Overburdened by his public and private duties, Lowndes experienced declining health, and he resigned as provost marshal in June 1754.
Jurist, governor. Lowndes was born in 1721 on St. Kitts in the West Indies, the son of Charles Lowndes and Ruth Rawlins. In 1730 the family migrated to South Carolina, where Lowndes’s extravagant father fell into financial ruin and committed suicide in May 1736. His youngest sons, Charles and Rawlins, became wards of South Carolina’s provost marshal Robert Hall. Under Hall’s tutelage, Rawlins Lowndes learned the intricacies of South Carolina’s legal system. In 1745 Lowndes followed his mentor’s footsteps and became provost marshal, the chief law enforcement officer of the colony.
On August, 15, 1748, Lowndes married Amarinthia Elliott, whose dowry brought him a plantation on Stono River in St. Paul’s Parish. He now qualified for a seat in the Commons House of Assembly and was elected in 1749. After Amarinthia died in childbirth in January 1750, Lowndes acquired Horseshoe Plantation in St. Bartholomew’s Parish and thereafter represented that parish in the assembly for most of the following twenty-five years. He was married two more times: to Mary Cartwright on December 23, 1751 (she died in 1770); and to Sarah Jones from January 1773 until his death. These unions produced seven and three children respectively.
Overburdened by his public and private duties, Lowndes experienced declining health, and he resigned as provost marshal in June 1754. He sailed to England to recover his health, returning to South Carolina in December 1755. After his arrival Lowndes rose to prominence in the Commons House of Assembly and held several important committee assignments. In September 1763 the assembly elected Lowndes to the Speaker’s chair, where he defended the assembly’s prerogatives against encroachments from royal governors, the upper house, and the ministry in England. A political moderate, Lowndes apparently was not daring enough for his colleagues, who replaced him with Peter Manigault in October 1765.
In February 1766 Lowndes was appointed assistant judge, a position he held for six years, and he took legal positions that won him praise. He argued that South Carolina’s courts should be opened, despite the Stamp Act’s provision that legal documents bear the required stamps. In 1773 Lowndes ruled that the upper house, or Royal Council, composed of placemen who served at the pleasure of the crown, was not equivalent to the British House of Lords. This argument struck a devastating political blow against the Royal Council’s prestige and marked the high point of Lowndes’s public career.
In October 1772 Lowndes was again elected Speaker of the Commons House of Assembly, and he retained that post until the dissolution of royal government in 1775. A reluctant revolutionary, Lowndes hoped for an accommodation between the colonies and Britain and reportedly reacted to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense with a stream of profanities. Nevertheless, he held important posts in the early years of the Revolutionary War, serving in the Provincial Congress and on the Council of Safety. When John Rutledge resigned as president (governor) of South Carolina in March 1778 to protest the proposed state constitution, the legislature elected Lowndes.
Lowndes’s brief tenure as president proved frustrating. Perhaps influenced by his long service in the legislative branch, he was reluctant to use the powers of his office. Preferring to keep South Carolina’s supplies and militia for state use only, Lowndes did not fully cooperate with Continental army generals Robert Howe and Benjamin Lincoln in their efforts to defend the lower South from British attacks. Lowndes retired to private life in February 1779 and thereafter played no major role in the Revolution.
Lowndes suffered extensive property losses during the British occupation of South Carolina. In late 1780 he petitioned to be restored to the rights of a British subject. Though the South Carolina state legislature did not confiscate Lowndes’s property because of this decision, he was stripped of his full citizenship until the summer of 1783.
Lowndes’s last major public act occurred while he was representing the city parishes in the S.C. House from 1787 to 1790. In 1788 he argued against ratification of the federal constitution and predicted that the South, as a minority section reliant on slavery, would be at the mercy of northern commercial interests. He was elected to his final public office in 1788, serving one term as intendant (mayor) of Charleston. In his final decade, Lowndes recouped the financial losses he had incurred during the Revolution. After a brief illness, he died in Charleston on August 24, 1800, and was buried in St. Philip’s Churchyard.
Vipperman, Carl J. The Rise of Rawlins Lowndes, 1721–1800. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1978.