Moultrie achieved national fame on June 28, 1776, when he successfully defended Fort Sullivan against a British attack and saved Charleston from capture. Other units contributed to the defense, but it was the famous palmetto-log and sand fort and Moultrie’s command of four hundred men and thirty cannons that became forever associated with the victory.
Soldier, governor. Moultrie was born in Charleston on November 23, 1730, the son of physician John Moultrie and Lucretia Cooper. He married Damaris Elizabeth de St. Julien on December 10, 1749, and acquired a large plantation in St. John’s Berkeley Parish, where he resided. Three children were born to this union, one dying in infancy. Moultrie later married Hannah Motte Lynch, the widow of Thomas Lynch, in October 1779. They had no children.
In 1752, at the age of twenty-one, Moultrie won election to the Commons House of Assembly from St. John’s Berkeley Parish. Over the next four decades Moultrie was a fixture in South Carolina government, representing various lowcountry parishes in royal, revolutionary, and state assemblies almost continually until his retirement from public office in 1794. Equally active in the military, Moultrie served in campaigns against the Cherokees in 1759 and 1760–1761, and attained the rank of colonel of militia by 1774. When the Revolutionary War began the following year, the Second Provincial Congress elected Moultrie as colonel of the Second South Carolina Regiment of Foot. He also designed what has been called the first American battle flag: an indigo blue field with a white crescent in the upper left corner and possibly the word “Liberty” stitched in the center.
Moultrie achieved national fame on June 28, 1776, when he successfully defended Fort Sullivan against a British attack and saved Charleston from capture. Other units contributed to the defense, but it was the famous palmetto-log and sand fort and Moultrie’s command of four hundred men and thirty cannons that became forever associated with the victory. Moultrie became an instant hero, thanked by Congress, and the fort was renamed Fort Moultrie in his honor. Soon thereafter, when his regiment became part of the Continental Line, Moultrie was promoted to brigadier general. Moultrie enjoyed further success later in the war. In February 1779, at the Battle of Port Royal Island, Moultrie dislodged the British from the Beaufort region. The following May he saved Charleston again by skillfully delaying a British advance up the coast from Savannah. However, when the British returned to South Carolina the following year, another successful defense of Charleston proved impossible. Serving as second in command to General Benjamin Lincoln, Moultrie vigorously opposed the city’s surrender. After Charleston fell in May 1780, Moultrie was imprisoned at Haddrell’s Point and later was sent to Philadelphia, where he was exchanged in early 1782. Returning to active duty, Moultrie held the rank of major general at the end of the war.
Resuming a role in politics, Moultrie returned to the General Assembly in 1783. Two years later, on May 10, 1785, he was elected governor. He served until 1787, during which time his legislative and military experience helped greatly in dealing with difficult post-war issues: establishing the state’s credit, reorganizing the militia, improving internal navigation, managing the exodus of banished Tories, creating a county court system, and relocating the state capital from Charleston to Columbia. After additional service in the state Senate, Moultrie began a second tenure in the governor’s chair in 1792. It proved to be a tumultuous term. Alexander Moultrie, his half brother and longtime state attorney general, was impeached for financial misconduct in 1792. The governor drew fire for his public support of the French Revolution and its emissary in Charleston, Edmond Genét, who had attempted to license privateers and recruit volunteers to retake Louisiana from Spain for France. Criticism from state legislators and the Washington administration ended Genét’s efforts and forced Moultrie to issue a proclamation forbidding South Carolinians from enlisting in such expeditions.
Leaving office in 1794, Moultrie retired to his plantation in St. John’s Berkeley Parish. Aside from political and military service, Moultrie was actively involved in various organizations. He participated in the South Carolina Society and the St. Andrew’s Society for nearly fifty years. He helped found the South Carolina Jockey Club in 1758 and the Washington Race Course in Charleston in 1792. In addition, Moultrie served as president of the state Society of the Cincinnati from its inception in 1783 until his death. In 1802 Moultrie published his Memoirs of the American Revolution, which remains a classic source on the war. He died in Charleston on September 27, 1805.
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.
Klein, Rachel N. Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760–1808. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Moultrie, William. Memoirs of the American Revolution. 1802. Reprint, New York: New York Times, 1968.
Nadelhaft, Jerome J. The Disorders of War: The Revolution in South Carolina. Orono: University of Maine Press, 1981.