It started with a research paper for a history class at Winthrop University in 1999.
The research was expanded for a second history class and the work was ultimately published as “The Day it Rained Militia.”
Fifteen years later, Michael Scoggins, no longer a Winthrop student but now a historian for the York County Culture and Heritage Museums, will stand Saturday on the exact site where Patriot militia launched a dawn attack on July 12, 1780, overwhelming British regulars and volunteers. The battle helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War.
“This is my dream,” Scoggins said, “to see the physical evidence – rifle and musket balls that were fired or dropped, the buckles and buttons, the camp gear, the horse gear. This brings the story of Huck’s Defeat to life.”
On Saturday, the 234th anniversary of the battle, Historic Brattonsville will open the battlefield for tours after a 1 p.m. ceremony. A quarter-mile trail with interpretive kiosks will tell the story of the battle, as well as that of the Williamson and Bratton families, the colonial settlers who fought for their land and freedom.
Huck’s Defeat, named for Christian Huck, a Philadelphia lawyer who led the British, is among the documented battles of the Revolutionary War.
Brief accounts of the battle were published in various colonial newspapers of the time. In 1812, Richard Winn, then a U.S. Congressman from South Carolina, wrote his war memoir, which included a map of the Williamson home, site of Huck’s Defeat.
On July 12, 1830, more than 1,500 people came to a battlefield celebration hosted by Dr. John Simpson Bratton.
As late as 1870, people would visit Brattonsville to see the battlefield and graves of the Loyalist or Tory soldiers who were killed in the battle. About 30 Tory and Loyalist soldiers died in the battle and 35 were wounded.
Even with numerous historical documents that placed the Williamson house about 300 yards southeast of the Bratton house, some thought the battle was fought about a mile farther north.
The discrepancy likely saved the site, Scoggins said. “People didn’t know where it was.”
From his research, Scoggins knew most of the details about the battle and the Williamson property.
James Williamson purchased 300 acres from Rebecca Kuydendall in November 1764 and settled on the south fork of Fishing Creek about 1766. The creek was sometimes called “Becky’s Branch” after Kuydendall.
Williamson, his wife, and likely the wives of his sons occupied the one-room house on July 11, 1780, when Huck and his troops set up camp. Huck slept in the house that night. Earlier in the day Huck and his soldiers had stopped at the Bratton house, looking for Col. William Bratton, one of the leaders of the Patriot militia. Bratton’s wife, Martha, later sent one of their slaves, Watt, to warn her husband and his troops.
The Patriot militia decided to divide its forces, attacking from the east and west. The attack started between 4:30 and 5 a.m., when the Loyalist militia were eating breakfast. In quick order, the Patriot militia attacked the Loyalist militia, the New York Volunteers and then the British regulars. The Patriot militia attacked from behind trees and fence rails.
The Patriot militia lost one man, named Campbell, who was killed after the battle while escorting a Tory prisoner who pulled a pistol from his coat at shot Campbell.
After publishing his book on the battle, “The Day it Rained Militia,” in 2005, Scoggins and others started efforts to pinpoint the battlefield in 2006.
With a grant from the National Park Service, volunteers used metal detectors to scan a likely site. When the volunteers found a string of rifle and musket balls probably fired by the Patriot militia, Scoggins and others knew they were on the right track. Scoggins said the munitions were probably fired by the Patriot militia because the British didn’t have much time to react during the 10- to 15-minute fight. Among the attackers were Williamson’s sons, Adam, George, John and Samuel.
“The British were either shot, surrendered or ran away,” Scoggins said. Loyalist volunteers from New York “grounded their arms and surrendered.”
Huck was one of those who tried to run, but was killed by John Carroll, who loaded two balls into his rifle and fired at the fleeing Huck.
“Huck could have prepared a better defensive position,” Scoggins said. But, he was arrogant and “felt he was invincible.”
The Patriot militia “had an intense resolve; some of their family members had been hanged and their houses burned,” Scoggins said. “They believed God was on their side.”
In 2010 more metal detection was done, as well as more traditional archaeological digging. The work unearthed a variety of artifacts from the battle and from the colonial period. Most of the artifacts were found 4 or 5 inches underground. In 2012 a dig looked for the foundation of the Williamson house. Nails used in the house construction were found, as were shards from dinner plates. The dig did not find “overwhelming” evidence of a structure. A “ghost” frame has been erected where the house is believed to have stood.
Funds from the York County hospitality tax allowed the Culture and Heritage Museums to build the trail and kiosks and to commission seven paintings by Don Troiani and Dan Nance that depict Huck’s Defeat.
Artifacts from the archaeological digs are on display at the Brattonsville Visitors Center. The Visitors Center will also have a short film on “Huck’s Defeat,” as well as prints of the artwork by Troiani and Nance for sale.