Shared from the 9/6/2020 Post & Courier eEdition

Long British occupation takes a heavy toll on Charles Town



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 19th installment in a serialized history of Charleston to commemorate the city’s 350th anniversary.

The British made themselves at home in Charles Town, which usually meant taking anything they wanted.

After the Continental Army surrendered in May 1780, British soldiers had the run of the city. To say they took advantage of the situation would be putting it mildly.

Officers appropriated the homes of several wealthy locals, and those who didn’t lose their houses were often interrupted by soldiers barging in to raid their wine cellars.

The officers partied with local Loyalists, or Tories, and sometimes even invited enslaved women to these affairs. It was scandalous, but soon South Carolinians loyal to the Crown flocked to the city to join in the fun.

Most Charles Town residents were allowed to remain “free.” From Miles Brewton’s commandeered houseonKing Street, Gen. Henry Clinton issued a proclamation promising pardons for everyone who swore their allegiance to Britain.

Many locals played along, either out of opportunism or to stave off imprisonment. But it was clear some were not remotely sincere. In “Charleston! Charleston!” Walter J. Fraser Jr. recounts, how at one party, Dr. George Carter offered a toast to “the American Congress.”

When an unnoticed British officer in the room questioned the meaning of Carter’s toast, the doctor recovered quickly. He said, “I meant to add, ‘may they all be hanged.’”

Duplicity was rampant. The British reneged on Clinton’s bargain and imprisoned nearly three-dozen prominent local leaders, including Christopher Gadsden. Of course, Gadsden refused to take the oath, even after the British destroyed his Liberty Tree and he was warned he would end up in the Exchange’s dungeon.

“Prepare it,” Gadsden said. “I will give no parole, so help me God.”

Gadsden was sent to the dungeon. By August, he was shipped off to St. Augustine and imprisoned in a Spanish fort along with publisher Peter Timothy and three local signers of the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Heyward Jr., Edward Rutledge and Arthur Middleton.

Some of them would never see Charles Town again. For the others, it would be a long time. The British shamelessly courted William Moultrie, begging the colonel to fight with them. When he refused, Moultrie was put in charge of the prisoners of war. As Robert Rosen notes in “A Short History of Charleston,” Moultrie was quarantined at Snee Farm with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

Henry Laurens missed the occupation. The Continental Congress had appointed him ambassador to the Netherlands in 1779 and he soon persuaded the Dutch to support the war. But he was captured at sea in the fall of 1780, and became the only American prisoner of war held in the Tower of London. None of Charles Town’s patriots, however, suffered more than Col. Isaac Hayne.

Hayne was a planter, state senator and artillery captain in the Continental Army. After the surrender, he faced the same bad choice as the others: prison or a loyalty oath and conscription into the British Army.

He would have chosen prison, but his wife and children were dying of smallpox and he needed to get home. With a promise that he wouldn’t be asked to fight his own countrymen, Hayne took the oath.

Thenextsummer,however,the British ordered Hayne to report for duty. He felt double-crossed and believed that released him from the oath. He began to fight Loyalists in the countryside, but before long he was captured. The British decided to make an example of him.

Branded a traitor to the Crown, Hayne was hanged just outside the city on Aug. 4, 1781. It was a devastating blow to Charles Town’s already hopeless morale.

With so many of its leaders and prominent citizens exiled, imprisoned or dead, the city limped into the fall. Finally, by November, word reached Charles Town that Gen. Washington had defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown. It appeared the war might end soon.

Gov. John Rutledge convened the Legislature in Jacksonboro, under the protection of Continental Army forces that had finally arrived. There, they began to plot their comeback — and revenge against the Loyalists who’d sold them out.

But nearly a year passed before the British departed. When they did, in October 1782, they sailed out of the harbor carrying the spoils of war, including treasure swiped from local homes and the bell from St. Michael’s steeple.

It was the final insult, but they’d taken so much more. Charles Town was simply relieved they were gone.

Reach Brian Hicks at

See this article in the e-Edition Here
Edit Privacy