Guest Author - Nick Greene
Thomas Heyward, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, built his home around 1770 on Church Street, currently number 87. It is believed that this was the oldest and highest ground within the old walled city of Charleston.
In 1775, Heyward, a prominent attorney in Charleston, was called upon to fill the vacancy in congress left by John Rutledge, who had returned home to Charleston to protect his home from a threatened invasion. After first declining, Thomas eventually accepted his calling.
After returning home, he was appointed as a judge in Charleston, by the fledgling government of the United States. During this tenure, he made himself an enemy of the British, who were encamped nearby in siege, by executing several persons accused of treasonous correspondence with the enemy. When Charleston fell to the British in 1780, he was made a prisoner of war and sent to St Augustine where he remained for most of the war.
Judge Heyward suffered great losses to his property during his absence. His plantation was raided by marauders, and many of his slaves lost. Upon his return, though, he resumed his position as judge until he retired in 1798.
In 1791, George Washington's travels, as the president of this young nation, brought him to the city of Charleston. His journal entry of May 2nd says, "...at the wharf I was met by the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the two Senators of the State, Wardens of the City and conducted to the Exchange...From thence I was conducted in the like manner to my lodgings..." Those lodgings were the city home of Thomas Heyward, which the city had leased for his use.
During his stay in Charleston, Washington dined with a number of prominent citizens, including Governor Charles Pinckney and Mrs. Elizabeth Rutledge, wife of John. He was feted by the citizens at the Exchange Building and by the Society of the Cincinnati at Edward McCrady's Tavern. He also toured the forts Johnson and Moultrie, where the first decisive victory of the Revolution occurred.
Thomas Heyward, Jr. remained a prominent citizen of Charleston until his death in March of 1809.
Today, the Heyward-Washington House is maintained by the Charleston Museum. It's the only eighteenth century home in Charleston with a kitchen open to the public. Its formal gardens, maintained by the Garden Club of Charleston, is filled with plant-life, which was available locally during Heyward's lifetime. The home is primarily known, though, for its incredible collection of furniture. Showcasing the work of many of the fine English trained cabinetmakers that were building furniture in Charleston during that period, this collection contains works considered by many to be some of the finest pieces of American furniture ever crafted.
87 Church Street
Charleston, SC 29403
Telephone: (843) 722-0354