Bloody Bill Cunningham

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Bloody Bill Cunningham - The Record of 'Bloody' Bill ByJohnSchoolfied At...
The Record of 'Bloody' Bill ByJohnSchoolfied At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Young Bill Cunningham of Ninety-Six, S.C., a small settlement on the state's northwest frontier, was a popular figure among his neighbors. He had a quick, fiery temper, but he was open-hearted, had a lively sense of humor, and his passion for fine horses, fine weapons, and fine clothes made him a romantic hero among the youth. A few weeks after the fighting at Lexington in April, 1775, Cunningham joined the patriots and helped form a regiment of rangers against the strong Tory forces in the district. In July, he was present when the patriots took possession of Fort Charlotte, a small stronghold on the Savannah River. It would seem that the daring, young Cunningham, a born leader, would probably emerge as one of the folk heroes of the American rebellion; but that was not to be. In 1777, he abandoned the American cause and turned against the patriots with such ferocity that he became known as "Bloody Bill," the notorious leader of .a hard-riding Tory gang called the "Bloody Scout." After the taking of Fort Charlotte, Cunningham was ordered east to serve near Charleston. He. stubbornly resisted the order, saying he had enlisted in the militia with'the understanding that he would serve only in the district of Ninety-Six. He was arrested, put in irons, and tried on a charge of mutiny; and although he was acquitted and allowed to return to Ninety-Six, his experience had embittered him and he determined to join the Tories. When Capt. William Ritchie, a neighborhood patriot leader, heard that Cunningham had changed sides, he sent him word that he would follow him "to the very gates of hell and shoot him down on~ sight." In a few months, as neighborhood strife mounted, Ritchie and Cunningham were to have a showdown. Cunningham, on a visit to Savannah, Ga., received word that his brother, John, a cripple, had been slain by Ritchie and a party of patriots. Returning to Ninety-Six, Cunningham rode straight to Ritchie's house, found him in the yard and shot him down as he was climbing a fence to escape. Cunningham then declared all- out war, raised a band of 190 men and attacked the patriots at every opportunity. In his first raid, he lulled eight noted patriots and enlisted another 60 men to his ranks. Early one morning he attacked an armed camp of 30 patriots under Capt. James Butler and his 19-year- old son, whom Cunningham believed had committed atrocities against Tory families. Capt. Butler asked for terms, Cunningham refused to conside any that would exempt young ler from immediate execution Young Butler, shouting that would "settle the terms of surren der," opened fire and killed a He received a mortal wound as was reloading his rifle and Capt Butler and his men quickly surren dered. Cunningham now earned name "Bloody Bill." When Capt Butler and his men had grounds their arms, Cunningham orderec all of the patriots put to the Two men escaped, but the were slaughtered where they stood Capt. Butler, having picked up a pitchfork, fought until his right hand was severed by a stroke. He was the last to fall. ·On another raid, "Bloody Bill" and his "bloody Scout" attacked small patriot post called Hayes' Station, under command of a militia colonel, James Hayes. Cunningham surrounded the little stronghold with a large force and demanded immediate surrender, warning the patriots if they resisted he would give them no Hayes and his men chose to but after several hours they were forced into the open half-suffocated when the Tories set their fortress ablaze. "Bloody Bill" immediately hanged Hayes and a Capt. Daniel Williams from a fodder stack, 1 ' which broke before the men were: dead. Without hesitation, Cun-! ningham killed the gasping with his own sword, claiming both of them had been guilty cruelty to Tories. Another patriot, John Cook, was brought forward and charged with being a member of the gang that had slain Cunningham's crippled brother. Cunningham ran him through with his sword. He told his men to do what pleased with the rest of the prisoners. A few were held captive, others were slain in cold blood. "Bloody Bill" and his "Bloody Scout,' continued their war against patriots long after the British Army had surrendered to Gen. Washington at Yorktown, Va. Finally one night in the spring of as they were drying their blankets by camp fires in a peach orchard, Cunningham and his men were surprised by a patriot patrol. Cunningham managed to escape, but most of his men were killed captured. "Bloody Bill" made his way to Florida, where he lived for several years. He didn't dare ever show face again in Ninety-Six; but, it is said that he did return to Carolina and died in Charleston 1787. Copyright 1975 by John Schoolfield

Clipped from
  1. Sunday Gazette-Mail,
  2. 31 Oct 1976, Sun,
  3. Page 91

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