For taking up arms after acknowledging himself a subject of the crown, Hayne was charged with treason and hanged by the British on August 4, 1781.
Legislator, soldier. Hayne was born in Colleton County on September 23, 1745, the son of Isaac Hayne and Sarah Williamson. After his father’s death in 1751, Hayne inherited Hayne Hall, a nine-hundred-acre plantation in St. Bartholomew’s Parish. He expanded his property holdings to include two more plantations, Sycamore and Pearhill; land in the backcountry and in Georgia; town lots in Charleston and Beaufort; and an interest in an ironworks in York District. On July 18, 1765, Hayne married Elizabeth Hutson. They had seven children. He represented St. Bartholomew’s Parish in the Commons House of Assembly from 1770 to 1771, and in the state Senate from 1779 to 1780.
The Revolutionary War interrupted Hayne’s life as a wealthy planter. At the onset of hostilities, he was a captain in the Colleton County Regiment, but he later resigned his commission after failing to be named colonel of the regiment. Reenlisting as a private, he continued to serve until the fall of Charleston in May 1780. Paroled, he returned to Hayne Hall to sit out the remainder of the war. When the British demanded that all paroled militia return to Charleston and take an oath of allegiance, Hayne reluctantly complied after being threatened with imprisonment. The British then demanded that Hayne take up arms against the patriots. Offended by what he considered a breach of his parole agreement, Hayne refused the British demand and instead rejoined the American forces.
Commissioned a colonel and given command of a regiment, Hayne quickly returned to action. In a daring raid just miles from Charleston, he captured General Andrew Williamson, an American patriot who had later joined the British. The British reacted quickly, however, and a force commanded by Colonel Nisbet Balfour soon overtook the Americans. Hayne was captured and imprisoned in the Exchange Building in Charleston while he awaited trial. The British commander, Lord Rawdon, decided to make an example of Hayne in an attempt to discourage others from joining the patriot cause. For taking up arms after acknowledging himself a subject of the crown, Hayne was charged with treason and hanged on August 4, 1781.
A hue and cry arose over Hayne’s execution, with threats of retaliation by the patriots. Commander of the Southern Department, General Nathanael Greene, asked George Washington and Congress for guidance, both of whom urged caution. Following the surrender of the British army of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781, the South Carolina delegation to Congress made an unsuccessful motion to have the British general executed in retaliation for Hayne. Despite the calls for revenge, no British officer suffered Hayne’s fate. But comments regarding Hayne’s execution would be recorded in the ensuing years by individuals as significant as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. In 1782 the Duke of Richmond and the British House of Lords unsuccessfully attempted to censure Lord Rawdon. South Carolina author William Gilmore Simms included a character modeled after Hayne in his 1835 novel The Partisan.
Hayne was buried in Jacksonborough in the Hayne family cemetery. A monument erected in his memory called Hayne “a noble martyr in behalf of liberty.”
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.
Bowden, David K. The Execution of Isaac Hayne. Lexington, S.C.: Sandlapper Store, 1977.