Legends and Modern Opinions About Marion
The public memory of Francis Marion has been shaped in large part by the first biography about him, "The Life of General Francis Marion" written by M. L. Weems (also known as Parson Weems, 1756–1825) based on the memoirs of South Carolina officer Peter Horry. The New York Times has described Weems as one of the "early hagiographers" of American literature "who elevated the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, into the American pantheon". Weems is known for having invented the apocryphal "cherry tree" anecdote about George Washington and "Marion's life received similar embellishment", as Amy Crawford wrote in Smithsonian Magazine in 2007.
Francis Marion was one of the influences for the main character in the 2000 movie The Patriot, which according to Crawford "exaggerated the Swamp Fox legend for a whole new generation". The contrast between film's depiction of Martin "as a family man and hero who single-handedly defeats countless hostile Brits" and the real-life Marion was one of the "egregious oversights" that TIME magazine cited when listing "The Patriot" as number one of its "Top 10 historically misleading films" in 2011. In the film, the fictional character Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) describes violence he committed in the French and Indian War.
Around the time of The Patriot's release, comments in the British press challenged the American notion of Francis Marion as a hero. In the Evening Standard, British author Neil Norman called Francis Marion,
- a thoroughly unpleasant dude who was, basically, a terrorist.
British historian Christopher Hibbert described Marion as
- ... very active in the persecution of the Cherokee Indians and not at all the sort of chap who should be celebrated as a hero. The truth is that people like Marion committed atrocities as bad, if not worse, than those perpetrated by the British.
Hibbert also stated that Francis Marion had
- a reputation as a racist who hunted Indians for sport and regularly raped his female slaves.
In a commentary published in the National Review, conservative talk radio host Michael Graham rejected criticisms like Hibbert's as an attempt to rewrite history:
- Was Francis Marion a slave owner? Was he a determined and dangerous warrior? Did he commit acts in an 18th-century war that we would consider atrocious in the current world of peace and political correctness? As another great American film hero might say: "You damn right."
- That's what made him a hero, 200 years ago and today.
Michael Graham also refers to what he describes as "the unchallenged work of South Carolina's premier historian Dr. Walter Edgar, who pointed out in his 1998 'South Carolina: A History' that Marion's partisans were "a ragged band of both black and white volunteers."
British historian Hugh Bicheno has compared Gen. Marion with British officers Tarleton and Maj. James Wemyss; referring to the British officers as well as Marion said: “...they all tortured prisoners, hanged fence-sitters, abused parole and flags of truce, and shot their own men when they failed to live up to the harsh standards they set.”
According to Crawford, the biographies by historians William Gilmore Simms (“The Life of Francis Marion”) and Hugh Rankin can be regarded as accurate. The introduction to the 2007 edition of Simms' book (originally published in 1844) was written by Sean Busick, a professor of American history at Athens State University in Alabama, who says that based on the facts, "Marion deserves to be remembered as one of the heroes of the War for Independence."
- “Francis Marion was a man of his times: he owned slaves, and he fought in a brutal campaign against the Cherokee Indians...Marion's experience in the French and Indian War prepared him for more admirable service."
In the 1835 novel Horse-Shoe Robinson by John Pendleton Kennedy, a historical romance set against the background of the Southern campaigns in the American revolution, Marion appears and interacts with the fictional characters. In the book he is depicted as decisive, enterprising and valiant.
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