In March of 2022 I had the opportunity to go on an unplanned adventure, by chance. After attending a field trip to Hayes Station, I was invited to tag along with historian, lecturer, preservationist (and inspiration!) Durant Ashmore to visit a raw site close by – the site of Hammond’s Store.
Here’s a link to my blog post from that time, it’s a good place to start:
Hammond’s Store Blog Post
Archeological studies sponsored by the SC Battlefield Preservation Trust are ongoing. The battle of Hammond’s Store occurred just before, and within four miles of, the conflict at Hayes Station. Hammond’s Store is a newly discovered and interpreted Laurens County battlefield. Both sites will be on the Laurens County Revolutionary War Trail, which is under development.
THE MAGIC OF LIDAR
By Mr. Durant Ashmore
Reprinted here with kind permission from the author
This is a LIDAR image of the Hammond’s Store Battlefield. It amazing what LIDAR will show, and just as amazing what LIDAR won’t show. This is my first experience with LIDAR, and I am happy to include this valuable tool in my battlefield preservation toolbox.
The colored dots represent artifacts collected by John Allison and his metal detecting team from the SC Battleground Trust. John is the premier battlefield discoverer in SC, and I dare say the best in the country. This map was produced by Bryan Tate, a member of the team. You can refer to the artifacts catalogue to see what was recovered.
The Bush River is in the upper right corner. Modern day Greenplain Rd. is in the bottom left corner. The large gash in the center is the Colonial Road, one of the most distinctive examples left in the state. The curved road to the right of the colonial road is a modern logging road.
You can see the artifacts are located on two sides of the colonial road. Before looking at this map we thought this was two battle sites.
Those familiar with LIDAR say that an erosion pattern shows up in the center of the battlefield, and this whole area contained the battlefield. This makes much more sense with the historical record. This battlefield is approximately 150 yards wide.
At the Battle of Hammond’s Store there were 100 Tories killed, 50 wounded, 50 captured and 40 escaped. What you are looking at is the killing field. There were 0 Patriot casualties.
As stated, what doesn’t show up is also amazing. There is a modern brick ranch style house on this site. You can see the circular drive coming off Greenplain Rd, but the house is invisible. There is also a 5,000 sq. ft. barn, a 1,000 Sq. ft. workshop and a swimming pool. These features are invisible.
I’m glad to be introduced to LIDAR.
The Oldest Road in Laurens County
By Mr. Durant Ashmore
Reprinted here with kind permission from the author
This is the oldest road in Laurens County. It is the Ninety Six Road.
In 1760, If you wanted to travel from Augusta, Ga. to Philadelphia, this is the road you would travel. In 1760, this was the interstate.
Locally, this road travelled south to Ninety Six to the Island Ford over the Saluda River (presently under lake Greenwood), then north to Hayes Station, to Hammond’s Old Store, to Hurricane Baptist Church, to Duncan Creek Presbyterian Church, to Musgrove Mill, to Grindal Shoals, to Charlotte, Salisbury, NC, to Virginia, then Philadelphia.
The road from Hammond’s Old Store to Duncan Creek Presbyterian Church is present day Young’s Rd. The road from Hammond’s Old Store to Island Ford is present day Hwy 56.
The name of this road is the Ninety Six road.
On Dec 30, 1780, 250 plundering Tories we’re taking a midday break here at Hammond’s Old Store. Lt. Col. William Washington (George’s second cousin) and 80 men of the 3rd Continental Light Dragoons, along with 200 local mounted riflemen led by Lt. Col. James McCall, overtook the Tories here.
150 Tories were killed or wounded. 40 were captured, 60 escaped. 8 more were killed the next day at Fort Williams, 7 miles away. There were 0 Patriot casualties.
This action occurred 18 days before Cowpens. As a result, only 50 Tories participated in that battle. The resurgent Patriot militia numbered 1,000.
This ancient colonial road is located off of Green Plain Rd, 3 miles south of Clinton, SC.
THE WILLIAMS-CUNNINGHAM FEUD
By Mr. Durant Ashmore
Reprinted here with kind permission from the author
There are few feuds in American history that were as bitter and deadly as the Williams-Cunningham feud. And, occurring in the midst of the throes of the American Revolution, there are few feuds that engendered more horror.
James Williams was a wealthy and enterprising plantation owner who lived in the Little River District, which is present day Laurens County, SC and was part of the former Ninety Six District in the SC Backcountry.
He was the most ardent Patriot in the area, and he rose to the rank of General of the Little River Militia, although his untimely death as the final casualty at Kings Mountain occurred before James Williams received his official commission.
As ardent a Patriot as James Williams was, he lived right in between the two most ardent Loyalists in the District. In fact, the Little River District was equally divided in its sentiment to the Patriot cause, and in the SC Backcountry the Revolutionary War was a true civil war with neighbors and families harshly divided.
Brothers Robert and Patrick Cunningham held the ranks of General and Colonel respectively in the South Carolina Loyalist Militia. They were equally wealthy and enterprising plantation owners, and they were former Justices of the Peace in the British Colonial Government. Patrick Cunningham, owner of 40 enslaved persons, was the wealthiest man in the district.
Future generals and current neighbors James Williams and Robert Cunningham hated each other. Indeed, in 1778, they ran against each other for a seat in the state legislature, which was totally dominated by the Patriots. Their hatred towards each other actually led to a fist fight between the two while on the stump.
Not too surprisingly, the Loyalist Robert Cunningham was voted by his Loyalist neighbors to be the victor in this bitterly contested election. He refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Patriot government, however, and never served.
The voting occurred at Hammond’s Store, a frontier store that was actually owned by James Williams. He bought the store from LeRoy Hammond a few years previously. Hammond’s Store was located just a few miles away from the plantations of Robert and Patrick Cunningham and James Williams.
There was another member of the Cunningham family whose actual relationship to Robert and Patrick is somewhat murky. William Cunningham was a strapping and athletic young man who is generally considered to be a cousin of Robert and Patrick. William Cunningham, however, is forevermore destined to be remembered in history as the infamous “Bloody Bill”Cunningham.
William Cunningham began the war as a Patriot, and in fact fought against his cousin Patrick, who was the commander of the Loyalist forces at the Battle of the Great Cane Brake.
After a disagreement with his commanding officer – Capt. John Caldwell – William Cunningham was publicly whipped for insubordination. He then promptly deserted and fled to Florida, where he joined with refugee Loyalists and began rising in the ranks of Loyalist militias for the remainder of the war.
Later, in November of 1781, Bloody Bill Cunningham would exact revenge and shoot Capt. Caldwell in cold blood in the front yard of his house, as Caldwell’s wife watched her husband die.
William Cunningham fought in numerous engagements in Florida, and teamed up with the notorious Thomas Brown and Daniel McGirt. This trio captured Ft. McIntosh, and kept their word when they allowed the Patriot garrison to be escorted to safety by British regulars. The alternative was to turn the captives over to Thomas Brown’s Creek allies for “special treatment”, a practice Brown was quite fond of. Alas, this is the last recorded instance of William Cunningham giving fair treatment to captured prisoners.
When Savannah fell in December of 1778, former foes William Cunningham and his cousin Patrick made their way into British lines there. While in Savannah, William got word that his homeplace had been plundered by notorious Patriot Captain William Ritchie. William’s father had been beaten and his invalid brother had died from the abuse.
William Cunningham stuck a pistol in his belt and walked 180 miles in 6 days from Savannah to Ritchie’s house. There, he drug Ritchie out into the front yard by the scruff of his neck and shot Ritchie dead in front of his wife and young son. This is the first recorded murder by Bloody Bill Cunningham.
When Charleston fell and the state of South Carolina succumbed to British domination, Lord Cornwallis promoted Robert Cunningham to General of the South Carolina Loyalist militia. Patrick Cunningham was promoted to Colonel of the Little River Loyalist Militia, and William Cunningham served in Patrick Cunningham’s regiment for the next two years. William was eventually promoted to Major of the Ninety Six Brigade. Robert, Patrick and William were all based at the British fort at Ninety Six in the SC Backcountry.
The disastrous Battle of Camden occurred three months after Charleston fell. Three days after Camden, Thomas Sumter was routed at Fishing Creek. This was the lowest point of South Carolina fortunes during the entire war.
On the same day as Fishing Creek, there was an unlikely Patriot victory at Musgrove Mill. 200 Patriots led by James Williams, Isaac Shelby and Elijah Clarke defeated 500 Loyalists. Governor-in-Exile John Rutledge was so pleased with this turn of events that he initiated a promotion of James Williams to General of the SC Patriot Militia.
The British command and the Loyalist Militia based at Ninety Six were incensed over the loss at Musgrove Mill, and Patrick Ferguson determined to chastise Shelby and the Overmountain Men. When Ferguson led the North and South Carolina Loyalist Militias at Kings Mountain, Major Patrick Cunningham and Capt. William Cunningham were present at that stunning defeat. They were captured. And, they would have witnessed scores of their comrades being killed after the white flag was raised.
Of course, the end of that battle was most confusing, with some Loyalists continuing to fight after surrender. In any event, the Cunninghams were privy to experiencing the white hot rage of the victorious Patriots. And, they experienced further examples of that rage three days later when 9 Loyalists were hung by the neck after being sentenced to death in a kangaroo court. On the march north the Cunninghams escaped, as did the rest of the 600 prisoners in one of the war’s most inexplicable events.
Col. James Williams and his son, 17 yr. old Capt. Daniel Williams, were also at King’s Mountain. In fact, James Williams led the 250 man contingent of South Carolina troops in that battle. Tragically, he was shot in the head in the last confusing moments of the battle, and died the next day in Daniel’s arms.
Did the neighbors Capt. Daniel Williams and the Cunninghams have any bitter recriminations after that brutal battle? History does not say, but the Battle of Kings Mountain was not the last time Daniel Williams and the Cunninghams would fight in a Patriot victory marred by the taint of massacre. And, the next time they fought would be in their own neighborhood in the Little River District.
When James Williams was killed, leadership of the Little River Regiment devolved upon his best friend, Col. Joseph Hayes. And, in fact, Joseph Hayes was the executor of James Williams estate. One of his functions as executor was to transfer the deed of ownership of Hammond’s Store to James Williams’ oldest son.
17 year old Capt. Daniel Williams was now the owner of Hammond’s Store.
After Kings Mountain Lord Cornwallis retreated to Winnsboro, SC to refit and regroup. George Washington sent Gen. Nathanael Greene south to take charge of the faltering southern Continental Army. Greene divided his command, and sent Gen. Daniel Morgan into the Backcountry of South Carolina to “Spirit up the People”.
In the meantime, a band of 250 plundering Tories was on the loose in the SC Backcountry. Generals Morgan and Greene believe this band was led by Thomas Waters, a leading Georgia Tory. Many of the participants who engaged in the looming battle thought that North Carolina Tories under the leadership of John Moore were involved. It is most likely that these Tories consisted of an amalgamation of NC, SC and GA Loyalist militiamen who saw an opportunity for plunder.
Daniel Morgan called upon his excellent cavalry commander, Lt. Col. William Washington, to counter the Tory threat. Lt. Col. Washington was George Washington’s second cousin, once removed.
William Washington commanded the 3rd Continental Light Dragoons, an 85 man hand picked regiment that fought with incredible heroism throughout the war. In addition, Morgan assigned 200 local SC state troops familiar with the area as mounted riflemen under the command of Lt. Col. James McCall and Col. Joseph Hayes.
The Tories knew that Lt. Col. Washington had set out after them, so they began retreating, although in a rather leisurely manner. They were heading towards Ft. Williams, which was the fortified plantation of recently deceased James Williams.
In a rather ignominious insult, Loyalist Robert Cunningham had seized the home of deceased James Williams – his bitter enemy – and turned the plantation into a British fort. Ft Williams was an outpost of Ninety Six, which was only 15 miles away. And, Ft. Williams was only 7 miles away from Hammond’s Store.
As the Tories retreated, they stopped for a midday meal at Hammond’s Store on Dec. 30, 1780. They set out a small rear guard to warn of any approaching Patriots. The Tory arms were stacked.
William Washington captured the rear guard, and the Tories had no warning. When Washington crested a long hill, he spied the Tory encampment. He immediately charged across the Bush River ford and attacked the Tory line en echelon with sabers flashing. The mounted militia riflemen covered both flanks. Reports say the Tories never fired a shot.
100 Tories were killed. 50 were wounded. 40 were captured. The rest escaped to Ft. Williams. 50 horses were captured.
There were 0 Patriot casualties.
Was Hammond’s Store a Patriot massacre? Many say so.
And, it appears that William Cunningham witnessed this event first hand. Major Joseph Williams (no relation) in his pension application in 1832 says that Bloody Bill Cunningham rode a horse to death in his escape to Ft. Williams.
The next day Col. Joseph Hayes and the Little River Regiment- including Capt. Daniel Williams – attacked Ft. Williams. General Robert Cunningham, with his brother Patrick and cousin William, were in the process of abandoning the fort, and 8 more Tories were killed in the attack.
18 days after the Battle of Hammond’s Store, the Battle of Cowpens occurred. Every one of the Patriot combatants at Hammond’s Store fought with extreme heroism at Cowpens. The experiences they had fighting together at Hammond’s Store and earlier at Blackstock’s Plantation on Nov 20, 1780, proved invaluable. And, the people were indeed spirited up. The Patriot militia at Cowpens consisted of 1,000 volunteers. The Loyalist militia was only able to muster 50.
After Cowpens, there was the Race to the Dan, Guilford Courthouse and Hobkirk’s Hill. The Little River Regiment with Joseph Hayes and Daniel Williams participated in the Race to the Dan. The Cunningham family was ensconced at Ninety Six during this time.
After the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, Nathanael Greene turned his sights to Ninety Six. After a 28 day siege, Greene retreated when a British relief column from Charleston arrived.
Lord Rawdon, the 27 yr. old British commander, realized that Ninety Six was too remote to be held. He issued an order bringing in all Loyalist families to gather at Ninety Six, and after a month of gathering these folks together, a grand caravan of Backcountry Loyalists left the Backcountry to begin an 18 month long stay as refugees in Charleston. The Cunninghams were among this group.
As the war progressed, the British surrendered at Yorktown on Oct 19, 1781. There was a general feeling that the war was over.
However, in South Carolina the war was anything but over, and some of the most gruesome events of the war were soon to occur. Bloody Bill Cunningham was at the forefront of these events.
In November of 1781, one month after Yorktown, Bloody Bill Cunningham set out on his “Bloody Scout” with 300 bloodthirsty renegades holed up as refugees in Charleston. He surrounded 28 men at Clouds Creek in Lexington County, and after those men surrendered, Bloody Bill hacked them to death with his sword.
The next day Bloody Bill and his men cruelly killed six men in Newberry County. This was the time when Capt. John Caldwell – his former Patriot commander – was shot to death in front of his wife.
On Nov 19 Colonel Joseph Hayes and 20 or so men were resting at Joseph Hayes’ stage coach stop. Hayes Station was 4.5 miles from Hammond’s Store and 2 miles from Ft Williams, James Williams homeplace. 18 year old Daniel Williams and his 14 year old brother – Joseph – were also present.
A plume of smoke was seen rising from the Williams homeplace. At the same time a rider galloped up, warning Hayes and his men that Bloody Bill Cunningham was close behind.
Col. Hayes ordered his men into a blockhouse on the property that was used to ward off Cherokee attacks. Soon, Bloody Bill and 300 men surrounded Col. Hayes and some of the finest heroes of the storied Little River Regiment. Shots were fired and one man on each side was killed.
Bloody Bill ordered an ingot to be heated up red hot in the stage coach blacksmith shop. It was thrown on to the block house roof and the shingles were set on fire.
Joseph Hayes asked if he surrendered would his men be treated as prisoners of war. Bloody Bill said yes, and the men left the burning blockhouse one at a time and had their hands tied behind their backs.
Bloody Bill then turned to the men and said something to the effect of “I’ve got you now, you sons of bitches!”
After pardoning a few of Hayes’ men for good deeds, Bloody Bill planned to hang Joseph Hayes and Daniel Williams together from a fodder pole. Daniel Williams was now 18.
As the noose was placed around Daniel’s younger brother, 14 year old Joseph Williams cried out “Oh brother, Oh brother, what shall I tell our mother?”
“You’ll tell her nothing, you damn rebel cur!” shouted Bloody Bill as he drew his sword and ran young Joseph through.
14 year old Joseph Williams was the first murdered victim at Hayes Station. He would not be the last.
As Bloody Bill tightened the rope to hang Hayes and Daniel Williams, the fodder pole broke. Enraged, Bloody Bill started chopping and hacking away at the bound prisoners. The attack became a blood drenched macabre horror scene as body parts littered the field. When Bloody Bill could hack no more, his men finished the job.
The horrific death of Daniel Williams was the last gruesome episode in the Williams-Cunningham feud. Bloody Bill and his men continued on with the Bloody Scout, making a circuit throughout the state and killing an estimated 79 men altogether.
And, what became the fate of the Cunninghams?
General Robert Cunningham was exiled to the Bahamas where he established a new plantation and received a British pension for the rest of his life.
William Cunningham soon joined up with Robert in the Bahamas. He died six years after the war due to unexplained circumstances. One rumor states he was poisoned to death. Another rumor states he died of syphilis. In any case, it appears that the most brutal mass murderer in South Carolina history had a rather unpleasant ending.
Patrick Cunningham went to Florida where he applied for reinstatement to his South Carolina properties. Although he led battles against the Patriot forces, in no case was he ever accused of fighting in a dishonorable way. He was amerced (fined) 12% of his holdings and allowed to return.
Patrick Cunningham returned to his Rosemont plantation and became a
prosperous planter. In one of the great ironies of the Revolutionary War, his granddaughter – Ann Pamela Cunningham – became the savior of Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s now neglected mansion. She formed the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association and raised $200,000 to preserve and restore Mt. Vernon for posterity.
Patrick Cunningham and his descendants have become respected members of the community ever since. The same accolade is due the Williams family descendants.
Thus ends the story of one of the most bloody and dramatic feuds in American history.