Governor. Benjamin Guerard, the son of John Guerard and Elizabeth Hill, was baptized in Charleston at St. Philip’s Church on May 23, 1740. The exact date of his birth is unknown. Both his father and grandfather were wealthy Charleston merchants, planters, and public servants. As such, Guerard enjoyed a privileged upbringing and went to England in 1756 to study law at Lincoln’s Inn. He was admitted to the South Carolina Bar on January 9, 1761, and set out to follow in the footsteps of his forebears. On November 30, 1766, Guerard married Sarah Middleton. Their marriage was childless.
Guerard represented St. Michael’s Parish in the Commons House of Assembly from 1765 to 1768, but spent most of the late 1760s and early 1770s in litigation involving him as the executor of the vast estates of his father and Middleton in-laws. During the Revolutionary War, Guerard lent over £20,000 to the state and served in the militia. After Charleston fell to the British in May 1780, Guerard and other prominent Carolinians were held captive on the prison ship Pack Horse. While a prisoner, Guerard attempted to raise funds for the relief of his fellow captives and offered his estate to the British as security. Since the estate had been confiscated, the gesture was rejected by the British but was not soon forgotten by those Guerard had tried to help.
Although he maintained a town house in Charleston, by 1778 Guerard listed St. Helena’s Parish as his legal residence and the remainder of his public career was associated with this place. Between 1779 and 1786, Guerard represented the parish four times in the General Assembly: three times in the state House of Representatives and once in the state Senate. In early 1783, Guerard was elected governor by the General Assembly, many members of which were ex-prisoners of war. As governor, Guerard pledged to lead South Carolina “from the Calamities of the uncommonly cruel War” into the “Return of the Blessings of Peace.” The task he faced was daunting. South Carolina was deeply in debt and its population, stewing in old war animosities and class antagonism, was badly divided. The governor sought to suppress outlaws plaguing the backcountry and to provide “some small relief” for Charleston’s poor. He also led the move to incorporate Charleston in 1783. But while taking a conciliatory stand on most issues, other actions made Guerard some powerful enemies. In an address to the General Assembly on February 2, 1784, he attacked the influential Society of the Cincinnati as aristocratic and undemocratic because membership was based on descent through the eldest line from Continental army officers. A year later, the Pinckney-Middleton-Rutledge political faction saw to the election General William Moultrie, president of the South Carolina Society of the Cincinnati, as Guerard’s successor in the governor’s chair.
On April 7, 1786, the widower Guerard married Marianne Kennan and retired to Fountainbleu, his 1,474-acre plantation on Goose Creek. Their marriage was also childless. Guerard died on December 21, 1788.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
Nadelhaft, Jerome J. The Disorders of War: The Revolution in South Carolina. Orono: University of Maine Press, 1981.