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composed of the leading spirits of the neighborhood. They had much to dread, not only from the British who had invaded their country, but also from the Tory outlaws who invaded their own district and the Indians skulking in the rear, who were hired by Great Britain to conduct a war of extermination against the Colonies.
With this volunteer company Thomas cast his lot, and from that time was never absent from the service except for a short time on leave of absence to visit his family. But he was destined to serve his country by patient waiting as well as by active service. He was taken prisoner while serving under Captain Steele, and was incarcerated in the prison at Camden where he suffered for seven months, expecting every day to be hanged as a rebel.
Sarah did not know what had become of her husband. She heard no tidings of him for a month. Then came the news of Steele's defeat and capture. She made many visits of search and innumerable inquiries; but of no avail. While yet in suspense in regard to the place of her husband's imprisonment, her children became sick of small-pox. She was utterly alone in her calamity and had to depend upon her own resources as housekeeper, physician, nurse. Many hearts would have faltered and sunk under less.
When the children had recovered sufficiently to leave them with a neighbor, she set out once more in search of her husband. She resolved to go to Camden, hoping to learn there what had become of Steele's captured men. Rising early she was on her way to Camden long before the dawn of the bright September day. It was two o'clock when she reached the town. She inquired for Lord Rawdon, brigadier general of the British forces in South Carolina. Major Doyle, a subordinate officer, conducted her into the presence of his Lordship.
Lord Rawdon, though a loyal Briton, and a faithful servant of his king, was not a courteous and humane man. unfeeling and obstinate, full of prejudice and malice. In later years he was rewarded for his fidelity to his king with many offices and honors, culminating in his being made Marquis of Hastings.
At one time he was sent on an embassy to China, and after
arriving he defeated the purpose of his mission because he was too obstinate to perform his part in the ceremony of his presentation to the Emperor.
Major Doyle gave Sarah the first news in regard to her husband's fate. She learned that he was a prisoner in Camden, by order of Lord Rawdon. On being presented to Rawdon, Sarah thought that she read in his handsome face generosity, and she made a strong plea for her husband's release. Her tearful pleadings were answered by words of insult. Instantly her fiery spirit shone in her face, her tears dried and she looked at him with scorn and amazement.
And now her errand would have been altogether in vain had not Major Doyle, in a private interview with Rawdon, gained permission for her to visit her husband in prison for ten minutes. Ten minutes! after weeks of sickness, of suffering, of loneliness, of anxiety, of all that she had hoped for! Though the favor was small yet she made the most of it. The prison was only a pen at one end of the town. Such sights there met her eyes as almost unnerved her. But the time was too short and too precious to be spent in lamenting the condition of the prisoners. She told, in a few words, the condition of her affairs at home, inquired the needs of her husband, and when the ten minutes had expired she quietly shook hands with Thomas and walked firmly away, speaking encouraging words to other prisoners as she went. Then, her mission ended, she set out for the lonely little home fifty miles away. Before midnight of the same day on which she had left home she reached it on her return. The courage that sustained the noble woman riding through the night on a road beset with dangers from enemies foreign and native, was great, but it was surpassed later by exhibitions of still greater courage.
Sarah reached home only to prepare for another journey to Camden, which was repeated again and again.
Her husband and his comrades needed food and clothing. Sometimes she went alone as on her first errand, at other times she was accompanied by a neighbor woman on a similar errand. When she was alone she depended upon her own resources, and when in company with other women she was always accorded the lead in determining their action.
Once going alone on her errand of love and mercy she was stopped by the guard when she had reached Camden. It was by order of Rawdon, who, always suspicious of her, seemed now to regard her with intense hatred. She could also wait. She unloaded her horse and making herself as comfortable as possible, determined to spend the night at the foot of a tree. But humanity was not dormant in every breast as it seemed to be in that of Rawdon. Before night had fallen, a citizen of Camden kindly tendered her the hospitality of his home for the night. This kindness was never forgotten by this noble woman, and she often referred to it with gratitude.
When she was at last admitted to the presence of Lord Rawdon, he so insulted her feelings of love and patriotism that her ready wit at his expense at once terminated the interview. Her case would have been hopeless had not her friend, Doyle, again interceded for her. It was her great force of character and her sterling worth that had so impressed Major Doyle and influenced him so often to plead in her behalf. Sarah never spoke of the other British officers or soldiers as she did of Rawdon. She was a just woman and though she was no friend to England's cause, she could and did recognize merit even in a
On one visit to Camden she met Lord Cornwallis, who treated her with kindness and with courtesy. She built hopes on this treatment; but, on her next visit he seemed to have changed in his bearing toward her, for he was very taciturn. She afterward learned that this reticence was but temporary, owing to the loss of a battle.
After these frequent visits to Camden had continued for several months, her anxiety took another phase. The health of her husband began to fail. This was the result of confinement, poor fare, partial starvation, and other causes to be found in war prisons. Sarah had thus another task to undertake, that of securing his release. She once more applied to Rawdon, this time not to visit her husband but to take him home with her. Of course she met a flat refusal. He said that he had no right to release a prisoner; but, if she would see Lord Cornwallis she might, perhaps, get from him an order for the imprisoned patriot's release.
She determined to see Cornwallis at once, and she went for .that purpose to Winnsboro. She arrived at a time when Cornwallis was reviewing his troops. While waiting for an opportunity to get an interview with him, her sharp eyes were observing everything, so that she might, if opportunity offered, do her country a service by reporting what she had seen of the enemy. Weariness of body played no part in her service to her country. After several hours waiting, she was admitted to the presence of Lord Cornwallis, who received her with his accustomed courtesy.
She learned from him that he could not grant Thomas the release except in exchange, or on parole till he could be properly exchanged. She then resolved to make a journey to Charlotte to ask General Sumter to order an exchange. She first hastened back to Chester to provide for the wants of her children and then on to Charlotte.
When she made her appeal to Sumter, to grant an exchange, he at once gave her a written statement that he would be responsible that McCalla would remain peaceably at home till he could be properly exchanged. On her way home she passed through the command of General Morgan, of the American Army. She told him of witnessing the review at Winnsboro. A few days later she presented her valuable paper to Cornwallis, and her heart sank within her when he referred her to Rawdon. And now another of those dreary journeys of one hundred miles must be made. Hers was now a forlorn hope, but she must undertake the journey. It was a most inauspicious time for her to present her appeal and Sumter's paper. As soon as Rawdon saw her he began, in a fury, to abuse her, and he ordered her out of his presence with the warning to come no more. With such a reception as this, worse than she had expected, even from Rawdon, she did not dare to show the statement from Sumter. As she went out she said aloud, “My countrymen must right me." Upon being called back to repeat what she had said, she replied, “We are but simple country folk.” And Rawdon, though he knew that she was concealing her real feelings, was obliged to drop the matter.
After the battle of Cowpens, the Whigs of Chester District, while watching the movements of Cornwallis, in their neighborhood, captured two British officers and retreated with them. It was by this means that the release of the Chester prisoners was effected. These two officers were given in exchange for the eleven prisoners of Chester,
The man who was sent to accomplish the exchange was so anxious to release his son from the prison ship at Charleston that he overlooked some of the formalities of military regulations, and upon returning with his son found the Chester men at Camden still in prison. Captain Mills, supposing that Rawdon had treated the cartel of Sumter with disrespect, sent a letter of remonstrance to him by Sarah McCalla, demanding an immediate release of the Chester prisoners.
Sarah knew that it would be unwise to deliver the letter in person, so she took with her a friend whose brother was one oi the imprisoned men. This friend had a manner more yielding than that of Sarah, and so was better fitted to interview Rawdon.
On presenting her letter from Captain Mills, Lord Rawdon hastily wrote the discharge of the prisoners, saying to Mrs. Nixon, what was already known, that the prisoners should have been discharged before, and that he was sorry for the delay.
As he accompanied Mrs. Nixon out of the house to the gate he chanced to get a sight of Mrs. McCalla, who waited outside for her friend. He went directly to where she stood and said roughly, "What! you here, Madam! Did I not order you to keep out of my presence?” In her independent style she replied, “I had no wish, sir, to intrude myself into your presence; I stopped here purposely to avoid you. I came with authority to demand, as my right, my husband's release. You have an aversion to my presence, why then, intrude yourself into it? There is no love or friendship lost, neither do I like your presence, and hope that you will soon return to your own country a wiser and better man. We are trusting in God, who always prospers the right cause, the cause of Liberty. And we hope soon to see the last minion of tyranny leave our shores. We will not be enslaved. We have pledged our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor in confirmation of our resolve to be free or perish.” She then walked off, not caring to learn how he received her free speech. Mrs. Nixon was greatly