns and rifles, and often fired birdshot, evidence of yet another classic guerilla tactic for which Marion was well known.

The smaller weapons were still quite effective as "you didn't have to kill the enemy, you could just disperse him or put him out of commission," Smith said.

"I'm kind of an old-fashioned historian in the sense that I still like facts," Smith said. "I like to try to verify the past as much as I can using the evidence of archaeology, so my main interest in Marion is to combine primary source material and archaeology to wrest from the mythology who the real Francis Marion was.

"I like to understand history in terms of the way people understood themselves rather than the way we want to look at them. That is my thing and Francis Marion is sort of my cause célèbre for that."

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Posted: 07/07/10 @ 2:00 PM | Updated: 07/15/10 @ 3:02 PM | Permalink



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