Planter, lieutenant governor. Bull was born in April 1683 in St. Andrew’s Parish, the son of Stephen Bull, one of the original English settlers of South Carolina. His father was a successful planter and Indian trader, and William Bull added to his father’s patrimony. Bull had a long political career that began in the proprietary era and continued for thirty-five years after South Carolina became a royal colony in 1720. Under a succession of proprietary governors he held several local commissions: church warden, road and ferry commissioner of St. Andrew’s Parish, justice of the peace, and Revenue Act manager in 1716. Bull represented Berkeley and Craven Counties in the Eighth, Tenth, and Fifteenth Assemblies (1706–1708, 1716–1717) and was appointed by the Lords Proprietors to the Grand Council in 1719. As a militia officer he served in the Tuscarora and Yamassee Wars and was a proponent of reform in the colony’s Indian trade policies.
Bull was a member of the Grand Council during the Revolution of 1719. Those rebels who ousted the Lords Proprietors considered Bull to be opposed to the revolution but permitted him to remain on the Council. During the 1720s Bull was a valuable member of the government. He served continuously on the Grand Council from 1719 to 1755 and as its president, and he was lieutenant governor from 1738 until his death in 1755. He was commissioner of the Indian Trade in 1721–1722 and revived the trade in the aftermath of the Yamassee War. A skilled surveyor, he assisted General James Oglethorpe in the settlement of Georgia and in selecting the site of Savannah.
As a long-serving, native-born Council member, Bull’s attachments to colonial prerogative increased the power of the Commons House of Assembly. During a 1730s controversy over fiscal authority, Bull sided with the Commons House and asserted that body’s prerogative to create money bills, an important element of colonial independence. From 1737 until the arrival of Governor James Glen in 1743, Bull was acting governor. During that time he led the provincial forces in suppressing the Stono Rebellion (1739) and assisted James Oglethorpe in Georgia’s unsuccessful attack on Spanish St. Augustine (1740). Bull’s son William Bull II (1710–1791) was for many years Speaker of the Commons House, and their joint political strength helped shape the province’s political culture.
Bull inherited Ashley Hall, a plantation on the Ashley River. In 1704 he built a handsome brick mansion on the site and with his kinfolks, the Draytons and the Middletons, transformed the Ashley River area into a showplace of the planter elite. Bull was also among the early settlers in Prince William’s Parish on the colony’s southern frontier. His plantation, called Sheldon, was the main source of his economic wealth. Bull was the progenitor of a political dynasty of interconnected families. In addition to their sons Stephen and William, Bull and his wife, Mary Quintyne, were the parents of three daughters. Elizabeth married Thomas Drayton of Magnolia Plantation; Charlotta married Thomas’s brother, John Drayton of Drayton Hall; and Henrietta married Henry Middleton of Middleton Place. These Ashley River families have had roles in South Carolina history for three centuries.
William Bull died on March 21, 1755, and was buried in the Prince William’s Parish churchyard. The popular name of that church was Sheldon, taken from Bull’s nearby plantation.
Bull, Kinloch, Jr. The Oligarchs in Colonial and Revolutionary Charleston: Lieutenant Governor William Bull II and His Family. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991.
Edgar, Walter, and N. Louise Bailey, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 2, The Commons House of Assembly, 1692–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977.
Meroney, Geraldine M. Inseparable Loyalty: A Biography of William Bull. Norcross, Ga.: Harrison, 1991.
Sirmans, M. Eugene. “Masters of Ashley Hall: A Biographical Study of the Bull Family of Colonial South Carolina, 1670–1737.” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1959.