Hayne, Isaac

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Hayne, Isaac

HAYNE, ISAAC. (1745–1781). Militia officer executed by British. South Carolina. Remembered primarily as the victim of British injustice, Isaac Hayne was born on 23 September 1745. He was a planter and breeder of fine horses before the war. He and William Hill also owned the iron works in York District, South Carolina, that were destroyed by British and Loyalist raiders led by Captain Christian Huck. At the beginning of the Revolution, Hayne served as a member of the assembly and as a captain in the Colleton militia. He resigned the latter post and re-enlisted as a private when a junior officer was put in command over him. He was captured at Charleston on 12 May 1780, having served in the outposts, and was paroled to his farm on condition that he never again take up arms against the British. Ordered in 1781 to join the British army, he considered his parole invalidated and took the field as a militia colonel. In July he captured General Andrew Williamson, the turncoat, just a few miles from Chareleston, but was himself taken prisoner by British troops sent to rescue Williamson. Without a trial, Hayne was condemned to death by Colonel Nesbit Balfour, the British commandant at Charleston, on charges of espionage and treason. Despite a concerted protest by the citizens of Charleston, Haynes was hanged on 4 August 1781.

The fate of "the Martyr Hayne," as he was instantly labeled, aroused widespread anger. When the issue came up in Parliament, Colonel Balfour attempted to defend himself by blaming Lord Rawdon (George Augustis Francis Rawdon), commander of British troops in the South although not Balfour's direct superior, who had approved the decision to execute Hayne. Rawdon placed the fault right back on Balfour. By their efforts to affix the blame on one another, both implicitly acknowledged their error. General Henry Lee later summarized the American view:

Colonel Hayne was certainly either a prisoner of war, or a British subject. If the latter, he was amenable to the law, and indisputably entitled to the formalities and the aids of trial; but if the former, he was not responsible to the British government, or its military commander, for his lawful conduct in the exercise of arms. Unhappily for this virtuous man, the royal power was fast declining in the South. The inhabitants were eager to cast off the temporary allegiance of conquest; it was deemed necessary to awe them into submission by some distinguished severity, and Hayne was the selected victim! (Lee, pp. 456-457).

By their handling of this case, the British authorities made a martyr out of Isaac Hayne instead of an "example," thereby defeating the purpose that such a severe act might have accomplished. Nathanael Greene marched his army out of the High Hills of Santee after issuing a proclamation that "reprisals for all such inhuman insults" would be against "officers of the [British] regular forces, and not the deluded Americans who had joined the royal army." Far from repressing the sort of insurrection that Hayne had been accused of starting, Balfour sent Carolinians flocking to the American colors.

SEE ALSO Greene, Nathanael.


Bowden, David K. The Execution of Isaac Hayne. Lexington, S.C.: Sandlapper Store, 1977.

Lee, Henry. Memoirsofthe War in the Southern Department of the United States. New York: University Publishing Company, 1870.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles