The American Revolution in South Carolina

Colonel Abel Kolb

Col. Abel Kolb is both venerated and remembered in South Carolina's Pee Dee region but scarcely known in the remainder of the state. He was a heroic Revolutionary War Patriot, a gentleman farmer, a politician, and a founding member of the St. David's Academy.

The Kolb family arrived in 1707 and settled around Germantown in Pennsylvania. Four Kolb brothers, sons of Dielman Kolb and his wife, a Shumacher of Manheim in Germany, were named Martin, Johannes, Jacob, and Henry. A fifth brother, Deilman, arrived in 1717.

Around 1737, Johannes Kolb left Pennsylvania and settled in South Carolina on the south bank of the Great Pee Dee River, since known as Kolb's Neck and located below present-day Society Hill. Johannes Kolb was the father of nine children, including Peter Kolb, the father of Abel Kolb. Because of his numerous descendents, Johannes Kolb is jokingly referred to as "Father Abraham" of South Carolina.

Abel Kolb was born circa 1750, one of five children of Peter Kolb and his wife Ann James, daughter of the Reverend Philip James, an early minister of the Welsh Neck Baptist Church. This church was first located on the east bank of the Great Pee Dee River almost directly across the river from today's Society Hill. The James were also settlers who had relocated from Pennsylvania after leaving Wales for America. Two of Peter Kolb's uncles were Mennonite ministers. The Mennonite relationship probably made the transition to the early Baptist church much easier for the Kolb family members now living along the Great Pee Dee River.

Peter Kolb's gravestone, a simple fieldstone with the initials "P K" can be found in the old Cashaway Baptist Church graveyard located near the site of Cashaway Ferry. These headstones suggest that Abel Kolb was reared in the vicinity of Kolb's Neck and the original Johannes Kolb settlement.

Little is known about Abel Kolb's early years. He had one brother, Benjamin, who served in the Revolutionary War under Col. Lemuel Benton during 1781. One of his three sisters married Enoch Evans, a 1st Lieutenant under Col. George Hicks in the Upper Craven County Regiment during 1780.

Abel Kolb married Sarah James, granddaughter of Rev. Philip James. "Through his wife, Abel Kolb became possessed of a plantation at Spark's Ferry [site] near Society Hill. This plantation is a very short distance above the ferry. His residence was a two story brick building located immediately on the east bak of the river a short distance above the ferry. The cellar walls of this dwelling were brought to view some years ago by a freshet in the river breaking over the embankment and interesting relics were found." This plantation included 600 acres along the east bank of the Great Pee Dee River.

Abel Kolb and his wife, Sarah James Kolb, had three children - two daughters and a son. The son, James Kolb, died young. The daughters, Ann and Sarah, lived to adulthood and beyond. Ann Kolb married Maj. James Pouncey and left many descendents.

During the American Revolution, Abel Kolb enlisted in the South Carolina Patriot militia early in the war. On September 25, 1775, he was commissioned a Captain in the Cheraws District Militia under Col. George Gabriel Powell, a position he retained until around 1778. In 1778, Abel Kolb was promoted to Lt. Colonel - one source asserts he was in the Charlestown District Militia, while another source asserts he was now under Col. George Hicks again in the Upper Craven County Regiment. Whatever the case, he was taken prisoner at the surrender of Charleston on May 12, 1780, along with many others. He was paroled, but the date of his exchange is currently not known.

Not long after Charleston was surrendered and he was paroled, Abel Kolb was appointed as the commandant over the Cheraws District Regiment, replacing George Gabriel Powell who had died in late 1779. As "The Swamp Fox," Francis Marion's fame and recognition grew, Col. Abel Kolb and his men soon began supporting Col. Marion, who was to become a brigadier general in January of 1781.

Records of the St. Davids's Society, dated December 31, 1777, show Abel Kolb as present. This organization remains active today, nearly two hundred and thirty-four later. The original purpose of the Society was to fund and found an educational institution of learning for the youth of the region. Thus, the St. David's Academy came into being. It was located first near the present-day Welsh Neck Baptist Church, which is located on a hill overlooking the Great Pee Dee River valley. From the academy, the town of Society Hill derives its name. Today, the St. David's Society serves as a social organization. In earlier years, the St. David's Academy furnished many prominent educators and leaders to South Carolina. Several of the first appointed faculty members of the University of South Carolina came from St. David's Acadeny. Abel Kolb was one of the first two elected wardens of the St. David's Society.

Around this time, Abel Kolb was recognized as a leader in the upper Pee Dee region of South Carolina. As a member of the Welsh Neck Baptist Church, he was elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Cheraws District, along with Charles Evans, William Henry Mills, William Pegues, Henry Pendleton, William Standard, and Samuel Wise.

The Charleston Gazette and Country Journal reported that "John Franway ran away from Abel Kolb's plantation on May 1, 1778. The ad for his capture described him as a 'tall yellow fellow... speaks broken English, but understands the French and Spanish languages tolerably well.' A skilled brick mason, his owner believed he could pass easily for a free man."

As the British were making their way to lay in their siege of Charleston, Lt. Col. Abel Kolb and his men (Charleston District Regiment or Upper Craven County Regiment) marched into the town to help construct defenses for the Patriots. It was here on May 12th that the entire city surrendered along with all of the South Carolina Continental Army, almost all of the North Carolina Continental Army, and many of both states' militiamen. The Continentals were long-held prisoners, while most of the militiamen were paroled and sent home to await exchange.

Back at home in what is now Marlboro County, the Loyalists began re-asserting themselves with greater boldness now that there was a large British Army marching all over South Carolina. These bold Loyalists soon started plundering Patriot homes in the upper Pee Dee region. Now as a Colonel/Commandant of the Cheraws District Regiment of Militia, Col. Abel Kolb began to re-assemble his small band of Patriots. On November 27, 1780, he wrote to his long-time friend, Henry William Harrington, now a brigadier general (Pro Tempore) over North Carolina militiamen just across the state line, and informed the general that he had 233 men plus officers to protect the locals from depredations of the bolder Loyalists. Soon, Col. Kolb and his men were joined by Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, who had taken over from Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates after his defeat at Camden, SC, and Greene's Army camped not far from Col. Kolb's plantation in late December of 1780 until mid-January 1781.

During the Fall of 1780, the Patriots had victories at Kings Mountain, Blackstocks, and several other important locations. With the victory at the battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, the Patriots launched a strategy of attacking and reducing British outposts and forts across the state. Recently-promoted Brig. Gen. Francis Marion took charge of the eastern portion of South Carolina, and this included the Cheraws District Regiment commanded by Col. Abel Kolb. Whenever he could, Col. Kolb would detach some of his growing army and send them to assist Brig. Gen. Francis Marion all along the Pee Dee River and southwards.

On January 24, 1781, Col. Abel Kolb, Lt. Col. Lemuel Benton, and Maj. Tristram Thomas led seven (7) companies of the Cheraws District Regiment in support of Brig. Gen. Francis Marion and a total of more than 350 Patriots against the British defenses in Georgetown. The Patriots captured several key defenders, but decided to parole them and to withdraw from the town.

Col. Kolb led his men again under Brig. Gen. Francis Marion on March 6, 1781 at the battle of Wiboo Swamp, which was located in what is now Clarendon County. In a fairly even contest, both sides decided to withdraw and continue to their earlier planned destinations.

On April 27, 1781, Col. Kolb learned that Loyalists under Col. Micajah Gainey had assembled along Drowning Creek (now named the Lumber River), so he hastily gathered as many men as he could, including Capt. Josiah Cantey and Capt. James Gillespie. Col. Kolb surprised the Loyalists and routed them. On that same date, Col. Abel Kolb gathered more men, including Lt. Col. Lemuel Benton, Capt. Joseph Dabbs, and Capt. John Cox and they surprised another group of Loyalists at Hulin's Mill along Catfish Creek - John Deer and Osborne Lane; killing Deer and wounding Osborne, who escaped into Catfish Swamp. Another Loyalist, Caleb Williams, Col. Kolb hanged. Deer, Williams, and Lane were reputed to be notorious marauders by their enemies, but Lane lived on for many years and was looked upon as a respected citizen in his community.

Col. Kolb then returned home and dismissed his men, all feeling fairly secure now that the Loyalists had been subdued and all presumed the Loyalists would stop their plundering and raids on Patriot property.

On the night of April 28, Col. Abel Kolb was captured at his home, by fifty North Carolina Loyalists. The latter had gathered on Catfish Creek and were led by Capt. Joseph Jones. Walking out the front door, one of Jones's men promptly shot Col. Kolb in front of his wife and children. Capt. Jones then plundered the home and burned it. The action was probably in retaliation for Col. Kolb’s killing of John Deer and hanging of Caleb Williams at Hulin’s Mill a day earlier.

The historian Thomas wrote, "That was a sad day to the people of Cheraw District when Abel Kolb fell by the hand of the foe. He was recognized as the leader of the patriot influence, in command of the regiment, in the prime of life, vigilant, active, daring, he commanded the respect and confidence of his countrymen far and near, and men were looking on his fast-developing abilities with admiration and hope of a bright career, not only on the field of strife, but in the pursuit of peace as well."

In June of 1781, Brig. Gen. Francis Marion wrote in his Order Book, "Georgetown, June 5, 1781. The following promotions take pace 28 April 1781 - Lt. Col. Lemuel Benton to be Col., Kolb killed. Maj. Maurice Murphy to be Lt. Col. vice Benton, Capt. J. Thomas to be Maj. vice Murphy, they are to be respected and obey'd."

On a final note, many pensioners and other men who survived the war later recalled their service under Col. Cobb, Col. Culp, Col. Gulp, and even Col. Thobb.

The above (with edits by this Author) provided by John L. Frierson in July 2011, a descendent of Abel Kolb.

© 2011 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved