Soldier. Harden was born on November 8, 1743, in Prince William’s Parish, the son of William Harden and Mary Eberson. A landed planter, he entered military service in the militia of colonial Granville County, rising to the rank of captain by the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. He was elected captain of the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery Company on June 17, 1775, which was later incorporated into the Fourth South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Line in January 1776. Harden was appointed to command Fort Lyttelton near Beaufort, a post he held until April 1777. In the spring of 1779 he was promoted to the rank of colonel, commanding the Regiment of Upper Granville County.
Harden was captured in the fall of Charleston in May 1780 and paroled to his plantation near Beaufort. He chose to ignore his parole and after a few months began to actively recruit a partisan force in the Combahee River region. Harden joined the forces assembling under Francis Marion in late 1780 and returned shortly thereafter to harass the enemy in the districts south of Charleston. In April 1781 Harden’s force captured and paroled a Loyalist captain and twenty-five men at a muster field at Four Holes. The following evening a detachment of Harden’s regiment forced the surrender of a Loyalist post at Red Hill. Continuing their march, Harden’s force suffered a setback at the hands of Colonel Thomas Fenwick at Saltketcher Bridge. After a few days’ rest, Harden pressed forward toward Fort Balfour, the only major British fortification between Charleston and the Savannah River. Colonel Fenwick, the fort’s commander, was captured outside the fort. After a few hours of negotiation, Harden forced the surrender of the fort without a shot being fired.
Harden’s command was not without criticism, however. Governor John Rutledge complained to General Nathanael Greene that Harden, although a “very worthy brave Man,” was no disciplinarian, allowing his men to “do as they please.” Rutledge later appointed John Barnwell to be brigadier general of the newly created southern militia brigade and Harden, feeling slighted, resigned his commission in November 1781. Although his leadership was not of the same caliber as Marion or Thomas Sumter, Harden nonetheless played an important role in reclaiming South Carolina from British control.
Harden was elected a senator for Prince William’s Parish and was present at the Jacksonborough Assembly in January 1782. He married twice, first to Sarah Reid, then to Sarah Cussings. The marriages produced at least four children. Harden held other political offices in Beaufort District before his death on November 28, 1785, in Prince William’s Parish.
Brown, Tarleton. Memoirs of Tarleton Brown: A Captain in the Revolutionary Army, Written by Himself. Edited by Terry W. Lipscomb. Barnwell, S.C.: Barnwell County Museum and Historical Board, 1999.
Daso, Dik A. “Colonel William Harden: The Unsung Partisan Commander.” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (1995): 95–111.
Rowland, Lawrence S., Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers. The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina. Vol. 1, 1514–1861. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.