Founding Fathers - Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Born: July 28, 1746 (St. Luke's Parish, South Carolina)

Died: March 6, 1809 (St. Luke's Parish, South Carolina)


This week I decided to have fun with some word play, and since it's June it seemed like a good time to look at signers who had a "Junior" at the end of their names (June...Junior...get it?).  After browsing through all of the names, I came across the fun fact that all three men who signed that suffix also had their first name in common - they were all named Thomas.  So today we're going to dive into the first member of the group, South Carolina's Thomas Heyward, Jr.  Yet another interesting bit of information regarding the subject of our study, however, was the fact that his father's name was Daniel - young Thomas tagged the Junior onto the end of his name later in life to distinguish himself from his uncle.  He was born on the family plantation, named Old House, several miles north of Savannah, Georgia, where his father had settled with his wife, Mary, to raise their six children as well as rice, which had become the region's cash crop.  Because his father believed in providing his sons with the best possible education, Thomas followed up his schooling at home by being sent to London to study law at Middle Temple, one of the premier legal institutes of the day.  Despite his father being a staunch supporter of the crown, Thomas was shocked by the view of many in London that British colonists across the Atlantic were inferior to those in England and should be governed as second-class citizens of the Commonwealth.  After completing his education and being accepted to the bar, he spent time traveling throughout Europe and returned home to South Carolina in 1771. 

Although Thomas Heyward, Jr. had just returned from spending so many years in London, he was already frustrated by the injustice of the Crown's dismissive rule of the colonies.  Heyward began his legal practice in Charleston and was one of the first there to staunchly oppose the British government.  His bold, frank defiance made him an admired leader despite his young age, and when the royal governor surrendered his role Heyward was elected to the Assembly, where he served for several years.  He was married at the age of 26 to Elizabeth Mathews, whose brother would later become the governor of South Carolina, and would eventually have six children with her.  In 1775, at a time when Heyward was still actively speaking out against the British actions at Lexington and Concord, he was selected to replace John Rutledge as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.  Ignoring his father's wishes, he arrived in time to vote for independence and sign the Declaration, but despite their political differences the two men remained close until the father's death in 1778.

Thomas Heyward, Jr. remained in Congress long enough to sign the Articles of Confederation before returning to Charleston to serve as a judge and militia captain, a role in which he participated in multiple battles and even received a gunshot wound that left him permanently scarred.  As the British laid siege to Charleston, Heyward presided over a trial for seven men charged with treason and upon conviction had them hanged in full view of the armies.  This act of defiance placed him even more squarely in the sights of the Loyalists, and when the city was taken by British General Clinton in 1780 he was arrested alongside fellow signer Edward Rutledge and several others.  Despite initially being granted a pardon, Heyward was recalled and taken to Florida as a prisoner until the closing stages of the war, during which time he wrote a patriot parody of the British song, God Save the King.  His wife traveled to Philadelphia in 1781 to be with him upon his release, but died there the following year during childbirth at just 29 years old.  Sadly, only one of the couple's six children survived to adulthood.  Heyward returned to South Carolina, where he was immediately elected once again to the state's General Assembly.  The following year he became a judge and served until his retirement in 1798.  While still only 39 he remarried in the spring of 1786 to Elizabeth Savage, with whom he would have an unknown number of children, of whom three reached adulthood.  He chose to return to Old House, although much of his property had been destroyed by the British, and the majority of the slaves who lived on his family plantation had been transported to Jamaica.  Heyward was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1784 and the following year he also helped found and preside over the South Carolina Agricultural Society.  He remained largely removed from the public eye for his remaining years and died at his family home in 1809.

The signature of Thomas Heyward, Jr. can be found as the fifth name on the second column beneath the Declaration of Independence.

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