Charleston and the American Revolution, 1776-1785: Secession from the British Empire

Story by / July 5, 2017

As the French and Indian War came to a close, Charles Towne was a prosperous and vibrant city.  The backcountry was being quickly settled and trade in rice and indigo was expanding.  In a letter to Benjamin Franklin in September of 1768, Peter Timothy wrote, “I do not suppose there is a Colony on the Continent in so flourishing and promising a situation as South Carolina at present.  Private and public works are every where carrying on with spirit.”

Continued success in campaigns against the Spanish, Indians, and bands of pirates had given the town a strengthened sense of confidence.  Charles Towne was the vibrant and thriving metropolitan center of the south.  However, tensions had begun to rise between the Colonists and England over the Stamp Act of 1765.  The political dilemma of taxation without representation created division between many of Charles Towne’s powerful families, as members took sides on an increasingly heated debate between England and the Colonies.

However, popular support among the common citizens was overwhelmingly on the side of the dissenters, and those who remained loyal to the King were very much the minority.  Effigies were hung from the gallows on Broad Street, labeled “The Devil” and “Distributor of Stampt Paper”.  A procession through town attracting some two thousand people was followed by a mock funeral for American Liberty.  The Loyalists sought to maintain their good reputation as more and more colonists opposed England.  When the Stamp Act was finally repealed, Charles Towne was at a fever pitch of excitement, but relations with England had already deteriorated past reconciliation.

The Tea Act of 1773 served to stir up the flames of dissent against England once more, and while Boston threw its famous “Tea Party”, Charles Towne held one of its own.  A meeting was held in the newly erected Exchange building to protest the arrival of 257 chests of taxed tea.  These were stored in the basement of the Exchange and later sold to finance the Revolution.

England overlooked this transgression, but Boston was not so lucky; the Boston Harbor was closed under the Boston Port Bill.  While Boston was embargoed, Charles Towne sent them huge quantities of rice, produce, and cash- more than any other colony, including Massachusetts.  Meanwhile, 30 Americans, including 15 from Charleston, petitioned the House of Commons in London to lift the Boston Port Bill.

On July 6, 1774, 5 delegates from South Carolina were elected to the First Continental Congress, the group responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence: Henry Middleton, John and Edward Rutledge, Thomas Lynch, and Christopher Gadsden.  In fact, Gadsden was the first in South Carolina to support American Independence from England.

Armed forces were organized, and Gadsden was chosen as the Colonel of the First Regiment.  Moultrie was chosen as the Colonel of the Second, and William Thomson of the Third.  Elections were held and several Congressmen were re-elected.

On March 26, 1776, South Carolina seceded from Great Britain, declaring its independence on the steps of the Exchange building.  John Rutledge addressed both houses of the legislature, saying, “The eyes of Europe, nay of the whole world, are on America… the eyes of every other Colony are on this… a Colony, whose reputation for generosity and magnanimity is universally acknowledged.  I trust, therefore, that there will be no civil discord here, and that the only strife amongst brethren will be, who shall do most to serve, and to save, an oppressed and injured country.”


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