Elizabeth Starke and Mary Ann Mickle
By Bill Reed with reliance on histories1, the Draper Manuscripts as transcribed by Sloan Mason2,
and what may be an overactive imagination3
farmhouse along the Wateree River in Fairfield County, South Carolina, near the center of the state. The setting is flat and sandy-but also with many pine trees.
house sits near the ferry boat landing where materials are staged for loading to be shipped to market. Farm goods, stock,
vegetables, and cotton, pass through from the west on their way over the ferry to merchants who send back commercial goods
from Camden. There is also some wagon traffic up the nearby wagon road,
along the west side of the river. The rivers made better highways in those days
than the roads, and Mickle’s Ferry connected the Starke and Peay families of Fairfield County to the Perrys of Lancaster
County directly across the river more closely than rough country roads could to Camden or Winnsboro families.
The front porch looks to the east across the river. Bells have been hung
out near the wharf, and across the river, a bugle has been chained to a tree in preparation for visitors. Boys prefer the bugle and the occasional woman prefers the bell to signal when they want a tow across the
river. Now and then a buggy or wagon needs to be carried across.
The time is about August 1815.
The home belongs to John Mickle who has a plantation a few miles back from the river.
He spends time here and at the plantation. He has several slaves. They go back and forth on various tasks.
Here, today, at the ferry sits his wife, Elizabeth, talking to her young daughter.
It is morning and the air is pleasant.
Elizabeth - The mother, is about 61 years old, tall, with hair still somewhat dark, but with some grey. She has a regal appearance, partly from having responsibility of several slaves and households. She has need of dignity to maintain control. Still she seems
to have sense of humour, from long years of exposure to different situations.
Elizabeth Starke had been born in Virginia in 1750s and was in a parish that Rev. Douglass ruled. He was a stickler who had tutored Thomas Jefferson as a young man.
Elizabeth had left Virginia with her parents as a young girl and had slowly made her way through North Carolina,
staying there a brief time before arriving in South Carolina about 1765 or so.
had married young, at about 15, to George Peay, another Virginian who had come to South Carolina. She had at least three children by the time she was 26, when the Revolution came to the backcountry in
earnest. By 1780, the countryside was ablaze with guerrilla style raids and counter
raids between local Whigs and small parties of British soldiers from Camden, and sometimes with local Tories… just like
in the Mel Gibson film The Patriot. Elizabeth had 5 brothers--Williams,
Douglass, Thomas, Rueben, John (called Jack)—all but John the youngest were away serving in the militia or the regulars.
In 1780, she had been on her way to Virginia to escape the war in SC, when she became witness to the battle of Fishing
Creek. After the battle she had continued to what is present day Greensboro NC. There she gave birth to another child. She
had then gone on to Virginia for a time before returning to South Carolina.
Her husband, George Peay, a farmer, had died when she was about 42 (in 1796) and her children were young adults. She soon re-married, to a widower, John Mickle who took
over the family ferry operation after the death of his father. They had two children
in rapid succession, John Joseph, and Mary Ann.
Elizabeth and John Mickle have a tolerance for one another’s views. They
come and go independently. She has independent means from her first marriage,
protected by a pre-nuptial agreement. He is a bit attached to some of the Quaker ways of his grandmother’s people, and
likes to have periods of quiet and solitude.
She is youngest daughter of an extended family. Her parents, Elizabeth
and John Mickle, are now “up in years”. Her father is tolerant, easy
on his slaves and his children. He lets her brother John Joseph go hunting at
John Mickle (not shown) may have been a
bit ambivalent about the Revolution, having had relations who were Quakers, some of whom were Tories (the Beltons). John had become a Presbyterian, but in public prayer, he addressed the Creator in terms such as “the
God of Thunder”. John Mickle claimed that he neither sold nor bought slaves. Furthermore, his slaves were said to be generously treated. John has already told Mary Ann to marry whom she pleases but make sure that he is a good man
Mary Ann is now only 17 years old and seeks to marry a man about 12 years her senior.
He is Rowland Rugeley (not shown), the eldest son of Henry Rugeley, a Tory Colonel who lived a few miles north
of Camden in neighboring Kershaw County. Henry had died a few years previously
on trip to England, and Rowland had been raised by his mother, Elisabeth Cooke Rugeley and her second husband. (they had been separated last year and Elizabeth has returned to live with Rowland just recently)
Rowland is owner of several acres about 8 miles to the northwest in Fairfield County.
He lives among his two brothers and his sister.
Rowland and other boys in the neighborhood are getting anxious to move to cheaper land in Alabama some four hundred
miles to the West. It is former Indian land that is opening up for settlement. Many are anxious to go West and eventually do so.
Elizabeth - I hope that the servants get over here before the traffic starts to build.
If we don’t keep up they will drive up to the ford and we will lose the business.
Mary Ann - Don’t worry. Daddy will get them moving! Maybe Johnny should forget his hunting for a bit and take his turn at the ferry.
Elizabeth- The young men are already so intrigued with going to Alabama that little else matters. They had better tend to business.
Mary Ann- (after a pause)- Mama, Would you be offended if I married and went to Alabama too?
Elizabeth- Well you have to do what you think is best, but you are still a baby.
There is time for moving, once you have some capital to move on.
Mary Ann- I am thinking that I may be asked to marry before long. And he
has some capital.
Elizabeth- Now who would that be? Not so much capital around here these
Mary Ann- I have been talking a bit to Rowland Rugeley from over on Taylor’s Creek. Over to the northwest. He and his brothers have been given
leave to sell their property if they want. Their step father and their mother
are separated now. They stand to gain over 600 acres between them, along with
Elizabeth- What about their mother? Isn’t it partly hers?
Mary Ann- I think she is tired of being on her own. She would be willing to live with Rowland if he would take her in. He is a kind man and I thing that she would be easy to live with.
Elizabeth- Don’t jump to conclusions about that until you know her.
Mary Ann- Rowland is 29 years old and has been handling slaves and farming for a long time. He helped run a store for several years when he was a boy. They
have had to deal with people and have learned to get along.
Part of my concern is that his father was such a Tory. He seems to mention
it very little, but he still has relatives in England and some from here who were Tories and had to exile to Bermuda after
the war. After your experiences with the Tories, I am afraid that you might
find it difficult to deal with them. They are a little different, trying to recover
what they lost. They are little bitter too I would imagine.
Elizabeth- Well they will have to get over it if they are! We all have
things to gnaw at us if we let them! You know abut my trip during the War an
how I was treated. If I were to dwell on it, I wouldn’t be able to do my
duties as a wife and mother. We are doing all right and that was a product of
the times. I have had to let it go!
Mary Ann- What happened exactly? How did you get in the middle of a scrape
Elizabeth- It was in the late summer of 1780. About this time of year. We had been up and down that year. The
British had taken over Charleston in the Spring. We were waiting for the other
shoe to drop.
Then, we heard the Whigs were coming. Our salvation we thought.
In August Daddy and my brothers expected some results from the Whigs coming down from the North to drive out the Tory
I think we had gotten along with people until the Tories became too proud and too greedy. Then the British soldiers under Rawdon, Cornwallis and Tarleton arrived in Camden, and that set it in peoples’
minds to drive us out. We were outnumbered.
We always thought “When The Whigs come it will be different!”
Mary Ann- And, was it different?
Elizabeth- It made it worse. Both sides were to blame. There was a lot of getting even with old rivals and settling old grudges.
There was horse stealing, and stealing grain and livestock.
My own brother, Jack, was out all hours of the day and night getting into trouble.
Mary Ann- Was Uncle Jack as wild as they say he was?
Elizabeth (laughing)- He was your typical young fellow; he just tried himself.
He would taunt the neighbors, shoot at the British when they weren’t looking.
They wanted him real bad.
Then when he bent over and waggled his rear-end at them… got shot, he was fit to be tied. He was on Starke Island at the time, and didn’t think that they could hit him from the river bank,
the young fool. I begged George to go and save his hide. That is when our troubles began
Mary Ann- So how was Mr. Peay’s action the cause of your troubles?
Elizabeth - George only did what any decent man would do. He came to see me while I had the kids over at Mama’s house.
That’s when we got word that Jack was captured. Mama and I asked
George to see if he could get a rescue under way.
Mary Ann: So what did he do?
Elizabeth: He went off on his own and found Jack in the middle of the night
as a prisoner, shot in the thigh. George carried him out on his back from among
the soldiers while they were sleeping. When they found out what had happened,
George being married to me,Jack’s sister, we were close to be driven out of here.
They wanted George then almost as bad as they wanted Jack now, and I begged him to go off to his family in Rockingham,
or join the Regulars. He was endangering us all if he stayed.
Mary Ann- Didn’t the neighbours help you out? I thought one of them
hid Jack while he was lame.
Elizabeth - They got fearful of helping us. It became every man for himself.
Mary Ann- So what did you do? I guess it was you and Austin and the girls,
all by yourselves?
Elizabeth- Yes, George had taken off for North Carolina, to spare us from Tory reprisals, heading for Rockingham County
to his Peay relatives. He gave Old Todd strict instruction on how to go and what
to do if I had to deliver.
Mary Ann: So tell me the story from beginning to end. All I have heard are bits and pieces.
Elizabeth sighed but seemed to enjoy reliving the escape to Virginia.
Elizabeth: Some of our men were with Sumter, so we knew that Sumter had
been obsessed with capturing the ferries, trying to keep the British bottled up on the east side of the river. We also knew that the American General Gates was coming
down from the north to Camden to fight the British.
Here we civilians were, in Fairfield County, particularly if away from the river, isolated from the large American liberating
force across the river. We were outnumbered here.
I can’t recall but some say that there were no more than 28 Whig families over here. You see these houses and barns today, and everything looks well ordered and peaceful. Then, you simply didn’t know who out there was running to the authorities, informing on you. Worse yet, you didn’t know who would be out at night, stealing your livestock
and burning your property, all deniable as duty in the name of the King.
After the British soldiers occupied Camden, the night riders became bolder. They
didn’t fear the retribution they once did. They were burning our barns,
then our houses. I got ready for them.
I had a servant bury my expensive slant top writing desk from Virginia with our family relics and papers. When they burned our house, it was saved, or so I thought. Before
the fire, we had hid out some corn and we had some few things from the barn. We
had a couple of horses and a pony and a cart.
Of course, George was gone to Rockingham, and I knew the mills might soon refuse to serve us. I decided to have that corn ground as soon as I could. We
would starve if we didn’t get some cornmeal laid back. Austin was 10 or
11 years old. He was a brave little boy, taking after his daddy. He took the corn down to the mill and wouldn’t you know it… some Tories fired on him and caught
him. He ran away but they got the buggy and the last of the corn. He came home on foot.
I knew then we had to leave or starve, and the only safe way out seemed to be with Sumter’s men. Your Uncle Reuben was with them. He helped me into the line
of march. I had the two horses and one of the servants came part of the way. I rode on a wagon for a time with your sisters, nursing the youngest baby. I was about to deliver again, and still had mother’s milk.
Austin rode some on a horse with one servant riding on the other. We eventually
had to get rid of some of the wagons as they broke down or froze up. Sumter must
have thought we were going too slow. I rode then on a horse with the girls. Austin and the servant were on the other one.
It was hot and humid being in mid August. We rode and walked day and night
for what seemed like a week, but it was only a couple of days.
We camped for the last time in South Carolina at Rocky Mount. We were
exhausted. Next morning we were up again and on the road but we were so tired. It is like a lot of wrinkled up hills up there above Rocky Mount. You go down and up down and up. There is a beautiful falls
up there and it was the last sign of peace I was to see for a long while. We
passed the falls and went up the Fishing Creek, crossing a ford. We camped in
the valley along the road between Fishing Creek on our left and out of sight of the Catawba over to our right. Sumter thought we were safe there.
had all the confidence in the world that we would be safe as we had a sizable force, ammunition, food, and plenty of horses. He even had Tory prisoners to negotiate with too.
word was passed out that we were to rest but to remain in the camp confines. Everyone
dropped at first to rest. Some even went to sleep right away. Soon some of the men were building campfires and cooking a hot noon meal.
Some had guard duty over the prisoners but others went swimming in the river nearby.
There was a peach orchard and some men went to get some peaches. I didn’t
roam around the camp because it was spread out. I sat down under a canopy of
branches that covered one end of a fallen tree. I was trying to nurse my little girl.
Austin and the servant were there nearby.
Suddenly there were British soldiers charging right in among us. Tarleton
jumped right over the other end of our log. The British on horses, and on foot,
spread out to sabre or shoot everyone in their path. Most of our men had been
separated from their stacked weapons so they stood no chance. A few snuck over
there and got their muskets or rifles, but they were soon put to flight. I grew
faint with the sight of all the blood and the dying. I could hear the bullets
whistling by and hitting the branches and even the other end of the log under me. I
grabbed the kids and we got as small as we could behind that log. You could hear
them fighting in the brush on all sides. Men were dead or dying all around us.
I can still remember it, but can’t really adequately describe it. Too
much too quick. Austin still remembers details of it. Musket fire and cannon reports, although they say there were no cannon shots. Maybe it was gunpowder being destroyed. We could see prisoners
being led off and wounded being carried along.
I was afraid to look at the dead for fear I would see my brother,Reuben. At
the time, I didn’t quite know what I was doing. It was eventually quiet
and too silent for words. The British had taken our horses. I found some wounded ones that they had left behind.
That old horse probably saved our lives. He was a Grey that had been wounded
in the neck. I rode on him with your two sisters and headed on towards North
I remember that the kids were crying for something to eat. I was reluctant,
but had no choice, and we stopped at a nice little place. The Tory there was
out of sorts with us. He said that he had no food for rebels. He said that we could go the peach orchard and get us some peaches, plenty fit enough for rebel children.
Eventually after we crossed the Yadkin River, we met a Tory who lied and claimed that the South Carolina grey horse
was his. We had to walk on most of the way towards Guilford Court House. I delivered
my baby in a kind stranger’s house. They arranged transportation, and I
eventually reached the Peay relatives just north of there in Rockingham County. That
is maybe 150 miles north of here.
I stayed there a while. George had rejoined his militia unit, but saw me
there when he could. They even took care of the kids, and for the last time,
I got to visit my Starke relations in Virginia. They had scattered around, so
I got to see Louisa County and Richmond.
During and right after the war, we stayed up there, some of the time with George, and some alone. We finally returned to South Carolina after the war was well over.
I found that the things buried by my servant had decayed. I always wondered
how much further ahead we would have been if we had been able to just sit out the war the way some peopled did. We got a little land as a reward for George’s military service but what is land without money?
Neighbors now are rich by comparison, but we lived through it and we are not outcasts.
END OF ELIZABETH’S STORY
Mary Ann- So, has it made you a Tory hater, like Uncle Jack?
Elizabeth: Life is too short for that.
Look at all the marriages in our families. Do you think they were all
wise? Were they all saints? Still
something good came from most of them.
Mary Ann: So what about me marrying Rowland? Is that a tolerable situation for you?
Elizabeth: My advice is to be observant, use your head, and follow your
instincts, in that order if you can.
You will find that things are never as you plan. You may move away from
here the way I moved away from Virginia and later, from North Carolina.
1. John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Court House: the American
Revolution in the
Carolinas. New York, 1997; Richard Blanco, The American Revolution
Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press: 1993); W. Faux, "An English Farmer" in Harvey
Teal, ed., Five Visitors to Kershaw District 1806-1832 (Camden, SC: Kershaw County Historical Society).
- See USGENWEB archives.
3. I invented
a name, Todd, to avoid depersonalising the Negro servant who accompanied Elizabeth Peay, by some accounts, on her trip to
I equated the wills, deeds, etc made by Elizabeth Peay before she married John Mickle with being, effectively, a ‘prenuptial
I ‘conjectured’ various reactions to the events of the day, ‘putting myself into the shoes’
of several characters. Not all of those would have seen things my way, but leaving
no diaries, they left me little choice, if they were to receive a voice at all.