My Georgia History

Mayham Tower

Mayham Tower.  The year was 1781.  In late May, the British forces, under Lieutenant Col. Thomas Brown, held Fort Cornwallis.  The fort was located about where St. Paul’s Church now stands. The Colonial’s troops had surrounded the fort.  The troops were led by General Andrew Pickens and Lieutenant Colonel Henry, “Light Horse Harry” Lee.  Colonel Henry Lee was the father of the Civil War General, Robert E. Lee.  Colonial Troops had surrounded the British in the fort, but the Americans couldn’t take the fort by force.

Now, this was before we had the levy, which was built by the river.  The land sloped to the river and was flat and swampy.  The men couldn’t find a place to fire the cannon over the walls of the fort.  Colonel Lee suggested a strategy used a month before at Fort Wilson, South Carolina.  There, Major Hezekiah Mayham came up with the idea of building a tower, hoisting a cannon to the top and firing over the walls into the fort.  In the writing of his memoirs, Colonel Lee described the tower, as “a large,  strong, oblong pen.  It was covered on the top with a floor of logs and protected on the side, opposite the fort, with a breastwork of light timber.”  The American leadership liked the idea.  They began building the tower on the evening of May 30, 1781.  The tower was protected from British sight by a wooden house.

It happened to be the last battle in Augusta during the Revolutionary War.  They started building the tower on May 30, 1781 and was completed June 1, 1781.  They put a six powder cannon at the top.  It was high enough to overlook the wall of Fort Cornwallis.  Brown recognized the danger of the tower and ordered a night attack to destroy it.  But the Americans repealed their attack with bayonets.  Colonel Brown then had two cannons fire on the tower.  That’s when the Americans opened fire from their cannon on the tower.  The two cannons in the fort were quickly disabled.  The Americans continued firing on the fort.  By this time the British were digging holes in the ground, trying to get out of the way of the shot.  After a few days the British had had enough.  Colonel Thomas Brown sent word that he was ready to surrender.  On June 5, the British troops stacked their arms in the fort and marched out the gate.  They marched out between two lines of  Colonial Soldiers.  They were then taken in custody.  A few months later the British surrendered and America was free.  A lot of damage was done to the house during the battle and St. Paul’s Church was completely destroyed.

If you visit St. Paul’s Church, pull into the parking lot and on the right you’ll see the Celtic Cross.   At the foot of the Celtic Cross you’ll see one of the cannons used in the Battleof 1781.  If you go back out to Reynolds Street, turn right and go down a couple of blocks, you’ll come to the Cotton Exchange Building.  Beside the building you’ll find a historical marker. The marker was the location of Mayham’s Tower.  Major Hezekiah Mayham is given credit for the victory in Augusta with the Mayham Tower.

Written by Mark Woodard

Research resources:

  • The Story of Augusta. Cashin, Edward J. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Company Publishing. (1996)
  • Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia. Jones, Charles C. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Publishers. (1890)
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