South Carolina’s Revolutionary War records only a click away
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — During the Revolutionary War, more than 10,000 South Carolinians helped the American cause either by fighting in the militia or providing food, horses or other aid.
Most kept a record of their service in hopes the patriots would win and they would be paid back by their newly established government.
It turned out to be a good bet.
Taken together, these records paint a thorough picture of how the colonists were able to band together to successfully fight off the British, even after British troops successfully seized Charleston and captured thousands of American soldiers. The records also provide key facts for families looking to research their ancestors’ role in America’s founding fight.
And now they’re online, making them easier than ever to use.
The records, most of which date from about 1780 to 1786, have been among the most popular among researchers, said Steve Tuttle, deputy director of archives and records management with the S.C. Department of Archives and History.
“They really are an excellent source for anybody who wants to know what an individual was doing in their service in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War,” he said.
“It also tells how South Carolina kept a militia in the field when there was no government anymore,” he added. “It was a very clever way of financing the revolution. If you lost, you didn’t have to pay all these receipts off.”
The records almost didn’t survive.
During the Civil War, when Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army was approaching Columbia, the records were sent by train to Chester, Tuttle said. They were brought back after the war and tucked in the Statehouse attic.
They were transferred to the newly established state historical commission in 1905 and organized by name, Tuttle said.
“If there was more than one ‘John Smith,’ all the John Smith papers still went into one file,” he said.
The records were placed onto about 165 rolls of microfilm, but residents still needed to take a trip to view them.
Michael Scoggins of York County’s Southern Revolutionary War Institute took on the task of digitizing the records so the state could put them online. He was aided by a $40,000 sum from the National Park Service.
To view the Revolutionary War records, go to http://www.archivesindex.sc.gov.
Enter the Online Records Index, then use the Advanced Search option and choose the Record Group “Combined Index to Records Series, 1675-1929” and the Series “S108092: Accounts Audited of Claims Growing Out of the Revolution.”
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While similar records exist in states that once made up the 13 American colonies, Scoggins said South Carolina’s trove is rich, partly because of the amount of fighting here.
“South Carolina probably had more Revolutionary War skirmishes and battles than any other state,” he said. “There were more than 300 battles and skirmishes here between 1775 and 1783. It’s a lot more than that.”
In recent decades, historians have stressed the pivotal role of the war’s southern theater, where a civil war-like clash kept the British from consolidating their success at Charleston in 1780 into a force that could push north and challenge Gen. George Washington’s army.
There are 11,170 documents in total, and most files include the name of claimant, a description of their service provided, the amount of their claim and any interest due. Some also include a claimant’s signature, as well as receipts.
They show the pay for a militia member varied depending on whether they used their own horse. They also were reimbursed for clothing or equipment lost in battle.
Scoggins said researchers unfamiliar with 18th century documents will face some challenges, such as multiple people in a single file. For instance, there appear to be claims from at least four different men named John Steel (or John Steele) in one file.
Other obstacles include reading quill and ink handwriting and knowing the jargon and abbreviations common during the era.
“These records are great, but it takes a little bit of scholarship and a little bit of work to understand what’s in them,” he said. “There’s a learning curve you have to go through.”
For those who find what they were looking for, the effort will be well worth it.
“This is one of our most heavily used record series we’ve got,” Tuttle said. “A lot of people are interested in what their ancestors did.”