Loyalist. Wragg was born in South Carolina, the son of Samuel Wragg and Marie DuBosc. His father was a prosperous merchant and influential member of the Royal Council. William benefited from his father’s wealth and influence and was educated in England at Westminster, St. John’s College, Oxford, and the Middle Temple. Called to the English Bar in 1733, he practiced law until he returned to South Carolina about the time of his father’s death. In England he married Mary Wood, and the union produced one son. Mary Wragg died in 1767, and William married his cousin Henrietta Wragg on February 5, 1769. His second marriage produced four children.
When Samuel Wragg died in 1750, William inherited substantial property, including the 6,000-acre Ashley Barony, a Charleston townhouse, 6,900 acres on the Pee Dee River, and three plantations: River Settlement, Middle Settlement, and Wampee. In 1777 Wragg’s estate included 7,100 acres and 256 slaves with an appraised value of £36,359 sterling.
Wragg continued his father’s tradition of public service. Named to the Royal Council in 1753, he supported the council in its controversies with the Commons House over the tax bill. Wragg became the spokesman for the council and for the crown as the ultimate source of authority. Ironically, in an attempt to appease the Commons House, Governor William Henry Lyttleton asked the crown to suspend Wragg because of his vociferous support of the crown. On December 6, 1757, Wragg was suspended, and he was later removed.
In 1758 St. John’s Colleton Parish elected Wragg to the Commons House of Assembly, where he would represent the parish until 1768. He declined further service because he did not support the Massachusetts and Virginia Resolutions. St. Helena’s Parish elected him in 1773, but again he refused to serve. During his time in the Commons House, Wragg consistently supported the prerogatives of the British crown. He opposed the actions of the Stamp Act Congress. In 1769 he published “Reasons for Not Concurring in the Non-Importation Resolution” in the South-Carolina Gazette. He also protested the erection of a statue honoring William Pitt, suggesting one of King George III instead. In 1769 Wragg declined appointment as chief justice for South Carolina because he did not wish to profit from his devotion to the crown. He also declined reappointment to the Royal Council.
In 1775 Wragg refused to sign the Non-Importation Association or to recognize the authority of the Continental Congress. Confined to his plantation, Wragg refused to take an oath of abjuration in 1777. Banished from South Carolina, Wragg left his wife and daughters and sailed for Amsterdam in July. On September 2, 1777, his ship, the Commerce, foundered off the coast of Holland. Wragg drowned trying to save the life of his son.
The English honored Wragg’s loyalty with a tablet in his memory–the first erected for an American. Now in Westminster Abbey, the inscription is a fitting tribute to his devotion to England: “In Him, Strong natural Parts, improved by Education, together with Love of Justice and Humanity, Formed the compleat character of A Good Man.”
Edgar, Walter B., 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.