The American Revolution in South Carolina

Arthur Middleton



1742 - 1787

Arthur Middleton was born in South Carolina on June 26, 1742. He was educated in England and graduated from Cambridge in 1773. He was elected to the Council of Safety at Charleston in 1775, and in 1776 was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was captured by the British when Charlestown was overrun in May of 1780, and was held prisoner for more than a year. Most of his fortune was destroyed during the American Revolution. He was engaged in politics until his death on January 1, 1787. 

Arthur Middleton was the son of Henry Middleton, and was born in the year 1743, at the seat of his father, at Middleton place, near the banks of the Ashley River.

At the early age of twelve years, he was sent to the celebrated school of Hackney, in the neighborhood of London; whence, after spending two years, he was removed to the school of Westminster. The advantages which he here enjoyed resulted in a thorough acquaintance with the Greek and Roman classics, especially in a knowledge of the former, In which he is said to have greatly excelled. The taste which he acquired for classical literature he preserved through life, and from the indulgence of it derived an exalted pleasure, lost to minds of a heavier mold.

At the age of eighteen or nineteen, young Middleton became a member of one of the colleges of the university of Cambridge. Having for his companions young men frequently of dissipated habits, he was often powerfully tempted to enter into their youthful follies; but fortunately he escaped the contagion of their pernicious examples, and devoted that leisure to the improvement of his mind, which the less reflecting devoted to amusements and vicious indulgence. In his twenty-second year, he was graduated with a bachelor of arts, and left the university with the reputation of an accomplished scholar, and a moral man.

By means of his father's liberality, he was now enabled to travel. After visiting several parts of England, he proceeded to the continent, where he spent two years, chiefly in the southern parts of Europe. At Rome, he passed several months in viewing the various objects of taste afforded by that ancient and splendid spot. He here greatly improved his taste for music and painting; and even became well versed in the principles of sculpture and architecture.

Soon after his return to South Carolina, he was connected in marriage with the daughter of Walter Izard, Esq. Having still a fondness for traveling, he, soon after his marriage, again embarked on a visit to Europe, accompanied by his wife. In this tour he visited many places in England, whence proceeding to the continent, they passed through several of the principal cities of France and Spain. In 1773, Mr. Middleton once more returned to America, and now settled down on the delightful banks of the Ashley River.

The father of Mr. Middleton was, at this time, a man of great wealth, and both by himself and family the approaching controversy between Great Britain and her American colonies might have been viewed with great concern, had not the patriotism with which they were imbued much preferred the welfare of their country, to their private interests. A rupture with the mother country would necessarily put to hazard the wealth which had long been enjoyed by the family, and might abridge that influence, and diminish those comforts, which that wealth naturally gave them.

But what were these in comparison with the rights and liberties of a country, destined to embrace millions within its bosom? Between the alternatives presented, there was no room to hesitate. Both father and son, in the spirit which had long characterized the family, stood forth in the defense of the rights of America, and, "left not a hook to hang a doubt on," that they were Patriots of the noblest stamp.

In the spring of 1775, Arthur Middleton was chosen on a secret committee, who were invested with authority to place the colony in a state of defense. In the exercise of the trust with which they were charged, they immediately took possession of the public magazine of arms and ammunition, and removed its contents to a place of safety.

In the following June, the First Provincial Congress of South Carolina proceeded to appoint a Council of Safety, consisting of thirteen persons. This council, of which Mr. Middleton was a member elected from St. Philip's & St. Michael's Parish, took measures to organize a military force, the officers of which received commissions at their hands, and under their signatures. Among the members of this committee, no one exhibited more activity, or manifested a greater degree of resolution and firmness, than did Arthur Middleton.

In February of 1776, the Second Provincial Congress of South Carolina appointed a committee to prepare and report a constitution, which "should most effectually secure peace and good order in the colony, during the continuance of the dispute with Great Britain." This duty was assigned to Arthur Middleton and ten others.

Having discharged the duty to the satisfaction of this congress, Arthur Middleton was soon after elected by that body a representative of South Carolina in the Continental Congress of the United States assembled at Philadelphia. Here he had an opportunity of inscribing his name on the great charter of American liberties. At the close of the year 1777, Arthur Middleton relinquished his seat in Congress, and returned to South Carolina, leaving behind him, in the estimation of those who had been associated with him in the important measures of congress, during the time he had been with them, the character of a man of the purest patriotism, of sound judgment, and unwavering resolution.

In the spring of 1778, the General Assembly of South Carolina proceeded to the formation of a second state constitution, differing, in many important points, from that of 1776. On presenting it to the governor, John Rutledge, for his approbation, that gentleman refused to assent to it. But, as he would not embarrass the assembly in any measures which they might deem it expedient to adopt, he resigned the executive chair, upon which the assembly proceeded by a secret ballot again to fill it. On counting the votes, it was found that Arthur Middleton was elected to the office by a considerable majoritv. But, entertaining similar views in respect to the constitution, expressed by the distinguished gentleman who had vacated the chair of state, he frankly avowed to the assembly, that he could not conscientiously accept the appointment, under the constitution which they had adopted. The candor with which he had avowed his sentiments, and the sterling integrity of the man, exhibited in refusing an honor from conscientious scruples, instead of diminishing their respect for him, contributed to raise him still higher in the confidence of his fellow citizens. The assembly proceeded to another choice, and elected Mr. Rawlins Lowndes to fill the vacancy, who gave his sanction to the revised state constitution.

During the year 1779, the southern states became the principal theater of the war. Many of the plantations were wantonly plundered, and the families and property of the principal inhabitants were exposed to the insults and ravages of the invaders. During these scenes of depredations, Middleton Place did not escape. Although the buildings were spared , they were rifled of every thing valuable. Such articles as could not easily be transported were either wantonly destroyed, or greatly injured. Among those which were injured, was a valuable collection of paintings belonging to Artuhr Middleton. Fortunately, at the time the marauders visited Middleton Place, the family had made their escape a day's journey to the north of Charlestown.

On the investment of the latter place, in the following year, Arthur Middleton was present, and actively engaged in the defense of the city. With several others on the surrender of this place, he was taken prisoner, and was sent by sea to St. Augustine, in east Florida, where he was kept in confinement for nearly a year. At length, in July of 1781, he was exchanged, and proceeded in a cartel to Philadelphia. On his arrival at the latter place, Governor John Rutledge, in the exercise of authority conferred upon him by General Assembly of South Carolina, appointed him a representative in Congress. To this office he was again elected in 1782; but in the month of November of that year, he returned to South Carolina on a visit to his family, from whom he had been separated during a long and anxious period.

On the signing the preliminaries of peace, Artuhr Middleton declined accepting another seat in Congress, preferring the pleasures of retirement with his family, to any honor which could be conferred upon him. He occasionally, however, accepted of a seat in the state legislature, in which he was greatly instrumental in promoting the tranquillity and happiness of his fellow citizens.

The life of Arthur Middleton was terminated on the 1st of January, 1787. His death was occasioned by an intermittent fever, which he took in the preceding month of November, by an injudicious exposure to the unsettled weather of the autumnal season. In his person, Arthur Middleton was of ordinary size, symmetrically proportioned, with fine features, and countenance expressive of firmness and decision.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 447-451. [with minor edits]

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