Nothing gets the American spirit flowing like a story of a true freedom fighter, laying everything on the line for the cause of liberty. In Revolutionary War-era Charles Towne, Rebecca Motte was just that type of patriot.
After British soldiers occupied her home (the well-preserved Miles Brewton House at 27 King St.), Motte eventually fled to her family's estate on the Congaree River only to have that outpost also overtaken by the British, who fortified it into "Fort Motte" and made it a strategic outpost along their supply lines.
When militia leader Francis Marion (by then dubbed "the Swamp Fox" for his guerilla fighting tactics in our state's soggy bottomland forests) arrived to overtake the fort for the Americans, it was Motte herself who handed Marion the flaming arrows that would burn her home to the ground.
"The people of Charleston really suffered at that time, but they were literally willing to give up everything to be free," says Chris Weatherhead, who plays Motte in the Actors' Theatre of South Carolina's hour-long one-woman show, Rebecca and the Fox. After debuting in March in Columbia (and receiving positive reviews from both history and theater buffs), she's now bringing the show to the Circular Congregational Church. Produced by her husband Clarence Felder, the project follows their recent film All For Liberty, which depicted the heroics of Felder's sixth-great-grandfather during the Revolutionary War.
"We stumbled onto that story, and now I have a list of 15 or 20 people whose stories I want to tell, whether that's through theater, film, or poetry," says Weatherhead, who wrote Rebecca and the Fox after tracking down first-person accounts of Motte's heroics in long out-of-print books. "One of the fun parts of this research is uncovering stuff that you never thought existed."
One account of the siege of Fort Motte, told by a man who fought alongside Marion, describes Motte as "very clever and very wise," according to Weatherhead.
"I sunk my teeth into that, and in all my research, each guy that knew her seemed so impressed that they would have fought for her alone," says Weatherhead. "That gave me such a passion to really try to give this woman her due."
In the role of Motte, Weatherhead seeks to offer an accurate portrayal that channels the woman's true nature. A seasoned actress and Los Angeles native who spent two years acting on the ABC soap opera The Edge of Night in the '70s before marrying Felder and moving to Charleston in the '90s, Motte has run the gamut of roles, from off-Broadway in New York to Shakespeare in London.
"Nobody seems to care about the truth in Hollywood," Weatherhead laments, adding that she utilizes a team of historical advisors in S.C. to help ensure the accuracy of her content. "When you search deep, the truth is always stranger than fiction."
Although his exploits have been both exaggerated and celebrated in the centuries since he helped turn the tide of the American Revolution in the patriots favor, the truth behind the Swamp Fox's many stories — and the people he encountered, like Rebecca Motte — continue to inspire both artists and idealists today.