Major Patrick Ferguson

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Major Patrick Ferguson

Birthdate: (36)
Birthplace: Pitfour, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Death: October 7, 1780 (36)
Kings Mountain, Near Blacksburg, Cherokee County, South Carolina, United States (killed in the Battle of Kings Mountain)
Place of Burial: Near Blacksburg, Cherokee County, South Carolina, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of 2nd Lord Pitfour James Ferguson, of Pitfour and Ann Ferguson
Partner of "Virginia Sal"
Brother of James Ferguson of Pitfour and George Ferguson

Occupation: British Army Major
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Major Patrick Ferguson

Major Patrick Ferguson (1744 – October 7, 1780) was a Scottish officer in the British Army, early advocate of light infantry and designer of the Ferguson rifle. He is best known for his service in the 1780 military campaign of Charles Cornwallis, in which he aggressively recruited Loyalists and harshly treated Patriot sympathisers. His behaviour led to a militia uprising against him, and he was killed in the Battle of Kings Mountain, where he was the only regular army officer present from either side of the conflict. His body was mistreated in the aftermath of the battle by the victorious Patriot forces before burial.

Early life

Patrick Ferguson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 25 (Old Style)/June 4 (New Style) 1744, the second son and fourth child of advocate James Ferguson of Pitfour (who was raised to the judges' bench as a Senator of the College of Justice, so known as Lord Pitfour after 1764) and his wife Anne Murray, a sister of the literary patron Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank.

Through his parents, he knew a number of major figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, including philosopher and historian David Hume, on whose recommendation he read Samuel Richardson's novel Clarissa when he was fifteen, and the dramatist John Home. He had a large number of first cousins through his mother's family: these included Sir William Pulteney, 5th Baronet, Commodore George Johnstone, and Sir James Murray (later Murray-Pulteney).

Seven Years' War

He began his military career in his teens, encouraged by his uncle James Murray. He served briefly in the Holy Roman Empire with the Scots Greys during the Seven Years' War, until a leg ailment - probably tuberculosis in the knee - forced him to return home. After recovering, now in peace-time, he served with his regiment on garrison duty. In 1768, he purchased a command of a company in 70th Regiment of Foot, under the Colonelcy of his cousin Alexander Johnstone, and served with them in the West Indies until his lame leg again began to trouble him.

After returning home in 1772, he took part in light infantry training, coming to the attention of General Howe, and developed the Ferguson rifle, a breech-loading flintlock weapon based on Chaumette's earlier system.

American War of Independence

In 1777, he went to serve in the American War of Independence with his experimental rifle corps. However, after initial success, he was shot through the right elbow-joint at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. Shortly before, he had had the chance to shoot a prominent American officer, accompanied by another in distinctive hussar dress, but decided not to do so, as he had his back to him and was unaware of his presence. He was told in hospital by a surgeon, who had been speaking to some American casualties, that General Washington had been in the area at the time. Ferguson wrote that, even if the officer were him, he did not regret his decision. However, the officer's identity remains uncertain, and the presence of the aide in hussar dress has led to suggestions that he may have been Count Casimir Pulaski. For some months, he lived under threat of amputation, and also received news of his father's death. He eventually recovered, although his right arm was permanently crippled. He resumed his career in May 1778, under the command of Sir Henry Clinton.

In October 1778, he was sent to lead a raid to suppress privateers who had been seizing British ships and were based around the Little Egg Harbor River in what is known as the Battle of Chestnut Neck. Shortly after this raid, Ferguson was notified that a detachment of Pułaski's troops was located nearby. Ferguson marched his troops to the site of the infantry outpost, which comprised fifty men a short distance from the main encampment. At first light, Ferguson ordered the bayonet charge; only five of his quarry were taken alive in what was called the Little Egg Harbor massacre. Ferguson's own account (under the pen-name Egg-Shell) conveys his dismay at Pułaski's lack of preparations and lack of look-outs. Pułaski eventually led his mounted troops (Pułaski's Legion) forward, causing Ferguson to retreat to his boats minus a few men that had been captured.

In 1779 Ferguson became a Major in the 71st Foot. In 1780, the British Army sent General Lord Cornwallis to invade South Carolina and North Carolina. His mission was to defeat all American forces in the Carolinas and keep the two colonies within the British Empire. A key part of Cornwallis's plan was to recruit soldiers from local Loyalists. To achieve this goal, General Clinton appointed Major Ferguson as Inspector of Militia in South Carolina. Ferguson's mission was to recruit Loyalist militia in the Carolinas and Georgia and intimidate any colonists who favoured American independence.

After winning several victories over American forces, Cornwallis occupied Charlotte, North Carolina in the summer of 1780. He subsequently divided his army and gave command of one section to Ferguson. Ferguson's wing consisted of Loyalists he had recruited to fight for the British cause. When Ferguson publicly threatened to invade the mountains beyond the legal limit on westward settlement unless the colonists there abandoned the cause of American independence, the mountaineers organised an army to fight Ferguson at King's Pinnacle, an isolated ridge on the North Carolina-South Carolina border. On October 7, 1780 the two armies met in the famous Battle of Kings Mountain. The battle went badly for the Loyalists, and during the fighting, Ferguson was shot from his horse. He was dragged with his foot still in the saddle to the rebel side. When an American walked over for his surrender, he drew his pistol and shot the American as a last act of defiance. His corpse was found with eight musket holes in his body. The Patriots then stripped it of its clothes and urinated on it. He was buried near the site of his fall. It was claimed – according to Patriot accounts – that his corpse was ill-used before burial in an oxhide.

A lifelong bachelor, he was buried with one of his mistresses, 'Virginia Sal', who was also killed in the battle. In the 1920s the U.S. government erected a marker at his gravesite, which today is a part of the Kings Mountain National Military Park, a unit of the National Park Service.

His personal correspondence reveals a man of intelligence, humour and charm. He also wrote several articles, satirical in tone, for publication in Rivington's Royal Gazette, under the pseudonyms Egg-Shell, Memento Mori and John Bull.

He was survived by his mother, his brothers James and George, and sisters Annie, Elizabeth (Betty) (Mrs Scrymgeour-Wedderburn of Birkhill), and Jean.

Cultural references

In the 1835 novel Horse-Shoe Robinson by John Pendleton Kennedy, a historical romance set against the background of the Southern campaigns in the American War of Independence, Ferguson appears and interacts with the fictional characters in the book, en route to the climactic scene in which he is killed in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

In Louis L'amour's 1973 book The Ferguson Rifle, Ferguson stops by a poor family home on his way to the Battle of King's Mountain and kindly gives his personal copy of the Ferguson rifle to a boy who later carries it West. Ferguson is shown to be a gentleman who displays all the appropriate social graces to a lady (the boy's ill mother) and compassion to a family in need by giving up his personal firearm asking only that the boy keep it always, and never use it against the king. (p7)

In Steve Ressel's 2010 novel "State Of One", Ferguson is the main antagonist against James Pariah, a former soldier under Ferguson's command during the Battle of the Brandywine in 1777. Ferguson had been resurrected as a golem by the Leeds Witch with hopes of raising a golem army of similar soldiers, all armed with Ferguson rifles, to destroy the ratification of the US Constitution in September 1787. James Pariah cleaves to his old Ferguson rifle, sometimes referring to it as his wife, having modified it with special actions such as a spring-loaded knife in the stock.

Major Patrick Ferguson invented the Ferguson Rifle. He died while leading Loyalist Militia in The battle of Kings Mountain in the American Revolutionary War. He was the only Regular British Army officer present at the battle. He was serving under Lord Cornwallis.

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Major Patrick Ferguson's Timeline

June 7, 1744
Pitfour, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
October 7, 1780
Age 36
Near Blacksburg, Cherokee County, South Carolina, United States
Near Blacksburg, Cherokee County, South Carolina, United States