The American Revolution in South Carolina

  Fort Johnson #1

  September 15, 1775


Patriot Cdr:

Col. William Moultrie 
British Cdr:

Gunner George Walker
Killed:

0
Killed:

0
Wounded:

0
Wounded:

0
Captured:

0
Captured:

5
Old District: 

Charles Town District
Present County:

Charleston County

Built in the 1730s, Fort Johnson was expanded and improved during the French and Indian War, American Revolution, and the War of 1812. During this same time it was damaged by hurricanes and storms.


In fear of the patrolling British ships around Charlestown harbor, the Council of Safety ordered Col. William Moultrie of the SC 2nd Regiment to take Fort Johnson from the small British garrison there. The British were apparently tipped off and they removed all the guns from their platforms and hastily escaped.

Col. Moultrie ordered Capt. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Capt. Bernard Elliott, and Capt. Francis Marion - each with fifty men - to go take the fort. This detachment was commanded by Lt. Col. Isaac Motte. At around 11 p.m., his forces gathered at Gadsden's Wharf, boarded the Carolina & Georgia packet, and sailed for James Island, landing a little above the fort. Although a short distance, the trip took more than an hour. The packet only had two small boats that could land only fifteen men at a time. The result was that the landing was only effected by the men wading through the water up to their waists, and the day of the 15th dawned when only Capt. Pinckney's and Capt. Elliott's companies were ashore. It was determined not to wait upon Capt. Marion's men, but to move at once upon the fort. This was done with eagerness, but when the forlorn hope advanced up the glacis, the gates were found open and the cannon dismounted. Of the British garrison, only the gunner Walker and four men were taken prisoner.

Col. Moultrie's orders to Lt. Col. Motte were "to defend the fort from all parties that may attempt to land, but if the man-of-war [the HMS Tamar offshore] should attack the fort, and you find you cannot make a stand against her, you are to withdraw your men to some place of safety, out of reach of her guns; but you are to take care not to suffer any parties to land with the intent to damage the fort."

That same date, a detachment of the Charles Town Artillery under Capt. Thomas Heyward, Jr. moved to Fort Johnson with "gin and tackles and had three cannon mounted immediately." Now, the fort could be defended against British vessels.

Soon, the British sloop-of-war Cherokee arrived off Fort Johnson. The Council of Safety was determined to have a way to signal the British, out of pride, that the Patriots were in fact in possession of Fort Sullivan. Since there was no specified national or state flag, Col. William Moultrie was given the assignment to design an appropriate flag for South Carolina. Both the troops of the SC 1st Regiment and SC 2nd Regiment wore blue uniforms with a silver crescent, therefore, Col. Moultrie's flag was a field of blue with a silver crescent in the dexter corner. This was the first American flag ever displayed in South Carolina.

When this flag was hoisted above Fort Sullivan the men were delighted but "it gave some uneasiness to our timid friends who were looking forward to a reconciliation - they said it had the appearance of a declaration of war, and Capt. Thoroughbred, in the HMS Tamar lying in Rebellion Road [Charlestown Harbor] would look upon it as an insult, and a flag of defiance, and would certainly attack the fort." That attack never came.

When Lord Campbell (the last Royal Governor of the province of South Carolina), aboard the HMS Tamar, learned that the Patriots held Fort Johnson, he sent his secretary, Mr. Innis, by boat to the fort to demand "by what authority we had taken possession of His Majesty's fort." Lt. Col. Isaac Motte responded to Mr. Innis that it was taken under orders of the Council of Safety. Mr. Innis promptly made a bow, and returned to the HMS Tamar.

At dawn of September 17th, the Tamar and the Cherokee with the packet Swallow sailed up and presented themselves within point-blank range of the fort. An engagement was expected, but the vessels made only a demonstration and returned to their former anchorage off Charlestown harbor.

The Council of Safety felt that this small garrison would not be enough, so they again ordered Col. Moultrie to send additional forces to reinforce Fort Sullivan. Col. Moultrie sent Capt. Benjamin Cattel, Capt. Adam McDonald, and Capt. John Barnwell - all of the SC 1st Regiment and each with fifty men - this detachment was commanded by Maj. Owen Roberts. On September 17, Maj. Roberts loaded his troops aboard two schooners at Gadsden's Wharf and sailed for James Island. He was ordered "not to suffer any boats to obstruct your passage."

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Commanding Officer - Col. William Moultrie (SC 2nd Regiment)

Mission Leader - Lt. Col. Isaac Motte (SC 2nd Regiment)

SC 2nd Regiment detachment led by Capt. Francis Marion, with Lt. John Allen Walter and 50 men

SC 2nd Regiment detachment led by Capt. Bernard Elliott, with Lt. Richard Shubrick and 50 men

SC 1st Regiment detachment led by Capt. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, with Lt. John Mouatt and 50 men

Charles Town District Regiment detachment, the James Island Company, led by Capt. Benjamin Stone with 100 men

Charles Town District Regiment detachment - the Battalion of Artillery, led by Capt. Thomas Heyward, Jr., with 3 field pieces

Gunner George Walker with 4 men (all captured)

Capt. Edward Thornborough of HMS Tamar with 21 guns

Capt. "Unknown" of HMS Cherokee

Capt. "Unknown" of HMS Swallow

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