As you may or may not have learned in your American history classes ­— or, at the very least, by watching Mel Gibson in The Patriot — South Carolina played a big role in the American Revolution. As one of the original 13 colonies, the Palmetto State had its thumb in all sorts of revolutionary matters, from signers of the Declaration of Independence to generals at the frontlines of battle.

We asked Sandy Slater, an assistant professor at the College of Charleston who has specialized in colonial history, to give us her list of the state’s top five American revolutionaries. They may not all be from Charleston, or even South Carolina, but their actions and decisions had a big impact on the Lowcountry — and the regular country too. Yes, William Moultrie is conspicuously missing, and Slater admits that may have been a controversial choice on her part. But some of these guys appeal to her because they’re a part of the grassroots militia that helped win the war.

“I think that’s really representative of the American spirit and the success of the American revolution,” she says. “These are ordinary, average people.”

Yeah, we know these guys are not without their faults. The revolutionaries on Slater’s list owned slaves, slaughtered Native Americans, and did other things that, in hindsight, weren’t very nice. But without them, we might not have an Independence Day to celebrate (or an Independence Day movie to watch).

Brig. Gen. Francis Marion

Well, this one is just obvious — as Slater points out, half the stuff in Charleston is named for this guy and for good reason. The rebel army knew it couldn’t win against the British in a full-out battle, so Marion went with guerilla tactics instead. “Francis Marion and his militia just harassed Cornwallis’ soldiers throughout North Carolina and South Carolina and really decimated their morale and their ability to mount a large-scale invasion or a battle,” Slater says. Marion was called the Swamp Fox because he would hide in the swamps of the Lowcountry. While the Brits were unaccustomed to the terrain, Marion knew how to use it to his advantage. He won because he was aggravating, keeping the British in a perpetual state of frustration, a tactic he adapted from Native Americans during the French and Indian War. He was so beloved by the troops that he got to fire the last shot at the Battle of Charleston.

Things named after him:

Francis Marion Hotel, Marion Square, Francis Marion University, the Swamp Fox Restaurant, and Marion, S.C.

Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene

Greene was another guy who had a knack for tiring out the British. He kept the opposition forces at bay, postponing a large-scale invasion for as long as possible. “The militia were not capable of winning in such a campaign, and so by retreating periodically, he would draw them further and further to an unfamiliar area where then Francis Marion could come in and harass them and kind of deplete the troops, so it was kind of a two-pronged assault,” Slater says. Since the rebels didn’t have the munitions or forces to stall the British forever, Green was basically trying to postpone the inevitable — the Holy City’s fall at the Battle of Charleston in 1780, which we’ll get to again later.

Things named after him:

Greenville, S.C. and a bunch of other Greenvilles across the country.

Edward Rutledge

Like so many other members of the plantation gentry of the 18th century, Rutledge served as a voice for the booming slave economy at the Continental Congress. He became famous for stalling the Declaration of Independence, a move later overly dramatized in the musical 1776, but he eventually became the youngest signer of the document. “He actually had orders from the Southern legislature to not vote for independence, because there was a general sense among South Carolina gentry that if they did declare independence, that it was too hasty, that they would lose their economic ties to Britain, and that they would lose their slave economy,” Slater says. The debate went back and forth between the Northern and Southern patriots, until eventually they settled on the Three-Fifths Compromise for slave representation. Rutledge was also active in confiscating Loyalist land abandoned during the war in an effort to expand the planter-based economy.

Things named after him:

U.S.S. Edward Rutledge and a little street called Rutledge Avenue.

Charles Pinckney

This landed-gentry type actually made a name for himself after the war. At the Constitutional Convention, he brought his Pinckney Plan to the table, which dealt with proportional representation. Depending on whom you ask, the plan became the basis for the legislative branch of government, with a House of Representatives and Senate that represented the people of America — unless you credit James Madison’s Virginia Plan instead, of course. “They really looked to the Pinckney Plan for the foundations of American government,” Slater says. But it was also a contentious proposal, because it reflected the mindset of the Southern plantation gentry, who feared the North would eventually try to abolish slavery or impose an increasingly restrictive mentality on Southern planters.

Things named after him:

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln

Of all the men on this list, Lincoln is perhaps Slater’s favorite. He wasn’t a part of the gentry class like the rest of South Carolina’s patriots. For one, Lincoln wasn’t from South Carolina, but from Massachusetts, and he came from a farming family, so he wasn’t as well educated as his counterparts on this list. Lincoln was sent to Charleston in 1778 because of his success in military campaigns in the North. He’s most known for, well, surrendering at the Siege of Charleston in 1780. But to be fair, he did forestall the loss for a really long time. “Considering the lack of sources and military resources that Charleston had in 1789, the fact that he was able to hold off the British forces for three months was really impressive,” Slater says. He would eventually become second in command to George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown, the war’s final bout, but his co-workers couldn’t get over their grudge. Because Lincoln lost Charleston, he wasn’t allowed to accept Cornwallis’ surrender. Still, as a consolation prize, he got to be the first U.S. secretary of war. Slater would like to rehab Lincoln’s image. “I have a soft spot for Gen. Lincoln,” she says. “I feel bad for him, I really do.”

Things named after him:

Lincoln Street in Columbia and most towns with a “Lincoln” prefix in the South.

Keep the City Paper free

We don't have a paywall. Each week's printed issue is free. We're local, independent and free. Let's keep it this way.

Please consider a donation of $100 to keep the City Paper free. Donate: