Martha Bratton 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 memory of Mrs. Martha Bratton. – In the hands of an infuriated monster, with the instrument of death around her neck, she nobly refused to betray her husband; in the hour of victory she remembered mercy, and as a guardian angel, interposed in behalf of her inhuman enemies. Throughout the Revolution she encouraged the whigs to fight on to the last; to hope on to the end. Honor and gratitude to the woman and heroine, who proved herself so faithful a wife – so firm a friend to liberty !

      The above toast was drunk at a celebration of Huck’s defeat, given at Brattonsville, York District, South Carolina, on the twelfth of July, 1839. The ground of the battle that had taken place fifty-nine years before, was within a few hundred yards of Dr. Bratton’s residence, inherited from his father, one of the heroes of that day. He celebrated the anniversary of this triumph of the whigs. The cool spring of the battle-field, it is said, furnished the only beverage used on the occasion.

      The victory gained at this spot had the most important effect on the destinies of the State. It was the first check given to the British troops – the first time after the fall of Charleston, that the hitherto victorious enemy had been met. It brought confidence to the drooping spirits of the patriots, and taught the invaders that freemen are not conquered while the mind is free. The whigs, inspired with new life and buoyant hopes, began to throng together; the British were again attacked and defeated; a band of resolute and determined spirits took the field, and kept it till victory perched upon their banners, and South Carolina became an independent State.

      The year 1780 was a dark period for the patriots of Carolina. Charleston surrendered on the twelfth of May; and General Lincoln and the American army became prisoners of war. This success was followed up by vigorous movements. One expedition secured the important post of Ninety-Six; another scoured the country bordering on the Savannah; and Lord Cornwallis passed the Santee and took Georgetown. Armed garrisons were posted throughout the State, which lay at the mercy of the conqueror, to overawe the inhabitants, and secure a return to their allegiance. For several weeks all military opposition ceased; and it was the boast of Sir Henry Clinton that here, at least, the American Revolution was ended. A proclamation was issued, denouncing vengeance on all who should dare appear in arms, save under the royal authority, and offering pardon, with a few exceptions, to those who would acknowledge it, and accept British protection. The great body of the people, believing resistance unavailing and hopeless, took the offered protection, while those who refused absolute submission were exiled or imprisoned. But the fact is recorded that the inhabitants of York District never gave their paroles, nor accepted protection as British subjects; preferring resistance and exile to subjection and inglorious peace. This fact is dwelt upon in the oration delivered on the occasion by Colonel Beatty. Dr. Joseph Johnson of Charleston, to whom I am indebted for some of the particulars in Mrs. Bratton’s history, thinks it due to the circumstance that a large proportion of the settlers in that part of the State were of Irish origin, and derived their distrust of British faith from traditions of violated rights, contrary to the stipulations of the treaty of Limerick.

      A few individuals, who were excepted from the benefits of the proclamation, with others in whose breasts the love of liberty was unconquerable, sought refuge in North Carolina. They were followed by the whigs of York, Chester and some other districts bordering on that State, who fled from the British troops as they marched into the upper country to compel the entire submission of the conquered province. These patriot exiles soon organized themselves in companies, and under their gallant leaders, Sumter, Bratton, Wynn, Moffit and others began to collect on the frontier, and to harass the victorious enemy by sudden and desultory attacks. At the time when this noble daring was displayed, the State was unable to feed or clothe or arm the soldiers. They depended on their own exertions for every thing necessary to carry on the warfare. They tabernacled in the woods and swamps, with wolves and other beasts of the forests; and frequently wanted for both food and clothing.

      To crush this bold and determined spirit, British officers and troops were despatched, in marauding parties, to every nook and corner of South Carolina, authorized to punish every whig with the utmost rigor, and to call upon the loyalists to aid in the work of carnage. A body of these marauders, assembled at Mobley’s Meeting-house in Fairfield district, were attacked and defeated in June by a party or whigs under the command of Colonel Bratton, Major Wynn, and Captain M’Clure. The report of this disaster being conveyed to Rocky Mount in Chester District, Colonel Turnbull, the commander of a strong detachment of British troops at that point, determined on summary vengeance, and for that purpose sent Captain Huck, at the head of four hundred cavalry, and a considerable body of tories, all well mounted, with the following order:

      “To CAPTAIN Huyck –

      “You are hereby ordered, with the cavalry under your command, to proceed to the frontier of the province, collecting all the royal militia with you on your march, And with said force to push the rebels as far as you may deem convenient.”

      The order was found in Huck’s pocket after death, and is still preserved by one of his conquerors. His name is spelt as above in the manuscript.

      It was at this time that the heroism of the wife of Colonel Bratton was so nobly displayed. The evening preceding the battle, Huck arrived at Colonel Bratton’s house. He entered rudely, and demanded where her husband was.

      “He is in Sumter’s army,” was the undaunted reply.

      The officer then essayed persuasion, and proposed to Mrs. Bratton to induce her husband to come in and join the royalists, promising that he should have a commission in the royal service. It may well be believed that arguments were used, which must have had a show of reason at the time, when the people generally had given up all hopes and notions of independence. But Mrs. Bratton answered, with heroic firmness, that she would rather see him remain true to his duty to his country, even if he perished in Sumter’s army.

      The son of Mrs. Bratton, Dr. John S. Bratton, who was then a child, remembers that Huck was caressing him on his knee while speaking to his mother. On receiving her answer, he pushed the boy off so suddenly, that his face was bruised by the fall. At the same time, one of Huck’s soldiers, infuriated at her boldness, and animated by the spirit of deadly animosity towards the whigs which then raged in its greatest violence, seized a reaping-hook that hung near them in the piazza, and brought it to her throat, with intention to kill her. Still she refused to give information that might endanger her husband’s safety. There is no mention made of any interference on the part of Captain Huck to save her from the hands of his murderous ruffian. But the officer second in command interposed, and compelled the soldier to release her. They took prisoners three old men, whom, with another they had captured during the day, they confined in a corn crib.

      Huck then ordered Mrs. Bratton to have supper prepared for him and his troopers. It may be conceived with what feelings she saw her house occupied by the enemies of her husband and her country, and found herself compelled to minister to their wants. What wild and gloomy thoughts had possession of her soul, is evident from the desperate idea that occurred to her of playing a Roman’s part, and mingling poison, which she had in the house, with the food they were to eat; thus delivering her neighbors from the impending danger. But her noble nature shrank from such an expedient, even to punish the invaders of her home. She well knew, too, the brave spirit that animated her husband. and his comrades. They might even now be dogging the footsteps of the enemy; they might be watching the opportunity for an attack. They might come to the house also. She would not have them owe to a cowardly stratagem the victory they should win in the field of battle. Having prepared the repast, she retired with her children to an upper apartment.

      After they had supped, Huck and his officers went to another house about half a mile off, owned by James Williamson, to pass the night. His troops lay encamped around it. A fenced road passed the door, and sentinels were posted along the road. The soldiers slept in fancied security, and the guard kept negligent watch; they dreamed not of the scene that awaited them; they knew not that defeat and death were impending. Colonel Bratton, with a party chiefly composed of his neighbors, had that day left Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, under the conviction that the royalists would shortly send forces into the neighborhood of their homes, to revenge the defeat of the tories at Mobley’s Meeting-house. With a force of only seventy-five men, for about fifty had dropped off on the way, Colonel Bratton and Captain M’Clure, having received intelligence of the position and numbers of the enemy, marched to within a short distance of their encampment. The whigs arrived at night, and after concealing their horses in a swamp, Bratton himself reconnoitered the encampment, advancing within the line of sentinels. The party of Americans divided to enclose the enemy; one-half coming up the lane, the other being sent round to take the opposite direction. Huck and his officers were still sleeping when the attack commenced, and were aroused by the roar of the American guns. Huck made all speed to mount his horse, and several times rallied his men; but his efforts were unavailing; the spirit and determined bravery of the patriots carried all before them. The rout was complete. As soon as Huck and another officer fell, his men threw down their arms and fled (It is said that Huck was shot by John Carrol, who, as well as his brother Thomas, was a brave and daring soldier, his valor being always of the most impetuous kind. A brief, but characteristic description of him has been given by another Revolutionary hero: “He was a whig from the first – he was a whig to the last; he didn’t believe in the tories, and he made the tories believe in him”) Some were killed, or mortally wounded; some perished in the woods; the rest escaped, or were made prisoners. In the pursuit the conflict raged around Bratton’s house; and Mrs. Bratton and her children, anxious to look out, were in some danger from the shots. She made her little son, much against his will, sit within the chimney. While he was there, a ball struck against the opposite jam, and was taken up by him as a trophy. The battle lasted about an hour; it was bloody, though brief; and it is stated that the waters of the spring, which now gush forth so bright and transparent, on that memorable spot, were then crimsoned with the tide of human life. About daylight, when the firing had ceased, Mrs. Bratton ventured out, anxious, and fearful of finding her nearest and dearest relatives among the dead and wounded lying around her dwelling. But none of her loved ones had fallen. Her house was opened alike to the wounded on both sides; and she humanely attended the sufferers in person, affording them, indiscriminately, every relief and comfort in her power to bestow; feeding and nursing them, and supplying their wants with the kindest and most assiduous attention. Thus her lofty spirit was displayed no less by her humanity to the vanquished, than by her courage and resolution in the hour of danger. After the death of Huck in battle, the officer next in command became the leader of the troops. He was among the prisoners who surrendered to the whigs, and they were determined to put him to death. He entreated as a last favor, to be conducted to the presence of Mrs. Bratton. She instantly recognized him as the officer who had interfered in her behalf and saved her life. Gratitude, as well as the mercy natural to woman’s heart, prompted her now to intercede for him. She pleaded with an eloquence which, considering the share she had borne in the common distress and danger, could not be withstood.. Her petition was granted; she procured his deliverance from the death that awaited him, and kindly entertained him till he was exchanged. There is hardly a situation in romance or dramatic fiction, which can surpass the interest and pathos of this simple incident.

      The evening before the battle, Huck and his troops had stopped on their way at the house of Mrs. Adair, on South Fishing Creek, at the place where the road from Yorkville to Chester courthouse now crosses that stream. They helped themselves to every thing eatable on the premises, and one Captain Anderson laid a strict injunction on the old lady, to bring her sons under the royal banner. After the battle had been fought, Mrs. Adair and her husband were sent for by their sons and Colonel Edward Lacy, whom they had brought up, for the purpose of sending them into North Carolina for safety. When Mrs. Adair reached the battle-ground, she dismounted from her horse, and passed round among her friends. Presently she came with her sons to a tent where several wounded men were lying, Anderson among them. She said to him, “Well, Captain, you ordered me last night to bring in my rebel sons. Here are two of them; and if the third had been within a day’s ride, he would have been here also.” The chagrined officer replied, “Yes, madam, I have seen them.” Mrs. Adair was the mother of the late Governor John Adair of Kentucky.

      Instances of the noble daring of the women of that day, thus thrown ” into the circle of mishap,” and compelled to witness so many horrors, and share so many dangers, were doubtless of almost hourly occurrence. But of the individuals whose faithful memory retained the impression of those scenes, how few survive throughout the land! Enquiries made on this subject are continually met by expressions of regret that some relative who has within a few years descended to the grave, was not alive to describe events of those trying times. “If you could only have heard – or – talk of Revolutionary scenes, volumes might have been filled with the anecdotes they remembered!” is the oft- repeated exclamation, which causes regret that the tribute due has been so long withheld from the memory of those heroines.

      The defeat of Huck had the immediate effect of bringing the whigs together; and in a few days a large accession of troops joined the army of Sumter. The attack on the British at Rocky Mount was shortly followed by a complete victory over them at Hanging Rock.

      Another anecdote is related of Mrs. Bratton. Before the fall of Charleston, when effectual resistance throughout the State was in a great measure rendered impossible by the want of ammunition, Governor Rutledge had sent a supply to all the regiments, to enable them to harass the invading army. Many of these supplies were secured by the patriots in the back country, by secreting them in hollow trees and the like hiding-places; others fell into the hands of the enemy or were destroyed. The portion given to Colonel Bratton was in his occasional absence from home confided to the care of his wife. Some loyalists who heard of this, informed the British officer in command of the nearest station, and a detachment was immediately sent forward to secure the valuable prize. Mrs. Bratton was informed of their near approach, and was aware that there could be no chance of saving her charge. She resolved that the enemy should not have the benefit of it. She therefore immediately laid a train of powder from the depot to the spot where she stood, and, when the detachment came in sight, set fire to the train, and blew it up. The explosion that greeted the ears of the foe, informed them that the object of their expedition was frustrated. The officer in command, irritated to fury, demanded who had dared to perpetrate such an act, and threatened instant and severe vengeance upon the culprit. The intrepid woman to whom he owed his disappointment answered for herself. “it was I who did it,” she replied. “Let the consequence be what it will, I glory in having prevented the mischief contemplated by the cruel enemies of my country.”

      Mrs. Bratton was a native of Rowan County, North Carolina, where she married William Bratton, a Pennsylvanian of Irish parentage, who resided in York District in the State of South Carolina. The grant of his land, which is still held by his descendants, was taken out under George the Third. In the troubled times that preceded the commencement of hostilities, the decision of character exhibited by Mr. and Mrs. Bratton, and their exemplary deportment, gave them great influence among the neighbors. Colonel Bratton continued in active service during the war, and was prominent in the battles of Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock, Guilford, etc., and in most of the skirmishes incident to the partisan warfare under General Sumter. During his lengthened absences from home, he was seldom able to see or communicate with his family. A soldier’s perils add lustre to his deeds; but the heart of the deeply anxious wife must have throbbed painfully when she heard of them. She, however, never complained, though herself a sufferer from the ravages of war; but devoted herself to the care of her family, striving at the same time to aid and encourage her neighbors. On the return of peace, her husband resumed the cultivation of his farm. Grateful for the preservation of their lives and property, they continued industriously occupied in agricultural pursuits to a ripe old age, enjoying to the full

      “That which should accompany old age,
      As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,”

      Colonel Bratton died at his residence two miles south of Yorkville, now the seat of Mrs. Harriet Bratton; and his wife, having survived him less than a year, died at the same place in January, 1816. They were buried by the side of each other.

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