The year was 1780 and the American Revolution wasn’t going well for the Americans in the South. British forces captured Charleston and 5,400 American troops garrisoned there.Â During the siege, South Carolina Governor John Rutledge managed to escape and when word reached the British General Cornwallis, he sent Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton to chase him and troops under Colonel Abraham Buford who were escorting him to North Carolina. Tarleton’s men caught up with Buford’s troops near the Waxhaws District six miles south of the North Carolina state line, as Governor Rutledge continued north. Buford’s men put up a brief fight during which Tarleton’s horse was shot from under him. As the American troops began to surrender, Tarleton’s men, thinking he had been killed began renewed their attack on the surrendering Americans. More than one hundred men were killed outright and perhaps another hundred died of their wounds shortly after.Â
Up to that point, most thought that the South was going to remain loyal to Britain, but the Waxhaws Massacre became a rallying point for the rebels, with “Tarleton’s Quarter” becoming synonymous with “no mercy.”
The divisions in the South were apparent in the Battle of King’s Mountain, which was fought between two American forces–Tories under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson, and the “Overmountain Men,” American frontiersmen from what is now Tennessee and parts of Virginia. The Americans surrounded the Tories and this time it was they who gave “no quarter” to the surrendering Tory troops. Eventually American officers were able to reign in the troops and the battle was over. The defeat was a turning point in the Revolution in the South and forced General Cornwallis to retreat further south.
To the north, a British spy was captured with correspondence revealing that Benedict Arnold, who had recently been given command of West Point, planned to surrender it to the British. When news that the spy had been caught reached Arnold, he fled to the safety of a British ship and became a brigadier-general for the British, siding with them for the remainder of the war.
There was trouble in England as well. In 1778 a Catholic Relief Act had been passed, which reversed some of the Penal LawsÂ of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It allowed Roman Catholics to join the armed forces with an oath amenable to Catholics and gave them the ability to hold longer leases on land. It also ended the requirement that a Catholic distribute his lands evenly among his sons upon his death. The Catholic Relief Acts weren’t popular with some Protestants though and in 1780 Lord George Gordon established the Protestant Association in 1780. In June of that year an estimated 60,000 people marched on the House of Commons demanding the Relief Acts be repealed. The huge crowd turned violent and a week of rioting left two hundred and ninety people dead, and devasted Roman Catholic churches and related buildings, as well as the homes of prominent Catholics and supporters of the legislation. Troops had to be called in to end the rioting. Twenty-five of the leaders of the riot were hanged, but Gordon was found “not guilty” of treason.
May 19th was a dark day in New England–literally. A low-lying dark cloud that at times had a yellow and at times reddish hue descended on New England and was noted from Maine to as far south as New Jersey, with the darkest center around northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire and Maine, where it became so dark that candles needed to be lit to see. The cause is thought to have been a combination of low clouds that mixed with smoke and ash from a forest fire, but at the time it wasn’t known and the event caused panic for many.
New England’s dark day was a minor event though in comparison to the hurricane season of 1780. Eight storms struck in various parts of America and the Caribbean. British fleets off American shores took heavy hits during several storms. (Hurricanes in the 1780s were the cause of more British Naval losses than battle.) The worst storm struck on October 10th devastating Barbados and the Windward Islands, and claiming an estimated 22,000 lives.