The American Revolution in South Carolina

Thomas Heyward, Jr.



1746 - 1809

Thomas Heyward, Jr. was born in South Carolina on July 28, 1746. He received a classical education at home and continued in legal studies, which he completed in England. In 1775, he was elected to the Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1778, he returned to South Carolina to serve as a Judge. He was taken prisoner by the British while in command of a Militia force during the Siege of Charlestown. He resumed his Judgeship following the war, and retired in 1798. He died on March 6, 1809 at the age of sixty four. 

Thomas Heyward, Jr. was born in St. Luke's Parish, in the province of South Carolina, in the year 1746. His father, Colonel Daniel Heyward, was a planter of great wealth, which he had chiefly acquired by his industry.

Unlike many gentlemen of fortune, Mr. Heyward did not appear to idolize his possessions; at least, convinced of the importance of intellectual cultivation, he determined to bestow upon his son all the advantages which a thorough education might impart. Accordingly, the best school in the province was selected for young Heyward, who, by his diligence, became well acquainted with the Latin language, and with such other branches as were at that time taught in the most respectable provincial seminaries.

Having finished his scholastic studies, he entered the law office of a Mr. Parsons, a gentleman who at that time was distinguished for his professional learning and practical skill. On accomplishing the usual term of study, young Thomas Heyward, according to the fashion adopted by families of fortune, was sent to England to complete his legal preparation. He was entered as a student in one of the Inns of Court. Although he had in expectancy a large fortune, he devoted himself with great ardor to the study of law, emulating the diligence of those who expected to derive their subsistence from the practice of their profession.

On completing his studies in England, he commenced a tour of Europe, which occupied him several years. This was an advantage which he enjoyed beyond most of the youth of the colonies; nor did he neglect to improve the superior means which were thus allowed him of gaining a knowledge of the different countries of Europe. He enjoyed a rare opportunity of contrasting the industry and simplicity of his countrymen, with the indolence, and luxury, and licentiousness, the pride and haughtiness, so prevalent on the old continent.

At length, satisfied with the observations which be had made of men and manners abroad, he returned, with pleasure, to his native country; and impressed with the obligations of application to some honest calling, he devoted himself, with great zeal for a man of fortune, to the labors of the law.

In 1775, Thomas Heyward, Jr. was elected to supply a vacancy in the Continental Congress, occasioned by the recall of the distinguished John Rutledge, whose presence was required at home to assist in defending the state against a threatened invasion. This honor, owing to his peculiar modesty, he at first declined. He was, however, at length induced to enter upon the duties of his appointment, and arrived in Philadelphia in season to attend upon the discussion of the great question of American independence.

In the year 1778, Mr. Heyward was appointed as Judge of the criminal courts of the new government. A sense of duty alone prompted him to accept of this arduous and responsible station. Soon after his elevation to the bench, he was called to the painful duty of presiding at the trial and condemnation of several persons charged with a treasonable correspondence with the British army, which, at that time, was in the vicinity of Charlestown. The condemnation of these persons was followed by their execution, which took place within view of the enemy, and which served to render Judge Heyward most obnoxious to the British.

In the spring of 1780, the city of Charlestown was besieged by General Sir Henry Clinton, and was taken possession of by him, on the 12th of May. Judge Heyward, at this time, had command of a battalion. On the reduction of the place, be became a prisoner of war. As he had been one of the leaders of the revolution, he, with several others who had acted a similarly distinguished part, were transported to St. Augustine, while the other prisoners were confined on board some prison ships in the harbour of Charlestown. During his absence, he suffered greatly in respect to his property; his plantation being much injured by a party of marauders, and all his slaves seized and carried away. Some of his slaves were afterwards reclaimed; but one hundred and thirty were finally lost, being transported, as was supposed, for the benefit of the sugar planters on the island of Jamaica.

Thomas Heyward, Jr., and his fellow prisoners at St. Augustine, at length had leave to return to Philadelphia. On his passage thither, be narrowly escaped a watery grave. By some accident he fell overboard; but, fortunately, kept himself from sinking by holding on to the rudder of the ship, until assistance could be rendered to him.

On returning to South Carolina, he resumed his judicial duties in the exercise of which he continued till 1798. During this interval, he acted as a member of a convention for forming the state constitution, in 1790. In the following year, he retired from all public labors and cares, except those which were attached to his commission as judge.

Thomas Heyward, Jr. was twice married; in 1773, to a Miss Matthews, a lady of affectionate disposition, and great personal charms. Sometime after her death, he was again connected in marriage with a Miss Savage. By both of these wives he had children, the history of whom, however, we have not ascertained. Judge Heyward died in March of 1809, in the sixty-fourth year of his age.

Although we have been able to collect but few incidents in the life of Thomas Heyward, Jr., our readers may be assured that he was among the most estimable of the men who lived in his time, and one of the most firm, honest, intelligent, and fearless, who embarked in the revolution. He was characterized for sound judgment, and an ardent disposition. Possessing such a character, he naturally acquired, and was justly entitled to, the confidence and esteem of his fellow citizens.

It was happy for America, happy for the cause of freedom, that the God of heaven raised up such a generation of men at a time when the civil and religious liberties of the country demanded their wisdom, fortitude, and patriotism; and at a time, too, when, without their existence, and without their exalted virtues, the world had never seen so brilliant an exhibition of political liberty, order, and peace, as is presented in the government of republican America.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 440-443. [with minor edits]

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