Governor’s House Rutledge Room History
This suite is named in honor of Mr. Edward Rutledge who lived and owned this property starting in 1762. Mr. Rutledge will forever have the honor as being the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also the 29th Governor of South Carolina. When Rutledge resided at this home he lived directly across the street from his prominent older brother, John Rutledge. His older brother was also a founding father of our nation as he was South Carolina’s first and only President, four (4) term Governor and a signer of the United States Constitution.
Edward Rutledge was one of 7 children born in Charles Towne, South Carolina on November 23, 1749. He was the youngest son of Dr. John Rutledge (1713-1750), who emigrated from Ireland to South Carolina about the year 1735. Edward was the grandson of Thomas Rutledge who lived in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland, about 65 miles southwest of Dublin.
Edward’s mother was Sarah Hert, a “lady of respectable family, and large fortune.” Sarah’s grandfather, Hugh Hext, came to South Carolina from Dorsetshire, England about 1686. Sarah’s father, also named Hugh, left to his “dearly beloved and only daughter” substantial lands inherited from the Fenwick family that included two homes in Charleston, a 550 acre plantation at Stono, and 640 acres on St. Helen’s in Granville County.
Not a lot is known about the early years of Edward Rutledge, but we do know that he was placed under the tutelage of David Smith who instructed him in the learned languages. At the time he was not considered a brilliant student, but his skill as an orator was definitely recognized later in his life. After his early education Edward was encouraged to study law by his elder brother, John, who was already recognized as a distinguished member of the Charleston Bar.
When Edward was twenty years old he sailed for England and became a student of law at The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known simply as Middle Temple. It is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers. While there beginning in 1769, Edward experienced listening to some of the most distinguished orators of the day, in Court and in Parliament, which served as a precursor to his later experiences. The Middle Temple in London was an ancient institution for teaching law founded by the Knights Templar in the reign of Henry II in 1185. The Inner Temple, where Edward studied, became an Inn of Law during the reign of Edward III about 1340. The Middle Temple was a prominent institution for teaching law to many famous South Carolinians including Edward’s uncle Andrew Rutledge, Edward’s brothers John and Hugh, his future
brother-in-law and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence Arthur Middleton, as well as fellow signatories Thomas Lynch, Jr., Thomas Heyward, Jr. and several members of the Pinckney family.
Rutledge returned to Charleston in 1773 to practice law with his partner Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. He quickly gained recognition as a Patriot when he successfully defended a printer, Thomas Powell, who had been imprisoned by the Crown for printing an article critical of the Loyalist Upper House of the Colonial Legislature. Despite Edward’s youth (he was only 24 at the time) he earned a reputation for his quickness of comprehension, fluency of speech and graceful delivery.
Soon after he established his law practice Edward married Henrietta Middleton, the sister of Arthur Middleton. The couple had two sons (Henry Middleton and Jackson Middleton) and a daughter (Sarah Middleton), with Jackson dying as an infant. Edward and Henrietta were married for 18 years when she died in 1792. Rutledge then married Mary Shubrick Eveleigh, a young widow. This marriage continued the inter-relationship among the signers of the Declaration, since two of Mary Shubrick’s sisters had married signers of the Declaration—one married Thomas Heyward, Jr. and the other married Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Henrietta’s great-grandfather was Edward Middleton, who was born in 1620 and immigrated to Barbados in 1635. He later settled in South Carolina in 1678. He was the Lord Proprietor’s Deputy, Assistant Justice, and a Member of the Grand Council from 1678 to 1684. Henrietta’s grandfather, the Honorable Ralph Izard, was born in England and came to South Carolina in 1682.
Rutledge enjoyed a happy home life and public success in the succeeding years. He was first elected in the Great Hall of the Old Exchange to the Continental Congress and the South Carolina House of Representatives in July 1774. He was able to be elected to the assemblies after his mother, Sarah Hext Rutledge, gave him a 640 acre plantation in Saint Helena Parish that she had inherited from her father. At that time individuals could not vote or be voted into office unless they owned property. In both bodies Edward’s increased self-confidence and maturation of judgment brought him the esteem of his fellow delegates. 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.
At various times Rutledge was seen to take differing positions on the subject of independence. While serving with the Second Continental Congress he served on the important War and Ordinance Committee where his motions against independence were endless. While he may have been personally opposed at one time to independence his delegation was given permission to support the cause. By 1775 Rutledge seemed favorably disposed to the idea of independence. In his autobiography John Adams recalled, “In some of the earlier deliberations in Congress in May 1775, after I had reasoned at some length on my own Plan, Mr. John Rutledge (i.e., Edward’s brother) in more than one public speech, approved of my sentiments and the other Delegates from that State Mr. Lynch, Mr. Gadsden and Mr. Edward Rutledge appeared to me to be of the same mind.”
It is noteworthy that in June 1776 when the debate began over Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for Independence – Rutledge was vigorously opposed. In a letter to fellow signatory from New York, John Jay, Rutledge wrote, “The Congress sat till 7 o’clock this evening in consequence of a motion of R. H. Lee’s resolving ourselves free & independent states. The sensible part of the house Opposed the motion…They saw no wisdom in a Declaration of Independence, nor any other purpose to be answered by it…No reason could be assigned for pressing into this measure, but the reason of every Madman, a shew of our Spirit…The whole Argument was sustained on one side by R. Livingston, Wilson, Dickenson & myself, & by the Powers of all N. England, Virginia & Georgia on the other.”
When a trial vote on independence was taken on July 1, the South Carolina delegates voted “No.” Rutledge then asked for a one day postponement of the vote, so he could meet with his South Carolina colleagues later that evening. He persuaded them to support Lee’s motion, and the next day South Carolina reversed its course, making the official vote for independence a unanimous 12 to 0, with New York abstaining. Rutledge then signed the Declaration, at age 26, the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Independence was formally declared on July 2, 1776, a date that John Adams believed would be “the most memorable epochal in the history of America.” On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the final text of the Declaration. It was not signed until August 2, 1776.
Actor John Cullum portrayed Edward Rutledge on Broadway and in the Movie “1776”
In the stage play and movie “1776,” the character of Edward Rutledge sings the intensely dark and riveting song “Molasses to Rum” where he points out the hypocrisy of the Northern position on the slave trade. In the theatre production, Rutledge’s character is portrayed as the leader in the opposition to the slavery reference in Jefferson’s earlier draft of the Declaration. There seems to be no corroboration of this in the written record, although Rutledge was recognized as a passionate defender of South Carolina’s state rights all through his tenure in the Continental Congress. Later in his career, during his tenure in the South Carolina House of Representatives, he opposed the opening of the African slave trade.
In June 1776, before the vote for independence, Rutledge was chosen to represent South Carolina on a committee to draft the country’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. Again, Rutledge shared his reservations about the Articles with John Jay. “I greatly curtailed it never can pass…If the Plan now proposed should be adopted nothing less than Ruin to some Colonies will be the Consequence of it. The Idea of destroying all Provincial Distinctions… …is…to say that these Colonies must be subject to the Government of the Eastern Provinces…I am resolved to vest the Congress with no more Power than what is absolutely necessary.” The Confederation was heatedly debated by the Congress for many months with regard to representation, state boundaries, taxation and the powers of the new central government. The Articles were not completed and signed until November 15, 1777 and were not ratified by the last state until 1781.
In September 1776 Edward Rutledge, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were selected by Congress to attend a meeting at the Billopp House on Staten Island, requested by British Lord Admiral Richard Howe. Lord Admiral Howe in union with his brother, General William Howe were belatedly and idealistically trying to resolve the differences between the Colonies and the mother country. The meeting was pleasant but nothing was accomplished. Two months later, Rutledge departed from Congress in order to resume his law practice in Charleston. A famous painting by American artist John Ward Dunsmore (1856-1945) captured the event.
Meeting At Billopp House by John Ward Dunsmore
After the meeting Rutledge wrote to his close friend George Washington, whom he greatly admired to tell him about the meeting.
I must beg Leave to inform you that our Conference with Lord Howe has been attended with no immediate Advantages. He declared that he had no Powers to consider us an Independent States, and we easily discovered that were we still Dependent we should have nothing to expect from those with which he is vested. He talked altogether in generals, that he came out here to consult, advise & confer with Gentlemen of the greatest Influence in the Colonies about their Complaints….This kind of Conversation lasted for several Hours & as I have already said without any effect….Our reliance continues therefore to be (under God) on your Wisdom & Fortitude & that of your Forces. That you may be as successful as I know you are worthy is my most sincere wish. God bless you my dear Sir.
Your most affectionate Friend,
Rutledge continued to serve in the Continental Congress, but illness prevented him from taking his seat in 1779 causing him to return home to Charleston. He was later appointed Lieutenant Colonel in the Charleston Battalion of Artillery and served under General William Moultrie in the victory over the British forces under Major Gardiner in the battle at Beaufort, South Carolina on February 3, 1779. A year later on May 12, 1780 Rutledge was taken prisoner during the British Siege of Charleston along with his fellow signers Thomas Heyward and Arthur Middleton. Rutledge was kept in prison off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida for eleven months. He was ultimately released during a prisoner exchange with the British in July, 1781. He then began the 800 mile journey to return home to Charleston.
Edward Rutledge held a variety of distinguished public offices until 1798. He served in the South Carolina legislature from 1782 to 1798 during which time he voted in favor of ratification of the U.S. Constitution. During his time in the legislature he drew up the act which abolished primogeniture (old rule of inheritance law giving rights to eldest sons), worked to give equitable distribution of real estate to those intestates, as well as voting against opening the African slave trade.
During Edward Rutledge’s lifetime the wealth of the Rutledge family increased substantially; His law practice flourished, and in partnership with his law partner, Charles C. Pinckney, he invested in plantations.
Rutledge declined President George Washington’s offer of a seat on the United States Supreme Court in 1794. Instead he chose to run for office and was elected Governor of South Carolina in December 1798. It was the last elected office he held during his lifetime as he died at Charleston early in 1800 at the age of 50, nearly a year before the end of his term.
The accomplishments of Edward’s older brother and neighbor, John Rutledge, rivaled those of Edward. John was an early delegate to the Continental Congress, the only individual to serve as President of South Carolina from 1776 to 1778, Governor of South Carolina in 1779, a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1789 to 1791 and was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President George Washington in 1795, despite his opposition to the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. (The Jay Treaty was designed by Alexander Hamilton as a follow up treaty to the 1893 Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War. George Washington supported the Jay Treaty.)
On a personal level Edward Rutledge was seen as being “above the middle size and of a florid but fair complexion.” He was nearly bald despite his age and “inclining toward corpulency.” His countenance expressed great animation, and he was universally admired for his “intelligent and benevolent aspect.” He was recognized as an orator of great power and eloquence, while being a “genial and charming gentleman.”
Despite being honored for his charm and manners, the temperament and character of Edward Rutledge were sometimes controversial. In 1774 fellow Patriot John Adams considered him “a peacock who wasted time debating upon points of little consequence.” Adams went on to describe Rutledge as “a perfect Bob-O-Lincoln, a swallow, a sparrow…jejune, inane and puerile.” Other Founding Fathers were not so petulant when describing him. Pennsylvanian physician and founder of Dickinson College, Benjamin Rush, thought Rutledge to be “a sensible young lawyer and useful in Congress.” The good doctor also recognized Rutledge’s “great volubility in speaking.”
Patrick Henry, by comparison, viewed Rutledge as the greatest orator among a group that included John and Samuel Adams, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson. It was said that the eloquence of Patrick Henry was that of a “mountain torrent,” while Edward Rutledge was like a “smooth stream gliding along the plain.” Henry “hurried you forward with a resistless impetuosity, “while the latter “conducted you with fascinations that made every progressive step appear enchanting.”
Edward Rutledge died in Charleston on January 23, 1800 while he still served as Governor. He was buried in St. Philip’s Churchyard Cemetery on Church Street in Charleston, South Carolina. His loss was mourned by the people of Charleston and South Carolina with impressive military and funeral honors paid to him. In 1969 an historical marker was installed at the entrance to St. Philip’s Churchyard by the South Carolina Daughters of the Revolution, honoring both Edward Rutledge and Charles Pinckney. In 1974 the National Park Service designated St. Philip’s Church a national historical landmark.
Edward Rutledge Gravestone at St. Philip’s Cemetery
The home of Edward Rutledge still stands in the historic district of Charleston. Located on the southwest corner of Broad and Orange streets, the five bay Georgian double house at 117 Broad Street was once part of Dr. Samuel Carne’s 18th Century orange garden, a site believed to have been a venue for concerts in colonial times. This home was built for James Laurens in 1760 by Charleston architect-builders, Miller and Fullerton It is believed that the site of the actual orange grove was just outside of the original walled city of old Charles Towne. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1971 it was declared a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
117 Broad Street, Charleston, South Carolina
In Washington, D.C., near the Washington Monument, there is a memorial park celebrating the Declaration of Independence and its Signers. One of the 56 granite blocks there is dedicated with the name and engraved signature of Edward Rutledge.
Declaration of Independence Memorial Park
Not far away in the Rotunda at the National Archives, Rutledge appears in the 1936 mural by Barry Faulkner (1888-1966), His portrait is recognized in the second row standing at the top of the steps, second from the left.
Rotunda at the National Archives mural by Barry Faulkner
Also in the Rotunda at the National Archives is the famous painting by John Trumbull entitled “The Declaration of Independence. Rutledge is shown on the right in a group of three standing delegates as the figure on the extreme right.
Rotunda at the National Archives by John Trumbull