I have begun to expect the unexpected whenever I decide to go for a hike. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a long, planned months in advance hike or a spur-of-the-moment trip 30 minutes from my house. Something unexpected is going to happen. Such was the case when I tottled down to Ninety Six, South Carolina to wander around the Ninety Six Historical Site.
Ninety Six is an easy day trip from midlands or upstate South Carolina. Piedmont or low mountains North Carolina, and upper Georgia. Ninety Six is also an important historical part of the Revolutionary War.
Ninety Six began as a crossroads between the English/Scottish Irish/German settlers that left Charles Town in search of a more prosperous way of life and the Cherokee that already lived in the area. Ninety Six was the only town [early 1700’s] in the Carolina back country and Cherokee Indians traded deer skin for guns and metal with the settlers who then took the deer skins back to Charles Town and sold it to merchants who then shipped it to England. Ninety Six was an important strategical location as nearly all Indian tribes west of the Cherokee traded with the French and all tribes east of Ninety Six traded with the English. Over time the Cherokee began to distrust the English [and French] which lead to the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1760. The Cherokee reclaimed almost all of the back country but Ninety Six remained under British control.
The lingering tensions from the Cherokee-Anglo War contributed to the backcountry’s division. Feeling neglected by the government in Charleston, facing high taxes, crime, and Indian raids, settlers on the frontier demanded more law and order in the back country. Vigilantes took justice into their own hands: patrolling roads, hunting criminals, and whipping offenders. Eventually the crisis ended without much violence, but unrest among settlers lingered.
By the early 1770s, Ninety Six contained approximately twelve houses, public buildings, and a few businesses. The town boasted an imposing two story brick jail and a courthouse. An observer noted: “Ninety Six is situated on an eminence in a flourishing part of the country, the land round about it is generally good. Natural growth is Oaks, Black Walnut, Hickery, etc., which are very large and thrifty. The land is cleared for a mile round the Town. It produces wheat, Indian Corn, oats, Hemp, Flax, Cotton, and Indigo.”
There happened to be some re-enacting going on…and demonstration of weapon firing.
Twenty years later:
The fledgling American colonies have declared its independence from Great Britain. The war has been on-going for 5 years. Great Britain’s latest strategy is to retain control of the Southern Colonies while admitting defeat in the Northern ones. The Siege of Ninety Six in 1781 was the longest siege of the American Revolution and pitted American vs American in the form of Patriots vs Loyalists. It was as if the truce agreed upon a mere six years earlier had never happened.
The STAR FORT and THE MINE [from the National Parks Service website]
When you walk out to the Historic battlefield, you’re walking on hallowed ground. The siege trenches are partially reconstructed, but the Star Fort is original. Construction of the Star Fort started in December 1780 and finished in early 1781. It was built by Loyalist soldiers (loyal to the King of England) & slaves from nearby farms and plantations. It wasn’t a very popular design because it was hard to build, and couldn’t hold many troops, but Loyalist engineer Lt. Henry Haldane decided that an eight-point star fort would be better for the site than a tradition square fort. The star shape allowed musket and cannon fire in all directions. The Start Fort had a gun battery which was located near the bottom center point in the picture. The long mound of dirt in the center of the picture is called a Traverse and was built during the Patriot siege of Star Fort (May 22- June 18, 1781). It was to be used as a second line of defense in case the Patriots breached the Star Fort walls. The Start Fort was an earthen fort. As you see it today is pretty much how it looked in 1781. The Star Fort walls were originally about 14 feet high with sand bags around the top giving it a height of about 17 feet during the battle. The walls are a little weather worn in places, but are original. No major reconstruction has been done to the fort.
The Mine has nothing to do with traditional mining, instead it was used by the Patriots (those fighting for independence from England) during the Siege of Star Fort at Ninety Six, May 22- June 18, 1781. The Loyalists (those living in the Colonies that were fighting for the King of England) held the Star Fort and General Nathanael Greene and his Patriot Army tried to take the Star Fort away from the Loyalists. Under the direction of Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Chief Engineer of the Patriot Army, the Patriots dug a mine gallery out from the 3rd parallel. The idea was for the Patriots to dig the Mine underneath the Star Fort, pack it with gunpowder, and then blow it up, thus allowing the Patriots to storm the Loyalist held Star Fort. Patriot Sappers (trench diggers) and slaves borrowed from nearby plantations dug into the hard red clay to dig the mine. They had to suffer from the heat, bugs, broken shovels, Loyalist cannon fire, and Loyalist sorties (attacks made from a place surrounded by the enemy). After dark on June 9, 1781, a small group of Loyalists, under Lt. Colonel John Harris Cruger, attacked the Patriot sappers digging the mine. A British account stated that the Loyalists “discovered a subterraneous passage in which. . . miners were at work, every man of whom was put to death, and their tools brought into the garrison.” (The Royal Gazette,August 25-29, 1781) It was during this sortie that Colonel Kosciuszko was wounded in “his seat of honor” with a Loyalist bayonet, but was able to make it back to safety within Patriot lines.
In the 1973, archeologists actually found a bayonet blade near where Kosciuszko was wounded. The Mine was never used for its intended purpose because the siege was lifted before it could be used. In the 1920s, the entrance to the Mine was stabilized with brick. During the 1940-60s, local children used the Mine as a playhouse before the National Park Service took over its care. In the 1970s, archeologists wrote that the Mine was still intact except. Only 35 feet of the right gallery had collapsed. The Mine was re-opened again in April 2004. Today we know that the Mine starts with a 6 foot vertical shaft from the 3rd parallel then 2 galleries (or branches) go to toward the Star Fort. On average the Mine is 3 feet tall in most places. As the above picture indicates shovel and pick marks can still be seen in the walls along with niches that were carved out for candles for the Patriots to work by. The Mine at Ninety Six National Historic Site is the only mine that was used during the American Revolution.
One of the log cabins on site at Ninety Six Historical Site
The hike is a moderate hike using parts of the Cherokee Trail, Charlestown Road, and the Goucey Trail. Parts of the trail allow for horses while parts are fairly rustic. An unidentified cemetery lies just off the marked trail that leads to Ninety Six Lake. The entire loop was just over 6 miles. It took 3 hours including stopping for lunch at the lake, searching for the unidentified cemetery, and reading historical markers.
daffodils along the trail
1780’s men weren’t very big.
The unexpected isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it is serendipity and my hike through the trails at Ninety Six certainly paid off. At the beginning of the hike the temperatures was around 50F, and by the end there were snowflakes.