Col. Philemon Waters - Patriot and Adventurer
To all of you who are related to Col Philemon Waters or think you may be, might find this narrative interesting and enjoyable.
Col. Waters was born, 1 Sep. 1734 - D 29 Mar. 1796 In Newberry County, South Carolina. The Colonel came to Newberry SC sometime before the Revolutiony War.
In 1754, he enlisted in the regiment raised by the State of Virginia to maintain her rights to the territory on the Ohio, then occupied by the French. The regiment was commanded by Col. Fry; his second in command. The regiment was commanded by Lt. Colonel George Washington. He in advance of the regiment, took post at the Great Meadows with two companies. In one of them, it is believed was Philemon Waters. With these companies, Col. George Washington surprised and captured a party of French, who were on their way to surprise him. The commander, M. Jumonville, was killed. On the march of the residue of the regiment to join Lt. Col Washington at the Great Meadows, Col Fry died, and the command devolved on Lt Col Washington. He erected at the Great Meadows a stockade fort (afterwards called Fort Necessity) to secure the provisions and horses; and after leaving a sufficient guard to maintain the post, he pushed on with the balance of his command, less than 400 men, to attack and dislodge the French at Fort du Quesne, at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers (now Pittsburgh). They were halted "at the westernmost foot of Laurel Hill," thirteen miles from the Great Meadows, by the intelligence of the friendly Indians, who informed them in their figurative language, "that the enemy were rapidly advancing as "the pigeons in the woods." A retreat was deemed necessary, and accordingly Col. Washington fell back to Fort Necessity, and commenced a ditch around it. Before it was completed, the enemy 1,500 strong, under the oommand of Monsieur De Villier, appeared and attacked the fort. The action was continued from ten in the morning until dark. The Frenchman demanded a parley, and offered terms of capitulation. The first offers were rejected, "but in the course of the night articles were signed by which the fort was surrendered. The conditions were that its garrison should be allowed the honors of war- should be permitted to retain their arms and baggage, and to march without molestation into the inhabitated parts of Virginia.
An incident in the life of Col Waters occured, which rests altogether in tradition, but which I have no doubt is true, from the source from which it is derived. It was stated to have occured at Fort Necessity during the siege. During the occupation of Fort Necessity, the sentinel had been night after night shot down at a particular post. Waters was detailed in his turn for that station; knowing its dangers, he loaded his musket with slugs or buckshot, and took his post, "wide awake." In the course of his turn, he heard some noise like the grunting of a hog, and observing by the moonlight, at the same time, the tall grass of the prarie shaking; as if some animal or person was moving therein, he put to use his own expression, "Three hails in one." fired and killed two indians and three Frenchmen! They were on all fours behind each other, stealthily approaching the sentinel, when his well directed fire defeated so fatally their purpose. On the surrender of the post, the French commander inquired for the sentinel, who had occupied the post, fired without hailing, and killed the two indians and three Frenchmen, with a view of excepting him (as it was supposed) from the amesty granted to the garrison. Washington, unwilling to expose his gallant young soldier for "once" spoke falsely. He had fallen, he said, in the attack and defense of the post. Waters stood behind his Colonel when the question was made and the answer given, with his rifle well loaded, primed and cocked, and if, said he, "He had said Phil Waters, he would never have spoken again.
He was one of the brave Virginians who fought in the diastrous battle of the Monongahela, where Braddock was defeated and slain. Of them Washington said, "The Virginia companies behaved like men and died like soldiers; for I believe out of three companies on the ground that day, scarce thirty men were left alive.
Whether Waters remained in the Virginia army till Washington's resignation in 1758, I do not know. He removed to South Carolina before the Revolutionary War. At its commencement, he lived in Newberry, near the ferry on Saluda River, once well known as Water's Fery, now Holly's. In that time "which tried men, and showed how far professions were supported by acts" he took the part of Liberty and Independence. His sword, which was then drawn, returned not to its scabbard until both were won and secured. He was in the "Battle of Stono" on 26th of June, 1779. He was then a Captain, and on the retreat from the attack made on the British lines, he observed an American field piece, which had been abandoned by its officers and men. He directed his men (Some of whom are remembered , to wit: John Adam Summer, Samuel Lindsey, Thomas Lindsey, and James Lindsey) to lay hold of the drag ropes and carry it off. This was done and the gun was saved. It seems from the records in the Comptroller's Office, that he was a captain in Thomas's regiment, General Sumter's brigade State Troops, to the end of the war in 1783. It seems, too, he served in 1782 as a captain under General Perkins (The fighting Presbyterian). His nephew Philemon Waters Jr. better know as "Ferry Phil" was under his command at the battle of "Eutaw" (This was the battle where Lt Col William Washington - cousin of General George Washingon - was captured and taken prisoner.) After the action was over, said to his uncle, "Uncle do you call this a battle or a scrimmage?" It was supposed in this battle that Waters was a major; the tradition is, that he "then" commanded as such. But it does not seem from the public documents, he had any such commission. In some of the partisan affairs with which the country abounded after the fall of Charleston SC in the fall of 1780, he was under the command of Colonel Brandon.
He captured a man (a Tory) peculiarly obnoxious to Colonel Brandon. After this skirmish when the prisoners were presented to the Colonel, he on seeing Waters' prisoner, drew his sword, and was in the act of rushing upon him to slay him. Waters threw himself between them, and announced to his superior that the prisoner was under his protection, and "should not be harmed." The purpose of vengeance was not abandoned, and Capt. Waters was peremptorily ordered to stand out of the way. "Africa" said he to his servant. "bring me my rifle; no sooner said than done. With his rifle in his hand, and an eye that never quailed, he said to the colonel, "Now strike the prisoner - the instant you do, I will shoot you dead." The blow was not struck; the prisoner was saved.
After the battle of Eutaw, and after the British had been driven to the lines of Charleston, Waters erected a block house at his plantation at Waters Ferry, Saluda, SC
Col Waters encouraged the deluded Tories to come in, lay down their arms, and become peaceful citizens. Many, very many afterwards valuable citizens, were thus saved to the district and State.
After the war, he was for some time Collector of the Taxes, in a part of Ninety Six District. He, as such, made his return to the Treasury in Charleston,and paid over to him the money collected. Money was in gold or silver, or indents. Traveling was performed on horseback, and always in some peril. In the country between Dorchester and Charleston this was particulary the case. a gang of robbers headed by a notorious fellow named Primus. They robbed all who passed the road by night, or who, like wagoners, were compelled to encamp within their accustomed walks. Waters passing with a considerable sum of public money in his saddle bags, was overtaken by night in this suspicious district. He was armed, having his trusty pistols in the holsters before him. Thinking about the possible danger, he involuntarily laid his hand upon a pistol, cocked and drew it half out of the holster. As his horse passed a large pine tree, the bridle was seized, and a robber stood by the side; in one instant Waters' pistol was drawn and thrust into the side of the assailant, it fired, and, with an unearthly yell and scream, he let go the bridle and fled. Waters put spurs to his horse, and galloped to the house where he intended to lodge some two miles distant; there he obtained lights and assistance, and returned to the spot where he had been attacked. There they found a club and a large knife, and blood.
Following its tracks a short distance, a large powerful robber was found shot through the body and already dead. This gang of robbers was at last driven from their fastnesses in the swamps by the Catawba Indians, who were hired by the planters to hunt them. Their leader, Primus, and perhaps others were hanged.
Col. Waters was an eminent surveyor-many of the grants in Newberry District were surveyed by him. He and William Caldwell located the courthouse square of Newberry District. He was County Court Judge from 1785 to 1791. He was repeatedly a member of the Legisture. He was also a member of the convention which ratified the Constituion of the United States. He was opposed to it. Being one of the "ultra Republican party" of that day; but fortunately his opposition was vain, and like his great countryman, Patrick Henry, he lived long enough under it to rejoice at his defeat. He was Colonel of a regiment of militia in the Fork between Broad and Saluda Rivers, from the peace in 1783 until the reorganization of the militia in 1794. He was not re elected; his opponent John Adam Summer, was elected colonel of the 8th, now the 39th regiment.
When President George Washington, in 1791 made the tour of the Southern States, Colonel Waters met him at the Juniper, on his way from Augusta to Columbia. It was the meeting of brother soldiers, who,together, had faced many dangers and shared many difficulties. Both had been great shots with the rifle, and on a challenge from the President, their last meeting on earth was signalized by a trial of their skill off-hand, at a target one hundred yards distant, with the same unerring weapon. Who was conqueror in this trial is not remembered.
Colonel Waters died in 1796. He was taken sick at Newberry, and was carried in a litter by the way of O'Neall's (Now Bobo"s) mills on Bush River, now the property of Chancellor Johnstone. To the writer of this sketch, though then a mere child, the passage of Bush River through the ford by men bearing the litter, seems to be present, indistinct it is true, like an imperfectly remembered dream.
Colonel Waters left four children - Philemon B Waters, Wilks B Waters, Rose, the wife of Colonel John Summers, and Mrs Farrow, the wife of William Farrow of Spartanburg. One of the Colonels grandchildren, John W Summers, was a well know citizen of Newberry, and ought to be gratefully remembered by all who prize the Greenville and Columbia Railroad, as a great public work, both for his energy and success as a contractor.
Source: "Annals of Newberry S.C."
Author: John Belton O'Neall, LL.D
Originally published Newberry SC 1892
O'Neall - 1793 - 1863 -