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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor

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John Rutledge

Rutledge Family - A Klos Family Project

RUTLEDGE, John, statesman, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1739; died there, 23 July, 1800. He was the eldest son of Dr. John Rutledge, who came to South Carolina from the north of Ireland about 1735, practiced medicine in Charleston, and married a lady of fortune, leaving her a widow with seven children at the age of twenty-seven. The son, who was sent to England to study law at the Temple, returned to Charleston in 1761, and acquired a high reputation as an advocate. He was an earnest opponent of the stamp-act when it was discussed in the provincial assembly, was sent to the congress at New York in October, 1765, and with his colleague, Christopher Gadsden, boldly advocated colonial union and resistance to oppression. He was a member of the South Carolina convention of 1774, in which he argued in favor of making common cause with Massachusetts, and carried a resolution that South Carolina should take part in the proposed congress, and that her delegates should go unhampered by instructions. 

He was one of those that were chosen by the planters to represent them in the first Continental congress at Philadelphia. Patrick Henry pronounced him "by far the greatest orator" in that assembly. In 1775 he was again chosen a delegate to congress. He was chairman of the committee that framed a constitution for South Carolina in 1776, and on 27 March was elected president of the new government, and commander-in-chief of the military forces. When the British fleet arrived in Cape Fear river he fortified Charleston, and insisted on retaining the post on Sullivan's island when General Charles Lee proposed its evacuation. During the battle he sent 500 pounds of powder, and directed Colonel William Moultrie not to retreat without an order from him, adding that he would " sooner cut off his right hand than write one." He was dissatisfied with changes in the constitution, and in March, 1778, resigned his office, but in the following year he was chosen governor again by an almost unanimous vote of the legislature, superseding Rawlins Lowndes. 

He was clothed with dictatorial powers, and prepared to repel the British invasion. When General Augustine Prevost advanced upon Charleston in May, 1779, the city was defenseless. General Benjamin Lincoln with the Continental troops being 150 miles away. The latter hastened to the succor of Charleston by forced marches, and state troops were gathered for the same object. It was proposed by the governor's council that the British should retire, on condition that South Carolina should remain neutral during the rest of the war, and that her fate should be determined by the issue of the conflict. This measure, which the historian Ramsay thinks was a ruse, devised for the purpose of gaining time, was favored by Rutledge, but opposed by Gadsden, the younger Laurens, and Noultrie. On Lincoln's approach, the enemy retreated, and Rutledge, at the head of the militia, took the field against the invaders. 

When Charleston was captured by Sir Henry Clinton in 1780, Governor Rutledge retired into North Carolina, and until the close of hostilities accompanied the army of General Nathanael Greene, and participated in its operations. When South Carolina was partly redeemed from the conquerors, he resumed the duties of governor, summoning the assembly at Jacksonborough in January, 1782. He retired from the governorship in that year, and was elected to the Continental congress. In that body he opposed a general impost, except for the purpose of paying the army. He was returned to congress in 1783, and in March, 1784, after declining the mission to the Hague, he was appointed chancellor of South Carolina. 

He was a member of the convention that framed the Federal constitution, in which he was one of a committee of five that reported a ratio of representation more favorable to the south than that which was finally adopted, and was chairman of the committee of detail. He advocated the assumption of all the state debts by the Federal government, threatened a secession of the south if the slave-trade were prohibited, proposed that congress should elect the president, and in the discussion of the powers and constitution of the judiciary exercised an influential voice. When the constitution went into operation he was nominated a justice of the United States supreme court, but de-dined in order to accept the chief justiceship of his native state. On 1 July, 1795, he was appointed chief justice of the United States supreme court. He presided at the August term. but when the senate met in December his mind had become diseased, and the nomination was rejected.

His brother, Hugh Rutledge, jurist, born in Charleston, South Carolina, about 1741; died there in January, 1811, acquired his legal education in London, returned after completing his term at the Temple, and took high rank at the bar of South Carolina. He was appointed judge of admiralty at Charleston in 1776, and was speaker of the legislative council in 1777-'8. After Charleston surrendered, he was sent with his brother Edward and other patriots to St. Augustine. In 1782-'5 he was speaker of the state house of representatives. In 1791 he was chosen by the legislature one of the three judges of the court of equity as reconstituted by a lately enacted law, which office he filled till his death.

Another brother, Edward Rutledge, statesman, born in Charleston, South Carolina, 23 November, 1749 ; died there, 23 January, 1800, was the youngest of the family. After acquiring a classical education and reading law with his brother, he was entered as a student at the Temple, London, in 1769. He attended the courts of law and the houses of parliament for four years, and, on being called to the bar, returned to entered into practice. He married Harriet, a daughter of Henry Middleton, soon after his arrival.

In 1774 he was sent to the Continental congress. He took an active part in the discussion that preceded the Declaration of Independence, of which he was one of the signers, and remained a member of congress till 1777. On 12 June, 1776, he was appointed on the first board of war. He was delegated, with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to confer with Lord Howe with reference to Howe's proposals for a reconciliation. The representatives of congress met the British admiral on Staten island, 11 September, 1776, but refused to treat with him except on the basis of a recognition of American independence.

In 1779 he was again elected to congress, but he was unable to attend on account of sickness. As captain in the Charleston artillery, of which he afterward became lieutenant-colonel, he assisted in dislodging British regulars from the island of Port Royal in 1779. While Charleston was invested, in May, 1780, he was sent out by General Benjamin Lincoln to hasten the march of re-enforcements, but fell into the hands of the enemy. With others who were called dangerous rebels, he was sent to St. Augustine after the capitulation, and confined there for a year. After he was exchanged he resided in Philadelphia until the British withdrew from South Carolina.

He was a member of the legislature that assembled at Jacksonborough in 1782, and assented to the bill of penalties against the Tories that was subsequently rescinded. On the evacuation of Charleston he returned to his home and resumed professional practice, which he continued with success for seventeen years. During that time he was an active member of the legislature. He effectually resisted the efforts that were made to revive the slave-trade as long as he had a voice in the public business of the state. He was a member of the State constitutional convention of 1790, and the author of the law abolishing the rights of primogeniture that was enacted in 1791. He declined the office of associate justice of the United States supreme court in 1794, and was elected governor of South Carolina in 1798, but did not live to complete his term.

--John's son, John Rutledge, member of congress, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1766; died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1 September, 1819, studied law with his father. He was elected to congress as a Federalist, and twice re-elected, serving from 15 May, 1797, till 3 March, 1803.--The first John's grandson, Edward Rutledge, clergyman, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1797; died in Savannah, Georgia, 13 March, 1832, was graduated at Yale in 1817, and was admitted to orders in Christ church, Middletown, Connecticut, 17 November, 1819, by Bishop Brownell. Several years afterward he became professor of moral philosophy in the University of Pennsylvania, and he was president-elect of Transylvania university at the time of his death. Mr. Rutledge published "The Family Altar" (New Haven, 1822), and a "'History of the Church of England" (Middletown, Connecticut, 1825).

--Hugh's son, Francis Huger Rutledge, P. E. bishop, born in Charleston, South Carolina, 11 April, 1799; died in Tallahassee, Florida, 6 November, 1866, was graduated at Yale in 1821, studied at the General theological seminary, New York city, and was ordained deacon in 1823 and priest on 20 November, 1825. He had charge of a church on Sullivan's island in 1827-'39, was rector of Trinity church, St. Augustine, Florida, in 1839-'45, then became rector of St. John's church, Tallahassee, and was consecrated bishop of Florida on 15 October, 1851. The degree of D.D. was conferred on him by Hobart in 1844. He published occasional sermons.

Edward Rutledge

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

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EDWARD RUTLEDGE was born in Charleston, South Carolina on November 23, 1749. He was the youngest of the seven children of Dr. John Rutledge who came to South Carolina from the north of Ireland about 1735. After acquiring a classical education, young Ned as he was called, read law with his older brother John, ten years his senior who guided him in his career as a lawyer. He was entered as a student at the Temple, a prestigious school in London England in 1769. He attended the courts of law and the houses of parliament for four years, and on being called to the bar, returned to Charleston and entered into practice.

Rutledge married the wealthy daughter of Henry Middleton, Henrietta, and subsequently built a home across the street from the house of his brothers John and Hugh. Ned was nearly bald despite his age and "inclining toward corpulency", entered into public life in 1774, when he was elected to the First Continental Congress, with the help of his brother John and his father-in-law, who were both respected politicians. Members of the plantation aristocracy entered prominently into public life at an amazingly early age, and young Rutledge was a member of congress before he was twenty-five. However, he did not make too favorable an impression at this first meeting. He excited the scorn of John Adams, never an admirer of the South Carolinians, who wrote in his diary "Young Ned Rutledge is a perfect Bob-o-Lincoln—a swallow, a sparrow, a peacock; excessively vain, excessively weak, and excessively variable and unsteady; jejeune, inane, and puerile."

By June 1776 at the Second Congress, Rutledge, although opposed to independence, gained strength and recognition as one of the more influential members of congress and was selected to sit on the important War and Ordinance Committee. His motions against independence were endless. While he did his best to delay the vote for independence, he is generally held responsible for the postponement of the vote on the resolution of independence, he is also given the major credit for the decision of the South Carolina delegation to go along with the others on July 2 for the sake on unanimity. Edward Rutledge holds the distinction of being the youngest signer of the Declaration.

Rutledge left Congress six months later, in the autumn of 1776 and returned to the low country. He distinguished himself as an officer in the militia and as a representative in the state legislature. Although he was re-elected to Congress, he did not get back to Philadelphia. Along with his brother-in-law Arthur Middleton, Rutledge was captured when Charleston fell and was imprisoned in St. Augustine.

After the war Rutledge was active in the legislature and in state conventions. In his home country he had always been thought a genial and charming gentleman, and no doubt he mellowed with the years. In 1798 he became governor of his state, but he died on January 23, 1800 before completing his term. He was only a few months past fifty. His first wife, Henrietta, bore him three children, but his second marriage, to Mrs. Mary Shubrick Eveleigh, was childless.

Source: Centennial Book of Signers




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