Sunday, July 12, 2015

People: Christian Huck

Christian Huck is a name only a writer could conjure up. So who is this guy with a name right out of Hollywood bad boy casting? He was, in fact, a prominent Loyalist during the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies. But he was much more than that. And I am posting this on the anniversary of the day that made him famous... the day he died.

Huck the Immigrant

Christian Huck was born "somewhere in Germany" on or about the year 1747. Pretty ambiguous beginnings as "Germany" in the 18th Century was not a nation but a region in middle Europe. By the early 1770's our man had emigrated to America and settled in Philadelphia, where he studied law. His law practice centered around real estate a lucrative and dangerous business in those days. He focused on buying and selling real estate for ready money or short credit, on very low terms, and giving security. With banks of the period very few and money in short supply, some very interesting things could happen in that business. Our iconic George Washington himself speculated in land - but that is a complex tale for another blog.  Huck became wealthy. He joined the Anglican church and clearly assimilated well. Huck worked his way into Philadelphia’s upper society, many of whom were loyal to the crown and remained so throughout the war. These are some of the same Philadelphians that Benedict Arnold later got mixed up with. 

Philadelphia was anything but the City of Brotherly Love
during the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies

Huck goes to War

And so our German immigrant Christian Huck (sometimes spelled Houck, or even Hook) was a Loyalist and remained loyal. With the outbreak of war, he along with other prominent Philadelphians, suffered for their loyalty.  Whig harassment, vandalism, public humiliation, and ostracism were common occurrences. Huck’s mentor, Isaac Hunt,  was paraded through town and forced to admit and acknowledge his Tory “misbehavior.”  Christian Huck remained in Philadelphia despite these hardships. He continued to work at selling and purchasing real estate.  He contributed whenever he could to the Tory cause, associating and helping members who were targeted for their loyalty, and when the British Army occupied Philadelphia in September of 1777, Christian Huck offered his assistance and joined the army. Some would say the wrong army. Because In 1778 the war had grown more shrill in its thirst for retribution.  That year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court published a list of persons accused of knowingly and willingly aiding and supporting the enemies of the State (PA), and of the United States of America by joining the British army at Philadelphia. The list included  “Christian Hook, attorney at law.” Each person on the list forfeited all their property for having committed High Treason. Those on the list would be treated accordingly, including all “pains and penalties.” This was not a good list to be on!

Huck followed the British Army when it abandoned Philadelphia and went to New York.  By June 1778, he had raised a company of thirty men for provincial duty. He was granted  a captain’s commission in a Provincial corps. This corps, under the command of Major Andreas Emmerick, comprised many men of German descent. Emmerick's corps had participated in several battles in 1777 and 1778 respectively, making a name for themselves by distinguished service  in the Hudson Highland Campaign,  front line skirmishes around the Kingsbridge (Da Bronx), and the Battle of Monmouth. In 1778, the corps was supplemented by new recruits and had grown to include two troops of light dragoons, one infantry company, one rifle company, and three chasseur companies, one of which was Huck’s. Chasseurs (French for hunter) were trained to skirmish and fight in small bands. 

Banastre Tarleton

Huck Moves South

Soon the the corps was split and one light dragoon troop was given to Huck to attach to he British Legion under the infamous Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Note: Tarleton plays a cameo role in my upcoming novel, The Cavalier Spy. However, by the end of 1779, Huck’s troops were simply referred to as part of the British Legion. Huck participated in the infamous Battle of the Waxhaws in May 1780.  He played a role in the destruction of Hill's Ironworks, an important Patriot supplier as well as headquarters for Hill's Militia. The war in the south heated up in 1780.  Huck became known for fighting in the Carolina back country. He received the nickname “the swearing captain” due to his notoriety for profanity (ach du Scheisse). And he was savage with the Presbyterians of the region.  Perhaps because so many of his Whig tormentors in Philadelphia were Presbyterian.  Some said they reminded Huck of the rebels who had harassed him, accused him of treason and took his property. He certainly had some cause  to seek retribution for his lost property. And of course, he was an Anglican. Perhaps there was a religious component to his hate. Charged with recruiting supporters for the Loyalist cause by Cornwallis, Huck ravaged through the back country, threatening and plundering civilians, destroying properties, and making a reputation for cruelty for himself as well as his men. 

Back Country Mayhem

In June of 1780, Huck was sent from Rocky Mount towards Fishing Creek to disperse rebels known to be gathering there. Along the way he recruited 300 Loyalists, and burned all the homes and plantations of known Patriots in the Catawba Valley of upper South Carolina. When he reached Fishing Creek, Huck led his men to the Presbyterian Church in order to seize the pastor, a known Patriot named John Simpson. When they realized Simpson had fled, they torched his parsonage. Huck continued his rampage to the New Acquisition District along the North Carolina border, now York County.  There he destroyed two strategic assets of the rebels: Whites Mills on Fishing Creek and William Hill's Iron works. The latter was a critical source of rebel cannon and ordnance. With Huck wreaking such havoc in the back country  a force of about 500 loosely organized Patriot militias responded. A dragnet of sorts was launched as they scoured the woods and fields for the marauders.

Christian Huck continued his rampage and in early July arrived at the Bratton Plantation. Desperate to find the proprietor, Colonel William Bratton, a notable Whig leader, Huck ordered Martha Bratton to betray her husband’s location.  At the time, Bratton was leading his militia unit in the pursuit of Huck and other Tory bands. When Martha refused, she was threatened  with a reaping hook (interesting play on his name). Only  the intervention of another Loyalist officer saved her. Note: incivility, not to mention violence, against women of a certain status was considered particularly vile during the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies. If nothing else, this made him a schlechter Knabe.

Martha Bratton standing up to Huck's interrogation

The Mayhem Continues or A Woman Scorned

Undaunted, Huck moved on to the Williamson Plantation. After capturing five Whig supporters at the plantation hiding in the corn crib, Huck and his other officers took up quarters in the main house.  His force of around 120 men made camp in the surrounding areas. Since they easily took the plantation they assumed there was no threat. So he posted just a few guards and failed to place pickets or patrols outside the perimeter. Unbeknownst to Huck, Martha Bratton had sent a family slave named Watt to find her husband, whose unit was on Fishing Creek.  Watt told him where Huck was headed.  In a double calamity for Huck, a crippled spy named Joseph Kerr found Colonel Bratton as well. Based on Kerr and Watt’s intelligence an attack on Huck’s men was planned by Bratton.

Bratton's Plantation Today

Icing the Huck

At dawn on July 12, 1780, the rebels advanced on Huck’s unsuspecting encampment. There 250 Patriots under Bratton surrounded the plantation under cover of darkness. The few guards never saw them. As the Loyalist forces were roused by the attack, Bratton's men shot them down. War in the Carolinas was nasty! Surprised by the morning onslaught, many of Huck’s men ran away into the woods.  Huck  himself was shot from his horse while trying to rally his men. The Patriots tracked down and killed those of Huck’s forces that had bolted into the woods. Some reports estimated 85 percent of the Loyalists killed, wounded, or captured. Pretty impressive since he battle lasted only a few minutes.  The Patriots only had one man killed and another wounded in the skirmish. As for Huck, he died of his wounds and  was buried on the spot. In a final insult to the immigrant Loyalist, his body was  later used as a medical skeleton. 

Dramatic rendering of a battle that lasted minutes

Huck's Defeat a Significant Skirmish?

Yes. The Loyalists's morale in the Carolinas suffered from so many recent losses.  Too many Carolinians, British rule began to seem inevitable. After Huck's defeat, the fact that a Patriot militia group so decidedly defeated an element of the British Legion, rallied the people to the cause with renewed energy. The Legion was a powerful and feared force in the Carolinas: well led, well equipped, and very well motivated to show no mercy. They were the "Huns" of their day and had their way in most engagements. So the defeat of an element of the Legion stiffened their resistance to the British attacks and skirmishes. This would ultimately help change the outcome of the war. Over time the British became frustrated in their attempts to pacify the Carolinas. That frustration took the British under Cornwallis on a long march to a place called Yorktown. But that's another tale (or three). The legacy that Christian Huck left behind was  one of Loyalist savagery and Patriot retribution. But it also points out the hatefulness both sides of the American struggle had by after five years of struggle.

1 comment:

  1. A great read that really hooks ones attention. A rarely told tale that prys a view into the Tory-Patriot dynamics, military strategy, and emotional dynamics of the Yankee Doodle Spies era. Well done!