Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Drayton, 20 October 1802

From John Drayton

Charleston Octr: 20th: 1802.


On the 12th: September, I had the honor of writing to you, respecting information received of an intended landing, of the French incendiary negroes, on coasts of the Southern States of this Union; from on board the French frigates, which were at New York.

Since that time, a false alarm has been given on Waccamaw neck, in the North Eastern part of this State; which occasioned the marching of troops towards the sea coast. As this news, will no doubt reach you, & may be mistated, I transmit you herewith a report of the same; as taken from the orderly book of Brigadier General Peter Horry, who commands in that part of the State.

With sentiments of high consideration I have the honor to be Sir Yr. most ob

John Drayton

RC (PHi: Daniel Parker Papers); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esq. President of the United States of America”; endorsed by TJ as received 28 Oct. Enclosure: “Statement from Govr. Drayton S. Carolina, relative to the landing of French Negroes, &c,” 20 Oct. 1802, certified by Daniel Huger, private secretary to the governor, that the annexed papers are true copies taken from the orderly book of the Twenty-Fifth Regiment of the Sixth Brigade; according to General Peter Horry’s account, during the afternoon of 10 Oct. Captain Paul Michau delivered Horry a report by Sergeant John Brown, which asserted that “people of colour” were landing on Long Bay near the house of Ensign Peter Nicholson; informed by his officers that Sergeant Brown was of good character and that his report could be trusted, Horry issued an alarm and sent orders mobilizing his militia brigade, directing a battalion toward the coast to “oppose with force of arms” the alleged invasion; the next day, while proceeding up Waccamaw neck with his military escort, Horry was informed by Benjamin Allston, Sr., that “the alarm given was a false one”; Horry questioned Captain Joshua Ward, who denied any fault in the matter, about the false alarm; Horry remained adamant that the officer responsible should be punished, deeming it “shameful, to sport with the feelings of so many men now on their march; & to occasion distress to their families”; Horry placed Ward under arrest and then questioned Sergeant Brown, who admitted his error and explained that he received his information from his brother, Sergeant Percival Pawley; after reviewing the communications in the affair, Horry was “now better satisfied” with Ward’s conduct and released the officer from arrest; Horry then left Allston’s house, gave orders demobilizing his brigade, and returned to Georgetown; Drayton also included copies of several militia communications, including Ward to Horry, 12 Oct., requesting a court of inquiry into his conduct; a summons by Ward to Pawley, dated midnight, 9 Oct., ordering Sergeants Pawley and Brown to call their men and have them “armed & accoutred, & ready to act on the defense”; Ensign Peter Nicholson to Ward, dated “past 9 oClock at night,” 9 Oct., reporting that he had taken into custody “a black french Creole, who can not give any account of himself,” and given the “general report of danger” from the coast, “I fear has come up to my house, to see what reception he will meet with; while his companions are lying in ambush. He is dressed with a sailor’s jacket, & his undercloths are now wet”; Nicholson will keep him under guard, “fearing his Companions if any may attempt a rescue,” and sends his report to Ward by express, “so that no delay may take place & that as much as possible we may be prepared for the worst”; Ward to Horry, 11 Oct., enclosing copies of Nicholson’s letter and Ward’s summons of 9 Oct., and explaining that he had been following Horry’s recent directions to keep his company ready and maintain “a watchful eye on the sea board; apprehending the landing of french negroes from on board frigate”; Ward deemed it unnecessary to forward Nicholson’s report, and was therefore surprised to discover that word of the affair had reached Horry at Georgetown and that “a considerable part of your Brigade have, & are about to march to Long Bay”; Ward enclosed copies of Nicholson’s report and his own summons to Pawley in order to prove “my reason for calling out my company; & the mode by which, they were summoned”; Ward referred Horry to Sergeant Brown for additional information, who would also deliver to him “the negro taken by Mr. Nicholson, subject to your future order: whom I expect you will judge of a very suspicious character” (printed in Howard A. Ohline, “Georgetown, South Carolina: Racial Anxieties and Militant Behavior, 1802,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, 73 [1972], 130–40).

On 20 Oct., in the aftermath of the false alarm over the alleged LANDING, OF THE FRENCH INCENDIARY NEGROES in Georgetown District, South Carolina, Drayton issued orders thanking PETER HORRY and his militia brigade for their “prompt attention to orders received respecting a late threatened danger along the sea-coast.” The governor observed that “Safety is best assured by alertness; and alarms serve to render the soldier more vigilant.” South Carolina was prepared to defend itself, Drayton concluded, “and watches over the welfare of the people” (National Intelligencer, 17 Nov. 1802).

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