Lyttelton began his career as a colonial administrator when he was appointed governor of South Carolina in 1755.

Governor. Lyttelton was born on December 24, 1724, in the London parish of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, the sixth son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton and Christian Temple, daughter of Sir Richard Temple. He attended Eton College and St. Mary Hall, Oxford. In 1748 he attended Middle Temple at the Inns of Court, and later in life he received an honorary doctor of civil law degree from Oxford. Lyttelton married twice. He wed his first wife, Mary MacCartney, in 1761. She died in 1765, and nine years later he married Caroline Bristowe. Each marriage produced a son. Through education and family connections Lyttelton secured preferment in colonial and diplomatic posts and was raised to the Irish and then the British peerage.

Lyttelton began his career as a colonial administrator when he was appointed governor of South Carolina in 1755. Traveling to his post, Lyttelton was captured at sea by French warships and held briefly as a prisoner of war. He arrived at Charleston on June 1, 1756, and held office until he left the colony on April 4, 1760. Lyttelton’s tenure was marked by frontier warfare with the Cherokee Indians and by political and constitutional conflicts with the colonial Commons House of Assembly. The French and Indian War (1756–1763) was the American phase of the European Seven Years’ War that pitted Britain against France. In America the war was a contest for control of the continent and was fought by European regulars, colonial militias, and rival Native American allies. In South Carolina the Cherokee War of 1759–1761 was a localized campaign in this continental struggle for hegemony.

In 1759 Cherokee Indians in the northwestern corner of the colony murdered several British traders and upcountry settlers. Governor Lyttelton refused to meet a delegation of Cherokee headmen who traveled to Charleston seeking peace. Instead, he led a military expedition into the upcountry as a show of force and brought the delegation with him as hostages. At Fort Prince George he negotiated a treaty with the Cherokees to hand over for trial the murderers of the British settlers and provided that hostages be held as surety that the murderers would be handed over. Other provisions called for the unhindered return of English traders to their posts, the execution of any emissaries the French might send to the Cherokees, and the jurisdiction of the South Carolina government in future disputes between Cherokees and South Carolinians. Despite the treaty, warfare broke out in early 1760, but by that time Lyttelton had received appointment to become governor of Jamaica, although he could not start that post until 1762. He left for England in April 1760, and the war was prosecuted by British colonels Archibald Montgomery and James Grant and by Lieutenant Governor William Bull, Jr.

During his tenure a group of French Acadians sought to settle in South Carolina. Exiled from their homes in Nova Scotia by British policies, they dispersed throughout the mainland colonies. Anti-French sentiment made them unwelcome, and few remained in South Carolina and Georgia. Most moved on and settled in Louisiana. Lyttelton and his assembly continued a long-standing dispute over provincial finances. However, in July 1756 the assembly authorized a budget and some of the dissension subsided.

Lyttelton had a long career as a royal governor, an ambassador, and a member of Parliament after he left South Carolina. He was governor of Jamaica from 1762 to 1766 and British ambassador to Portugal until 1771. After his diplomatic service, he returned to England and was a member of Parliament, representing Bewdley until 1790. Raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Westcote of Ballymore in 1776, he was also named Baron Lyttelton of Frankley in 1794. In his later years Lyttelton wrote “An Historical Account of the Constitution of Jamaica,” which was published in a 1792 edition of Jamaican statutes and reprinted in Bryan Edwards’s History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies (1794). Lyttelton died in Stourbridge, Worcestershire, England, on September 14, 1808.

Alden, John Richard. John Stuart and the Southern Colonial Frontier: A Study of Indian Relations, War, Trade, and Land Problems in the Southern Wilderness, 1754–1775. 1944. Reprint, New York: Gordian, 1966.

Attig, Clarence John. “William Henry Lyttelton: A Study in Colonial Administration.” Ph.D. diss., University of Nebraska, 1958.

Corkran, David H. The Cherokee Frontier, Conflict and Survival, 1740–1762. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962.

Lyttelton, William Henry. Papers. William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Lyttelton, William Henry
  • Author Alexander Moore
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date June 2, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date June 8, 2016
  • Date of Last Update May 2, 2017