Hanging in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol is a masterfully created oil painting entitled “General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share his Meal.” The painting was created by Charleston lawyer John Blake White and has hung in this place of honor since 1899. The painting illustrates legendary American General Francis Marion, also known as the “Swamp Fox,” offering an invitation to British General Banastre Tarleton to share his meal. (White’s famous painting was also engraved, then printed on the back of South Carolina’s $10 Confederate notes, along with the $5 postwar notes.)
Surrounding the painting’s two main figures are a number of other individuals, one of which had been, for the most part, overlooked for the majority of time the painting has been on display; the black man all the way to the left placing sweet potatoes on the coals to roast. For the majority of the 150+ years since the painting was created, this individual remained known as “the faithful Negro servant,” and referred to as a black patriot. Little else was known of him; until recently.
Oscar Marion is the name of this brave patriot, faithful servant and childhood friend of General Francis Marion. Born men were born on the plantation Marion’s family owned in Berkeley County, South Carolina during the 1730s. As adults, they went on to become fierce guerrilla fighters and patriotic heroes during the American Revolution.
Oscar was a member of South Carolina’s 2nd Continental Army Regiment and volunteered for seven years; a far greater time frame than most enlisted soldiers served. Best known among “Marion’s Men”, he was General Marion’s personal assistant, chef and oarsman, along with participating during intense combat activities. Though the majority of slaves owned by Marion’s family left the plantation and sided with the loyalists during the Revolutionary War; Oscar chose to travel the road of patriotism.
By 1780, the British had successfully defeated the majority of South Carolina’s troops. The redcoats confiscated plantations, burned homes and hung many individuals they labeled as traitors, though no trials were ever conducted. On August 16, 1780, Sir Henry Clinton defeated American General Horatio Gates at the Battle of Camden and then General Thomas Sumter at Fishing Creek on August 18. The defeat of these two groups left South Carolina with only one organized American force – Marion’s Brigade. The brigade began with 20 men, but before long additional patriots joined forces with Marion. For the next three years, these brave patriots harassed British troops with more intensity than a normal group of soldiers would have ever accomplished.
At Briton’s Neck, Marion’s Brigade successfully defeated a large number of Tories without losing a single man. Not long afterward, they were at it again with another sudden attack against Tories who were totally unaware of the fact armed patriots were anywhere nearby. After a chase of 25 miles, Marion disappeared into the swamp and totally eluded British General Sir Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton was later quoted as saying, “As for this damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him.”
During these escapades, Oscar Marion was frequently in action. His continuous presence at General Marion’s side resulted in him being captured on canvas by more than one of America’s famous artists. In addition to John Blake’s famous work, William Ranney and Alonzo Chapel (among others) also illustrated Revolutionary War events in which Oscar is shown in close proximity to General Marion. One painting shows Oscar handling General Marion’s horse as they traveled downstream. In another, he is dressed in full uniform, armed with a rifle astride a horse. A third painting shows a wounded Oscar mounted on the same horse as the general as they cross the Pee Dee River. Draped over Oscar’s right shoulder is a brass bugle, indicating another of his duties as one of Marion’s Men.
Oscar was an active participant in the Siege of Savannah in 1779, the Siege of Charleston in 1780 and the Battle of Eutaw Springs in 1781. These three battles played a major role in the Continental Army’s victory over British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia.
On June 30, 2000, the movie, The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, was released. Gibson’s character is a composite of four Revolutionary War patriots – Francis Marion, Joseph Plumb Martin, Thomas Sumter and Daniel Morgan. The part of Occam is based on Oscar Marion and shows him to be a valiant soldier who bravely fought alongside his fellow militia men during the American Revolution.
Oscar Marion received post-Revolutionary War recognition at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on December 15, 2006. During the ceremony, conducted by House Chaplain Reverend D. Coughlin, Oscar’s family was presented a special certificate and proclamation signed by President George W. Bush on behalf of a grateful nation. The proclamation declares Marion’s “devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the Armed Forces of the United States.”