Planter, politician, president of Continental Congress. The son of Arthur Middleton and Sarah Amory, Middleton was born at The Oaks, his father’s plantation in St. James Goose Creek Parish. Upon his father’s death in 1737, Middleton inherited property in South Carolina, England, and Barbados. Judicious investments and marriages increased his landholdings to nearly twenty plantations totaling fifty thousand acres and about eight hundred slaves. In 1741 Middleton married Mary Williams. The union produced twelve children. Mary also brought him an estate on the Ashley River, which became known as Middleton Place. In 1762, a year after Mary’s death, Middleton married Mary Henrietta Bull, daughter of William Bull, Sr., the colony’s lieutenant governor. In January 1776, four years after Mary’s death, Middleton married Lady Mary Mackenzie, daughter of the third earl of Cromartie. The last two marriages produced no children but brought Middleton connections to the royal government and British aristocracy, and perhaps explain his conflicted political stances during the revolutionary period.
In the 1740s and 1750s Middleton served intermittently in the Commons House of Assembly, where he represented St. George’s Dorchester Parish. He presided as Speaker of the assembly in 1747 and again from 1754 to 1755. In 1755 he was appointed to the Royal Council. Middleton’s position on the council entailed a balancing act. Dissenting against the majority, he voted to open the port of Charleston during the Stamp Act crisis of 1765. In 1769, on the other hand, he joined the rest of the council in opposing the assembly’s gift to support John Wilkes. In September 1770 he resigned from the Royal Council, and he thereafter was aligned with the revolutionary movement.
His most important contribution to the Revolution began in July 1774, when he was elected to the First Continental Congress. On October 22 Middleton replaced Peyton Randolph of Virginia as president and presided over Congress until it adjourned on OctoberWhile president, he signed a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” that was presented to King George III. Reelected in January 1775, Middleton served in the Second Continental Congress from May to November 1775. During this session Congress organized the Continental army and approved an invasion of Canada, moves that foreshadowed the final break with Great Britain. Perhaps it was no coincidence that Middleton, who preferred to moderate any steps toward independence, refused further service in Congress. Resigning on February 16, 1776, Middleton gave way to his son Arthur, a far more outspoken and radical delegate. Thus it was Arthur, and not his father, who would affix his signature to the Declaration of Independence.
Back in South Carolina, Middleton served in the First and Second Provincial Congresses (1775–1776) and sat on the Council of Safety. Between 1776 and 1778 he served on the Legislative Council (the predecessor of the state Senate) and was twice elected to the state House of Representatives from the city parishes of St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s. Under the state’s 1778 constitution, he was elected to the Senate. When the British captured Charleston in 1780, Middleton took the protection of the crown. Despite this action, he incurred no penalty after the war, probably because his contemporaries remembered his political service and his generosity in lending more than £100,000 to the state. Middleton died in Charleston on June 13, 1784. He was buried in the chancel of the St. James Goose Creek Parish church.
Cheves, Langdon. “Middleton of South Carolina.” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 1 (July 1900): 228–62.
Edgar, Walter, and N. Louise Bailey. Biographical Directory of the South Car- olina House of Representatives. Vol. 2, The Commons House of Assembly, 1692–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977.
McCrady, Edward. The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1775–1780. New York: Macmillan, 1901.