J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Latter-Day Claim to Gen. Marion’s Sweet Potatoes

Last month at Blog, or Die, Michael Aubrecht wrote about John Blake White’s paintings of Francis Marion inviting a British officer to join him in a dinner of roasted sweet potatoes. Longtime Boston 1775 readers might recall that a ceremony about the version of that painting in the U.S. Capitol prompted some postings on the semi-legendary figure of Marion’s enslaved servant Oscar.

The Senate’s webpage on that painting and Aubrecht’s posting both cite an article about the underlying historic incident in the South Carolina Historical Society’s Carologue magazine for 1999. (Both webpages have typos that date the article to 1989, but the former also has the correct citation.) I haven’t found an online version of that article, Nell Weaver Davies’s “New Facts about an Old Story,” but Aubrecht describes its latter-day interpretation of the painting:
James P. Truluck, a descendant of the alleged British Officer,…[stated that] Captain John Brockington, Jr.—a landowner, slave-owner, and Tory sympathizer, who had fought against the “Swamp Fox”—was the legendary officer depicted in the piece. He added that his ancestor had been among the Tories that were banned to Nova Scotia after Continental forces assumed control of South Carolina.

In an effort to regain his land and reputation, Brockington returned to the colonies to refute his Loyalists ways and repay any claims that were made against him. After receiving a pardon, he and his slaves headed home and traveled through the swamps to avoid confrontation. It was while preparing their own camp meal that Truluck states Marion found them (resulting in the painted scene).
I’m baffled by Trulock’s claim, as best I understand it. It seems clear that White, painting around 1820, illustrated a specific episode described in Mason Weems’s Life of Gen. Francis Marion.

TOMORROW: Parson Weems and General Marion.

1 comment:

Chaucerian said...

Now here is another nice thing about sweet potatoes, besides their being a simple dish and a regional dish. They have a characteristic shape, and as such lend themselves to hortatory paintings as well as hortatory anecdotes. A white potato could be a badly misshapen meat pie, but a sweet potato can only be its humble self. The painting needs no caption to present its moral.