Behethland Foote Butler Biography | Women of the Revolution


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      The influence of women, so powerful an agent during the progress of the Revolutionary war, was essential after its close in restoring a healthful tone and vigor to society. The exercise of the higher qualities of character was then no less demanded than in the troublous times of violent popular excitement. Energy, industry, and perseverance were necessary to the fuIfilment of daily duties, which were to form the character and shape the destinies of the youth of the Republic. It was the part of women to reclaim what the ravages of war had laid waste; to weed from the soil the rank growth it had nourished; to carry out in practice the principles for which patriots had shed their blood, and to lay a moral foundation on which the structure of a nation’s true greatness might be built. How faithfully the honorable yet difficult task was performed may be best seen from the characters of those who were prepared for usefulness under this training. And it is not a little remarkable how indifferent were those to whom this mighty trust was committed to views of personal ambition or interest. The spirit of Mary Washington was among them. No distinction was in their eyes worthy to be coveted, except that of eminent usefulness; they thought not of the fame or power to be won by service to the Republic, but in their simplicity and singleness of heart believed a patriot’s best reward was the consciousness of having done his duty. Such were the matrons of the nation’s early day. Had they been otherwise, America would not have been what now she is.

      It is pleasant to dwell upon the character of one of these matrons, whose influence, exerted in the privacy of the domestic circle, has borne rich fruit in those who owe their distinction to her training. But few incidents of her early personal history can be obtained; her life, like that of most women, has been too quiet and secluded to furnish material for the chronicler of mere events; but in view of the part she has borne in the great work appointed by Providence to American women, and the example afforded, its lesson should not be lost.

      Behethland Moore was born on the 24th December, 1764, in Fauquier County, Virginia. Her father, Captain Frank Moore, commanded as lieutenant one of the Virginia troops at Braddock’s defeat. Her mother was Frances Foote, of whose family many still reside in that part of the State. About 1768, five years after the marriage of her parents, they removed to South Carolina, and settled on Little River, in Laurens District, where Captain Moore died two years afterwards. His widow contracted a second marriage with Captain Samuel Savage, who in 1774 removed to Edgefield District, and fixed his residence on Saluda River, just above Saluda Old Town. Here Miss Moore and her two brothers, William and George, lived with her mother and stepfather. Her education was attended to with more care than was usually bestowed on the tuition of young girls. She was sent to school in Camden, and placed under the charge of a female teacher who enjoyed in that day a very high reputation, receiving instruction in various useful and ornamental branches.

      While she was at this school, Count Pulaski, with the forces under his command, passed through Camden on his way to join the American army at Charleston. Miss Moore and her young companions took great pleasure in looking at the soldiers as they passed through the streets; though they were frequently rebuked for this indulgence of a natural curiosity. In 1781, she returned home. The smallpox was making fearful ravages through the country; and to secure her against the dangers of the disease in its more violent form, Miss Moore was sent to the neighborhood of Ninety-Six, where she was innoculated by a British surgeon. While awaiting the effects of the operation, being placed as a boarder in the house of James Maysons, General Greene laid siege to Ninety-Six. The wife of Colonel Cruger, the commander of the garrison, had lodgings in the same house with Miss Moore, and was well acquainted with the American General. The approach of Lord Rawdon rendered it necessary to attempt carrying the place by storm. Greene determined on this; but with characteristic humanity and delicacy, gave notice of his intention to Mrs. Cruger, and detached a sergeant and guard of eight men to protect the house in which she resided from dangers that might be apprehended in the heat of the assault. When the cannonading commenced, Mrs. Cruger was engaged in sewing up guineas in a girdle; an occupation which she continued in spite of the alarm occasioned by the successive reports. Miss Moore, as may be supposed, had her share in the uneasiness caused by the military preparations. She returned home the day before Lord Rawdon’s troops passed along the road, not far from the dwelling of her parents. The terrors of war were brought to their very door; for it was here that a sanguinary skirmish took place between Rawdon’s men and a body of Colonel Washington’s cavalry sent to impede their progress. Soon after, one of the royalist officers came to the house, where there were none but women; and advised the family to take care of their property. The caution was not unnecessary; for they were presently intruded upon by several British soldiers. In their search for plunder, they rolled down from above stairs some apples that had been gathered and stored for the use of the family. The soldiers below began picking them up as they fell on the floor; Miss Moore commanded them to desist, and gathering some of the fruit in her apron, offered it to a non-commissioned officer who stood by. Struck with the cool courage and determination of so young a girl, he made some remark expressive of his admiration, and ordered the soldiers instantly to desist from their rude trespass. He then asked if her father did not own some sheep; to which she replied in the affirmative. “The men are killing them, then, in the lot,” said the officer. Miss Moore hastened thither, followed by her informant. Two men were in the act of slaughtering one of the sheep; but at the officer’s bidding, with the threat of reporting them to the commander, were compelled to let them go. This incident, though trifling, exhibits the same spirit which in other instances impelled to heroic actions. The determination to interfere, though at no little personal hazard, for the protection of her father’s property, required a degree of courage in one of her age, which can be estimated only when we consider the ferocity of the marauders who then made it their business to pillage private families.

      On another occasion a band of tories came to the house of Captain Savage, and were taking off a negro boy who had been the personal attendant of Miss Moore’s father in the Indian war. With no thought of the risk to herself, she hastened after them to rescue him from their hands. The men, however, merely wanted him to show them where the horses were. When they returned driving the latter, one of them ordered another servant to catch one for him. Miss Moore commanded him not to obey such an order; it was repeated; and the tory swore he would beat the servant for his disobedience. As he was about to put his threat in execution, the young girl threw herself between them, and the grumbling assailant was forced to forego the intended violence. It must be remembered that the intrepid maiden thus braved the ruthless band entirely on a point of honor – knowing that the horses would be taken, but resolved not to permit a servant belonging to her family to wait upon a tory.

      While she resided at home, it became necessary to convey intelligence of danger to Captain Wallace, who was in command of a small force on the other side of the Saluda. There was difficulty in doing this, as no male messenger could be procured. Miss Moore, at that time, but fifteen years old, volunteered to undertake the service. Accompanied by her little brother, and a friend named Fanny Smith, she went up the river in a canoe in the middle of the night; gave the warning to Captain Wallace, and through him to Colonel Henry Lee, who had crossed the Island Ford on the retreat ordered by General Greene.

      The next morning a young American officer, who had been below on some reconnoitering service, rode up to the house to make a few inquiries. These were answered by the young lady, who, it is said, was somewhat struck with the appearance of the handsome man in dragoon uniform. This was the first occasion on which she saw her future husband. It appears that the pleasing impression at first sight was reciprocal; and that the fair girl’s image accompanied Captain William Butler into his next battle-field; for it was not long before the courtship took place. This did not meet the full approbation of the step-father; but love seldom yields to the discouragement of obstacles; and the lover’s perseverance was crowned with success. The marriage took place in 1784. The young people took possession of a small farm which Captain Butler had inherited from his father, near Mount Willing. Fourteen years afterwards they removed to an estate on one of the branches of Saluda River, where they continued to live till the husband’s death in 1821.

      General Butler was almost constantly engaged in public service, and was necessarily absent from home a great part of his time. In Congress from 1801 to 1814, and commanding the South Carolina forces in Charleston as Major General during 1814 and 1815, the whole care not only of his family, but of his plantation and business, devolved upon Mrs. Butler. Never were such varied responsibilities more worthily met and discharged. It was in this situation that the sterling qualities of her character were developed, and shone with brightest lustre. She had the care of a large family, the support of which was derived mainly from the produce of a small farm; and the energy with which she devoted herself to the charge, evinced a wonderful fertility in resources, commanding the admiration of all who knew her. She undertook the superintendence of her children’s education, and especially of its most important part – that moral training which always gives tone to character in after life. Abundant occasions were afforded, in many trying scenes, for the exercise of the unfaltering fortitude and prompt judgment which have been her most remarkable characteristics. One who has enjoyed an intimate acquaintance with her says he has never known her, in many years, to perform an act, or utter a word, which calm and deliberate judgment could disapprove. Amid trials and difficulties, sustained by high principle, integrity and independence, her character has impressed itself upon those who know her as rare and remarkable, commanding universal respect; while her gentle virtues endear her to all within the circle of her acquaintance. With a singular power of command and stern energy, she combines the softest and most womanly qualities. In her it may be seen that a superior mind, rigidly disciplined, may belong to a woman without the development of any harsh or unfeminine lineaments; and that a heart the most tender and affectionate may prompt to all the generous charities of life without being allied to weakness. It is this union of benignity with force of intellect and firmness of resolution, which has given her the ascendancy she possesses over others – an attribute difficult to define, yet which is felt instinctively, as the most peculiar and imposing of natural gifts.

      The best testimony that could be borne to the excellence of this noble mother, and of her system of education, is afforded by the career of her sons, several of whom have attained distinction in public service. Their acknowledgment of indebtedness to her for this eminence speaks more than volumes of eulogy. The family consisted of seven sons and one daughter. The eldest, James, was sheriff in his native district, and a Colonel in the militia of the State. He died in 1821. George, a Major in the army, which he left in 1815 for the bar, was one of the most prominent men in the State; and died at the age of thirty-three. The Hon. William Butler studied medicine, and was for several years in the, navy. The fourth son, who practised law, died in 1828. The eminent talents and public career of Andrew Pickens Butler, for many years a distinguished member of the Judiciary of South Carolina, and now United States Senator, are too well known to need illustration. It may suffice to say that in domestic life, and in the social circle, he commands the same esteem as in public station. He appears to have inherited the cheerfulness of disposition still re tained by his mother, and which contributes more than any other quality to shed around home the sunshine of happiness. The late Colonel Pierce Mason Butler was celebrated for heroic and generous qualities. A hero in the best sense of the term was this “American, Douglas.” He commanded the regiment of his native State in the Florida war; and subsequently received the highest testimony of the people’s confidence in his election to the Chief Magistracy of South Carolina. He fell at the head of the Palmetto regiment in Mexico. Few of our prominent men have left any single condensed expression that has become classic by fixing itself in popular remembrance; some of Colonel Butler’s are, however, thus embalmed. In his letter to General Worth, on the day of the battle of Churubusco, he claims a position for his command in the front of the action. “South Carolina,” he says, “is entitled to a Place in the picture.” And his motto of his regiment – “Our State expects us to do our duty, but to make no show of it” – is an expression strongly characteristic not only of him, but of the noble-minded mother by whose precepts, discipline, and example his character was formed. To her judicious care, and the high example of their father, her sons owe the large share they have exhibited of the old Greek feeling that they were born for their country.

      The parting of Mrs. Butler with her gallant son, on his departure for Mexico, was cheered by no expectation of meeting again – his health being greatly impaired. She gave him her last embrace with tearless eyes, though with an agonized heart. Chosen as he was by the unanimous and spontaneous call of the State to lead her forces, he could not refuse to accept the trust; nor would his mother allow the exhibition of her sorrow to impede him in the performance of his duty.

      The youngest son, Leontine, died at the age of twenty-five. The only daughter, Emmala E., was the wife of Hon. Waddy Thompson, late Minister to Mexico.

      A single anecdote of domestic management may serve to illustrate Mrs. Butler’s power over the minds trained by her, and her habit of making use of slight occurrences to mould the character. The children of the late Colonel Butler attended school in the village of Edgefield, where she resides. One day when it rained violently, the children having been provided with cloaks and umbrellas sent for the purpose, her grandson, eleven years of age, observed that a little girl, the child of humble parents, had no such protection. He gave her his arm and the shelter of his umbrella, and conducted her home amid the jeers and laughter of his young companions. The amount of moral courage required for this simple act of courtesy and kindness, can be estimated when we consider the sensitiveness to ridicule in a boy of such early age. His grandmother’s expression of approval was sufficient reward, and she lost not the opportunity of exhorting the generous child never to be ashamed of an honorable action, however humble the object.

      It may perhaps be seen, even in this brief and inadequate sketch, how in the incidents of Mrs. Butler’s early life were developed the high mental and moral qualities which marked her in after years, illustrated in her actions, and sending forth so many streams of blessing. In her children, whom she reared to usefulness, and whose devotion to her has never faltered, her recompense has been found. Admired and beloved by her descendants and friends – the object of the high regard and respect of a large circle of acquaintance – she has yet the consciousness of being able to contribute to the enjoyment and improvement of those around her. It is but recently she has been called to mourn the death of her only daughter, worthy of her in her elevated principles, her gentle yet lofty spirit, and her grace and benignity of nature. The death of the brother whom she loved – Colonel Butler – it is said, was the blow which consigned her to an untimely grave. The memory of her amiable and noble qualities, and her deep and unaffected piety, is warmly cherished in the hearts of her kindred and friends.

      Related posts