Alexander's Old Field
Beckham's Old Fields
Beckhamville, South Carolina | Jun 6, 1780
Following the disasters at Charleston and Waxhaws, Patriot forces strike a blow against the British in South Carolina.
With the British capture of Charleston in May 1780, Sir Henry Clinton left command of the southern forces in the hands of Lord Charles Cornwallis. Among General Cornwallis’ first priorities, aside from establishing garrisons throughout the Backcountry of South Carolina, was to instill loyalty oaths among the citizens. This was done to ensure the British strategy of courting eager citizens willing to fight against the rebellion would materialize as planned. Word spread throughout South Carolina demanding citizens step forward and declare allegiance to their king; otherwise, suspected citizens would face pillage and plunder for their aiding the rebellion. Loyalist parties began rising in the late spring of 1780, threatening to use force against citizens who did not comply.
Responding to this growing threat and the patriot defeat by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton at Waxhaws on May 29, Americans got word of a band of loyalist raiders assembling at Alexander’s Old Field to pledge allegiance to the Crown. It would be here the small force led by Captain John McClure, perhaps 25 years old, would strike the first retaliatory blow since the fall of Charleston. McClure had marched with part of his militia company to Charleston in April 1780. He was near Monck’s Corner when Tarleton won the victory at Biggin Bridge on April 14. His force then returned home, and he visited the home of his uncle, Judge John Gaston, in May. While there, the two learned of the shocking massacre of Colonel Buford’s men by Tarleton at Waxhaws, no more than twenty miles from Gaston’s home. On receiving the news, McClure and Gaston, with three of Gaston’s sons, and Captain John Steel, rose to their feet and declared that, “they would never submit nor surrender to the enemies of their country; that liberty or death, from that time forth, should be their motto.” Each of these young men had served three years in the company of Captain Eli Kershaw, of the 3rd Regiment, South Carolina Militia, commanded by Colonel William “Danger” Thomson, with the above motto inscribed on the front of their military caps. While assembling their resistance, Colonel Houseman, the Loyalist commander at Rocky Mount, came to Gaston’s house accompanied by fifty partisans and demanded Gaston and his sons give up their arms and pledge allegiance to the king at his encampment. His camp at Alexander’s Old Fields was to be pitched so all loyal citizens could swear their allegiance. Gaston steadfastly refused. Upon Houseman leaving, Gaston’s seven sons immediately embarked to recruit militia from nearby at Fishing Creek, Rocky Creek, and Sandy River. They managed to gather thirty-two militia, including Reverend John Simpson and the eighty year old Judge Gaston among them.
On June 6, 1780, Captain McClure and his small force, wearing hunting shirts, wool hats and deer-skin caps and each armed with a knife and rifle, attacked Houseman and routed about 200 of the gathered loyalists at Alexander's Old Fields. The exact number of killed and wounded are unknown with conflicting accounts citing two of McClure’s militia, William McGarrety and Hugh McClure, the captain’s brother, were wounded. It is possible the plan was to avoid killing the assembled party; rather, subdueing them knowing that many were there simply to avoid harassment from the British. Other accounts state several were killed on both sides. Joseph Gaston reported that he lost two brothers in the close combat fight and further related that he and a Loyalist “both raised their pieces at once and both fired the same instant and both fell, his antagonist shot through the heart.”
In the days that followed, Col. Houseman sent raiders to Judge Gaston’s home to plunder his house and livestock, but they failed to capture him. Captain McClure's small band of patriots served at Mobley’s Meeting House on June 8 in Fairfield where a number of loyalist raiders were defeated. The skirmish on June 6 is relevant because it’s widely recognized as the first example of patriot Americans of South Carolina fighting and winning against British and Loyalist forces after the fall of Charleston. Today, the site at Alexander’s Old Fields displays a historical marker, and a stone placard dedicated in 1942 by citizens of Chester County and the Daughters of the American Revolution. It reads, “British under Houseman surprised and defeated by band of 33 patriots under Capt. John McLure with 9 Gaston brothers and neighbors, who struck first blow for liberty and resisted attempt to subject people to oath of allegiance to king.” These markers can be found at the intersections of State Highways 97 and 99 in Beckhamville, South Carolina