Quary, Robert

1644?–October 19, 1712

In 1686 the Lords Proprietors ordered an investigation of charges that Quary had aided pirates while serving as governor.

Governor. If he is the same Robert Quary who married Mary Cocker of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, in 1670, Robert Quary was born in 1644 and attended the Inns of Court at Middle Temple. In any case, he immigrated to South Carolina from England in 1684 with his (second?) wife “Madm Sarah Quary” and eleven servants. He arrived bearing commissions as clerk of court and deputy of the new proprietor Thomas Amy of London. The Lords Proprietors of Carolina also referred to Quary as “Capt.” and urged Sir Richard Kyrle, their governor, to leave him militarily in charge of Charleston when the governor was absent. In 1685 they commissioned Quary as the colony’s receiver and escheater (the proprietary agent responsible for collecting rents, fines, and probated estates) and secretary (the colony’s chief record- ing officer for government business).

Governor Kyrle died less than a month after his arrival in 1684 and was succeeded by former governor Joseph West. Quary briefly became governor on July 12, 1685, when Governor West left the province to recoup his own precarious health. The Grand Council elected Quary interim governor, but he served only three months before former governor Joseph Morton assumed the office on specific instructions from the proprietors.

In 1686 the Lords Proprietors ordered an investigation of charges that Quary had aided pirates while serving as governor. Three times in the following years the proprietors gave their governors the power to remove Quary because of charges that he withheld and altered proprietary instructions, failed to send copies of land records to England, and continued to deal with pirates. An order removing him from all offices arrived in February 1688. His actions, if true, would have aided the colony’s anti-proprietary Goose Creek faction. In 1690 Quary joined members of that faction in supporting a coup d’état led by Seth Sothel, who claimed the governor’s office on the basis of a proprietary share that he had purchased. In the same year Sothel appointed Quary chief justice of the colony’s only functioning civil and criminal court. Quary fled to Philadelphia in 1693 after the other proprietors deposed Sothel.

With the patronage of Governor Francis Nicholson of Maryland, Quary became judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania, the Lower Counties and West New Jersey in 1697, and he succeeded Edward Randolph as Her Majesty’s surveyor general of customs in America in 1702. In 1709 this position was divided into two, with a surveyor for the northern colonies and another for the southern ones, the latter of which Quary retained. Quary also served on the councils of New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. A strong supporter of the royal prerogative and opponent of proprietary governments, Quary has been described in a dissertation as “a political man on the make.” Quary died on October 19, 1712, in Virginia, where he was awaiting the next fleet for a visit back to England. Aside from some charitable bequests, he left his widow Sarah as his sole heir.

Lesser, Charles H. South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663–1721. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1995.

Papenfuse, Edward C., et al. A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635–1789. 2 vols. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979–1985.

Ronda, James P. “Robert Quary in America.” Ph.D. diss., University of Nebraska, 1970.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Quary, Robert
  • Coverage 1644?–October 19, 1712
  • Author
  • Keywords Governor, colonial politician
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date June 18, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 15, 2022
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