During the 1770s Bull’s political views grew increasingly out of step as South Carolina and other colonies moved toward radical opposition to the crown. Lord William Campbell, the last royal governor, arrived at Charleston on June 18, 1775, and took office, but his term lasted only three months. On September 15 he was forced to flee the city for refuge on a British warship in Charleston harbor. The revolution was under way, and Bull’s position was an impossible one. He resigned from the Royal Council and retired to his Ashley Hall plantation. In 1777 he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the revolutionary government and was banished from the state.
Lieutenant governor. Bull was born on September 24, 1710, at Ashley Hall Plantation, the son of William Bull (1683–1755) and Mary Quintyne. He was educated in London, England, at Westminster School and received an M.D. degree at Leyden University in the Netherlands. Bull was the first native-born American to earn a doctor of medicine degree. He did not establish a professional medical practice, but rather had a prolific career as a planter-politician.
Bull followed his father into politics when he was elected to the Commons House of Assembly for St. Andrew’s Parish (1736). For thirteen years he represented St. John’s Berkeley, St. Bartholomew’s, and Prince William’s Parishes. While a member and occasional Speaker of the House, he collaborated with his father, a member of the Royal Council, to expand colonial authority. In 1749 he joined the Royal Council. Ten years later, in 1759, Bull became president of the Council and lieutenant governor, and he held that post until his political career ended in 1775. During that period he was acting governor on five occasions, for a total of eight years of service. Bull opposed William Henry Lyttelton’s Cherokee War policies, and when Lyttelton left the province in 1760, Bull started negotiations to end the war.
Bull’s second term as acting governor (1764–1766) coincided with the Stamp Act crisis in the American colonies. He was not a strong supporter of the act but dutifully performed his job as a royal appointee. He clashed with radical members of the Commons House, including his brothers-in-law, Henry Middleton and John Drayton, and suffered the opprobrium of Charleston’s Sons of Liberty. Despite difficulties, he was able to steer a course between the opposing factions. He negotiated the reopening of the Port of Charleston and the colonial courts, which had been closed by boycotts and the fear of mob violence if tax stamps were sold. Bull encouraged the expansion of the colony into the backcountry. As lieutenant and acting governor, he took a conciliatory approach to the Regulator movement and supported the creation of new parishes (election districts), schools, and courts in the backcountry.
During the 1770s Bull’s political views grew increasingly out of step as South Carolina and other colonies moved toward radical opposition to the crown. The year 1775 was one of crisis in Bull’s life and in the independence movement in South Carolina. Henry Middleton was president of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and the Provincial Congress of South Carolina began to organize for independence. Its Council of Safety, which included among its members Henry Laurens, William Henry Drayton, and Arthur Middleton, planned to take over the executive duties of a revolutionary government. Lord William Campbell, the last royal governor, arrived at Charleston on June 18, 1775, and took office, but his term lasted only three months. On September 15 he was forced to flee the city for refuge on a British warship in Charleston harbor. The revolution was under way, and Bull’s position was an impossible one. He resigned from the Royal Council and retired to his Ashley Hall plantation. In 1777 he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the revolutionary government and was banished from the state. He executed deeds of trust and powers of attorney to his nephew Stephen Bull and other revolutionaries for his properties, then left for England on May 4, 1777.
Charleston was captured by British forces in May 1780, and in February 1781 Bull returned home. He became intendant general on the Board of Police, the body that governed occupied Charleston. He vainly sought clemency for the captured patriot Colonel Isaac Hayne, who was hanged by the British for breaking his parole. Despite his mediating actions, the General Assembly ordered Bull’s property confiscated as punishment for his collaboration with the occupiers. His plantations, slaves, and personal property were appraised at £51,554 sterling. When the British evacuated Charleston in December 1782, Bull sailed back to England into a second, permanent exile. Despite his efforts to return to South Carolina after the Revolution, he was unsuccessful. He recovered his properties, and his name was removed, post facto, from the list of banished Loyalists. William Bull died in London on July 4, 1791, and was buried in St. Andrews Holburn Church, London. He was survived by his wife, Hannah Beale, daughter of Othniel Beale, whom he had wed on August 17, 1746. The couple had no children, and his considerable estate was divided among the children of his siblings.
Bull, Kinloch, Jr. The Oligarchs in Colonial and Revolutionary Charleston: Lieutenant Governor William Bull II and His Family. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991.
Edgar, Walter, and N. Louise Bailey, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 2, The Commons House of Assembly, 1692–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977.
Meroney, Geraldine M. Inseparable Loyalty: A Biography of William Bull. Norcross, Ga.: Harrison, 1991.
Sirmans, M. Eugene. “Masters of Ashley Hall: A Biographical Study of the Bull Family of Colonial South Carolina, 1670–1737.” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1959.