Governor. Vanderhorst, the son of Arnoldus Vanderhorst and Elizabeth Simons, was born on March 21, 1748, in Christ Church Parish. He wed Elizabeth Raven on March 5, 1771, and the union produced at least six children. A successful planter and slaveholder, Vanderhorst owned a 1,350-acre plantation on Kiawah Island as well as substantial landholdings elsewhere in South Carolina.
Vanderhorst’s public career began in 1772 when he was elected to the Thirtieth Royal Assembly by Christ Church Parish. He was reelected three times before that body was dissolved in 1775. As the Revolutionary War approached, he demonstrated his patriotic sympathies by serving on the Committee of Ninety-Nine (1774) and representing his home parish in the First (1775) and Second (1775–1776) Provincial Congresses. During the war, Vanderhorst served as a militia captain at Haddrell’s Point (1776) and as a colonel under General Francis Marion (1782).
Following the war, Vanderhorst spent most of his time in Charleston. He operated a mercantile firm and came to own considerable property around the city. He also became an active figure in civic affairs, serving twice as intendant mayor for Charleston (1785– 1786, 1791) and as a trustee for the College of Charleston (1785–1791). Still a landowner in Christ Church, he represented that parish in the General Assembly nine times between 1776 and 1794, twice in the House and seven times in the Senate. Aligning himself with Charleston’s strong Federalist contingent, Vanderhorst joined his lowcountry colleagues in resisting upcountry demands for legislative reapportionment and opposing the relocation of the capital from Charleston to Columbia, which he sarcastically dubbed “Town of Refuge,” believing that the remote inland location would make the new capital a haven for outlaws.
Vanderhorst’s Federalist connections, particularly the powerful Rutledge-Pinckney faction, led to his election as governor on December 17, 1794. Although serving as governor of a state rife with sectionalism and partisanship, Vanderhorst managed to set aside his personal biases and provide South Carolina with positive leadership. He requested improvement of state jail facilities and sought revision of the criminal code, proposing “instead of the indiscriminate punishment of death …inflict a long or short term of solitary confinement on the offenders, in some measure proportionate to their crime.” An advocate of public education, Vanderhorst urged the General Assembly to establish schools throughout the state to diffuse “knowledge and information” so that “morals and virtue” might “adorn and characterize the citizens of South Carolina.” Also, with Indian troubles in the West and the threat of war with Britain and France looming over the state and nation, Vanderhorst pushed the state to attend to its defenses, placing a priority on the protection of both Charleston and the frontier. At the close of his term as governor in 1796, Vanderhorst still held his party’s favor and was selected to act as a presidential elector for John Adams.
Following his gubernatorial term, Vanderhorst served a final term in the House as a representative for St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s Parishes (1798–1799). He died in Charleston on January 29, 1815, and was buried in St. Michael’s Churchyard.
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.