Thomas Heyward, Jr. - Signer of the Declartion of Independence Biography
by Appleton's edited by Stanley L. Klos
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
the Declaration of Independence
THOMAS HEYWARD, Jr. was born on July 28, 1746 in St. Luke's
parish, South Carolina. His father, Colonel Daniel Heyward was a planter of
great wealth, however, he was determined to bestow on his son all the advantages
a thorough education would bring him. He selected the best school in the
province for young Heyward, who, by his diligence, became quite knowledgeable of
the Latin language, and was sent to England to study law at the Middle
Temple. Although young Heyward was due to inherit a large fortune, he devoted
himself to the study of law with the ardor of someone who expected to earn their
living from the practice of the profession. After finishing with his education
in England, he commenced on a tour of Europe that took him several years. His
father's fortune gave him the opportunity to gain a knowledge of the different
countries of Europe and to contrast the industry and simplicity of his
countrymen with the laziness, luxury and corruption and pride that was so
prevalent on the continent.
Heyward returned to South Carolina in1771 and
quickly joined his fellow patriots in their fight for independence. He had
become embittered in England by the contemptuous attitude of the British toward
the "backwoods colonials". He was elected to the provincial assembly in 1772 and
a year later, when he was twenty-seven, he married Elizabeth Matthews, the
daughter of a prosperous planter.
In 1775, Heyward became a member of the South
Carolina Committee of Safety and he was elected to fill a vacancy in the
continental congress that was created by the recall of John Rutledge who was
called back to assist in defending the state against a threatened
invasion. Heyward, being a modest man at first declined. However, he was
convinced to fulfill the duties of his appointment and he arrived in
Philadelphia in time to enter the discussion of the great question of American
independence. Heyward signed the Declaration of Independence five days after his
In 1778, Heyward left Congress to become judge of
criminal courts of the new South Carolina government. Soon after his rise to the
bench, he was called upon to preside over the trial and accusation of several
persons charged with treasonable correspondence with the British army in
Charleston. The condemnation of these colonists was followed by their execution,
which took place within view of the enemy soldiers, and which served to render
the judge most objectionable to the British.
Despite the danger of an advancing British army
near his court, Heyward held at the same time a military commission, and in the
battle of Beauford, he received a wound that left a scar that marked him for the
remainder of his life. In the spring of 1780, the city of Charleston was
besieged by General Clinton and upon the surrender of the city, Heyward was
taken prisoner and sent with Edward Rutledge, Richard Hutson and other patriots
to St. Augustine, Florida, where he was imprisoned for a year. Here he amused
himself by composing patriotic words to such British national songs as "God save
the King,", that the prisoners might indulge their patriotic sentiments under
the cover of loyal British tunes. During his imprisonment a party of British
soldiers visited his plantation and carried away all his slaves, which were
later sold by their captors to sugar planters in Jamaica. His wife became
gravely ill and she died before his release from prison.
Heyward and his fellow prisoners at St. Augustine
were released and returned to Philadelphia. On his voyage, he narrowly escaped
death, by some accident he fell overboard but fortunately kept himself from
sinking by holding on to the rudder of the ship until someone could help him.
In 1781, Heyward returned to South Carolina and
resumed his judicial duties until 1789. In 1790 he acted as a member of the
state convention for forming South Carolina's constitution. The following year,
he retired from all public offices except those that were connected to his
duties as judge.
Heyward was twice married. After the death of his
first wife, he married a Miss Savage. He had children by both wives, however
their history has not been ascertained.
Heyward died on his South Carolina plantation on
March 6, 1809.
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