David Dinsmore, Ulster-Scots Loyalist in South Carolina and Nova Scotia Exile: Every Life Worth a Novel (4)

Dunsmore, David Coldham Book
Peter Wilson Coldham, American Migrations 1765-1799: The Lives, Times, and Families of Colonial Americans Who Remained Loyal to the British Crown before, during and after the Revolutionary War, as Related in Their Own Words and through Their Correspondence (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000), p. 679.

3. The Revolution

A number of sources document David Dinsmore’s service under British military commanders during the Revolution.   On 19 April 1786 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dinsmore filed a land claim for his Loyalist military service.[1]  The claim states that in 1775, he had taken up arms under General Cunningham, joining Campbell in Georgia.  Cunningham is apparently William Cunningham, the British commander tagged as “Bloody Bill” by many Whigs, due to his role in atrocities committed against South Carolina rebels—though in 1775, he was not yet a general and in fact had begun his service in that year on the Whig side.[2]  His origins are not entirely clear, though it’s apparent he was a cousin of several influential Tory Cunninghams of Scotch-Irish descent, all brothers, who came to South Carolina from Pennsylvania in 1769 and who settled in Ninety Six District.  These included Robert Cunningham, the first magistrate of Ninety Six District, and Patrick Cunningham, deputy surveyor of the province of South Carolina.

Campbell is Col. Archibald Campbell, a member of a prestigious Scottish family who sought to secure coastal Georgia for the British as the war began.[3]  He had arrived off Savannah from Jamaica in December 1778, taking Savannah that month.[4]  At this point, he moved to Augusta to establish a base for backcountry Loyalists, taking that locale for the British in January 1779.  His troops were then joined in February by troops led by Zachariah or Zacharias Gibbs, another name that appears in various records of David Dinsmore’s military service in these years.[5]

Gibbs was a Virginian who settled in South Carolina on Fair Forest Creek a few years before the war.  When the war broke out, he recruited troops and marched through Ninety Six District into Georgia.[6]  In 1780, Gibbs mustered men for the Spartan or Upper Regiment of South Carolina—men largely gathered from Ninety Six District, which had many residents with decided Tory sympathies.[7]  It seems very likely that those mustered by Gibbs at this time included David Dinsmore, since he is on a payroll for Lieut. Col. Zachariah Gibbs of the Reg. Spartanburg Militia, Ninety Six Brigade from 13 June to 14 December 1780.[8]  In fact, due to the reference to Campbell in his Loyalist land claim, it seems more than likely that Dinsmore had taken part in Campbell’s military actions in Georgia before he served directly in Gibbs’s Spartanburg Militia.

On 7 October 1780, Gibbs brought to the battle of King’s Mountain about 100 of the men he had recruited for the Spartanburg unit (presumably including Dinsmore), many of these being either killed or captured.[9]  Gibbs and his unit were also involved at the siege of Ninety Six from 22 May to 18 June 1781, in which Gibbs was captured, and, again, it seems very likely that Dinsmore was with Gibbs at Ninety Six, particularly because his pay abstract for service in Gibbs’s Spartanburg Militia states that he was being paid for accompanying Lieut. Col. John Cruger as he assisted Cruger in evacuating Loyalists from Fort Ninety Six to Orangeburg following the fall of Ninety Six.[10]  In fact, according to Bobby Gilmer Moss, Dinsmore was captured by the Revolutionary side at the battle of Ninety Six.[11]

John Harris Cruger was the British commander during the siege of the fort, and when the British were defeated at Ninety Six, many of the Tories and their families then evacuated to Orangeburg and finally to Charleston with Col. Francis Rawdon, who had brought British troops to Ninety Six in June 1781.[12]  As Robert Stansbury Lambert notes, the majority of these evacuees were from Ninety Six District,[13] and it’s clear that they included David Dinsmore—though not his wife Margaret and their children who, according to the testimony of his Loyalist land claim in Nova Scotia, remained behind on his farm at Jamey’s Creek in Ninety Six District (later Spartanburg County).  The children by this point numbered five: in addition to those mentioned previously, a daughter Mary Jane had been born in 1779, along with a daughter whose given name has not been discovered, and who married James Woodruff, who brought their children to Lawrence Co., Alabama, in the first part of the 1800s along with their uncle John Dinsmore and aunt Mary Jane Dinsmore Lindsey.

How is one to understand David Dinsmore’s choice to support the British during the American Revolution—a choice that proved exceptionally costly to him and his family, since it resulted in his exile to Nova Scotia as Charleston fell to the American troops?  Lambert’s study of South Carolina Loyalists notes that the Revolution was a virtual civil war in that colony—particularly in the upcountry region, and notably in Ninety Six District, where the largest concentration of Tories lived.[14]  According to Lambert, in 1775, perhaps a fifth of the free population of South Carolina were Loyalists.[15]

Dinsmore, David, Land Claim Jamey's Creek
David Dunsmore, Loyalist Claim, Audit Office, American Series 12/68/33, p. 17.

The Revolution was, in fact, a civil war in South Carolina that not uncommonly divided families: Lambert cites the case of David “Dunsmore” as an example of such a family.[16]  He also points to Elizabeth Bowers, a daughter of German immigrants on Hard Labor Creek, who was expelled from her home by her husband for supporting the British.  She went back to her parents’ household, and, after the fort at Ninety Six fell and Whigs had beaten her father, she and her father were evacuated to Charleston.[17]  According to Lambert, when another upcountry couple, William Meek and his wife Mary Coleman, became refugees in Charleston and then in Canada, Mary’s siblings remained in South Carolina.[18]

Lambert and other historians have also noted that many of the South Carolina Loyalists were (like David Dinsmore) immigrants, largely German and Ulster Scots, who had arrived in the colony not long before the war broke out, who were immersed in opening new farms and plantations on land they had just been granted by the Crown, and were understandably reluctant to defy the authority from which they had gained their land.[19]  Many of them had arrived in South Carolina after the Cherokee War of 1760, and did not share the animosity of many of the colony’s older settlers to the British for Britain’s alliance with the Cherokees.[20]

Lambert points to the case of Alexander Chesney, whose Loyalist claim for reimbursement for land he lost on Broad River in Ninety Six District due to his British sympathies, a slave, and a schooner he left behind in Charleston, was witnessed by Zachariah Gibbs, John Phillips, James Miller, and Samuel McKee, all except Gibbs having come from Ireland within five years of the Revolution.[21]  Chesney kept a journal which states that he was born in Dunclug near Ballymena in Co. Antrim, Ireland, in 1756.[22]

The journal indicates that Chesney’s family came to South Carolina aboard the James and Mary, arriving in Charleston on 16 Oct. 1772 with the group of settlers from the region of Ballymoney and Ballymena brought over by Rev. William Martin.[23] The family obtained about 400 acres on the Pacolet about 12 miles from where it empties into the Broad, not far from an aunt of Chesney who had preceded his family to South Carolina. When the war arrived, Chesney took the British side, serving with Gibbs and Rawdon and ending up back in Ireland following the Revolution.

This is the fourth posting in a seven-part series about this topic. The previous posting in this series is here, and the next posting in the series is here. That posting will end with a link taking you to the next in the series, if you’re interested in following this series to the end.

[1] See Alexander Fraser, Second Report of the Bureau of Archives (Toronto, 1904), pp. 171-2 (#100).   The claim was filed again on 19 July the same year.

[2] See Richard Maxwell Brown, Strain of Violence: Historical Studies of American Violence and Vigilantism (NY: Oxford UP, 1975), pp. 80-81; J. B. O’Neal, “Random Recollections of Revolutionary Characters and Incidents,” Southern Literary Journal and Magazine of Arts 41 (July 1838), pp. 40-45; and Edith Greisser, “Bloody Bill,” Carolina Herald (Oct.-Dec. 2010), pp. 9f.

[3] See Robert Stansbury Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution (Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1987), p. 66.

[4] Ibid., p. 81.

[5] See Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists, p. 82.

[6] Ibid., pp. 82-3.

[7] Ibid., p. 111.

[8] Murtie June Clark, Loyalists in the Southern Campaign, vol. 1 (Baltimore: Geneal. Publ. Co., 1981), pp. 277, 280.

[9] Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists, pp. 141-2.

[10] Clark, Loyalists in Southern Campaign, pp. 277, 280.

[11] Bobby Gilmer Moss, The Loyalists in the Siege of Fort Ninety Six (Blacksburg, SC: Scotia-Hibernia, 1999), p. 40-1.

[12] Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists, pp. 100, 171-3, 182, 217-8, 229.

[13] Ibid., p. 229.

[14] Ibid., pp. 183, 300.

[15] Ibid., p. 306.

[16] Ibid., p. 273.

[17] Ibid., p. 234.

[18] Ibid. and p. 307.

[19] Ibid., p. 28.

[20] Ibid., pp. 48-9.

[21] Ibid., p. 278.

[22] “The Journal of Alexander Chesney, a South Carolina Loyalist in the Revolution and After,” ed. E. Alfred Jones, Ohio State University Bulletin 26,4 (Oct. 1921), pp. 1-166.

[23] See also Stephenson, Scotch-Irish Migration to South Carolina, p. 31.

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