Montagu, Lord Charles Greville

May 29, 1741–February 3, 1784

Montagu convinced several Carolinians that “it was not impossible for a Man to be too great a Fool to make a good Governor.”

Governor. Born on May 29, 1741, the second son of Robert Montagu, third duke of Manchester, Charles attended Christ Church College, Oxford. He represented Huntingdonshire in the British House of Commons from 1762 to 1765 and in the latter year married Elizabeth Balmer of the same shire. Appointed governor of South Carolina by the Rockingham administration, Montagu arrived in Charleston in June 1766. Granting clemency to several convicted outlaws signaled his good intentions but contributed to the Regulator movement, in which backcountry men inflicted summary justice on wrongdoers. Touring the area in 1769, Montagu informed himself sufficiently to sign the act establishing circuit courts, acquire upcountry acreage for himself, and eventually pardon the Regulators. In July 1769, shortly after South Carolina had joined the nonimportation movement against the Townshend duties, he sailed for England.

His farewell was cordial, but he quickly squandered local goodwill after his return to Charleston in September 1771. Montagu soon convinced several Carolinians that “it was not impossible for a Man to be too great a Fool to make a good Governor.” Lacking quarters in town, Montagu commuted from Fort Johnson by boat, while a local satirist ridiculed him for the cannon salutes that heralded his passing. More sympathetic men from Beaufort, he later claimed, offered to build him a house if he moved the capital there, and Montagu visited the area in the spring of 1772.

Meanwhile, he confronted more serious problems in Charleston. One involved a customs collector who successfully defied the governor’s orders; the other was an impending conflict with the Commons House of Assembly. In December 1769, while he had been in England, the Commons House had sent £1,500 sterling to London for the use of the opposition politician John Wilkes. Colonial authorities countered with an instruction requiring all future tax bills to include specified restrictions on the use of the funds. But the Commons House had long considered the control of taxation to be its most fundamental right. Accordingly, the Commons House refused to accept the instruction, deadlock ensued, and no tax act passed the legislature for the last six years of the colonial period.

Montagu’s subsequent actions made matters worse. Hoping to resolve his political and personal problems in a single stroke, he ignored contrary advice and called the assembly to meet at Beaufort instead of Charleston in October 1772. Leaders of the Commons House from Charleston, he assumed, would be late in arriving; Beaufort members would cooperate in the hope of permanently obtaining the capital; and passage of a tax bill acceptable to the ministry would be the result. But a belated cautionary note from London advised him to be conciliatory, so he met the assembly at Beaufort and sent it back to Charleston before it could proceed to business. “No Measure of any Governor,” the South-Carolina Gazette reported, “was ever more freely and generally condemned.” After the legislature censured him, he dissolved it and called new elections. Reelected members then promptly chose the same Speaker, and Montagu again abruptly dissolved them. Having lost control of the situation, he precipitously sailed for England in March 1773 and soon thereafter resigned the governorship.

Montagu faced problems well beyond his control, but his own blunders increased them exponentially. In particular, moving the meeting of the legislature to Beaufort alienated local leaders, and it–with a similar measure in Massachusetts–would appear in the Declaration of Independence as part of the evidence against King George III, whose representatives had “called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

Montagu’s later career presents a puzzle. After returning to England, he made an unsuccessful run for Parliament in 1774. After the Revolutionary War began, an apocryphal story suggests that Montagu offered his services to the American agent in Paris, Benjamin Franklin. The tale is implausible, but not impossible. Still, Montagu became a captain in the Eighty-eighth British Regiment of Foot on December 12, 1780. Sent to British-occupied Charleston, he recruited nearly five hundred American prisoners of war for service against the French and Spanish in the Caribbean. Though his old friend General William Moultrie refused to defect, Montagu’s success was sufficient to prompt a repeat performance, and he soon filled a second battalion with prisoners from New York. But the war was almost over, and in November 1783 his regiment was ordered disbanded. Most of his men settled in Nova Scotia, where Montagu died on February 3, 1784. He was buried in St. Paul Churchyard, Halifax.

Davis, Robert Scott, Jr. “Lord Montagu’s Mission to South Carolina in 1781: American POWs for the King’s Service in Jamaica.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 84 (April 1983): 89–109.

Greene, Jack P. “Bridge to Revolution: The Wilkes Fund Controversy in South Carolina, 1769–1775.” Journal of Southern History 29 (February 1963): 19–52.

Watson, Alan D. “The Beaufort Removal and the Revolutionary Impulse in South Carolina.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 84 (July 1983): 121–35.

Weir, Robert M. Colonial South Carolina: A History. 1983. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Montagu, Lord Charles Greville
  • Coverage May 29, 1741–February 3, 1784
  • Author
  • Keywords Governor, Appointed governor of South Carolina by the Rockingham administration, resigned and returned to England, unsuccessful run for Parliament in 1774,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date April 21, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 15, 2022
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