Reading Matters

No, Son, we’re not kin to the Swamp Fox but Oller’s biography tells all

The other day, one of my grown sons texted. “Mom,” he said, “are we related to the Swamp Fox?”

Sadly, no, we’re not. But Francis Marion’s heroics in the Revolutionary War are so well known he feels like a member of the family.

Yet I had never heard exactly how (or “exactly” according to legend) he got his nickname, until I was reading the jacket material of a new biography, “The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution,” by New York City lawyer and journalist John Oller.

Supposedly, the British calvary officer Banastre Tarleton pursued Marion over 26 miles of swamp, only to call off the chase and declare that “the Devil himself could not catch this damned old fox.”

Grandson of a French Huguenot Benjamin Marion and son of Gabriel Marion and Esther Cordes, Francis was born in 1732, the same year as George Washington, on the western branch of the Cooper River, 14 miles northeast of Goose Creek.

He was neither pretty to look at, nor did he have “captivating manners,” according to the biography. Yet his achievements “remain recorded in such indelible characters upon our minds, that neither change of circumstances nor length of time can efface them,” according to an address written by a delegation of Georgetown, S.C., dignitaries to deliver to Marion a few months before his death.

Concludes Oller:

“Unlike so many heroes with feet of clay, Francis Marion holds up to scrutiny. ...Indeed, as even a casual drive across South Carolina reveals, he remains first in the hearts of those countrymen. And for reason. As the sign at his gravesite says, the legend may obscure the Swamp Fox, but the reality of what he did has never dimmed.”

Dannye: dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

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