By Denise Weimer
We’ve all seen movies depicting the French and Indian War and the Revolution in America that make us wonder if Hollywood isn’t sensationalizing the violence. When researching the Revolution in the Southern theatre for my novella, Across Three Autumns, which will release in May 2018 as part of Barbour’s BackcountryBrides collection, I found that not only would the Colonial backcountry be the last place we’d want to live, but the heroes and the villains are often hard to tell apart. Case in point: Thomas Brown.
The son of a Yorkshire shipping company owner, Brown settled Brownsborough northeast of Augusta, Georgia, with plans to become a gentleman farmer. But by September 1780 he’s a lieutenant colonel commanding British loyalists who attempt to hold Augusta against militia Colonel Elijah Clarke. Wounded in both thighs, Brown refuses to give up under siege. Upon learning 500 British from South Carolina march to his aid, he (or another lieutenant colonel) orders thirteen prisoners hanged from the porch of the Mackay Trading Post. One biography specifies he requested them hung from the stairway banister so he could watch them die from his bed. The other prisoners are turned over to Indian allies to be tortured.
|Tarleton. No portrait available for Brown.|
The siege of Augusta incident sparked a reputation for Thomas Brown almost equal to that of Banastre Tarleton in South Carolina (the controversial inspiration for William Tavington in “The Patriot”).
But let’s rewind to August 2, 1775. Thomas Brown has attended a Sons of Liberty meeting, where he’s refused to sign their Continental Association document. He’s followed home by an angry mob, tied to a tree, partially scalped (and not by Indians), tarred and feathered. A blow to his head fractures his skull and leaves him with lifelong headaches and a dependency on laudanum. A fire lit under his feet claims two of his toes and leaves him with the lifelong nickname “Burntfoot Brown.”
A revenge-bent Brown wants to rally Loyalists in South Carolina, but the governor advises him to wait on the arrival of British troops. Under threat of arrest, Brown flees to Florida, where he plies Governor Patrick Tonyn with his master plan to harass Georgia and South Carolina militia with a company of rangers supported by Indians. He’s commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Florida Rangers in 1776 and proceeds to bring havoc to the backcountry throughout the war.
Who’s the true hero here? The ones who with the courage and resourcefulness of God not only survive the “Hornet’s Nest,” like Jenny White, my heroine in Across Three Autumns … but to find love and offer compassion in the midst of it.
When we examine our villains, we often discover that a villainous act created them. What about you? Do you know of a local Rev War example where one side created its own enemy? Or have you written such a villain into a story? How can a defining moment of trauma bring realism and complexity to a character?