Rutledge, Middleton, Heyward and Lynch
Picnics, beach, cookouts and fireworks. These fun-filled activities are synonymous with our celebrations of the Fourth of July. You likely learned in school that the reason for all the celebrating is that it’s our nation’s birthday — the day given to honor the Declaration of Independence. … But did you know that four men who signed that important document hailed from the Lowcountry and one of them, Edward Rutledge, had a family plantation in Mount Pleasant?
Rutledge was a mere 26 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence and was the youngest man to do so. Initially, Rutledge was a moderate when it came to the break with England, and he partnered with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to try to iron out differences the colonies had with Parliament. But realizing that independence was imminent, Rutledge persuaded the other three delegates from South Carolina to vote for it — after they had initially voted against it.
During the war, Rutledge continued to serve in politics, as well as with the militia and was captured during the British occupation of Charles Town. He was imprisoned at St. Augustine with fellow signer Thomas Heyward Jr. and 28 other Charlestonians who had refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Crown. At the time, rumors were rampant that these men were plotting to burn the town and kill Loyalists. Two decades after the war, Rutledge was elected South Carolina’s governor, and his former home at 117 Broad St. is now a bed-and-breakfast, aptly called the Governor’s House. It stands across the street from his brother John’s home, which is also now an inn. (Note: John Rutledge was a signer of the U.S. Constitution.) The Rutledge family’s plantation was in Mount Pleasant on land that is now part of the Phillips Community and Laurel Hill County Park. Rutledge is buried in downtown Charleston at St. Philip’s churchyard.
Middleton Place, a former rice plantation along the banks of the Ashley River, is the birthplace of another signer, Arthur Middleton. The Middleton family was among the wealthiest families in colonial America. Middleton and his father were both very involved in political affairs and attended meetings in Philadelphia to debate the issue of whether the colonies should make the break with England. Middleton was at the Second Continental Congress when the vote was taken, and he subsequently signed the Declaration, along with 55 other representatives from the 13 original colonies. The next time you are in a state government building, look at the South Carolina state seal, which Middleton helped design. His creation is the side proclaiming the Latin proverb “Dum Spiro Spero” — While I breathe, I hope. Many speakers have used those inspiring words, including President Barack Obama in his 2008 victory speech. Middleton is interred in the family tomb at Middleton Place.
Thomas Heyward Jr. added his name to the Declaration of Independence at the age of 29. By that time, he’d already been quite active in the independence movement during the preceding years. But later, when the British occupied Charles Town in 1780, Heyward was arrested and imprisoned in St. Augustine (which was also occupied by the British at the time). Tradition has it that, while imprisoned there, he rewrote the words to the British anthem “God Save the King,” — Americans recognize the melody as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” — replacing it with the words “God Save the States, Thirteen United States, God Save Them All.” The song apparently caught on and was sung as a hymn in many of Charleston’s churches.
A decade later, when President George Washington visited the city, he stayed at the Heyward home at 87 Church St. — hence the name the Heyward-Washington House, now a house museum. Heyward later lived at 18 Meeting St., where there is another historical plaque. He is buried at his former plantation in Jasper County. He shared his name with an uncle, so the younger Heyward added “Jr.” to his signature to avoid confusion.
Hopsewee Plantation near Georgetown, South Carolina, is the birthplace of Thomas Lynch, the second-youngest signer. Lynch’s father attended the First and Second Continental Congresses in Philadelphia but suffered a stroke while there. The younger Lynch, 26, left his post with the state militia and went to be with his father, joining him at the Congress and making the Lynches the only fatherson delegates present. But since the elder Lynch was too ill to sign the Declaration, the task was left to Thomas. (A blank space on the Declaration shows where the elder Lynch was supposed to sign.) The younger Lynch battled health problems himself as a result of an illness he’d contracted while serving with the militia, so he was unable to resume his military career fighting the British. As the war raged, he hoped to reclaim good health with a trip to France, but the ship on which he was travelling was lost at sea, making him the youngest signer to die at the age of 30.
Because Lynch’s life was cut short before he established himself in politics or business, his signature on the Declaration of Independence is one of only a few of his autographs known to exist, making it a rare find for collectors. The Lynch family’s planation at Hopsewee is privately owned but opens for public tours during different times of the year.
So, this July, plan an additional activity around the Fourth and visit one of the local sites that are linked to these four men who helped to found our nation and gave us reason to celebrate.
By Mary Coy