Saturday, November 10, 2007

William Henry Drayton (1742-1779)

William Henry Drayton, born in 1742, was the oldest son of John Drayton and his second wife, Charlotta Bull, daughter of John Bull, the colony's Governor. Afer spending early childhood on his father's South Carolina plantation, Drayton Hall, William lived in England from age nine until twenty-one, and, while there, studied at Oxford University. His first political writings appeared in the mid 1760s under the name "Freeman," and his most famous early piece was the 1774 pamphlet Letter from Freeman of South Carolina to the Deputies of North American Assembled in the High Court of Congress at Philadelphia. The pamphlet, addressed to the Continental Congress, discussed in detail America's grievances and included a suggested bill of American rights.
In 1775, Drayton was appointed to the South Carolina Provincial Congress and became its president. As president, he oversaw the formation of South Carolina's first constitution and issued the state's first order to fire on the British when, on November 9, 1775—almost eight months before the colonies would officially declare their independence—he ordered Colonel William Moultrie to fire from Fort Sullivan on British ships as they tried to enter the harbor.
In fact, William Henry Drayton was one of the first South Carolinians to openly call for a break from England. Speaking before the South Carolina Provincial Congress in February of 1776, Drayton declared that the British "hand of tyranny" threatened to "spoil America of whatever she held most valuable" and that America needed to decide quickly between "independence or slavery!"
Later appointed first chief justice of South Carolina, Drayton led the colony further along its path to independence with a series of charges to South Carolina's grand juries. According to his famous April 23, 1776 charge, "Under color of law, the king and parliament of Great Britain have made the most arbitrary attempts to enslave America," and "true reconcilement never [could] exist between Great Britain and America." Printed in newspapers throughout the colonies, Drayton's charge was also read by Arthur Middleton, another South Carolina patriot, to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and has been credited with inspiring the delegates to push forward with the Declaration of Independence.

(info: Drayton Hall,