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The History of

Captain Charnel Hightower Durham


From the

Durham Family History Compilation

by Mr. and Mrs. William Durham




        Charnel married Nancy while living in Virginia and later moved his family near Ridgeway (S.C.), previously named “New Lands” in Fairfield County, formerly known as Craven County and once part of the Camden District.


            On July 1, 1774(5), he enlisted in the Rangers, or mounted infantry for the western part of the state, under Captain Thomas Woodward, who was an influential force in the building of Winnsboro and known as the Regulator, and served under him for 6 months. Captain Woodward was the organizer of one of the first companies in South Carolina to resist the British, the 8th Company of Rangers commanded by Colonel William Thompson of the Continental Army. Around August 7, 1775, under Captain Woodward, he was located in the camp at the Mineral Springs near the Congarees. He was, at this point, a non-commissioned office/ private belonging to the 8th Company of Rangers and commanded by Colonel William Thompson, as stated by the papers of the First Council of Safety of the Revolutionary Party in South Carolina. Captain Woodward’s pay bill from the 8th Co. of Rangers, commanded by Colonel William Thompson dated from the 20th of September to the 20th of  October, 1775 lists:

Captain Thomas Woodward

Lt. Richard Winn

Lt. John Woodward

….Charnel Durham – due 30 days pay @ $25.00 a month


            Records show that Charnel also enlisted in the Continental Army on July 24, (22), 1776. Very few men of that day joined the Continental Army, but instead simply fought the British when they came into their area. Those who did serve generally enlisted for a year or more. He probably served for a few dollars in worthless devalued Continental paper money. Since Captain Woodward was now near sixty years of age, he resigned and retired to his home. His 1st Lt. , Richard Winn became Captain and Charnel served 2 years, 6 months under his command. (Winn was one of the three who signed the petition to charter Winnsboro in 1785 and was influential in the growth of the city.) Under the command of Captain Winn, the Patriots defeated a body of British Torries who were assembled at Mobley Meeting House. The Mobley Meeting House Battle, located at the headwaters of Little River, was one of the small battles before the Battle of Kings Mountain. It was fought on May 29, 1781 when a group of Torries surrounded and occupied the meeting house. A message was secretly sent by a messenger by Col. Richard Winn and Major John Bratton of Winnsboro, and Captain John McClure of Chester. They at once rounded up over 100 Patriots, which included Charnel, marched quietly through dense forest and completely routed every Tory from the meeting house. This was considered a great achievement for the American Army.


            Also under Captain Winn, Charnel was engaged in the building of a fort on Sullivan’s Island, later named Fort Moultrie, in January, 1776. It had been erected of materials readily available- sand and palmetto logs. The walls were 16 feet thick, made of sand to stop artillery fire, and faced with logs to keep the sand in place. Palmetto trees grew abundantly on the island and were utilized for convenience. It proved to be a life-saver during the battle when the spongy logs absorbed British cannon balls without showering the Patriot gunners with splinters. Charnel was one of 2,000 men that engaged in the attack on the fort by Sir Peter Parker. Colonel William Thompson was stationed at the end of Sullivan’s Island with about seven hundred and eighty men, consisting of the South Carolina Regiment, a little upwards of three hundred men and probably included Charnel. On February 1, 1780, he is listed as being in the 3rd S.C. Regiment, commanded by Col. Thompson.


            Charnel was sent under Captain Elijah Clark to guard a wagon train to Ninety-Six. The wagon was attacked and the guards were made prisoners. When released, he went on to Ninety-Six and joined General Williamson. It was probably at this point that Charnel was taken prisoner to Charleston, since the British occupied Charleston from 1780- 81. Charnel was held in Charleston for fifteen months, however, it is unknown where. The British established a prison in the cellars of the Old Exchange Building and named in the Provost, however, many prisoners were held in homes under “house arrest” or held aboard ships anchored outside of Charleston. According to legend, Charnel may have been held on both land and sea.


            There is another legend, which probably has a great deal of truth to it, however, there is some doubt to the exchanging of names, since the names are already in the family tree. Nevertheless, it is said that Charnel, an older man at the time, was captured by the British, along with a young man named Hightower, and were to be sent to England or Nova Scotia to be hanged. The British had them on board a ship anchored off Charleston Harbor. In the night, Captain Durham heard something hit the side of the boat and looked out and saw a row boat. He told Hightower that now would be their best time for them to make their escape. They climbed out of the port hole into the boat, got to shore and hid in the reeds and marshes and waited. Durham told Hightower that when they got to dry land, the best way for them to escape would be to separate and so he went one way and Hightower went the other. Before they parted ways they made a pact and Durham said that since he was older and didn’t expect to have any more children he would name a grandson Hightower Durham. Hightower, who never married said that if he ever had a son, he would be named Durham. As the story goes, they never saw each other again, but they say there was a Durham Hightower and Charnel’s grandson’s name is Charnel Hightower!


            Charnel was, in fact, waiting on a prison ship to be sent to Nova Scotia where he did escape and rejoined his command, a 3rd South Carolina Regiment commanded by Colonel William Thompson.


            Captain Durham once fought a Tory on the banks of a river. The Tory sprang into the water and Captain Durham followed him. The Tory was never seen again. Once, his commander, wishing to send a dispatch to another American officer, called for volunteers. Of the five who offered themselves, Captain Durham was chosen. He had to pass through British lines and the undertaking was perilous. Just before he reached the British outposts, a sudden heavy rain descended and probably saved his life. The acting picket at the time was a British officer and seeing the rain approaching, ran into a house nearby to get his coat. As he did so, Captain Durham dashed by. When the officer returned, the horse’s tracks were not filled with water and were plainly visible. After the war at a dinner in Charleston, the officer who had been detained there for some cause, related this story and ended by saying, “Before I leave America, I wish I could meet that man.” Captain Durham arose, “I am the man”, he said. He and the officer took each other by the hand as if they had never before been enemies.


            Charnel served under Colonel David Hoskins and three months later was a captain under Colonels Bratton, Hopkins, Perison (Pearson?), and Winn. He was also at the battles of Orangeburg and Four Hole Bridge, April 7, 1781 and commanded by American commander Harden. The British lost 26 soldiers, the Americans lost none. (Note: Four Holes Bridge was a Revolutionary post in Dorchester County, South Carolina located off what is now Highway 78.)



Durham Family History Compilation by Mr. and Mrs. William Durham (Mrs. Durham is a professional genealogist.)



Some of these stories came from the story written by Ms. Marion Mobley Durham which was published in the Winnsboro News & Herald 1901




I found the following document while doing some web research. This statement was taken from Captain Charnel Durham when he was at age 79 and apparently suffering from some unknown illness or age related disease. This statement is on file in the National Archives.


Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements

Pension application of Charnel Durham W9418c Transcribed by Will Graves State of South Carolina, District of Fairfield On this 30thday of October in the year of our Lord 1832 personally appeared in open Court before me William D. Martin one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas & General Sessions of the State of South Carolina now in session Captain Charnel[sic] Durham a resident of the District of Fairfield in the State aforesaid, aged Seventy-nine years, who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on his Oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of Congress passed June 7th,1832.Deponent was born on Rappahannock River, Marratica [sic, no such county1]County, northern neck in Virginia, on the first day of July A.D. 1753. His age was recorded in his father John Durham's family Bible. The Bible fell into the hands of Deponent's oldest brother Joshua Durham, and was burnt when his brother's house was burned before the Revolutionary War in Amelia County Virginia. Deponent was living in Fairfield District then known as Craven County within one mile of a little village that now is called Monticello when first called into service, removed from that place during the revolutionary war and settled about half mile below Monticello, and lived there until one or two years after the war closed, and then removed to Dutchman's Creek about seven miles South East from Winnsborough in Fairfield District where he has lived ever since and still lives. Deponent enlisted as a private soldier in Captain Thomas Woodward's company3rdRegiment, Colonel William Thompson, South Carolina Rangers on the first July 1774for six months certain & for three years if services called for. At the end of the six months, Captain Thomas Woodward resigned and Lieutenant Richard Winn of same company took the command as Captain, and Deponent was again enlisted for the remaining two years and six months. Deponent was first marched under Captain Woodward to the Congaree above Columbia, thence to Amelia Township; the whole Regiment was at this place. Lieutenant Colonel Mason [sic, James Mayson] second in command Major Wise [Thomas Wise], Captains Eli Kershaw, Samuel Boykin, Robert Goodwyn [Robert Goodwin?], Moses Kirkland (who afterwards deserted and as was said joined the British at Augustine), Robert Lile [sic, Robert Lyle] and Felix Warley, Francis Taylor, Oliver Tolls [sic, Oliver Towels] & others not now recollected. The Regiment laid there some time, marched to the ten mile house next to Sullivan's Island (part of the Regiment only went there as Deponent believes) where the troops commenced the treiloring [sic, tailoring?] of Fort Moultrie. We were engaged in this about three months. Left the Island, the Regiment went to Granby. Deponent was one of a detachment of 21under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Charlton, an officer under Captain Eli Charlton, to guard ammunition wagons to ninety six, was attacked by a body of Tories near 600 Colonel Fletcher [sic, Thomas Fletchall], and some of the [several illegible words] and the wagons captured and the guard made prisoners for one day & night. Guard were then released and went into ninety six and joined General Andrew Williamson who there commanded about five hundred of the Militia, and stayed there for1 Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond and Westmoreland are the counties which constitute what is today called the “Northern Neck” of Virginia.
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some months before the Regiment joined. During this time General Williamson had intimation of the approach of a large body of Tories four thousand strong as supposed made his escape in the night by means of an [illegible word] boat, passed near the Bologue [?] frigate 50 Gun guard ship and escaped to land, and arrived safe at home near [illegible word] as now call) was then elected Captain of a Beat [?] Company and duly commissioned in 1781.First time deponent performed as Captain was to the Four Holes. Colonel David Hopkins commanded the Regiment. This detachment was designed to keep a watch on the movements of the British at Charleston. This tour lasted three months. The next tour as Captain was also to the Four Holds for the same purpose, but William Bratton commanded the Regiment. This tour was also for three months each. Was also in a tour of militia duty to Augusta Georgia. Colonel John Pearson [?]Commanded the Regiment, thinks Captain Raiford [Philip Raiford] was along with his company. Deponent and his company were out five months in this tour. Intended to keep in check the Tories and Indians. Was out in several other tours as Captain. [Illegible word] not particularly recollect the time out in duty. Was out as Captain and commanding his company he is certain more than eleven months during the Revolutionary War. His commission has as well as his discharge been lost or destroyed but has been seen by several persons now alive. The commission was signed by Colonel John Pearson. Deponent does not now know any of his fellow soldiers who live within his reach now remaining that can testify of his services from personal knowledge excepting Captain John Hillis & Thomas Parrott.2He hereby relinquishes every claim whatever to a pension or annuity except the present and he declares that his name is not on the pension roll of the agency of any state. Sworn to and subscribed the day and year first aforesaid. S/ Charnel Durham, C his mark Sworn to in open CourtS/ [illegible signature] I Thomas Parrott residing in Richland District in the State of South Carolina do hereby certify that I am well acquainted with Captain Charnel Durham who has subscribed and sworn to the above declaration, that I am seventy two years old since July 1, 1832, and believe Captain Durham to be seventy nine years of age. That I first became acquainted with Captain Durham about the year 1773 in Fairfield District, then Craven County, near a place now known as Monticello. That deponent always understood and such was the universal belief in the neighborhood that he had enlisted as a soldier in Colonel Thompson's Regiment 3rdSo. Ca. Rangers. Deponent saw Captain Durham once whilst in the service when in his return from ninety six during the [illegible word] of arms for twenty days spoken of above. He had his uniform, and deponent recollects a plate in his cap having the motto inscribed “Liberty or Death.” Deponent knows that the belief of the neighborhood was that he served out his three years faithfully and was honorably discharged.2 NPA S21918
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Deponent afterwards understood and such was the belief of the neighborhood that Captain Durham was taken prisoner by the Tories and taken to Charleston and their kept as prisoner for more than one year, new when he was taken.