American Revolution: Major Patrick Ferguson

Patrick Ferguson

Photograph Source: Public Domain

The son of James and Anne Ferguson, Patrick Ferguson was born on June 4, 1744, in Edinburgh, Scotland. The son of a lawyer, Ferguson met many of the figures of the Scottish Enlightenment during his youth such as David Hume, John Home, and Adam Ferguson. In 1759, with the Seven Years' War raging, Ferguson was encouraged to pursue a military career by his uncle, Brigadier General James Murray. A well-known officer, Murray served under Major General James Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec later that year. Acting on his uncle's advice, Ferguson purchased a cornet's commission in the Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys).

Early Career

Rather than immediately join his regiment, Ferguson spent two years studying at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. In 1761, he traveled to Germany for active service with the regiment. Shortly after arriving, Ferguson fell ill with an ailment in his leg. Bedridden for several months, he was unable to rejoin the Greys until August 1763. Though capable of active duty, he was plagued by arthritis in his leg for the rest of his life. As the war had been concluded, he saw garrison duty around Britain for the next several years. In 1768, Ferguson purchased a captaincy in the 70th Regiment of Foot.

The Ferguson Rifle

Sailing for the West Indies, the regiment served in garrison duty and later aided in putting down a revolt of enslaved people Tobago. While there, he purchased a sugar plantation at Castara. Suffering from fever and issues with his leg, Ferguson returned to Britain in 1772. Two years later, he attended a light infantry training camp at Salisbury overseen by Major General William Howe. A skilled leader, Ferguson quickly impressed Howe with his ability in the field. During this period, he also worked on developing an effective breech-loading musket.

Beginning with previous work by Isaac de la Chaumette, Ferguson created an improved design which he demonstrated on June 1. Impressing King George III, the design was patented on December 2 and was capable of firing six to ten rounds per minute. Though superior to the British Army's standard Brown Bess muzzle-loading musket in some ways, the Ferguson design was significantly more expensive and took much more time to produce. Despite these limitations, around 100 were produced and Ferguson was given command of an Experimental Rifle Company in March 1777 for service in the American Revolution.

Brandywine and Injury

Arriving in 1777, Ferguson's specially equipped unit joined Howe's army and participated in the campaign to capture Philadelphia. On September 11, Ferguson and his men took part in the Battle of Brandywine. In the course of the fighting, Ferguson elected not to fire at a high-ranking American officer for reasons of honor. Reports later indicated that it may have been either Count Casimir Pulaski or General George Washington. As the fighting progressed, Ferguson was hit by a musket ball that shattered his right elbow. With the fall of Philadelphia, he was taken to the city to recover.

Over the next eight months, Ferguson endured a series of operations in the hope of saving his arm. These proved reasonably successful, though he never regained full use of the limb. During the course of his recovery, Ferguson's rifle company was disbanded. Returning to active duty in 1778, he served under Major General Sir Henry Clinton at the Battle of Monmouth. In October, Clinton dispatched Ferguson to Little Egg Harbor River in southern New Jersey to eliminate a nest of American privateers. Attacking on October 8, he burned several ships and buildings before withdrawing.

South Jersey

Several days later, Ferguson learned that Pulaski was camped in the area and that the American position was lightly guarded. Attacking on October 16, his troops killed around fifty men before Pulaski arrived with aid. Due to the American losses, the engagement became known as the Little Egg Harbor Massacre. Operating from New York in early 1779, Ferguson conducted scouting missions for Clinton. In the wake of the American attack on Stony Point, Clinton directed him to oversee the defenses in the area. In December, Ferguson took command of the American Volunteers, a force of New York and New Jersey Loyalists.

To the Carolinas

In early 1780, Ferguson's command sailed as part of Clinton's army which sought to capture Charleston, South Carolina. Landing in February, Ferguson was accidentally bayoneted in the left arm when Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton's British Legion mistakenly attacked his camp. As the Siege of Charleston progressed, Ferguson's men worked to cut off the American supply routes to the city. Joining with Tarleton, Ferguson aided in defeating an American force at Monck's Corner on April 14. Four days later, Clinton elevated him to major and backdated the promotion to the previous October.

Moving to the north bank of the Cooper River, Ferguson took part in the capture of Fort Moultrie in early May. With the fall of Charleston on May 12, Clinton appointed Ferguson as an inspector of militia for the region and charged him with raising units of Loyalists. Returning to New York, Clinton left Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis in command. In his role as inspector, he succeeded in raising around 4,000 men. After skirmishing with local militias, Ferguson was ordered to take 1,000 men west and guard Cornwallis' flank as the army advanced into North Carolina.

Battle of Kings Mountain

Establishing himself at Gilbert Town, North Carolina on September 7, Ferguson moved south three days later to intercept a militia force led by Colonel Elijah Clarke. Before leaving, he sent a message to the American militias on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains ordering them to cease their attacks or he would cross the mountains and "lay waste to their country with fire and sword." Enraged by Ferguson's threats, these militias mobilized and on September 26 began moving against the British commander. Learning of this new threat, Ferguson began retreating south then east with the goal of reuniting with Cornwallis.

In early October, Ferguson found that the mountain militias were gaining on his men. On October 6, he decided to make a stand and assumed a position on King Mountain. Fortifying the highest parts of the mountain, his command came under attack late the next day. During the Battle of Kings Mountain, the Americans surrounded the mountain and eventually overwhelmed Ferguson's men. In the course of the fighting, Ferguson was shot from his horse. As he fell, his foot caught in the saddle and he was dragged into the American lines. Dying, the victorious militia stripped and urinated on his body before it was buried in a shallow grave. In the 1920s, a marker was erected over Ferguson's grave which now lies in Kings Mountain National Military Park.


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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Major Patrick Ferguson." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). American Revolution: Major Patrick Ferguson. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Major Patrick Ferguson." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).

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