Drayton, William Henry

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Drayton, William Henry

DRAYTON, WILLIAM HENRY. (1742–1779). Patriot leader. Born in St. Andrew Parish, South Carolina, in September 1742, Drayton was born to privilege and married great wealth. Educated in England from 1753 to 1763, he was ordered home by his father before he finished his Oxford degree. Elected to the assembly in 1765, he supported Parliament's power to pass the Stamp Act and was defeated for reelection. In 1769 he wrote a notorious article in the South Carolina Gazette opposing the nonimportation agreement and found himself ostracized and unable to sell his crops. He went to England, where he promoted himself as a loyal supporter of the crown. Drayton published The Letters of Freeman in 1771, which earned him appointment to the South Carolina council with his father and brought him back to Charleston. But Drayton had further ambitions that were consistently foiled by the crown, which appointed Englishmen to the posts he desired. His efforts to steal 144,000 acres from the Catawbas were halted by John Stuart, the superintendent of Indian affairs. Abruptly, Drayton began to see the flaws in the English political system, and in August 1774 he published A Letter from Freeman, asserting American rights and castigating the Coercive Acts as despotic. He recommended that the first Continental Congress set up an independent American legislature subject only to the king. In response, the governor suspended Drayton from the council in March 1775.

Suddenly one of the most radical men in Charleston, Drayton quickly became an important Patriot leader. Elected to the Provincial Congress in 1775, he served on a number of important committees and on the Council of Safety, led the crowd that seized the armory and other government offices that same year, negotiated a truce with Loyalist leaders on 16 September 1775, and was elected president of the Provincial Congress. In the latter position he worked to develop a South Carolina navy and personally orchestrated the attacks against the British ships in Charleston Harbor. On 6 February 1776 he called on the Provincial Congress to declare independence from Britain. When the South Carolina Congress passed a constitution the following month, Drayton was named a member of the state council and the assembly and also became chief justice, thus holding a leadership position in all three branches of government. In 1778 he became president of South Carolina; played a prominent role in drafting a new constitution; and was elected to Congress, where he served on more than eighty committees in the next seventeen months. Drayton's primary goals in Congress were protecting southern interests, which is to say slavery, and resisting efforts at reconciliation with Britain. He also began work on a history of the Revolution, which was cut short by his death of typhus in Philadelphia 3 September 1779.


Dabney, William, and Marion Dargan. William Henry Drayton and the American Revolution. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1962.

Drayton, John. Memoirs of the American Revolution, From its Commencement to the Year 1776, Inclusive. 2 vols. Charleston, S.C.: A. E. Miller, 1821.