Middleton was born in 1742 at Middleton Place, the family estate on the Ashley River near Charleston. His father, who owned a score of plantations comprising 50,000 acres and employing some 800 slaves, ranked among the wealthiest and most politically active men in the province. While still a young boy, Arthur sailed to England for an education. He attended Hackney School, graduated from Cambridge University, and studied law in London. In 1764, the year after his return, he wed the woman who was to bear him nine children, and embarked on a career as justice of the peace and colonial legislator. In the years 1768-71, however, he and his wife made an extended tour of Europe.
Reelected the next year to the legislature, Middleton joined the Revolutionaries in their campaign against the Royal Governor. While sitting in the first and second provincial assemblies (1775-76), Middleton aided in organizing a night raid on public arms stores at Charleston before the Governor could seize them, raised money for armed resistance, recommended defense measures for Charleston Harbor, served on the council of safety, and urged tight enforcement of the Continental Association. An extremist, he advocated the tarring and feathering of Loyalists and confiscation of the estates of those who had fled the country.
In 1776, while engaged in helping draft a State constitution, Middleton was chosen to replace his more conservative father in the Continental Congress. Two years later, when young Middleton declined reelection, he also rejected an offer of the governorship of South Carolina by the legislature, which had enacted a new constitution that he opposed. In 1779 and 1780, though reelected to the Continental Congress, Middleton failed to attend, probably because of concern over the British threat to his State. While serving in the militia during the siege of Charleston in 1780, along with fellow signers Heyward and Rutledge he was captured by the British and imprisoned at St. Augustine, Fla., until July 1781.
Two months later, Middleton returned to Congress and served throughout 1782. He then retired to Middleton Place, which had been ravaged by the British. He rehabilitated it, resumed his life as a planter, sat intermittently in the State legislature, and accepted assignment as one of the original trustees of the College of Charleston. He died in 1787 at the age of 44. His remains rest at Middleton Place.
Drawing: Oil, 1872, by Philip F. Wharton, after Benjamin West, Independence National Historical Park.
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004