I recently read the book Marion and His Men written by John De Morgan in 1802. It is the story of American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, who was also known as “The Swamp Fox.” Marion both made his mark on the Revolutionary War and earned his moniker by his fighting tactics. He and his band of men were too outnumbered to launch a full-scale attack on the British forces, so instead they dwelt in the swamps of the Carolinas and employed guerilla warfare tactics to buy more time for General Washington. The opening line of one of the last chapters tells the whole story in one line: “Day after day Marion and his men so thoroughly harassed the enemy that Lord Cornwallis was put to his wits’ end to circumvent the Americans.”
Near the end of the book there is an account of a conversation that took place between Marion and a British officer who had been brought blindfolded into their encampment to work out the details of a prisoner exchange. When the meeting was over and the British officer was preparing to leave, Marion insisted that he eat a meal with them.
The man was famished (the British were on limited rations as well as the Americans) so he accepted the offer. He assumed, as did many, that the patriots were living off the fat of the land; thus he was disappointed to see that their entire dinner would consist of some roasted potatoes. The patriot’s cook pulled a potato from the fire, blew off the ashes, and offered it to the British officer on a piece of bark for a plate. The man tried to eat the potato, but without butter or salt he found it to be tasteless and sat the bark plate down.
The conversation that ensued gives us a glimpse into why the patriot’s fought, but more importantly, it provides a standard by which we might measure our fervency as soldiers of the Lord.
First the British officer commented that he didn’t know how long the British soldiers would keep fighting if their government gave them only plain potatoes. Then, assuming he had figured out the secret, the British officer said that surely the patriots must be well-paid, to which Marion replied, “Not a cent, sir. Not a cent.” The British officer was obviously at a loss to explain their devotion to their cause, and he burst out, “By jove! how do you stand it?”
Marion: “It is a matter of principle, sir.”
British Officer: “Principle be hanged! Do you think King George could get men to do all the fighting and not draw any pay, and get nothing to eat but potatoes? I’ll be hanged if he could.”
Marion: “Why sir, the heart is all. If King George possessed your hearts, you would fight cheerfully even on a potato diet.”
British Officer: “No, no, General Marion, that I must deny.”
Marion: “When a man is interested he will do and suffer anything. Many a youth would think it hard to be indentured at a trade for fourteen years. But let him be overhead and ears in love with such a beauteous sweetheart as Rachel, and he will think no more of fourteen years’ servitude than did Jacob. That is just my case. I am in love.”
British Officer: “You in love, general?”
Marion: “Yes, I am in love, and I have the most beautiful sweetheart; her name is Liberty. Be that beauteous nymph my companion, and these wilds and woods have charms beyond London or Paris in slavery. To have no proud monarch driving over me with his gilt coaches; nor his host of excise men and tax gatherers insulting and robbing me; but to be my own master, my own prince and sovereign, gloriously preserving my national dignity, and pursuing my true happiness; planting my vineyards and eating the luscious fruits, sowing my fields and reaping the golden grain; and seeing millions of brothers all around me, equally free and happy as myself.
“This, sir, is what I long and fight for. And when I look forward, sir, to the long ages of posterity, I glory in the thought that I am fighting their battles. The children of distant generations may never hear my name, but still it gladdens my heart to think that I am contending for their freedom, and all its countless blessings.”
Allegedly, after the war this British officer bought an estate in Carolina and married an American. And who can blame him after being given such an eloquent case for freedom!
America’s forefathers were driven by the greatest motivator of all—love! When a person is in love, they will endure anything. The American patriot’s love of liberty was a noble one, but how much greater should be our love for the Lord Jesus Christ! I was struck by Marion’s comment that “If King George possessed your hearts, you would fight cheerfully even on a potato diet.” And if King Jesus possesses our hearts, we will serve Him cheerfully and faithfully, no matter the cost.