Rebecca Brewton Motte

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Rebecca Brewton Motte (1737–1815) was a plantation owner in South Carolina, townhouse owner in Charleston, patriot in the American Revolution, namesake of Fort Motte, and mother-in-law of Major-General Thomas Pinckney.

Early life and marriage[edit]

Rebecca was the daughter of Robert Brewton, a wealthy resident of Charleston, South Carolina, and his wife, the widow Mary Loughton, née Griffith. Rebecca married Jacob Motte (1729–1780) in 1758. Jacob was a townsman and planter, involved in politics.[1] The Mottes had seven children, two of whom died young.

By 1758 the Mottes lived in Charleston as well as at Fairfield Plantation (Charleston County, South Carolina) on the South Santee River outside of the city. Jacob died of illness in 1780, and Rebecca inherited the plantation and 244 slaves,[2] and their house in Charleston.

Two of the Motte daughters were married to Thomas Pinckney, an attorney and planter who served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and as governor of South Carolina. Elizabeth (Betsey) Motte (1762-1795) married him in 1779.[2] Frances was widowed and married him in 1797, after her older sister's death.[3] Frances and Thomas built the Middleton-Pinckney House in Charleston, South Carolina, now noted as a historic home.

Revolutionary War era[edit]

Rebecca's brother Miles Brewton (1731–1789) also died during the Revolution; he and his family were lost at sea in 1789 on their way to Philadelphia after he was elected to the second Provincial Congress.[4] Miles had owned up to eight ships and had become South Carolina's largest slave dealer; his was one of the wealthiest families in the province.[5] He had numerous plantations (growing rice and indigo) including Mt. Joseph (later known as Fort Motte), in what is today Calhoun County.[6]

In 1765 Miles had started construction of his lavish home in King Street in Charleston. It is preserved as the Miles Brewton House. Upon the deaths of her husband and brother, Rebecca inherited both their estates and became one of (if not the) wealthiest people in South Carolina in the Revolutionary War Era.[7]

On June 13, 1776 after the Battle of Fort Moultrie, in which Jacob Motte fought, the women of Charleston presented the second regiment of the Continental Army with

"a pair of silken colors, one of blue, one of red, richly embroidered by their own hands; and Susanna Smith Elliott, a scion of one of the oldest families of the colony, who, being left on orphan, had been brought up by Rebecca Brewton Motte, stepped forth to the front of the intrepid band in matronly beauty, young and stately, light-haired, with eyes of mild expression, and a pleasant countenance, and, as she put the flags into the hands of Moultrie and Motte, she said in a low, sweet voice: 'Your gallant behavior in defense of liberty and your country entitles you to the highest honors; accept these two standards as a reward justly due to your regiment; and I make not the least doubt, under heaven's protection, you will stand by them as long as they can wave in the air of liberty.'" [8]

The Motte family were supporters of the American Revolution and supplied soldiers with rice, beef, pork, corn, and fodder from 1778-1783.[9] During the war, she and her children were living in her brother's former town house when it was commandeered as British headquarters and housing for officers after the British occupied the city.[10] She soon left, taking her family to the comparative safety of the Mt. Joseph plantation on the Congaree River about 95 miles from the city.

In June 1780 the British occupied Belleville Plantation near Mt. Joseph, although the latter held a more commanding view of the river.[11] There had been a smallpox scare at Mt. Joseph.[12]

By December 1780 Rebecca and her daughters, including Elizabeth Motte Pinckney (wife of Thomas Pinckney, who became a general) with her infant, and others were living at Mt. Joseph. Thomas was there too, recuperating, having been wounded in August fighting at the Battle of Camden with General Gates.[13]

In January 1781 the Pinckney family left for Charleston, then Philadelphia, with other captured American officers awaiting possible exchange. Shortly thereafter, the British left Belleville and encamped at Mt. Joseph, where they began to fortify the house and surrounds. It became known as Fort Motte.[14] Rebecca and her entourage moved to the overseer's house.

Brigadier General Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion and Lt. Col. Henry Lee III of Virginia were sent by General Nathanael Greene to capture Fort Motte. In what became known as the Siege of Fort Motte, they arrived in May 1781 with about 400 men and an artillery piece. After five days of attack, Marion and Lee decided to burn the mansion, which had a dry wood shingle roof. Brewton Motte did not hesitate to "burn her home" and provided the forces with some arrows from East India which were designed to light on impact.[15] The house burned down, forcing the British to surrender.

Later life[edit]

While she had inherited great estates, in the 1790s Rebecca Brewton Motte had to pay off her family's war debts. She and son-in-law Thomas Pinckney developed the rice plantation, Eldorado on the South Santee River, downstream from "Fairfield." Eldorado is now in ruins.[16] There Brewton Motte lived out her days. Some of her grandchildren remembered the old arrow quiver, which hung from her chair to hold her knitting needles hanging on the back of her chair. The arrow symbolized the memory of Rebecca's days in the Revolutionary War.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Walter Edgar and N. Louise Bailey. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Volume II, The Commons House of Assembly 1692-1775. Columbia, SC. University of South Carolina Press. 1974. pp. 480-481
  2. ^ a b Elise Pinckney and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, "Letters of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1768-1782", South Carolina Historical Magazine (76). 1975. pp. 145, 165.
  3. ^ Smith, Steven D. Obstinate and Strong: The History and Archeology of the Siege of Fort Motte, SC Institute of Archeology and Anthropology 2007 pp. 12, 34
  4. ^ "Col. Miles Brewton and Some of His Descendents," South Carolina Historical Magazine (II). 1901. pp. 130-131, 142-144, 148-150.
  5. ^ Edgar and Bailey, pp. 95-97.
  6. ^ Edgar and Bailey, p. 96
  7. ^ Margaret Hayne Harrison. A Charleston Album. Richard R. Smith Publishers. 1953. pp 36-43.
  8. ^ Bancroft, Vol. IV, p.410 96
  9. ^ Alexia Jones Helsley. South Carolinians in the War for American Independence. South Carolina Department of Archives and History. 2000. pp. 65-69.
  10. ^ Margaret Hayne Harrison. pp. 36-43.
  11. ^ Lyman C. Draper. Diary of Lieut. Anthony Allaire in King's Mountain and its Heroes. Peter G. Thompson. 1881. p 497.
  12. ^ Letter, Elizabeth Motte to Eliza Pinckney, July 1780 in Ravenel, Eliza Pinckney. pp. 289-290.
  13. ^ Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Life of General Thomas Pinckney. Houghton, Mifflin and Co. 1895. p. 80.
  14. ^ Ranking. Francis Marion. p. 201.
  15. ^ Letter, Lord Rawdon to Cornwallis, May 24th 1781 in R. W. Gibbes. Documentary History of the American Revolution in 1781 and 1782. Appleton and Co. 1855. p. 79.
  16. ^ Smith, pp. 12,34
  17. ^ "Rebecca Brewton," in South Carolina Genealogies, Vol I, pp 150-153, Reprint Co., Spartanburg, SC, 1983

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