GADSDEN, CHRISTOPHER. (1724–1805). Merchant, Revolutionary statesman, Continental general. South Carolina. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on 16 February 1724, Christopher Gadsden inherited a considerable estate in 1741, and spent the next 25 years making himself richer. With the Stamp Act of 1765, he became the acknowledged leader of the South Carolina radicals, organizing the Sons of Liberty and attending the Stamp Act Congress. He sat in the first Continental Congress (1774). Colonel of the First South Carolina Regiment at the beginning of the Revolution, Gadsden returned to Congress in June 1775, where he served on the Navy Committee and designed the famous "Don't Tread On Me" flag for Commodore Esek Hopkins. He returned to South Carolina in January 1776 to lead his regiment in the defense of Charleston. In February he startled friend and foe by proposing to the provincial congress that they move for independence. Commanding Fort Johnson in June, he had a good view of the British attack on William Moultrie's palmetto fort, but was not otherwise engaged in defeating Sir Henry Clinton's Charleston expedition (1776). Congress made him a brigadier general in the Continental army on 16 September 1776.
Over the next three years, Gadsden was involved mostly in state politics. In debates over the state's new constitution in 1778, Gadsden and William Henry Drayton demanded the disestablishment of the church and the election of senators by popular vote. John Rutledge led the conservatives in a political counterattack that eliminated Gadsden's political influence, even though he was elected the first vice president of South Carolina. Dispute over the command of Continental troops in the state led Gadsden to resign his commission and resulted in a duel with Robert Howe that injured neither party.
Taken prisoner by the British at Charleston on 12 May 1780, he was closely confined for 10 months in St. Augustine before being exchanged. Elected governor in 1782, he declined the post on grounds of age and ill health, but sat for two more years in the assembly. Here he was one of the few who opposed the confiscation of Loyalist property. He supported adoption of the Constitution and became a Federalist. He died in Charleston on 28 August 1805.
Godbold, E. Stanly Jr., and Robert H. Woody. Christopher Gadsden and the American Revolution. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1982.
Walsh, Richard, ed. The Writings of Christopher Gadsden, 1746–1805. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1966.
revised by Michael Bellesiles