28 June 2015

Every Hero Has A Story: Thomas Heyward, Jr.

75.9 % of voters— more than three-quarters of the participants — named the Declaration of Independence the most influential document in American history. Significantly “the most ardent revolutionary from the Beaufort District” signed it. In honor of the 4th of July, this “Every Hero has a Story” entry highlights the contribution of Thomas Heyward, Jr., one of South Carolina's four signers of the Declaration of Independence.
According to Dr. Larry Rowland, “The saga of the Heyward family of the Carolina Lowcountry is nearly unsurpassed in American history. Colonel Daniel Heyward fought Indians and Spaniards in the early eighteenth century and carved an empire from the Southern frontier to become the largest planter in South Carolina and one of the richest men in America. His oldest son, Thomas, signed the Declaration of Independence, and his youngest son, Nathaniel, became one of the leading practitioners of tidal culture rice and the largest slave owner in the history of the South.”
Thomas Heyward, Jr., son of Daniel Heyward and his wife Mary Miles Heyward, was born at Old House Plantation, St. Luke's Parish, on July 28, 1746. Old House Plantation, near where Hwy 336 heads toward Ridgeland in what is now Jasper County, was his father's plantation. Trained in the law in Charleston and in England, he was an attorney and planter.
In 1773, he married Elizabeth Matthews in Charleston. Heyward was a member of the Council of Safety in 1775-1776 and of the Continental Congress from 1776-1778. Heyward served as a Patriot soldier and was captured when Charleston fell to the British in 1779. While Heyward was imprisoned at St. Augustine, his wife Elizabeth died in Philadelphia. They had one son who survived until adulthood. In 1783, Heyward returned to his rice-growing White Hall Plantation. From 1785 to 1809, he split his time between his home in St. Luke's Parish and his Charleston residence at 87 Church Street. In later years, he was a circuit court judge in South Carolina.
On May 4, 1786 he took as his second wife, Elizabeth Savage, with whom he had three children who survived until adulthood. Thomas Heyward, Jr. died on April 17, 1809 and is buried in the family cemetery at Old House.

For more than a quarter century, the Paul Hamilton Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution have held a ceremony at Old House Cemetery commemorating Heyward's service to our country in early July, usually attended by at least some of the many direct descendants of Heyward alive today.
The local Beaufort chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is named in his honor. Drop by the Research Room to see a document signed by Thomas Heyward, Jr. in his capacity as a circuit court judge. The document was donated to the Beaufort District Collection in 2007 by the Thomas Heyward, Jr. Chapter, DAR.
Want to drive out to Heyward’s grave in Old House Cemetery? Traveling north on S.C. 170, turn left onto S.C. 462. After about eight miles, there is a historical marker on the right. At the marker, turn right onto a dirt road. Old House Cemetery is about 100 yards from the highway.

We’ve posted updates to our list of materials about Thomas Heyward, Jr. in our Wordpress blog. You can also read more about Heyward and the other signers in Biographical sketches of the signers of the Declaration of American Independence by B. John Lossing (1858) on the HathiTrust website or on the Internet Archive website.  

Learn more about the fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence from its caretakers at the National Archives.

Gentle reminder: The Library system will be closed Friday, July 3rd and Saturday, July 4th. Regular hours resume Monday, July 6th. Have a happy and safe Independence Day weekend. See July 2015 schedule for additional closures due to staff shortage.

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