The American Revolution in South Carolina

Brigadier General John Barnwell

John Barnwell (July 15, 1748 – August 27, 1800) was the son of Nathaniel Barnwell and Mary Gibbes. During the American Revolution, he served in the South Carolina Provincial Congress (1775–1776) and the first South Carolina General Assembly (1776). As a major in the South Carolina militia during the American Revolutionary War, he was captured at Charlestown in 1780 and was later released in a prisoner exchange. For more than a year, he was held on board the prison ship Pack Horse. He was appointed a general in the South Carolina militia in 1781.

He frequently served in the South Carolina Senate from 1778 until his death. He was elected to the Confederation Congress in 1784 but did not attend. He was a member of the state convention to ratify the United States Constitution in 1788. In 1795, he was elected to the 4th United States Congress but declined to serve.

Barnwell County, South Carolina, is named for him, or possibly his brother Robert Barnwell or his grandfather John Barnwell.

John Barnwell was a captain in the Beaufort District Regiment during 1775. At the battle of Port Royal Island in February of 1779, he distinguished himself so well that he was immediately promoted to major. John Barnwell was commissioned as brigadier general on September 15, 1781 by the General Assembly and given command of the SC 4th Brigade of Militia/State Troops.

This appointment infuriated many within the Beaufort District, and as a result Col. William Harden resigned. Many militiamen assigned to BG John Barnwell ignored his commands to the point that his leadership was totally ineffective and he was compelled to resign in early 1782.

Much of this resentment began long before the war started, when small farmers were against making the town of Beaufort as the location for the District Court in 1769 - it was simply not centrally located and this made their lives difficult. John Barnwell had been one of the major proponents for having the court located in Beaufort. Barnwell was also known as being a stern disciplinarian, which did not sit well with the "loose" militiamen who had served under Col. William Harden.

At the close of the Revolution, John Barnwell supported a liberal attitude towards most of the sea island planters who had been accused of being Loyalists. As a result, he was not elected to the General Assembly that convened in January of 1782 - the only time he did not serve between 1775 and 1788.

© 2008 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved