Johnsonville...A Place Rich in History
A couple of great online sources of local history are the Johnsonville SC History webpage and the Johnsonville South Carolina History page on Facebook. Both offer an abundance of photos and facts from "back in the day.” Visitors are welcome to add their own photographs and memories as Johnsonville continues to make history.
In 1780, General Francis Marion accepted his command as a Revolutionary War officer at Witherspoon’s Ferry—the Lynches River crossing just north of current-day Johnsonville. According to the Historical Marker Database website, “After the raid on Snow’s Island, [British Colonel] Doyle retraced his steps six or seven miles to Witherspoon’s Ferry where he camped on the north bank of Lynches River. When [American partisan Francis] Marion returned he camped at Indiantown, at which time his force had dropped down to about 70 men. Even so, on April 3, Brig. Gen. Francis Marion ordered Lt. Col. Hugh Horry to take his mounted infantry to travel to Whig’s Plantation. At the plantation, Col. William E. Doyle had some foragers there collecting food for the troops. When Horry arrived at the plantation, they engaged the British, killing 9 men and capturing 16 men. The Patriots pursued the fleeing British to Witherspoon’s ferry. There, they caught the British rear guard scuttling the ferryboat. The Patriots fired on the Loyalists. Doyle quickly formed his men along the bank of the Lynches River and delivered a volley of musket fire on the Patriots. After this firing, the British gathered up their belongings and headed towards the Pee Dee River. Doyle is said to have lost 9 killed or wounded, and 15 or 16 taken prisoner in the encounter. Either just before or after this event, Marion was joined by a reinforcement under Col. Able Kolb to assist against Doyle The latter, however, made haste to withdraw, destroyed his heavy baggage, and retired to Camden.”
Other historical documentation shows that, on March 29, 1781 at Snow’s Island (on Lynches and Pee Dee Rivers near Witherspoon’s Ferry) while Marion had been dealing with other battle-spawned troubles, Col. Doyle with the New York Volunteers had been sent from Camden, SC, as the second prong of the plan to catch Marion. The date Doyle set out is not clear, but sometime near the end of the month, he attacked Marion's base at Snow's Island. Doyle managed to capture the island but the island’s defenders, commanded by Col. Hugh Ervin, destroyed all the carefully hoarded supplies and ammunition before they abandoned their positions. It is reported that, of this force, seven were killed and 15 were captured, most too ill to flee, while the remainder escaped. Doyle liberated some prisoners including Cornet Merrit of the Queen's Rangers and 25 other men, while suffering two wounded. Ervin’s men did, however, have enough advance notice to be able to throw supplies and ammunition in the river. It was concluded that this posed a victory for the British, but, eventually, they were defeated in the fight for America’s freedom.
At that time the Williamsburg Militia was the only organized American military force in South Carolina, and that group is generally credited with preventing the British from controlling the state. Historians agree that the events at Witherspoon’s Ferry initiated the beginning of Francis Marion’s career as a partisan fighter. This is also a Revolutionary War battle site, as Marion battled British troops at Witherspoon’s Ferry and on Snow’s Island in the spring of 1781.
Marion became known as the “Swamp Fox” for his ability to use guerilla tactics to disrupt enemy communications, capture supplies, and free prisoners. From 1780-1781, Marion and his troops regularly moved between Witherspoon’s Ferry, Port’s Ferry, and Snow’s Island, now believed to be the brigade’s command post. All of these sites are in the vicinity of Johnsonville. He was crafty enough to evade British capture in the swamps thanks to the local citizen militia who has spent their lives traveling the waters, banks, and woods of the area as hunters and trappers.
In 2005, commemorating the 225th anniversary of Marion’s command acceptance, the Francis Marion Trail Commission was formed in South Carolina to advance scholarship and promote public awareness of Marion’s life. The Commission conducted archaeological investigations of suggested historical sites and has plans to coordinate efforts at significant sites along the trail to draw tourism to more areas of the state and to promote the history of the area.
The Francis Marion Trail consists of 41 significant sites. Venter’s Landing was chosen as one of the 15 most significant, as was Snow’s Island near the landing on the Lynches and Pee Dee Rivers. Both areas are scheduled for further archeological and historical research by the University of South Carolina.
The Department of Natural Resource has also named the Lower Lynches River as a “Scenic River.” The Pee Dee Land Trust has also secured land protection agreements on a four-mile section of the river just above the City of Johnsonville, which ensures a scenic view of the river for many years to come. The City is involved in establishing a historical park to commemorate the rich history of the area and has already raised over $100,000 to erect a statue of General Marion on the site where he received his commission. The overall project will improve facilities, offer better river access, and provide protection of scenic, natural, and historical resources for promoting nature- and history-based tourism.