When the American war for independence started, William Cunningham of South Carolina joined the Continental Army as part of that state’s 3rd regiment. But, by 1778, Cunningham had switched sides, becoming an ardent Tory, ruthless in his dealings with those opposing the crown.
During the fall of 1781, Cunningham commanded a regiment that terrorized South Carolina’s backcountry with a series of massacres. This expedition became knows as the “Bloody Scout” and earned Cunningham his nickname, “Bloody Bill.”
On November 19, 1781, Cunningham’s men approached Haye’s Station, a tavern used as a stagecoach stop near Edgehill Plantation. What transpired next shocked South Carolina patriots:
Joseph Hayes owned a tavern adjacent to Edgehill Station – a stop along the local stage coach line. He and about two dozen of his men were sitting down to a nice meal when a colleague, Capt. John Owens, rode up and informed the men that smoke was coming out of the nearby plantation house of the late Brig. Gen. James Williams’ widow.
Hayes and his men jumped up from their meal and followed Capt. Owens out of the tavern and up a small hill to gather at an old Cherokee War Block House – to see what was going on at the neighbor’s home. They were instantly surrounded by “Bloody Bill” Cunningham with about 300 Loyalists. Hayes and his men ran into the small block house, but it was soon torched, so they threw down their arms and surrendered.
Cunningham warned Hayes that if any shots were fired at his men that all of the station’s defenders would be killed. As the Loyalists approached the station, several shots were fired at them. Cunningham sent in a flag of truce and stated that if the post surrendered, he would spare the defenders. Hayes refused to surrender, thinking that reinforcements would be arriving soon. The fight continued for several hours until the post’s roof was set on fire by flaming arrows. Choking from the fire’s smoke, Hayes surrendered.
Only 2 of the 16 Patriots were killed during the fight. Each man was forced to back out of the small block house to have their hands tied behind them then affixed to a long rope, ostensibly to be marched to another location. However, as soon as the last man was attached to the long rope, Cunningham started hanging them, and then his men dismembered fourteen of them, with Cunningham killing 4 Patriots with his sword. Cunningham then rode off, leaving the body parts scattered.
Among Hayes’ men that day and one of the men killed by “Bloody Bill,” was Clement Hancock, Jr., my sixth great grandfather. His granddaughter Unity Hancock married Judkins Hunt II in 1799. From that line came my maternal grandfather, William Rea Gideon, three generations later.
The men killed that day were buried in a mass grave. A monument still stands in Laurens County, South Carolina near where the massacre took place, honoring them by name: