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Transcript of Edward Rutledge
He was an American politician, a slaveholder, and youngest signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. He later served as the 39th governor of South Carolina
Born to an aristocratic Family in South Carolina, Edward Rutledge was perhaps destined to a life of Public service. He was educated in law at Oxford and studied for and was admitted to the English Bar. He and his brother John were both engaged in the law, and both attended the congress. They supported each other unabashedly, both on the floor and in committee. Edward attended Congress at the remarkable age of 27, and was no doubt pretty excited to find himself in the company of the most eminent men of the colonies.
When he was twenty years of age, Edward Rutledge sailed for England and became a student of law at the Temple. He had the experience there of listening to some of the most distinguished orators of the day, in court and in parliament, a precursor to his later ability. The 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 in the reign of Edward III about 1340. The Temple was a prominent source for teaching law to many famous South Carolinians including Edward’s uncle Andrew Rutledge, Edward’s brothers John and Hugh, Arthur Middleton, Thomas Lynch, Jr., Thomas Heyward, Jr. and several members of the Pinckney family.
He took leave of Congress in November of 1776 to join the defense of his colony. He was a member of the Charleston Battalion of Artillery, engaged in several important battles, and attained the rank of Captain. The colonial legislature sent him back to Congress in 1779 to fill a vacancy. He took his leave again in 1780 when the British conducted a third invasion of South Carolina. He resumed his post as Captain in the defense of Charleston, was captured and held prisoner until July of 1781.
Rutledge returned to Charleston in 1773 to practice law. 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 his youth (he was only 24 at the time) he earned a reputation for his quickness of apprehension, fluency of speech and graceful delivery.
Soon after he established his law practice Edward married Henrietta Middleton, the sister of Arthur Middleton who would also sign the Declaration of Independence. The couple had a son and a daughter, and a third child who died as an infant. After the death of his first wife in 1792, Rutledge 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 one married Thomas Lynch, Jr.
But when the debate began over Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence in June 1776 Rutledge was vigorously opposed. In a letter to 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.”
Edward Rutledge died in Charleston on January 23, 1800 while he was still Governor and was buried in St. Philip’s Churchyard Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. His loss was mourned by the people of Charleston and South Carolina, and impressive military and funeral honors were paid to him on the occasion of his death. 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.