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Dredging the Swamp Fox: Francis Marion in the Circuits of Cultural Memory

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Abstract:

This paper will examine some of the complex dynamics of the ongoing construction of the legend of Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion, perhaps the most prominent iconic patriots of the early south. An examination of representations of Marion a site of American memory reveals how representations of his character and exploits supplied alternative and hybrid forms of regional revolutionary heroism that supplemented in significant ways more established national celebrities centered in the north. Marion was the grandson of Huguenot immigrants who became superlatively renowned as a partisan who successfully practiced guerilla tactics of terror to harass British regulars stationed in the South Carolina lowlands in the early 1780s. The Swamp Fox was most fully nationalized through the publication of Parson Weems’ 1809 Life of Gen. Francis Marion which romantically recalibrated a memoir by Marion’s associate Peter Horry to create an image of the Washington of the South, one who also drew upon the military exploits of the French knight Bayard and the ragtag band of Robin Hood. In the nineteenth century century, counties in seventeen states were named after him. Part of the cultural work of the Swamp Fox emerged from how he was imagined as a hybrid embodiment of the frontier ethic of manly self-sufficiency, Native American warrior ingenuity and familiarity with the land, and even the resourcefulness of maroons and runaway slaves. Marion’s escapades celebrated his ability to survive off the land and act with a balance of democratic aplomb and strategic ferocity, chronicled through early national cultural expressions through nineteenth-century authors such as William Cullen Bryant and William Gilmore Simms and painters such as John Blake White (“Gen. Francis Marion inviting a British Officer to Share His Meal” in the U.S. Capitol) and William Tylee Ranney (“Marion Crossing the Pedee”). This paper will also briefly examine a variety of more recent expressive vehicles that have been deployed to extend his cultural resonance for new audiences. I will chart the tropes through which Francis Marion became a long-term focused fascination of juvenile literature, a tradition that achieved its most public fruition in Disney’s 1959-1961 television miniseries about him (“Swamp Fox! Swamp Fox! Tail on his hat,/ Nobody knows where The Swamp Fox’s at”). Roland Emmerich’s 2000 violent film The Patriot was based largely on the legend of Marion, although his name was changed late in the production to preserve its fictive license. The wake of this film brought tourists to eastern South Carolina leading to the creation of the Francis Marion Swamp Trail. I will also show recent statues of the Swamp Fox erected in the Berkeley County administrative building and the student activities center of Francis Marion University in South Carolina and the proposed design for a new monument, recently enabled by an Act of Congress, on the now vacant acre and a half Marion Square on South Carolina Avenue four blocks from the Capitol
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Name: The American Studies Association
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Marr, Timothy. "Dredging the Swamp Fox: Francis Marion in the Circuits of Cultural Memory" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186385_index.html>

APA Citation:

Marr, T. W. , 2007-10-11 "Dredging the Swamp Fox: Francis Marion in the Circuits of Cultural Memory" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186385_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: This paper will examine some of the complex dynamics of the ongoing construction of the legend of Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion, perhaps the most prominent iconic patriots of the early south. An examination of representations of Marion a site of American memory reveals how representations of his character and exploits supplied alternative and hybrid forms of regional revolutionary heroism that supplemented in significant ways more established national celebrities centered in the north. Marion was the grandson of Huguenot immigrants who became superlatively renowned as a partisan who successfully practiced guerilla tactics of terror to harass British regulars stationed in the South Carolina lowlands in the early 1780s. The Swamp Fox was most fully nationalized through the publication of Parson Weems’ 1809 Life of Gen. Francis Marion which romantically recalibrated a memoir by Marion’s associate Peter Horry to create an image of the Washington of the South, one who also drew upon the military exploits of the French knight Bayard and the ragtag band of Robin Hood. In the nineteenth century century, counties in seventeen states were named after him. Part of the cultural work of the Swamp Fox emerged from how he was imagined as a hybrid embodiment of the frontier ethic of manly self-sufficiency, Native American warrior ingenuity and familiarity with the land, and even the resourcefulness of maroons and runaway slaves. Marion’s escapades celebrated his ability to survive off the land and act with a balance of democratic aplomb and strategic ferocity, chronicled through early national cultural expressions through nineteenth-century authors such as William Cullen Bryant and William Gilmore Simms and painters such as John Blake White (“Gen. Francis Marion inviting a British Officer to Share His Meal” in the U.S. Capitol) and William Tylee Ranney (“Marion Crossing the Pedee”). This paper will also briefly examine a variety of more recent expressive vehicles that have been deployed to extend his cultural resonance for new audiences. I will chart the tropes through which Francis Marion became a long-term focused fascination of juvenile literature, a tradition that achieved its most public fruition in Disney’s 1959-1961 television miniseries about him (“Swamp Fox! Swamp Fox! Tail on his hat,/ Nobody knows where The Swamp Fox’s at”). Roland Emmerich’s 2000 violent film The Patriot was based largely on the legend of Marion, although his name was changed late in the production to preserve its fictive license. The wake of this film brought tourists to eastern South Carolina leading to the creation of the Francis Marion Swamp Trail. I will also show recent statues of the Swamp Fox erected in the Berkeley County administrative building and the student activities center of Francis Marion University in South Carolina and the proposed design for a new monument, recently enabled by an Act of Congress, on the now vacant acre and a half Marion Square on South Carolina Avenue four blocks from the Capitol

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