MCCONNELLS — After six years of research, historians say they have pinpointed the site of Huck’s Defeat – a skirmish in York County that set the stage for larger victories that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War against the British.
The precise location of the battle officially remained a mystery for more than a century until York County historian Michael Scoggins and a team of archaeologists explored a 10-acre patch of land in Historic Brattonsville. The Culture & Heritage Museums of York County announced the discovery in September.
History books can be updated to say that Huck’s Defeat took place near the home of James Williamson, a settler who lived close to the present-day town of McConnells in southwestern York County, Scoggins said.
The discovery paves the way for a new, national historic site open to the public at the Brattonsville living history village, where Williamson’s 18th century plantation and the Huck’s Defeat battlefield are located.
The National Park Service commissioned the Culture & Heritage Museums to nominate the battlefield for the National Register of Historic Places and to create an interpretive plan to make the battlefield a historic attraction.
Huck’s Defeat “is one of the more important battles fought in the South Carolina backcountry,” Scoggins said. “This was the first time the militia here in South Carolina … had engaged regular British troops since the British captured Charleston in May of 1780 and defeated them in battle.”
Scoggins has been studying the battle since he joined the museums in 1999. He wrote a book about it – “The Day It Rained Militia” – and wrote much of the Wikipedia entry about the skirmish.
Capt. Christian Huck was a British troop commander “who had created a lot of animosity or even hatred in the backcountry,” Scoggins said.
Huck, a lawyer from Pennsylvania, led his men as they burned homes, arrested ministers, confiscated food, destroyed crops and tormented residents.
“He really had a grudge against Presbyterians in this area,” Scoggins said. “He went out of his way to do anything he could to make their lives miserable.”
One night, a Patriot militia of about 140 fighters commanded by Col. William Bratton surrounded a camp where Huck and 120 of his men rested. The morning of July?12, 1780, they attacked, defeating the British troops and killing Huck.
The ambush, while small for a battle, was significant because it showed Americans that they didn’t have to fight on British terms, Scoggins said. They didn’t have to meet the foreign army face to face in fields where they were out-manned, out-trained and out-gunned.
They could engage in guerilla warfare.
The victory also boosted morale.
Huck’s Defeat “set the stage for the larger Patriot victories like Kings Mountain and Cowpens,” Scoggins said.
Over time, the precise location of Huck’s Defeat was forgotten.
During his research, Scoggins said he narrowed the area to about 10 acres. A challenge was comparing current maps of the area to unscaled maps drawn by hand in the 19th century.
With money the museums set aside, Scoggins hired archeologists from the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. About $62,000 in federal grant money kept the project going.
Guided by metal detectors, they excavated the area.
“We started turning up artifacts right and left,” Scoggins said.
Since 2006, the researchers discovered dozens of rifle and musket balls as well as buttons, buckles, horseshoes, household utensils and the pommel from an 18th-century officer’s sword.