Edward Rutledge

From New World Encyclopedia

Edward Rutledge
Edward Rutledge

In office
December 18, 1798 – January 23, 1800
Preceded by Charles Pinckney
Succeeded by John Drayton

Born November 23 1749(1749-11-23)
Charleston, South Carolina
Died January 23 1800 (aged 50)
Charleston, South Carolina
Political party Federalist
Spouse Henrietta Middleton,
Mary Shubrick Eveleigh
Signature Edward Rutledge signature.png

Edward Rutledge (November 23, 1749 – January 23, 1800), South Carolina statesman, was one of four signers of the Declaration of Independence from South Carolina and, at the age of 26, the youngest of all the signers.

A delegate at both the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress, along with his older brother John Rutledge, he was later appointed a member of the first Board of War in 1776. He served in the South Carolina General Assembly from 1778 to 1796. He was elected a Member of the Continental Congress again in 1779 but did not take his seat because of military duties. He later served as the thirty-ninth governor of South Carolina (1798-1800) and died while in office.

Although a firm supporter of colonial rights, he was initially reluctant to support independence from Great Britain, hoping instead for reconciliation with the mother country. Like other Southern planters, Rutledge did not want the American Revolution to change the basic social structure of the South. Clearly pro-slavery, he worked to have African-Americans expelled from the Continental Army because the idea of slaves with guns could have serious ramifications for his colony.

He is generally held responsible for the postponement of the vote on the resolution of independence but he is also given credit for the decision of the South Carolina delegation to go along with the others on July 2nd for the sake of unanimity.

Early years

Edward was the youngest son of Dr. John Rutledge, who emigrated from Ireland to South Carolina, around 1735. His mother was Sarah Hext. The couple had five sons and two daughters. At the age of 27 Sarah became a widow with seven children when Edward was about one year old.

Born in Charleston he followed in two of his older brothers' (John Rutledge and Hugh Rutledge) footsteps by studying law at Oxford University, being admitted to the English bar (Middle Temple), and returning to Charleston to practice law.

His mother gave him a 640-acre plantation in Saint Helena Parish that had been her father's and thus enabled him to meet the property qualification for election to the Commons House of Assembly. He subsequently built a home in Charleston across the street from the house of his brothers John and Hugh.

Rutledge established a successful law practice with his partner, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. In 1773, during his first year of practice on his return to Charleston, he won Whig acclaim by obtaining the release of newspaper publisher Thomas Powell, who had been imprisoned by the British for printing an article critical of the Loyalist upper house of the colonial legislature. The next year, the grateful Whigs named Rutledge as one of five Delegates to the First Continental Congress.[1]

In 1774, Henry Middleton, one of South Carolina's richest planters consented to Edward marrying his eldest daughter, Henrietta. They would have three children. He became a leading citizen of Charleston, and owned more than 50 slaves.[2]

In December 1776 the Rutledge family held an impressive array of positions in South Carolina: John Rutledge was the first President of South Carolina; his brother Hugh was speaker of the Legislative Council, a member of the Privy Council, and Admiralty Judge; and Brothers Edward and Thomas Rutledge sat in the General Assembly for Charleston and St. Helena, respectively.[3]

American Revolution

Did you know?
Edward Rutledge was the youngest of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence

It was not unusual for members of the plantation aristocracy to enter prominently into public life at an early age. As a member of the First Continental Congress before he was 25, Edward Rutledge spent his first congressional term in the shadow of the more experienced South Carolina Delegates, among them his older brother, John, and his father-in-law, Henry Middleton.

Initially he did not make a very favorable impression. He became the focus of John Adams' scorn. Never an admirer of the South Carolinians, he wrote in his diary, "Young Ned Rutledge is a perfect Bob-o-Lincoln—a swallow, a sparrow, a peacock; excessively vain, excessively weak, and excessively variable and unsteady; jejeune, inane, and puerile."[4]

During 1775-1776, both in Congress and in two South Carolina provincial assemblies, his increasing self-confidence and maturation of judgment brought him the esteem of his associates. In the latter year, two of the senior South Carolina Delegates, Christopher Gadsden and Henry Middleton, retired from Congress and Thomas Lynch, Sr. suffered an incapacitating stroke. With his brother absent on State business he soon found himself the delegation leader.[1]

Rutledge is standing on the far right in John Trumbull's famous painting The Declaration of Independence.

On September 26th, 1775 he moved that Gen. George Washington be instructed "to discharge all the Negroes as well as Slaves as Freemen in his Army." Rutledge was worried about the example that armed black men would furnish to slaves in the South. Later, in January of 1776 Washington and his chief advisers decided to enlist no more blacks, a policy endorsed by the Congress.[5]

By June 1776 Rutledge, although opposed to independence, was selected to sit on the important War and Ordinance Committee where he did his best to delay the vote for independence. On June 7, 1776, when Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed national independence, Rutledge led the moderates in securing a delay in the voting. He knew that independence was inevitable. In March his colony, preceded only by New Hampshire, had adopted a constitution. Moreover, that same month the provincial assembly had empowered its Delegates to vote for independence if they so desired. Yet Rutledge firmly believed that the Colonies should first confederate and nurture foreign alliances to strengthen themselves for the perilous step they were about to take.

When the vote on independence came up on July 1, he refused to yield and South Carolina balloted negatively. But nine of the Colonies voted affirmatively. Rutledge, realizing that the resolution would probably carry anyway, proposed that the vote be recast the following day. He persuaded the other South Carolina Delegates to submit to the will of the majority for the sake of unanimity, and South Carolina reversed its position.

Rutledge's last important assignment occurred in September, when he accompanied John Adams and Benjamin Franklin on a vain peace mission to Staten Island to negotiate with British Admiral Lord Richard Howe, who in union with his brother, Gen. William Howe, was belatedly and idealistically trying to resolve the differences between the Colonies and the mother country. Two months later, Rutledge departed from Congress in order to resume his law practice in Charleston.[1]

Returns to fight

He took leave of Congress in November of 1776 to join the defense of his colony. He was a member of the Charleston Battalion of Artillery, engaged in several important battles, and attained the rank of Captain. The colonial legislature sent him back to Congress in 1779 to fill a vacancy but military duties prevented his attendance. As a militia captain, in February 1779, he took part in Gen. William Moultrie's defeat of the British at Port Royal Island, S.C. In 1780 when the British conducted a third invasion of South Carolina he resumed his post as Captain in the defense of Charleston. Along with his brother-in-law Arthur Middleton, Rutledge was captured when Charleston fell and was imprisoned in St. Augustine, Florida. He was held prisoner until July of 1781.

In 1782 he returned to the legislature of his native state, where he served until 1796. Edward was one of the most powerful political leaders in South Carolina in the 1780 and 1790s. At times he served on as many nineteen committees. He also served on the College of Electors, in 1788, 1792, and in 1796 when, despite his avowed allegiance to the Federalist party, he voted for Thomas Jefferson. He was then elected to the state Senate, twice, and in 1789 was elected Governor.

In addition to his political responsibilities Rutledge always found time for civic activities. He was a vestryman of St. Michael's Church, firemaster, president of the St. Cecilia Society, director of the Santee Canal Company and a trustee for the College of Charleston (established in 1770).

When the Charleston Branch of the First Bank of the United States opened he was appointed as one of its directors.[6]

Relationship with Washington

When President George Washington made a tour of southern states in the Spring of 1791 Edward Rutledge was frequently among the dignitaries who escorted him around during his Charleston visit. His brother John, by now the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Sessions, was away on circuit business.[7]

The Washington administration relied heavily on the Rutledge and Pickney families when considering appointments to office from South Carolina. Washington offered a Supreme Court Justiceship to Edward in 1792, Secretary of State in 1793, and minister to France in 1794, but his personal affairs kept him from accepting.[8]

Relationship with Jefferson

Several letters sent by Thomas Jefferson to Edward Rutledge have been preserved and give insight into their relationship. In a letter to Rutledge in December 1796, dated a day before he sent one congratulating Adams on having the required electoral votes to win and some six weeks before the official count was announced, Jefferson predicted he would live in peace while Adams would be shipwrecked in the gathering storm. He went on to urge Rutledge to return to national public office end concluded by stating, "I love to see honest men + honorable men at the helm, men who will not bend their politics to their purses …."[9]

In an earlier letter in 1795 he talks of a visit from Rutledge's son and speaks of his own desire to retire from public life while encouraging Rutledge to take more of a national role.[10]

Final years

Edward's wife Henrietta died on April 22, 1792, the same day that Edward's mother Sarah died.

Six months after the death of his first wife, he married the widow of Nicholas Eveleigh, Mary Shubrick Eveleigh. Her former husband was Comptroller of the Treasury of the United States, in the time of Washington's administration.

Rutledge died after a severe stroke in January 1800. Still in his first term as Governor he was given an elaborate military funeral and buried in the family plot in St. Philip's churchyard. He was survived by his wife Mary, his son Henry Middleton Rutledge and his daughter Sarah. His elder brother John died a few months later in July of 1800.


Commissioned April 18, 1942, the U.S.S. Edward Rutledge (AP-52) was a Edward Rutledge-class transport. It was acquired by the U.S. Navy for use in World War II, and was assigned the task of transporting troops to and from battle areas. Operating in dangerous Mediterranean waters on November 12, 1942, it was sunk after being struck by a German submarine’s torpedo at Fedala Bay, Morocco.

The Edward Rutledge House in Charleston

After the American Civil War, the Edward Rutledge House was acquired by Captain Wagener, a wealthy merchant, who helped renovate the mansion during Reconstruction in the South. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the house fell into some disrepair and was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Charleston. The current owners acquired the home from a prominent Charleston family in 1998.

Edward Rutledge occupies a unique and celebrated place in American history. In recognition of this fact, his former Charleston residence, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1971 it was declared a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Today, the elegant Governor's House Inn is a historic Charleston, S. C. bed and breakfast.[11]

Rutledge was a main character in the musical play 1776, in which he sings the song Molasses to Rum to Slaves about slavery and the Triangle Trade. He was portrayed by Clifford David in the original Broadway production and John Cullum in the 1972 film. In the 2008 TV miniseries John Adams, Rutledge was portrayed by Clancy O'Connor.

Preceded by:
Charles Pinckney
Governor of South Carolina
1798 – 1800
Succeeded by:
John Drayton


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Edward Rutledge Nps.gov. Retrieved September 23, 2016.
  2. Janelle Pavao, Edward Rutledge Retrieved September 23, 2016.
  3. James Haw, John & Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. (Athens: University of Georgia Press,1997, ISBN 0820318590), 105.
  4. 1774. 'Diary of John Adams, Volume 2: Monday. Octr. 24. Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed. C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016.
  5. Haw, 73.
  6. Haw, 237-238.
  7. Haw, 236.
  8. Haw, 275.
  9. Thomas Jefferson, Master Thoughts of Thomas Jefferson.
  10. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings Of Thomas Jefferson: 1795-1801.
  11. The Governor's House Inn Governorshouse.com. Retrieved September 23, 2016.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barthelmas, Della G. The signers of the Declaration of Independence: a biographical and genealogical reference. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997. ISBN 0786403187
  • Haw, James. John & Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1997. ISBN 0820318590
  • Jefferson, Thomas. Master Thoughts of Thomas Jefferson. HardPress Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-1313874953
  • Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings Of Thomas Jefferson: 1795-1801. Nabu Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1175855121
  • Williams, Patrick G. "Rutledge, Edward." American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000. (by subscription)

External links

All links retrieved February 12, 2024.


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