It’s an unfortunate reality that throughout our history, the roles and contributions of women have not been celebrated or remembered from generation to generation as prominently as men’s. The month of March, however, as Women’s History Month, gives us an opportunity to dig a little deeper to recognize the contributions of women to our country’s founding, and certainly there are a wealth of stories in Charleston to be told. One of those is that of Rebecca Brewton Motte, a woman who epitomized grace, character, and self-sacrifice in support of the American Revolution.

The youngest surviving daughter of Robert Brewton and Mary Loughton, Rebecca was born in 1737 at her parents’ plantation along the banks of the Santee River. Her grandfather was among Charles Town’s first settlers, having immigrated from Barbados in 1684, and her father was a wealthy goldsmith, heavily involved in the colony’s banking and financial business.

Rebecca’s older brother, Miles, followed his father into the world of finance, becoming a very successful shipping merchant. He married Mary Izard from a prosperous planter family to expand his real estate holdings. With that as well as through land grants and purchases of his own, Miles Brewton amassed one of the largest fortunes in the British colonies.

Rebecca’s sister Frances married Col. Charles Pinckney of Snee Farm Plantation. Among their children was Charles Pinckney, a founding father and framer of the U.S. Constitution.

When she was 19, Rebecca married Jacob Motte Jr., son of the colony’s treasurer and a planter who was politically active. Though the couple had seven children, only three daughters survived to adulthood. Rebecca and Jacob also reared the daughter of a friend, Susanna Smith Elliott, after her parents’ death. The family split their time between their Church Street townhouse and Fairfield Plantation on the South Santee River.

As the colonies rebelled against British rule, the Mottes became early supporters of the American cause. Though they had no sons to fight in the War for Independence, they supported the army by providing supplies such as rice, beef, pork and corn from 1778 to 1783. They also supplied slave labor to help build Charles Town’s defenses, and for a time their plantation, Mt. Joseph, along the Congaree River in the Orangeburg District, was used as a field hospital.

Miles Brewton, also a staunch Patriot, was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1775. Unfortunately, as he, his wife and children were on their way to attend the congress in Philadelphia, their ship was lost at sea. Rebecca and her sister Frances inherited their brother’s fortune, including his magnificent townhouse on King Street and several rice and indigo plantations, including Mt. Joseph.

When the city fell to the British in 1780, Brewton’s grand house was commandeered as headquarters for Sir Henry Clinton and Lords Rawdon and Cornwallis, along with their entourages. The Mottes withdrew to Mt. Joseph while their town house was occupied. Meanwhile, Rebecca’s husband, Jacob, had fallen very ill and died shortly thereafter, leaving Rebecca to inherit Mt. Joseph and Fairfield Plantation, the latter with 244 enslaved laborers.

In 1781, British troops under the command of Capt. McPherson seized Mt. Joseph’s because of its strategic location overlooking the British supply route where the Congaree and Wateree rivers met. McPherson renamed the site Fort Motte, for Rebecca’s family. Rebecca, her children, and servants moved out of the main house into the overseer’s house.

The British dug a moat around the main house with wooden palisades and a rampart that held 165 soldiers, which successfully prevented Patriot forces under Gen. Francis Marion and Col. Henry Lee from taking it. After several attempts, the Americans decided the only way to dislodge the British was to burn them out.

When the plan was presented to Rebecca, she not only agreed that the house should be burnt but even offered the use of her bow and arrows to fire the first incendiary shot. With the roof ablaze, the Patriots opened a barrage of artillery fire. The British surrendered, after which the Patriots – and by some accounts even the British – worked to put out the fire before the house was destroyed. Afterward, under Rebecca’s supervision, her staff prepared a meal for the officers on both sides to dine together. During their dinner conversation, Rebecca used the opportunity to advocate for the Americans rights.

Thanks to inheritances from her brother and husband, by the end of the war Rebecca had become one of the wealthiest women in the state. She and her son-in-law Thomas Pinckney (who married two of Rebecca’s daughters – Elizabeth first, and after her death, Frances), built a new rice plantation in the Santee Delta named Eldorado, not far from the Mottes’ Fairfield Plantation.

Rebecca spent the rest of her life at Eldorado with Frances and Thomas. She died of natural causes in 1815 and is buried in St. Philips’ churchyard in downtown Charleston.