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Monday, April 18, 2016

Battle of Gowen's Fort Near Today's Gowensville, SC

Upstate SC


Patriots, Whigs, Colonists - those Americans who rebelled against England and King George and fought for the Patriot cause, the formation of the United States of America.

Loyalists, Tories, Royalists - those colonists (British Americans) who stayed loyal to England and King George. They formed Loyalist militias to fight for King George. They often had regular British commanders because they were elite, trained military. They fought alongside the British regulars.

British, Redcoats - Soldiers in the regular British military under King George. They were British citizens who made a career in the British military.


GOWEN RESEARCH FOUNDATION ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER Volume 1, No. 2 February 12, 1998:
Gowensville, a 200-year-old community in the apex of the state in Spartanburg County (but very close to the border of Greenville County), was named for Capt. [later Major] John "Buck" Gowen. The community had to fight on two fronts during the Revolutionary War. Militia companies were raised in the northwestern corner of South Carolina--to face the Cherokees on the northwest and the British on the southeast. Captain Gowen, in charge of Gowen's Fort near the north end of the Indian line, commanded a militia company. The fort was located near the captain's home on the South Pacolet River, a short distance from Gowensville.


The war came to the Gowensville area from the northwest in 1776 with Cherokee and Tory attacks. During the war Gowen's Fort changed hands five times during the war. The Tories were led by William "Bloody Bill" Bates and "Bloody Bill" Cunningham. These two men brought destruction across the area. "Bloody Bill" Bates led a force of Loyalist militia and Indians (who sided with the British). Bates was the son of a Scotch Irishman, John Bates of York County, VA who in 1715 married Sussanah Fleming, a Powhattan Indian. His Indian name is believed to have been White Owl. William Bates is listed as a licensed Indian Trader and Translator from South Carolina between 1750 - 1754. Circa 1750 Bates married a Cherokee Indian woman, was adopted into the tribe and lived in the Cherokee up country of South Carolina (Present day Oconee, Pickens, Greenville, Spartanburg, Cherokee and York counties). He led a Loyalist militia and Chickamauga Indians, led by Dragging Canoe. They operated out of the vicinity of Glassy Mountain and Hogback Mountain, in the extreme western parts of SC. Whenever they were victorious, the result was a massacre. No quarter was given to men, women or children who surrendered to them. All were killed and scalped.

In 1780, war was rampant in the Upstate between Patriots and Loyalists. These are the battles that were right here in our area in the summer of 1780!
The Battle of Cedar Spring's  July 13, 1780
The Battle of Gowensville, SC July 13-14, 1780
The Battle of McDowell's Camp  July 16, 1780
The Battle of Thickety Fork   July 30, 1789
The Battle of Old Iron Works (aka 2nd Cedar Spring's)   Aug 8, 1780

While the colonists were holding out in the west against the Tories and the Cherokee Indians in 1780, the British advanced from the southeast. They defeated the forces of Gen. Tuck on July 12, obliterated the troops of Col. John Thomas, Jr. on July 13 and captured Gowen's Fort. But they weren't able to rest on their laurels for long because the next day Col. Jones took the fort back and Capt. Gowen, whose company was part of the forces of Col. Jones, took command of Gowen's Fort.

June 3, 1781 a band of Indians under the leadership of "Bloody Bill Bates" made a raid on the Motlow Creek community. Motlow Creek was named after John Motlow and his wife, Tabitha. In late 1766 or early 67, John and his family moved from Halifax County to what is now Spartanburg County, SC on a strip of land. At this time this strip was claimed by NC and SC.
Motlow Creek flows southeast past Campobello until it meets with the S. Pacolet River.




In the attack, most of the Motlow/Matlow/Motley family were killed along with other families in the area. John Motlow Sr's son, John Jr., and daughter, Susanna (and her family), who were living apart from the others, and the wife and child of his son, William, were the only survivors. John’s (Jr.?) wife, Elizabeth, was wounded and died four days later. One of the survivors, John Motlow Jr, may have figured in Bate's death later.



First Baptist Gowensville, 5650 South Carolina Hwy 14, Greenville County, Landrum, SC (you can see why this area is the beginning of the SC foothill section leading to the Blue Ridge Mountains)


Gowensville, SC north of Spartanburg and Greenville, SC

Gowensville, SC just west of Campobello and Landrum, SC (both in Spartanburg County, SC)


The Battle of Cowpens Jan 16, 1781 was a turning point in the Revolutionary War in the South. But The British weren't through with Gowensville.

Here are some of the battles in our area in November, 1781.
11/1781 Mill's Station NC
11/1781 Tyger River SC
11/1781 Moore's Plantation, SC - Walnut Grove Plantation in Roebuck, Spartanburg County, SC. Owned by Charles and Mary Moore, and home for their 10 children including their eldest daughter, Margaret Catherine "Kate" Moore Barry, who married Andrew Barry. Kate's husband, Andrew Barry, became a captain and commanding officer in the war, and she proudly helped him acting as a spy, messenger and even fought in some battles with him. She was a scout for General Daniel Morgan before the Battle of Cowpens. She also aided General Morgan in setting a trap to ambush the British which forced British troops to retreat from South Carolina into Virginia. On one occasion it seems that she received knowledge of Tory raiders on the way. Her toddler was too young to leave alone so it is said that she tied the child to the bedpost and rode Indian trails to warn her neighbors. Another time, Captain Steadman, engaged to another Moore daughter, and two other Patriot soldiers were recovering in beds at the Walnut Grove Plantation when Bloody Bill Cunningham approached. He surprised them and killed Steadman in the house and shot the other two in the back as they attempted to escape just a few hundred yards from the house. The Moore parents, Andrew and Kate Moore Barry and the 3 Patriot soldiers are buried in the cemetery on the grounds.

11/1781 Mount Willing, SC
11/1781 Fair Forest Spring, SC
11/1781 Duncan's Creek, SC
11/1781 Lawson's Fork, SC
11/19/1781 Haye's Station, SC

In November, while part of the militia under Capt. Gowen was away on orders, "Bloody Bill" Bates struck again. The Tories and Indians under Bates attacked and captured Gowen's Fort. Whites at the fort who were seized as prisoners are said to have given him the epitaph "Bloody Bill" because of his use of "Indian techniques of captivity and torture." Those who weren’t slaughtered and scalped or escaped, were taken into the mountains where they were tortured and burned at the stake.

Men, women and children who were in the surrendered fort were slaughtered and scalped. Mrs. Abner Thompson and her family had fled to the fort for safety. She lay still on the ground pretending to be dead. She was able to hold back her screams as she was scalped. Mrs. Thompson survived her wounds and lived in Greenville, SC for many years afterward ("Southern Lineages" by Adeline Evans Winn). Capt. Gowen's forces recaptured the fort, but Bates escaped.


Traditions and Reminiscences Chiefly of the American Revolution in the South By Joseph Johnson, Pg 419, Chapter 13
"Some of the hardest fought battles, and many of the most thrilling incidents of the revolution, occurred in the thinly settled upper districts of South Carolina... But some of them are too horrid for publication, and confirm General Greene’s statement, that “the inhabitants hunt each other down like wild beasts.” The capture of Gowan’s Fort, on pacolet river, not far from Rutherford, in North Carolina, the massacre at Hay’s Station, and that at Turner’s house, were of this character.

"Bates, on this occasion, divided his forces, that he might act with more certainty and despatch. While he conducted the proceedings at Fort Gowan, the other party proceeded against another small fort, called “Mill’s Station,” in North Carolina, and in their way destroyed several families of the scattered settlers on the frontiers, particularly that of Mr. Stillmon. Not apprehending an attack, the garrison at Mill’s Station were dispersed in the neighborhood, and the fort was captured, without resistance, by the Indians and their more savage white allies. Although there was no resistance, the fate of its inhabitants was the same as in other places-an indiscriminate massacre.

"The massacre at Hay’s Station, in Laurens District, has been described by different writers. William Cunningham, the tory commander of the assailants, was almost the only executioner in the inhuman deeds. For this and other similar acts, he was called Bloody Bill Cunningham. We seek not his frailties to disclose, nor to excuse the violent men, on either side, in this savage drama.

"After repeated assaults by the tories and British, gallantly and successfully replused, Gowan’s fort was at last surrendered to an overwhelming force of Indians and tories, under “Bloody Bates.” It was surrendered, under a stipulation that the lives of the prisoners should be protected from the savages. But this stipulation for mercy was immediately violated, and only one escaped with life of all the inmates of that asylum for the neighboring whig families. This was Mrs. Thomson, wife of Abner Thomson, Esq., who, having been scalped and supposed to be dead, recovered from her wounds, and lived in Greenville about fifty years after the awful scene. These inhumanities were too frequently followed by as savage retaliation, and vindictive, lawless acts."


Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont by Archie Vernon Huff
Pg 27-28
"At the same time, “Bloody Bill” Bates led a force of Loyalists and Indians that terrorized the frontier farther north. According to Perry, Bates attacked Gowen’s Fort in November, 1781. After a brief engagement, Bates offered the defenders protection, and the fort surrendered. Some were put to torture, though the majority were killed on the spot. A few, including Major Buck Gowen, were forced to march into the hills to be later killed, but they eventually escaped. One of those marked for torture was a young man named Motley or Matlow, whose family had already been killed. As he was being chained to a stake, young Motley appealed to Bates, once his neighbor, for mercy. “Damn you,” Bates replied, “I have nothing to do with you.” Motley broke away, was wounded in the thigh, and escaped through a canebrake. Years later, according to Perry, Bates was arrested for stealing horses and placed in jail in Greenville. Motley gathered a few neighbors and rode into Greenville forcing their way into the jail and dragging Bates outside. Before Motley shot Bates, he exclaimed: “Die, scoundrel, and receive the punishment your hellish life has merited.” The former Loyalist, in Perry’s words, “fell without uttering a syllable, and was buried where he fell, at the prison door.” Motley was never prosecuted for the murder of “Bloody Bill” Bates. John B.O. Landrum, in a less romantic account, placed the attack in November 1781 at Wood’s Fort, or Thompson’s Station, as it was sometimes called. He connected the story of the Motley family with a raid on their farm, not the fighting at Wood’s Fort."

After the Revolutionary War, Bloody Bill took up residence near Sandy Plains, N.C. where he became a horse thief. (Dr. J.B.O. Landrum, c. 1897) According to Native American oral history Bates was arrested and held at Wood's Fort where he was murdered in November 1781. Whichever way Bates died, he paid for his crimes at the hands of those who owed him the most.

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