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1784, Hanging of Matthew Love - Steven J. Coker
Subject: 1784, Hanging of Matthew Love
From: Steven J. Coker
Date: July 31, 1998

South Carolina Historical Magazine
Volume 88 Number 1, January 1987


The Hanging of Matthew Love
By Michael E. Stevens
S.C. Department of Archives and History
Publications Division
[Commentary by Stevens omitted here]

                                            Charleston 14th Decr. 1784

  I arrived from my Circuit this Evening & take the earliest Opportunity to
communicate to your Excelly. a very extraordinary affair which happened in the
Town of Ninety Six on the 7th Instant. I suppose your Excelly. has heard of an
Excursion made by the noted Will Cuningham in the Winter of 1781 into the
interior Settlements, at the head of about 150 white men & negroes, under Orders
From the British Colo. Balfour. Cuningham having killed in his rout every person
he met with, (it is said to the number of 50) whom he suspected to be friends to
this Country, & burnt their Habitations, came at length to a House in which were
an American party of 35 men, commanded by Colo. Hayes. These refusing to
surrender at discretion, an attack commenced & a hot fire kept up, with some
Loss on both Sides, for about three hours; the British party possessed
themselves of the out buildings, & at last set fire to the house in which Colo.
Hays was posted. In this distressful Situation they refused to surrender at
discretion; reasonable terms were offered; that they should march out, lay down
their arms & be treated as prisoners of war until exchanged; & a Capitulation
was formally signed & interchanged. The Americans had no sooner marched out &
laid down their Arms, but the British seized Colo. Hays, & with the Capitulation
in his hand, pleading the terms of it & begging for Mercy, they hanged him to
the limb of a tree & then fired a Bullet thro' him. Captn. Williams the second
in Command, was treated in the same manner. After which Cuningham, with his Own
hands slew some of the prisoners & desired his men to follow his example. A most
cruel slaughter of the prisoners ensued; nineteen of them were butchered & the
rest escaped their fate by means too tedious now to mention.
  A man by the name of Love, who had dwelt in the district before & since the
war & had married there, was one of Cuningham's party, & a principal actor in
this tragical business. Love traversed over the ground where lay the dead & the
dying, his former neighbours & old Acquaintances, & as he saw Signs of Life in
any of them, he ran his sword thro' & dispatched him. Those already dead he
stabbed again: & when others seemingly without Life, pierced by the point of his
Sword were involuntarily convulsed with the pain, to these he gave new wounds;
lest any in so dreadful a Calamity might sham death to avoid it. Many other
Circumstances of barbarous insult to the dead bodies of Colo. Hays, Captn.
Williams & others are related by Major Downs, Major Mulvee, Captn. Saxon &
sundry other gentlemen of great worth & honor, who were witnesses of this
Massacre, but fortunately escaped it; some thro' the good will of a Neighbour, &
others by the intercession of their own slaves.
  Love was thenceforth held in universal execration, yet he some time ago
ventured to return into the vicinity of Ninety Six. He was taken up, & a Justice
of the peace committed him to Goal [i.e. Jail], thinking that such barbarity did
not come under the treaty of peace, so as to shelter him from prosecution. The
State's Attorney laid the Affair before the Court of Sessions, who over ruled
the prosecution; I being of opinion That under the Treaty, his Conscience & his
feelings alone stood responsible for what was alledged; & on motion of his
Council he was discharged. I then observed that there was no appearance, no look
of disapprobation directed against a man so generally detested: all seemed to be
reconciled. The determination on Love's Affair closed the business of the
Sessions, & the Court immediately adjourned to the 26th of April next.
  A party of men as respectable for Services & good Character as any in the
district, composed of the fathers, Sons, & brothers and friends of the slain
prisoners, had attended Court, & waited until the Judge had left the Court
House, & arrived at his Lodgings. And then without tumult or noise made Love a
prisoner & put him on horseback: they proceeded on, & tho' the house where they
supposed the Judge had entered, led directly to the place where they intended to
convey him, yet they took a Circuit another way to the skirts of a wood, where
they arrived under the limb of a tree, to which they tyed one end of a rope,
with the other round his neck, & bid him prepare to die; he urging in vain the
injustice of killing a man without tryal, & they reminding him, that he should
have thought of that, when he was slaughtering their kinsmen. The Horse drawn
From under him left him suspended til he expired.
  Thus I have related this unhappy Affair as I have heard it, & I can assure
your Excelly., that whatever appearance this transaction may have to the
contrary, the people of Ninety Six wish ardently to forget the injuries Of the
War, provided those do not return among them, that have committed wanton acts of
barbarity. Many plunderers and other mischievous people now set down among them
without molestation; nor can I learn that there exists resentment against any
man who acted like a Soldier & fought them in fair open action. But it is to be
lamented that such men as Love is described to have been, will be so infatuated
as to return among the Citizens, & thus prevent the restoration of the publick
  I have the honor to be Your Excellency's Most obedt. humble Servt.

His Excellency Governor Guerard                (Signed) AEdanus Burke 


This letter is in Records of the General Assembly, Governor's Messages, No. 313,
South Carolina Archives. The letter is a copy made by a clerk sometime before
January 24, 1785, when Governor Guerard submitted it to the General Assembly. It
is transcribed literally.

Colonel Nisbet Balfour (1743-1823) was the British commandant at Charleston.

Colonel Joseph Hayes succeeded Colonel James Williams as commander of the Little
River Regiment of the South Carolina militia when Williams died in 1780.

Captain Daniel Williams was the younger brother of Colonel James Williams.

Jonathan Downs (1738-1818), William Milwee (1753-1840), and Samuel Saxon were
all survivors of the Hayes Station massacre. In 1784 Downs had been elected to
the Senate and Milwee to the House. Saxon later served in the House and as
sheriff of Ninety Six District. See Bailey and Cooper, Biographical Directory,
3:191-92, 502, 637-38. 

Aedanus Burke (1743-1802) served as an associate judge of the South Carolina
Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions from 1778 to 1799.

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