Manigault rose from modest origins to become the leading merchant and private banker of colonial South Carolina.
Merchant, legislator. Manigault was born on April 21, 1704, in Charleston, the son of Pierre Manigault and Judith Giton. His parents were refugees who fled France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Throughout his life he remained a member of the French Protestant Church in Charleston, but he also owned a pew and worshiped at St. Philip’s Church. He married Ann Ashby on April 29, 1730. The marriage produced one son, Peter, who would become a leading figure in the Commons House of Assembly.
Manigault rose from modest origins to become the leading merchant and private banker of colonial South Carolina. He operated retail shops on Tradd Street selling imported wine, fabrics, and dry goods. He also owned several trading vessels, in which he exported rice, naval stores, and other domestic products. Lacking family and business ties with Britain, he traded principally with the West Indies, Philadelphia, and New York. Known to disapprove of the slave trade, Manigault was reluctant to lend money to slave dealers. On a few occasions, however, he did finance the importation of slave cargoes, and at his death he owned nearly three hundred slaves. In his business dealings and personal affairs, he was known as an honest, fair, and benevolent man. He eschewed business partnerships, preferring to conduct business by himself. In addition to trade, Manigault acquired extensive real estate holdings in Charleston and the surrounding area, including Mount Pleasant plantation (from which the present city takes its name) and Silk Hope plantation, where he experimented with silk cultivation and wine production. By the time he retired from business life in 1767, he had amassed a large fortune.
Manigault was an active member and officer of the Charleston Library Society, and for many years he housed that society’s collection and its librarian in one of his tenements. He was also a valued member of the South Carolina Society, to which he left a legacy of £5,000 sterling to fund that society’s primary school. During his civic career Manigault acted as a commissioner of public bodies, representing such matters as free schools, streets, markets, bills of credit, ferries, and the Indian trade. Between 1733 and 1754 he served in the Commons House of Assembly, representing first the parish of St. Philip’s and later St. Thomas and St. Denis Parish. He held the office of public treasurer of the province from 1735 until 1743, and the accuracy of his accounts contributed to the stability of South Carolina during these difficult years. Manigault was twice recommended by Lieutenant Governor William Bull to a place on the Royal Council, but he declined both offers. His sentiments were with the mechanics of Charleston, who would eventually argue for separation from the British crown.
Although Manigault sought to tread a conservative path in the movement toward American independence, he was also South Carolina’s principal Revolutionary War financier. Between 1776 and 1779 he lent the nascent state government a total of £652,500 (South Carolina currency), a sum far greater than was lent by any other individual. After the capitulation of Charleston to the British army in May 1780, Manigault spent his last days on his plantation in Goose Creek. He died on June 5, 1781, and was buried in St. Philip’s Parish.
Crouse, Maurice A. “Gabriel Manigault: Charleston Merchant.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 68 (October 1967): 220–31.
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.
Manigault Family. Papers. South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston.