Jurist, scholar. Trott was born in London on January 19, 1663. His father, Samuel Trott, was a London merchant, but his mother’s name is unknown. Members of the family were closely involved with the Somers Island Company, the proprietors of Bermuda. His uncle, also named Nicholas and with whom he has sometimes been confused, was a governor of the Bahamas notorious for his dealings with pirates. Through marriage, this other Nicholas acquired a share in the Carolina proprietorship. Trott was educated at Merchant Taylors School in London and admitted to Inner Temple in 1695.
Trott arrived in South Carolina in 1699 with appointments as attorney general and naval officer after earlier service as attorney general of Bermuda, where he had married Jane Willis on September 23, 1694. In 1703 he became chief justice. The earliest South Carolina official to have been trained at the Inns of Court, Trott was both a scholar and a political power whose offices at various times also included proprietor’s deputy on council, secretary and register of the province, elected member of the Lower House of Assembly, and judge of vice admiralty. A contentious man, he reached the height of his power in 1714 when, during a visit to London, the proprietors gave him a veto over the colony’s laws and required his presence for a quorum of council. Colonial protests quickly ended this extraordinary authority given to a man who was never governor, but he and William Rhett, whose son had married Trott’s daughter Mary, continued to monopolize many of the South Carolina government offices until the revolution against proprietary government in 1719. Both men had strong ties with Richard Shelton, the long-term secretary to the proprietary board in London.
Part of Trott’s political difficulties arose from his strong support of an established Anglican church and the exclusion of dissenters from office. Trott began a codification of South Carolina law shortly after he became chief justice, but his first legal publication was a compilation of colonial laws relating to religion for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1721. His South Carolina code did not see print until 1736, when it became the first book printed in South Carolina. He published (at Oxford) a work on the Psalms in 1719 and was at work on a translation of the Hebrew text of the New Testament at the time of his death. Both Oxford University and the University of Aberdeen granted him doctorates for his publications. As vice admiralty judge, he presided over the trial of the pirate Stede Bonnet. The published proceedings of this trial became a foundation document of the literature on piracy.
After the death of his first wife, Trott married Sarah Cooke, the widow of his political ally William Rhett, on March 4, 1728. Trott died in Charleston on January 21, 1740, and was buried in St. Philip’s Churchyard.
Hogue, L. Lynn. “Nicholas Trott: Man of Law and Letters.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 76 (January 1975): 25–34.
Lesser, Charles H. South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663–1721. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1995.