Thomas Heyward, Jr., Patriotic Songwriter and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

heywardINHP225x298Thomas Heyward was born in St. Luke’s parish, on July 28, 1746, in the province of Old House, Beaufort Count, South Carolina. His father, Colonel Daniel Heyward, was a planter of great wealth, which he had chiefly acquired by his industry. He became the husband of Elizabeth Matthews, by whom he sired Daniel Heyward. Later, he married Elizabeth Savage, by whom he sired James, Thomas, and Elizabeth Heyward. 

Unlike many gentlemen of fortune, Mr. Heyward did not appear to idolize his possessions; at least, convinced of the importance of intellectual cultivation, he determined to bestow upon his son all the advantages which a thorough education might impart. Accordingly, the best school in the province was selected for young Heyward, who, by his diligence, became well acquainted with the Latin language, and with such other branches as were at that time taught in the most respectable provincial seminaries.

Having finished his scholastic studies, be entered the law office of a Mr. Parsons, a gentleman who at that time was distinguished for his professional learning and practical skill. On accomplishing the usual term of study, young Mr. Heyward, according to the fashion adopted by families of fortune, was sent to England to complete his legal preparation. He was entered as a student in one of the Inns of Court. Although he had in expectancy a large fortune, he devoted himself with great ardor to the study of law, emulating the diligence of those who expected to derive their subsistence from the practice of the profession.

On completing his studies in England, he commenced the tour of Europe, which occupied him several years. This was an advantage which be enjoyed beyond most of the youth of the colonies. He enjoyed a rare opportunity of contrasting the industry and simplicity of his countrymen, with the indolence, and luxury, and licentiousness, the pride and haughtiness, so prevalent on the old continent.

At length, satisfied with the observations which be had made of men and manners abroad, he returned to his native country to practice law. 

In 1775,  Heyward was elected to fill a vacancy in congress, occasioned by the recall of the distinguished John Rutledge, whose presence was required at home to assist in defending the state against a threatened invasion. At first, Heyward declined. He was, at length, induced to accept, and arrived in Philadelphia in time for the argument for American independence.

In the year 1778, Heyward was appointed a judge of the criminal courts of the new government. Soon after his elevation to the bench, he presided over a treasonable act, one where several people corresponded with the British army, which, at that time, was in the vicinity of Charleston. The treason resulted in the execution of all involved. 

In the spring of 1780, General Clinton seized the city of Charleston. Judge Heyward, who commanded a battalion was taken a prisoner of war. As he had been one of the leaders of the revolution, he and several others were transported to St. Augustine, while the other prisoners were confined on board some prison ships in the harbour of Charleston. During his absence, he suffered greatly in respect to his property; marauders robbed him and destroyed his home. His slaves were seized and carried away. Some of his slaves were afterwards reclaimed; but one hundred and thirty were lost, being transported to the sugar plantations on the island of Jamaica.

According to Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnest in Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence (Quirk Books, 2009, page 217), “While imprisoned, Heyward occupied his mind by writing songs. Imagine, then, that the sun begins to rise off the coast of Florida on the morning of 4 July 1781. Unshaven and dressed in rags, Heyward and his fellow signers stand to face the new day on the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. As the British guards try to silence them, they stand on crude bunks and belt out a tune Heyward has crafted in prison. The melody is taken from “God Save the King,” the British National Anthem. But the words have been changed to something far more American. One version of the song, entitled “God Save the Thirteen States,” begins: 

God save the Thirteen States!

Long rule the United States!

God save our States!

Make us victorious,

Happy and glorious;

No tyrants over us; 

God save our States! “

Judge Heyward, and his fellow prisoners at St. Augustine, were eventually returned to Philadelphia. On his passage, he fell overboard and had to save himself or drown.


Heyward-Washington House | Charleston Area CVB

On returning to Carolina, he resumed his judicial duties until 1798. During this interval, he acted as a member of a convention for forming the state constitution, in 1790. In the following year, he retired from all public labors and cares, except those which were attached to his commission as judge.

Judge Heyward died in March 1809, in the sixty-fourth year of his age.


Thomas Heyward, Jr.


Thomas Heyward, Jr. grave marker


Beaufort County Library 

Colonial Hall

Find a Grave

Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 440-443.

Heyward-Washington House 

Society for the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence 



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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1 Response to Thomas Heyward, Jr., Patriotic Songwriter and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

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