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Thomas Heyward, Jr .

Signer of 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 thirtieth birthday.

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.

Source: Centennial Book of Signers

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