Grierson, James

views updated

Grierson, James

GRIERSON, JAMES. (?–1781). Planter, Loyalist militia officer. Date and place of birth unknown. Grierson moved to Georgia in 1762, settling in St. Paul's Parish. Active as an officer in the colonial militia, he commanded the Loyalist forces of St. Paul's Parish-Richmond County.

A prominent citizen of the backcountry, Grierson owned over one thousand acres and a fortified building or stockade fort in Augusta called Grierson's Fort. He served St. Paul's Parish as tax collector and assessor, surveyor of roads, and justice of the peace. By 1774 he was colonel of the Augusta provincial militia regiment. On 6 August 1775 the Augusta revolutionary committee of safety asked Grierson to call out the militia to protect the town from a potential attack by Loyalist Thomas Brown and his followers. He refused. Despite his loyalty to the crown, however, Grierson served the rebel government when it functioned in the backcountry, continuing as justice of the peace for St. Paul's Parish in 1776 and tax assessor for Augusta and environs in 1778. In January 1779, when British troops came into the backcountry, rebels incorporated the use of Grierson's Fort in their defensive plans. Although Grierson was openly a Loyalist, he remained unmolested in Augusta while rebel government existed there.

Grierson returned to an active role with the Loyalist militia when British forces, under Colonel Thomas Brown, reoccupied Augusta in May 1780. Rebel Colonel Elijah Clarke and partisans unsuccessfully attacked Augusta during August-September 1780, taking Fort Grierson as their temporary headquarters. Grierson arrived with a group of regulars and Indians on 18 September, just in time to pursue fleeing rebels and take prisoners. In retaliation for Clarke's attack, Loyalist troops destroyed plantations and settlements in the surrounding backcountry and hundreds of women and children fled Georgia. Rebel strength built slowly around Augusta beginning in April 1781. Grierson and Brown sought reinforcements from the British garrison in Savannah in vain. Eventually besieged by rebel forces, on 22 May 1781 Grierson and a detachment of loyalist militia occupied his fort, which was from one-half to three-quarters of a mile west of Fort Cornwallis, a new and well-constructed fortification Brown had built in the center of town and now occupied with his regulars. Quickly overcome by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee's Legion, Grierson and his surviving troops managed to reach Fort Cornwallis. On 5 June, Brown surrendered. Colonel Grierson was taken prisoner under General Andrew Pickens and held at his own fort.

While some sources state Grierson died before reaching Fort Cornwallis, it is generally believed that he was assassinated on 6 June by Captain James Alexander, one of Pickens's men, whose family had suffered under British rule. Some reports indicate that Grierson was shot in front of his children and his body mutilated and thrown in a ditch outside the fort. Lee stated that it was difficult to prevent such murders, and other Loyalists were also killed at this time. General Nathanael Greene offered a reward on 9 June 1781, but no one was arrested.


Cashin, Edward J. The King's Ranger: Thomas Brown and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Hoffman, Ronald. "The 'Disaffected' in the Revolutionary South." In The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. Edited by Alfred F. Young. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976.