The eldest son of one of the wealthiest planters in South Carolina, Heyward was born in 1746 at Old House Plantation, in St. Helena's Parish (later St. Luke's Parish and present Jasper County) near the Georgia border about 25 miles northeast of Savannah. In 1771, following 5 years of study in London, he began practicing law. The next year, his parish sent him to the colonial legislature (1772-75), which was feuding with the Royal Governor over parliamentary taxation. During that period, in 1773, he married and settled down at White Hall Plantation, only a couple of miles from the residence of his father.
While a legislator, Heyward apparently joined the Revolutionaries, for in the summer of 1774 he attended a provincial convention that chose Delegates to the Continental Congress. During 1775-76 he was active in the first and second provincial congresses and on the council of safety and the committee that drafted a State constitution. In the Continental Congress (1776-78), he signed the Articles of Confederation as well as the Declaration. At the end of his tour, he journeyed to Charleston and took up residence in the townhouse he had inherited from his father the year before. He became a circuit court judge; represented Charleston in the State legislature, which convened in the city; and held a militia captaincy.
In 1779 Heyward was wounded during Brig. Gen. William Moultrie's repulse of a British attack on Port Royal Island, along the South Carolina coast near Heyward's home. The following year, the British plundered White Hall and carried off all the slaves. When they took Charleston, they captured Heyward, who was helping defend the city. He was imprisoned at St. Augustine, Fla., until July 1781. Shortly before his release, he celebrated Independence Day by setting patriotic verses to the British national anthem. "God save the King" became "God save the thirteen States," a rendition that soon echoed from New Hampshire to Georgia.
From 1782 until 1789 Heyward resumed his position of circuit court judge, concurrently serving two terms in the State legislature (1782-84). In 1785 he helped found and became the first president of the Agricultural Society of South Carolina. The following year, his wife passed away and he remarried; apparently only one child from his two marriages reached maturity. He devoted most of his remaining days, except for attendance in 1790 at the State constitutional convention, to managing his plantation; he sold his Charleston townhouse in 1794. The last to survive among the South Carolina signers, he died in 1809 at the age of 62 and was interred in the family cemetery at Old House Plantation.
Drawing: Oil, before 1851, by Charles Fraser, after Jeremiah Theus, Independence National Historical Park.
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004