During the Revolutionary War, a military officer organized a ragtag band of irregular militiamen who ruthlessly attacked and terrorized both the British Loyalists, and the British troops.

Francis Marion rarely committed his men to frontal warfare, but instead conducted surprise attacks and equally sudden withdrawal.

The British especially despised him because he constantly eluded them with his superior intelligence gathering and clever tactics. In fact, it was British Colonel Banastre Tarleton who nicknamed Marion the Swamp Fox, after he pursued Marion’s troops for seven hours over 26 miles through a South Carolina swamp. Tarleton eventually gave up the chase, explaining “[a]s for this damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him.”

Marion’s story got around and soon the locals—who hated the British occupation—were cheering the Swamp Fox.

Marion never commanded a large army or led a major battle, but the Swamp Fox is one of the most enduring characters of America’s war for independence.

Because of his use of irregular combat methods, Francis Marion is considered one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare and is credited in the lineage of the United States Army Special Forces.

His exploits formed the nucleus of the character Mel Gibson portrayed in the 2002 film, “The Patriot.”

But of course, the truth is more interesting and complicated than that.

Francis Marion was a man of his times. He was born at his family’s plantation around 1732, and at the age of 15 joined the crew of a ship sailing to the West Indies. During his first voyage, the ship sank, supposedly after a whale rammed it. He escaped in a lifeboat with six other crew members and spent a week at sea before they finally drifted ashore.

So ended Marion’s seagoing exploits, and he decided to return to the family’s plantation. At 25, he joined the South Carolina militia and fought in the French and Indian War.

According to today’s cancel culture, Marion’s history should not be celebrated. He owned slaves, and fought a brutal campaign against the Cherokee Indians.

But Marion’s experience in the French and Indian War prepared him for the exploits for which he is celebrated. Marion learned how the Cherokee used the landscape to their advantage, concealing themselves in the Carolina backwoods and mounting devastating ambushes. Two decades later, the applied those same tactics against the British.

His guerilla tactics surprised enemy regiments, with great success. Because the British never knew where Marion was going to strike, they had to divide their forces, thereby weakening them.

Sean Busick, a professor of American history at Athens State University in Alabama says, Marion “helped make South Carolina an inhospitable place for the British. Marion and his followers played the role of David to the British Goliath.”

For his innovative tactics, and for inspiring patriotism, we celebrate the cunning Swamp Fox in our special limited-edition t-shirt design.

Long may his legend live on.

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