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Christopher Gadsden (1724-1805) was an American general and statesman during the American Revolution. He became the principal leader of the South Carolina radicals in the pre-Revolutionary period. He was a delegate for South Carolina in the Continental Congress and a Brigadier General of the state's forces during the Revolutionary War.
Christopher was born on February 16, 1723/4 at Charleston, South Carolina. He was the son of Thomas Gadsden, who had served in the British Navy before becoming custom's collector for the port of Charleston. Christopher was sent to school near Bristol, in England, and returned to America in 1741 to go to work in a counting house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He entered into mercantile ventures on his own account as well, and by 1747 he had earned enough to return to return to South Carolina and buy back to land his father had lost by gambling in 1733.
Gadsden began his rise to prominence as a merchant and patriot in Charleston. He prospered as a merchant, and built the wharf in Charleston that still bears his name. He served as Captain of a militia company during a 1759 expedition against the Cherokee Indians. He was first elected to the colonial assembly in 1760, and began a long friction with autocratic Royal Governors.
In 1765 the assembly made him one of their delegates to the Stamp Act Congress called to protest the Stamp Act. While his fellow delegates Thomas Lynch and John Rutledge served on committees to draft appeals to the House of Lords and Commons respectively, Gadsden refused any such assignment, since in his view Parliament had to rights in the matter. He addressed himself with outspoken support for the Declaration of Rights produced by the Congress. His addresses brought him to the attention of Samuel Adams of Massachusetts and the two began a long correspondence and friendship.
On his return from New York City, Gadsden became one of the founders and leaders of the Charleston Sons of Liberty. He had risen to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the militia, and when the formal break came with the old government in 1775, he was made Colonel of the 1st South Carolina regiment of militia. In 1774 his fellow Assembly members elected him to be a delegate to the Continental Congress. In 1775 his status was renewed, this time by an election held throughout the state. He left the Congress early in 1776 as active war became imminent in South Carolina.
In February of 1776, South Carolina President John Rutledge named him a Brigadier General in charge of the state's military. That same year he had his first difficulty with the Continental Army command structure. As the British prepared to attack Charleston, General Charles Lee ordered outlying positions abandoned. Rutledge and the local officers disagreed. This time a compromise was reached and as William Moultrie prepared the defenses on Sullivan's Island, Gadsden paid for, and his regiment built a bridge that would allow their escape if the position were threatened. The British attack was repulsed.
The Continental Army
In an attempt to smooth over the differences in command, the Continental Congress named the South Carolina units as part of the Continental Army on June 18, 1776, and ordered it backdated to November of 1775. Then on September 16, they appointed him and William Moultrie as Brigadier Generals of the continental establishment. But Gadsden's views of local command didn't change, and after only seven months he resigned his Continental commission. Many generals in this stage of the revolution would have written directly to the Congress to make a political issue of their complaints. But he submitted his to the Department commander, General Robert Howe, and when Howe's explanation was the only one they heard, the Congress accepted it.
Gadsden remained as the senior commander of South Carolina forces in the state. As disagreements continued, he even challenged Howe to a duel with pistols in 1778. Howe's first shot only clipped his ear. Gadsden then fired into the air over his left shoulder, and Howe declined thee chance for a second round. While still politically opposed, the two became friends after the incident.
In 1778, Gadsden was a member of the South Carolina convention that drafted a new state constitution. That same year he has named the Lieutenant Governor, to replace Henry Laurens who was away at the Continental Congress. He would serve in that office until 1780. Actually, for the first year and a half his office was called Vice President of South Carolina, but when the new constitution was adopted, the title was changed to the modern usage.
When the British laid siege to Charleston in 1780, John Randolph, as president of the council fled to North Carolina to ensure a government in exile. should the city fall. Gadsden remained, along with Governor Rawlins Lowndes. General Lincoln surrendered the Continental Army garrison on May 12 to General Sir Henry Clinton. At the same time, Gadsden represented the civil government and surrendered the city. He was sent to his Charleston house, on parole.
Prisoner of war
After Clinton returned to New York the new British commander in the south, General Cornwallis changed the rules. On the morning of August 27, he arrested about 20 of the civil officers then on parole. They were marched as prisoners to a ship and taken to St. Augustine, Florida. When they arrived Governor Tonyn offered the freedom of the town if they would give their parole. Most accepted, but Gadsden refused claiming that the British had already violated one parole, and he couldn't give his word to a false system. As a result, he spent the next 42 weeks in solitary confinement in a dungeon at the old Spanish fortress of Castillo de San Marcos. When they were finally released in 1781, they were sent by merchant ship to Philadelphia. Once there, Gadsden learned of the defeat of Cornwallis at Cowpens and withdrawal to Yorktown. He hurried home, to help the restoration of South Carolina's civil government.
Gadsden was returned to the state's House of Representatives, then meeting at Jacksonboro. At this session, Governor Randolph and de-facto President Rutledge both surrendered their offices. Gadsden was elected as the Governor, but felt he had to decline. His health was still impaired from his imprisonment, and an active governor was needed since the British hadn't yet given up Charleston. So in 1782, John Matthews became to new governor.
Gadsden was also a member of the state Convention in 1788 and voted for ratification of the United States Constitution. He died from an accidental fall on September 15, 1805 in Charleston, and is buried in St. Phillip's Churchyard there.
Gadsden's private life has had very little attention from biographers. He had at least two children; a daughter Elizabeth who married Andrew Rutledge; and a son Christopher Jr. The Gadsden purchase of Arizona was named for his grandson James Gadsden.
- Richard Walsh, (editor): "The Writings of Christopher Gadsden 1746-1805"; 1966, University of South Carolina Press.
- Stanly Godbold, Jr. and Robert Woody: "Christopher Gadsden and the American Revolution"; 1983, The University of Tennessee Press, ISBN 0870493639.
- Daniel McDonough: "Christopher Gadsden and Henry Laurens: The Parallel Lives of Two American Patriots"; 2000, Susquehanna University Press; ISBN 157591039X.
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