-He signed the Declaration of Independence.
-He was imprisoned by the British for treason.
-He was appointed Governor of his state – but declined the offer.
Born to wealth on a family estate located on the Ashley River near Charleston, South Carolina, and educated in England, one would think that he would be a supporter of the Crown. However, he became an avid revolutionary, and he risked all that he had to support the American Revolution – his property, his wealth, his health, and – ultimately – his life.
Arthur Middleton was born on June 26, 1742 at Middleton Place, the family estate. His parents were , and his father owned a score of plantations that embraced over 50,000 acres of land and used over 800 slaves – making him one of the wealthiest and most politically active men in the colony.
While his earliest education was from private tutors and private schools in Charleston, Middleton was sent to England for an education as a young boy twelve years of age, attending Hackney School and Westminster School, then graduating from St. John’s College, Cambridge University, and studying law at the Temple in London. He opted not to practice law, instead choosing to tour Europe for two years before returning to South Carolina when he was twenty-two. While in college Middleton acquired a passion for classical literature, and during his tour of southern Europe he developed a taste for music and painting that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He also became knowledgeable in the concepts of sculpture and architecture.
Within a year of his return from Europe, Middleton would meet and marry Mary Izard on August 19, 1764. Mary was the daughter of Walter Izard, and cousin to an influential South Carolina congressman, Ralph Izard. She was seventeen at the time of the marriage, and Middleton was twenty-two. Her father – deceased at the time of the wedding – had been a wealthy plantation owner and involved in politics. He owned Cedar Grove plantation, which was across the river from Middleton Place. The Middleton family would raise nine children. With his love of travel firmly implanted from his formative years spent aboard, Middleton and his wife would leave South Carolina in 1770 on a three-year extended tour of Europe.
While living in South Carolina during the mid-late 1760s, Middleton oversaw the planting process on the plantations as well as becoming involved in local politics. He was appointed Justice of the Peace of Berkeley County in 1765, and was a member of the provincial House of Commons for three years, from 1765 -1768.
After his return from his European tour in 1772, Middleton discovered political tensions rising between the colonies and their colonial government as well as the monarchy of England. He was again elected to the South Carolina provincial House of Commons from 1772 – 1775, and helped form the new state constitution in 1776. He was a more radical thinker than his father had been, and became a leader in the “American Party” in South Carolina as well as a member of the Council of Safety in 1775 and 1776.
During the 1775-1776 period of time, Middleton helped to organize a night raid on government weapons supplies in Charleston, raised money to buy the supplies necessary to support armed resistance against the Royal Governor, and recommended a variety of defense measures for Charleston Harbor.
Middleton was elected to succeed to his father’s seat in the Continental Congress in 1776. Both Middleton’s – father and son – knew that the upcoming revolution against England could and would have an effect on their wealth and position in the community. Yet, in the face of potentially losing everything they had – their wealth, prestige, and very lives – both Middleton’s agreed that they had to take the risk in order to protect the rights and liberties they had as citizens in America. Arthur Middleton would sign the Declaration of Independence, pledging everything he had to the success of the Revolution. That same year Middleton and William Henry Drayton would collaborate to design the Great Seal of South Carolina.
In his passion for the Revolution, Middleton would become a ruthless anti-Loyalist. The Loyalists – those who wanted to remain under the authority of the Crown and often supported the Crown by money and personal service – would be persecuted by Middleton. He would advocate the tarring and feathering of Loyalists as well as support the confiscation of the estates of those Loyalists who had fled the country.
He was nominated – at the age of thirty-six - as governor of South Carolina in 1778, but declined because of a new constitution the state legislature had enacted – and which he opposed. He was re-elected to the Continental Congress in 1789 – though he failed to attend because of British threats to South Carolina. He did remain in the state legislature from 1778 until his capture by the British in 1780.
The latter years of the American Revolution found much of the action moving southward. States that had not seen a lot of fighting – such as South Carolina – became the focus of the British plan to win the war. By 1779 the British and their Loyalist allies were seeking to end the rebellion in the South and to force those supporting it to flee, be captured, be killed, or turn and support the British. Middleton Place was one of the many plantations that were ravaged during this time. While the buildings remained intact, the British and Loyalists stole anything of value they could carry, and destroyed anything they could not carry. The Middletons escaped capture by fleeing to Charleston ahead of the British raid on their home.
Middleton actively served as a member of the state militia in the defense of Charleston, South Carolina, during the Revolutionary War. He was captured when the city fell to the British in May 1780 and was sent as a prisoner of war to St. Augustine – along with fellow Declaration of Independence signers Thomas Heyward and Edward Rutledge. In July 1781 he was freed through part of a prisoner exchange and returned to South Carolina. Upon his release he would become a state senator, serving from 1781 – 1782.
His health was broken by the imprisonment he had suffered at the hands of the British, and after a brief fever he passed away in January 1, 1787, at the age of forty-four.
He was buried at the family graveyard at Middleton Place, an honored patriot and Revolutionary War hero. He risked all in the support of Independence – and paid the price of separation from his family, the stress involved in the making of a new nation and of fighting a war, the destruction of his possessions and home, as well as his health.
Yet, how many Americans today have heard of this hero?
LOCAL LIBRARY RESOURCES:
There are no biographies of Arthur Middleton available from our local library.
Biographical Dictionary of the US Congress
National Park Service