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Maj. Patrick Ferguson

Bust of Maj. Patrick Ferguson, British commander at Kings Mountain.
Courtesy John Wilson Smith, Peterhead, Scotland.

On June 4, 1744, Patrick Ferguson was born to Judge and Ann E. Murray Ferguson at Pitfour, the family estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Patrick was one of a family of six children in which he had an older and younger brother and three sisters. Ferguson's father, Lord Pit four, the Second Laird, had restored the family fortune lost by the First Laird of Pitfour as a result of unfortunate speculation in the South Sea Company. His children did not lack for the comforts normally enjoyed by the offspring of gentry. They were fortunately endowed also with a family background of learning and culture.

With this background, it is not surprising that young Patrick's education was started at an early age. Any hopes or expectations that his parents may have had, however, of developing him as a scholar were short lived. After finishing the little schooling he received at a military academy in London, Ferguson decided to use his ability as a horseman and hunter and to become a soldier.

At the age of 15 a commission was purchased for him, and he entered upon active service on July 12, 1759, as a cornet in the Royal North British Dragoons. With a slight frame, Ferguson was not an individual of commanding appearance, and it might have been thought that he was poorly suited to military service. This shortcoming was made up in soldierly determination, and he was also blessed by in heritance with a serious disposition, unusual ability, sound judgment, and energy in ample measure.

From the plains of Flanders and Germany to the spur of the Kings Mountain range, where he was killed, Ferguson demonstrated his soldiery qualities. For example, on June 30, 1760, he displayed his characteristic contempt for danger at the Battle of Minden. In this action he returned in the face of enemy hussars to retrieve a pistol which dropped from his holster as his horse jumped a ditch. Such an action was to be expected of him, if he was to be worthy of his name, which was derived from the Gaelic "Feargachus," meaning one of a bold, haughty, and fiery disposition.

It was difficult for his mother to watch Ferguson embark on a military career at such an early age. On August 14, 1762, her brother Maj. Gen. James Murray, wrote her from Quebec: "You must no longer look upon him as your son. He is the son of Mars and will be unworthy of his father if he does not give proofs of contempt of pain and danger."

Sickness interrupted Ferguson's service in the field from 1762 to 1768. He was not idle during the period of his recovery in Scotland and entered actively into public discussion of the extension of the militia laws of England to Scotland. This activity gave him some early insight into the problem and prepared him for the role he later played in the Carolinas as Inspector of Militia. He enjoyed a second leave of absence from military service just prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. In this period he pursued an intensive study of military science and tactics and developed the Ferguson rifle.

In 1777 Ferguson was sent to America with the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best, marksmen in the British army. At the time he held a captaincy, which was attained on September 1, 1768. He was in command of a corps of at least 100 riflemen, whom he had personally trained in the use of his new breechloading rifle. During the earlier years of his service in America, Ferguson participated in numerous actions in the North. Among these was the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, in which he was so severely wounded in the right arm that its usefulness was impaired during the remainder of his life.

Ferguson was inured by years of service to such hardships. His loyalty was rewarded on October 25, 1779, when he was promoted to the rank of major. A few months later, at the start of the British expedition against Charleston, he was given the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel. His ability and personal magnetism enabled him to win the respect of all his associates, and his success as an officer was as notable in the South as it had previously been in the North.

This was his last campaign, and, in its course, he demonstrated a sense of fairness and a degree of humanity that earned him the respect of many of the people of the South. As the opportunity permitted, he attempted to persuade many of these Americans to renew their oath of allegiance to the King of England. His success won the admiration of his associates, among whom was General Stuart of Garth, who wrote upon the demise of this soldier: "By zeal, animation, and a liberal spirit, he gained the confidence of the mass of people . . ."

Even more revealing of his character are the following lines written from America by Ferguson to his mother to calm her fears for his safety: "The length of our lives is not at our command, however much the manner of them may be. If our Creator enable us to act the part of honour, and to conduct ourselves with spirit, probity, and humanity, the change to another world whether now or fifty years hence, will not be for the worse.


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