Colonel "Danger" Thomson
The commander responsible for defeating the British land assault on Sullivan’s Island was one of South Carolina’s outstanding citizen-soldiers of the American Revolution.
COUNTRY GENTLEMAN William Thomson’s home was Belleville Plantation in Saint Matthews Parish, Orangeburg District (now Calhoun County). Reared on the frontier, the young man won shooting competitions and became an ardent sportsman while acquiring the skills and nerves of a warrior. Thomson was sociable and friendly and enjoyed the admiration of his neighbors. He developed into a leader of his church and community, a large planter and a prosperous businessman.
CIVIC LEADER Thomson was active in colonial affairs under the British Royal Government from the 1750s until the 1770s. He was an energetic man with a reputation for dependability and common sense who was said to be a stabilizing influence in an unstable time. As the American colonists’ frustration with the British Government peaked, he was elected to the patriots’ first Provincial Congress of South Carolina, which initiated revolutionary measures in 1775. He continued to hold political office while fighting the war, served in the new state government after the Revolution, and was a delegate to the conventions that ratified the United States and South Carolina constitutions. Between 1765 and 1795, the popular Thomson was elected to 15 terms in the legislature.
MILITARY LEADER As a young officer under British colonial rule, Thomson fought with distinction in the Cherokee War of 1760-61 alongside William Moultrie, Thomas Sumter, and other future heroes of the Revolution. He later served as colonel in the colonial militia under the Royal Government.
When South Carolina’s revolutionary government formed its initial army in 1775, Thomson was appointed lieutenant colonel – commandant of the Third Regiment (Rangers). He recruited the best riflemen in the province and was considered the best marksman of all. He and his mounted rangers assisted in recruiting backcountry settlers to the patriot cause and distinguished themselves in actions against British loyalists as the Revolution grew more intense. In July 1775 they seized Fort Charlotte in the first overt act of the war in South Carolina. In November they shed the first blood at Savage’s Old Fields. In December 1300 patriots under Thomson routed loyalists in the first land battle in the colony at Great Cane Break. He then led his men through the arduous Snow Campaign that ended the pivotal first year of the Revolution with American patriots in control of South Carolina.
When the British attempted to retake Charles Town in 1776, William Thomson was assigned to block the land attack by 3000 British under Major General Henry Clinton and Lord Charles Cornwallis. Thomson’s 780 patriots defeated the attack by the British army at Breach Inlet while 435 patriots under Colonel William Moultrie defeated the attack by the British navy on Fort Sullivan. This stunning American victory was one of earliest and most decisive patriot victories over the fearsome British army and navy. In response to commendation by the Continental Congress, Thomson wrote to John Hancock “…my life and fortune are devoted to the Cause of the thirteen United States of America & to the general propagation of Liberty.”
After the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, William Thomson was promoted to Colonel in the Continental Army and his Third Regiment served in the Cherokee campaigns, the Battle of Savannah, and the Siege of Charles Town. Colonel Thomson was captured after the fall of Charles Town in 1780 and was twice imprisoned in the Provost Dungeon of the Exchange Building. He was later released in a prisoner exchange and returned to service as an advisor to General Nathanael Greene in the successful campaign to drive the British forces out of the Carolinas.
PERSONAL SACRIFICE The American Revolution caused suffering for both patriots and loyalists, especially the leaders. William Thomson endured severe personal and financial hardships for the cause of independence. While he was imprisoned in 1780, British troops occupied his home and fortified it as a garrison, devastating the plantation. Crops and animals were destroyed and some 100 of his slaves were taken away by the British or died of disease. Thomson himself was ill during military campaigns and while held prisoner in the notoriously unhealthy dungeon. Despite lingering poor health in the post-war years, he labored diligently to restore his property, resuming production of his main cash crop, indigo. As the indigo trade declined, Thomson adapted and became a pioneer in producing cotton for export.
“DANGER” While he was a distinguished gentleman with an easygoing nature, William Thomson was a fierce fighter whose courage and conduct gave him great influence over his men. They respectfully called him Danger or Old Danger in tribute to his bravery and daring in battle.