Joseph Alston

14th Governor of the State of South Carolina 1812 to 1814

Date Born: 1779

Date Died: September 10, 1816

Place Born: All Saints Parish, SC

Place Buried: Charleston, SC

Residence: Charleston, SC    

Occupation: Lawyer, Planter

College of Charleston - 1794

College of New Jersey (Princeton University) - 1795-1796

South Carolina House of Representatives, 1802-1812

Alston married Aaron Burr's daughter, Theodesia Burr - 1801

Governor Alston's wife, Theodesia Burr Alston, was lost at sea December 31, 1812

Joseph Alston was born in All Saint's Parish near Georgetown, SC in 1779, the son of William Alston and Mary (Ashe) Alston. He attended the College of Charleston in 1794, then the College of New Jersey (Princeton), but left in 1796 without graduating. He then went to study law at the office of Edward Rutledge and was admitted to the bar in South Carolina in 1799.

Joseph Alston decided against practicing law and instead engaged in planting and became one of the wealthiest planters in South Carolina. On February 2, 1801, he married Theodosia, daughter of Aaron Burr, in Albany, NY, partly to ingratiate himself with Republican voters in an effort to cover up his aristocratic facade. Their honeymoon was spent in Niagara Falls, the first recorded couple to do so, according to one source.

In 1802, Joseph Alston was first elected to represent Christ Church Parish in the House of Representatives of the:
- 15th General Assembly that met from 1802-1804.

On November 20, 1805, he qualified to represent Georgetown District (aka Prince George's, Winyah Parish) in the House of Representatives of the:
- 16th General Assembly that met from 1804-1805, replacing Samuel Taylor who had been elected sheriff.

He was soon thereafter elected Speaker of the House for this assembly, and he pushed the legislature to adopt a more equitable basis of representation between the lowcountry and the backcountry.

In 1806, he was elected again in the same district to the House of Representatives of the:
- 17th General Assembly that met from 1806-1808
- 18th General Assembly that met from 1808-1809 - elected Speaker of the House on 11/28/1809
- 19th General Assembly that met from 1810-1812

In 1812, he was elected to represent All Saint's Parish in the House of Representatives of the:
- 20th General Assembly that met from 1812-1813

But this legislature elected him to be the next governor of South Carolina on December 10, 1812, and he had to give up his seat in the House.

Although Alston became governor, his private life suffered tragedy by the loss of his only son due to fever, and the disappearance of a ship headed towards New York City that his wife had boarded. On December 31, 1812 Theodosia Burr Alston left to visit her father whom she had not seen in four years. She traveled without her husband who was unable to leave the state. On her voyage to New York, aboard the schooner Patriot, the ship was lost and presumed sunk in early January of 1813.

With the War of 1812 raging, Gov. Alston called the state militia to service in 1813 to protect military magazines from the British. Some soldiers of the militia refused to serve and Gov. Alston issued a statement that the refusal of service would result in death. However, a court issued a writ of habeas corpus and the men charged with court-martial were let free. Subsequently, Gov. Alston dismissed the entire militia from service, but the residents were in shock that their state was then completely defenseless from British attack. Gov. Alston was forced to recall the militia to service after the British landed on St. Helena Island and the legislature immediately responded by increasing the powers of the governor for the use of the militia in wartime.

He died on September 10, 1816 and is buried in the Alston family cemetery at Oaks Plantation in Murrell's Inlet, Georgetown County, SC.

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