As a delegate, Mathews served on several important committees, including as chairman of the Committee at Headquarters, which worked closely with General George Washington to supply and organize the army.
Governor. Mathews was born in Charleston in 1744, the only son of John Mathews and Sarah Gibbes. In 1764 he began the study of law at the Middle Temple in London. Shortly thereafter he returned to South Carolina, where he clerked for Charles Pinckney before his admission to the bar in 1766. Later that year he married Mary Wragg. They had one son.
Mathews entered public service in 1767, when St. Helena’s Parish elected him to the Commons House of Assembly. St. John’s Colleton Parish returned Mathews in 1772, but he did not become a legislative mainstay until elected to the First and Second Provincial Congresses in 1775 by St. George’s Dorchester Parish. Between 1776 and 1790 Mathews served in the first eight General Assemblies, representing at different times St. George’s Dorchester Parish and the Charleston parishes of St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s. Mathews was chosen the first Speaker of the House of Representatives under the constitution of 1778 but left the position after being elected a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was reelected to additional terms in 1779 and 1780.
As a delegate, Mathews served on several important committees, including as chairman of the Committee at Headquarters, which worked closely with General George Washington to supply and organize the army. Mathews was instrumental in securing the appointment of Nathanael Greene as commander of the Southern Department of the Continental army in December 1780. He also thwarted efforts to sacrifice South Carolina and Georgia to gain independence for the other colonies.
Mathews left Congress in December 1781 and returned home. He attended the legislative session at Jacksonborough, where he was elected governor on January 29, 1782. Mathews faced several serious problems: the state was economically devastated; the Continental army in South Carolina was in disrepair; and the British controlled Charleston. Furthermore, the legislature sought to confiscate Loyalist property, a move with which Mathews disagreed. He started the work of reconstructing South Carolina with a census of the state, necessary for future taxation. To augment white troops available for combat, he favored raising a noncombat corps of African laborers, but the measure was rejected by the General Assembly. Finally, on December 14, 1782, Mathews presided over the reoccupation of Charleston by American forces, ending the British threat to South Carolina.
Mathews was succeeded as governor by Benjamin Guerard on February 4, 1783. Mathews’s one year in office was the shortest full term of any South Carolina governor. He remained active in the legislature during the 1780s, and in 1784 he was elected as chancellor of the court of chancery. He served on that court and the court of law and equity until 1797. He served as a trustee of the College of Charleston and helped found the St. George’s Club, which encouraged the breeding of good horses. In 1799, following the death of his first wife, he married Sarah Rutledge, sister of John and Edward Rutledge. Mathews died in Charleston on October 26, 1802.
Horne, Paul A., Jr. “Forgotten Leaders: South Carolina’s Delegation to the Continental Congress, 1774–1789.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1988.
–––. “The Governorship of John Mathews, 1782–1783.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1982.
Nadelhaft, Jerome J. The Disorders of War: The Revolution in South Carolina. Orono: University of Maine Press, 1981.