Sunday, November 11, 2007

Arthur Middleton (1742-1787)

from Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, New York: William Reed & Co., 1856:

    In the spring of 1775, Mr. Arthur Middleton was chosen on a secret committee, who were invested with authority to place the colony in a state of defense. In the exercise of the trust with which they were charged, they immediately took possession of the public magazine of arms and ammunition, and removed its contents to a place of safety.
    In the following June, the provincial congress of South Carolina proceeded to appoint a council of safety, consisting of thirteen persons. This council, of which Mr. Middleton was a member, took measures to organize a military force, the officers of which received commissions at their hands, and under their signatures. Among the members of this committee, no one exhibited more activity, or manifested a greater degree of resolution and firmness, than did Arthur Middleton.
    In February, 1776, the provincial legislature of South Carolina appointed a committee to prepare and report a constitution, which "should most effectually secure peace and good order in the colony, during the continuance of the dispute with Great Britain." This duty was assigned to Mr. Middleton and ten others.
    Having discharged the duty to the satisfaction of the assembly, Mr. Middleton was soon after elected by that body a representative of South Carolina in the congress of the United States, assembled at Philadelphia. Here he had an opportunity of inscribing his name on the great charter of American liberties [the Declaration of Independence]. At the close of the year 1777, Mr. Middleton relinquished his seat in Congress, and returned to South Carolina, leaving behind him, in the estimation of those who had been associated with him in the important measures of congress, during the time he had been with them, the character of a man of the purest patriotism, of sound judgment, and unwavering resolution.
    In the spring of 1778, the assembly of South Carolina proceeded to the formation of a new constitution, differing, in many important points, from that of 1776. On presenting it to the governor, John Rutledge, for his approbation, that gentleman refused to assent to it. But, as he would not embarrass the assembly in any measures which they might deem it expedient to adopt, he resigned the executive chair, upon which the assembly proceeded by a secret ballot again to fill it. On counting the votes, it was found that Mr. Middleton was elected to the office by a considerable majority. But, entertaining similar views in respect to the constitution, expressed by the distinguished gentleman who had vacated the chair of state, he frankly avowed to the assembly, that he could not conscientiously accept the appointment, under the constitution which they had adopted. The candor with which he had avowed his sentiments, and the sterling integrity of the man, exhibited in refusing an honor from conscientious scruples, instead of diminishing their respect for him, contributed to raise him still higher in the confidence of his fellow-citizens. The assembly proceeded to another choice, and elected Mr. Rawlins Lowndes to fill the vacancy, who gave his sanction to the new constitution.
    During the year 1779, the southern states became the principal theater of the war. Many of the plantations were wantonly plundered, and the families and property of the principal inhabitants were exposed to the insults and ravages of the invaders. During these scenes of depredation, Middleton Place did not escape. Although the buildings were spared , they were rifled of every thing valuable. Such articles as could not easily be transported were either wantonly destroyed, or greatly injured. Among those which were injured, was a valuable collection of paintings belonging to Mr. Middleton. Fortunately, at the time the marauders visited Middleton Place, the family had made their escape a day's journey to the north of Charleston.
    On the investment of the latter place, in the following year, Mr. Middleton was present, and actively engaged in the defense of the city. With several others on the surrender of this place, he was taken prison, and was sent by sea to St. Augustine, in East Florida, where he was kept in confinement for nearly a year. At length, in July, 1781, he was exchanged, and proceeded in a cartel to Philadelphia. On his arrival at the latter place, Governor Rutledge, in the exercise of authority conferred upon him by general assembly of South Carolina, appointed him a representative in congress. To this office he was again elected in 1782; but in the month of November of that year, he returned to South Carolina on a visit to his family, from whom he had been separated during a long and anxious period.
    On the signing the preliminaries of peace, Mr. Middleton declined accepting a seat in congress, preferring the pleasures of retirement with his family, to any honor which could be conferred upon him. He occasionally, however, accepted of a seat in the state legislature, in which he was greatly instrumental in promoting the tranquillity and happiness of his fellow-citizens.
    The life of Mr. Middleton was terminated on the 1st of January, 1787. His death was occasioned by an intermittent fever, which he took in the preceding month of November, by an injudicious exposure to the unsettled weather of the autumnal season.