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The McWhorters in South Carolina
by Karen McWhorter Wilhelm

The Pacolet River in northwestern South Carolina runs east, about 16 miles south of the North Carolina border. It flows through gently rolling hills, cut by nameless creeks and ravines now filled with kudzu vines that create an eerie landscape. The kudzu engulfs trees, telephone poles, old barns, in tropical green foliage. Mowed fields attempt to impose order, and a few stretches of browned vines indicate a herbicidal counterattack. This is mostly well-kept farm country, with a few small towns and a clothing factory or two. Houses are painted; streets are clean; Hardee's efficiently serves hamburgers.

In 1765, the wooded country was being settled by people from the northern colonies. The Cherokees had moved west, and treaties opened this land for pioneers. The Great Pennsylvania Wagon Road linked the back country of Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. A tide of families came south, many of them the so-called Scotch-Irish, like the McWhorters. The hills and valleys then were covered with the wild pea-vine, good pasturage for the cattle herds kept by these families.

Eleanor McWhorter received a grant of North Carolina land, 300 acres on both sides of the Pacolet River, somewhere along the twelve mile stretch that later became the northern boundary of Union County. When it was surveyed on September 3, 1765, George McWhorter and John Portman served as chainbearers. After the border between North Carolina and South Carolina was surveyed in 1772, showing her to actually be in South Carolina, Eleanor obtained a new grant of the same land. It was a royal grant from King George III, signed May 4, 1775 by Lieutenant Governor William Bull Eleanor had to pay three shillings sterling for each hundred acres, and clear and cultivate three acres a year for each hundred acres in order to maintain her grant from the King. Events intervened, however, and the King would receive little benefit from his grant-holders after 1776.

George was her son, older than her son John, who was sixteen. She had two other sons, James and Robert. They came from Albemarle County, Virginia, where her husband John had died six years earlier. Perhaps this move to new country was a search for new opportunities for her sons.

Pre-revolutionary times in the Carolina back country were unlike anything we ever learned about in school. The western regions were remote from the Atlantic coast towns where people in fine clothes debated politics, worshipped in their churches, and established fine plantations worked by African slaves purchased in the markets of Charleston. The colonial government centered in the coastal towns, and offered little help to the westerners, though it was happy to collect taxes from them.

Most back country residents were far from any established church, court or law-enforcement official. Outlaws roamed freely, stealing cattle and terrorizing settlers. After begging the Assembly for aid, the settlers took matters into their own hands, and "Regulators" went after the outlaws. When the Assembly did send help, some of the Regulators were arrested. Experiences like this made back country people skeptical of the colonial assembly as well as the crown, and the coming of the American Revolution would become a complicated matter.

Charles Woodmason was an itinerant Anglican minister who volunteered to serve the backcountry residents at this time. He left a journal, and some writings on the regulator movement. As an Englishman, and a churchman, he found himself shocked by the ways of the wilderness, yet also sympathetic to the needs of his far-flung parishioners. Many of the Scottish settlers were not interested in the English church, with its reverence for the authority of the King and bishops. These independent people were either so used to living on their own without religious supervision, or held onto the ways of the Scottish Presbyterian church, where local parish elders ruled on matters religious and meted out parish discipline. At this time, there was also a Baptist religious revival in the backwoods, and roving preachers found people eager for new religious ideas. The spirit of independence that enabled these people to live in the wilderness must have made the idea that one could be saved by faith alone attractive, and Reverend Woodmason found it difficult to bring them into Sunday meetings of the established church.

The Baptist-leaning settlers didn't welcome him, but there were enough Anglicans to give him a good bed and a good meal on his journey. But often he would find he'd been given false directions and he would spend a night in a cold, rainy swamp. "Hir'd 3 Men to carry my Baggage, and to guide thro' the woods cross the Country--Set off after Sermon, intending to ride all Night for Coolness--Rode 20 Miles in this Wilderness (where never had been) before Night--When my Guides after they had drank out my Liquer, left me to shift for my Self."(p.50) To disrupt preaching, the Presbyterians "hir'd a Band of rude fellows to come to Service who brought with them 57 dogs (for I counted them) which in Time of Service they set fighting, and I was obliged to stop...We are without any Law, or Order--And as all the Magistrates are Presbyterians, I could not get a Warrant--If I got Warrants as the Constables are Presbyterians likewise, I cound not get them serv'd--If serv'd, the Guard would let them escape--Both my Self and other Episcopals have made this Experiment."

He believed the people had great need of his moral instruction: "thro' want of Ministers to marry (them) and thro' the licentiousness of the People, many hundreds live in Concubinage--swopping their Wives as Cattel, and living in a State of Nature, more irregularly and unchastely than the Indians."((p.15) On New Year's Day in 1768, Woodmason "Preached at Granny Quarter Creek to a mix'd Multitude of People from various Quarters--But no bringing of this Tribe into any Order. They are the lowest Pack of Wretches my Eyes ever saw, or that I have met with in these Woods--As wild as the very Deer--No making of them sit still during Service--but they will be in and out--forward and backward the whole Time (Women especially) as Bees to and fro to their Hives--All this must be born with at the beginning of Things--Nor can be mended til Churches are built, and the Country reduc'd to some For. How would the Polite People of London stare, to see the Females (many very pretty) come to Service in their Shifts and a short petticoat only, barefooted and Bare legged."(p. 31) Later, in August, he "married a couple, who impudently left the Service and staid not to Sermon, carrying with them 1/2 the Congregation to frolic and dance."(p. 51)

"Great Insolencies are now committed by those fellows who call themselves Regulators--They are ever wanton in Wickedness and Impudence--And they triumph in their Licentiousness. Its said that above two thousand Presbyterians from North Carolina are coming down to join them--We have but 2 or 3 Magistrates who are Episcopalians in this Vast Back Country--And these they have threatedned to Whip for issuing Writs agains some of their Lawless Gang. They have actually whipped all the Constables and Sheriffs officers took and tore the Kings Writs--and Judges Writs. Silenced the Constables--Stopp'd payment of all Public Taxes--and We are now without Law, Gospel. Trade. or Money. Insulted by a Pack of vile, levelling common wealth Presbyterians In whom the Republican Spirit of 41 yet dwells, and who would very willingly put the Solemn League and Covenant now in force--Nay, their Teachers press it on them, and say that it is as binding on the Consciences of all the Kirk, as the Gospel it Self, for it is a Covenant enter'd into with God, from which they cannot recede. (54,55)

Even in the Carolina back country, the conflicts between Scots and English were alive, whether between the Presbyterian or Episcopal form of church government, or between the free and easy ways of the Scots cattle-herders and the settled ways of English gentleman farmers.

As Revolution heated up, these unruly parishioners would choose sides, change sides with some frequency, and finally harden into a tough guerilla force as the British regiments attempted to sweep through the Carolinas to take Washington's army in Virginia.

Sometime during this period, John McWhorter came of age and married a girl from the Jasper family. Family trees record several children, but since John McWhorter later married Elizabeth McClure it is unclear which children were whose.

John's experience in the Revolutionary War is recorded in payment records in the South Carolina Archives, and in a deposition he made when applying for a veteran's pension in 1832.

In 1775, not long after Eleanor McWhorter had received her new South Carolina royal grant, the back country was in turmoil. Many of the residents were more skeptical of the revolutionary assembly than the King. The region was divided into large parish districts that sent few representatives to the assembly, and those representatives were from communities that did little for the wilderness-dwellers. Yet they paid taxes on their rough land equivalent to those paid by the wealthy rice planters of the low country who controlled the Assembly. The backwoodsmen rarely ever got tea, and were little bothered by a tax on it. They formed a large loyalist party that threatened the ambitions of the Charlestonian Revolutionaries. At the same time, the Whig Revolutionaries could persuade many that the colonists should be masters of their own destiny and not be controlled by the English government and church. George McWhorter's name appears on a list of suspected Tories in the South Carolina archives, although he later served in the revolutionary militia under the man who accused him, Thomas Brandon. John McWhorter also served in Brandon's regiment, as well as under a Colonel Thompson and a Captain Farr or Fair.

When a Tory force captured a shipment of ammunition, the Charlestonians sent the Revolutionary army after it. A battle was fought at the court house at the town of Ninety-Six on November 19-21 in 1775. The Whigs were threatened, but a larger Whig force soon arrived under the command of Colonel Richardson. John McWhorter was involved in the ensuing "snow campaign" as it was later called by its veterans.

Though many of the Tories submitted to the overwhelming force of 3,000 men accompanying Colonel Richardson, some held out in Indian Country at the Great Cane Brake on Reedy River. Just after they were defeated, two feet of snow fell in thirty hours. John McWhorter and his companions were without tents or warm clothes, but they made their way to Granby, where they were dismissed. (Wallace,269)

The backwoodsmen had the ability to withstand such hardship because they were used to hard conditions. As Woodmason noted, the Scots had few clothes, and lived in rough cabins, with few blankets and little furniture. They had cattle and hogs, but also relied on hunting for food. The men would head off on long hunting treks living like Indians. Comfort was not a requirement. Some were veterans of the French and Indian War of 1754 to 1766. The British would later learn that these people were not easily subdued.

Once the revolution was in full swing, the British turned their attention to the ports, including Charleston.

More information on the family can be found at

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