Arthur Middleton of South Carolina: Planter, Continental Congress Delegate, Militia and Council of Safety Member, and Declaration of Independence Signer
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Arthur Middleton (June 26, 1742-January 1, 1787) was the son of Henry Middleton and Mary Williams Middleton. Arthur’s father, Henry, served as president of the First Continental Congress in 1774 after Peyton Randolph. Arthur Middleton was educated in England at Harrow School, Westminster School, and Cambridge, Class of 1773. He studied law, also, at the Middle Temple and traveled extensively in Europe for two years prior to Independence, developing a strong appreciation of the fine arts such as music, architecture, literature, and learning Latin and Greek.
When Arthur was in his early twenties, he returned from attending school to live in his home state of South Carolina. Soon after returning home, Middleton married, and he and his bride, Mary Izard, settled at Middleton Place. They had nine children together.
Once settled back in South Carolina, Arthur became engaged in politics, interested in the activity of independence. His father, Henry Middleton, viewed negatively the colonies’ Loyalists and wanted his son to succeed him as a member of the Continental Congress to oppose the encroaching policies of the British. Due to Arthur being a vocal critic of England and Parliament’s actions, like his father, this led to the thirteen-member Council of Safety. He served on the council as a delegate of the First and Second Provincial Congresses, then succeeded his father as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776. Though a man of great wealth and much to lose, with sober knowledge of the risk to his own life and that of his family, Arthur supported the cause of freedom, voting in favor of independence from Great Britain, leading him to add his signature to the Declaration of Independence.
By the end of 1777, Arthur declined both a further role in Congress, and an election as governor of South Carolina in 1778. As part of his service, Arthur and William Henry Drayton worked together on the Great Seal of South Carolina with a design inspired by the Battle of Sullivan’s Island in June of 1776. The design holds the dates March 26 when the state constitution of South Carolina was ratified, and July 4 to mark the Declaration of Independence, and the year 1776 for the momentous events of that same year. Arthur was also instrumental in constructing the state constitution for South Carolina.
Later, as the British laid siege to Charleston in 1780, Middleton was active in the city’s defense as a member of the militia. His home of Middleton Place was attacked as well. His family escaped, but he, like Rutledge and Heyward, was captured and confined aboard ship in St. Augustine, Florida, and exchanged for British prisoners the following year, 1781, in Philadelphia.
Middleton remained in Philadelphia to continue serving in the Second Continental Congress until 1782. This was a time of discussing and crafting a governing document upon which to get their freedom and independence started even though the American Revolutionary War for independence from Britain was raging, and a better document would be needed, later resulting in the United States Constitution by 1787. In March 1781, the assembly of delegates, though now referred to as under the same Continental Congress, was then known as the Confederation Congress, or Congress of the Confederation (convened from 1781-1789), after the Articles of Confederation were approved by the states in March 1781 to decentralize government and protect their new governing system from repeating what the Americans were fighting against in the current American Revolutionary War. Moreover, the Articles of Confederation were written to unite the thirteen colonies, vest most of the power in the states so that governing remained in the hands of the American people, and limit power of the courts. Upon completing his service in Congress there, Arthur returned home to his family at Middleton Place.
Arthur Middleton accomplished much for the cause and defense of American independence, known for his unwavering patriotism and moral character. When he died, the State Gazette of South Carolina praised him as a “tender husband and parent, humane master, steady unshaken patriot, the gentleman, and the scholar.” Middleton Place passed into the care of his eldest son, Henry, who later was elected Governor of South Carolina, United States Representative, and Minister to Russia. Arthur’s other children were also known to hold positions of honor and service to America, and he was survived by eight children at the time of his passing. Arthur Middleton died at the age of 44 from a fever that would not subside, in 1787, the same year that the United States Constitution was adopted.
J. Edward Lee, Ph.D., is Professor of History at Winthrop University. Lee is a former mayor of the City of York, South Carolina.
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