'So far as number and rank apply': Social Status and Prisoners of War in the Revolutionary South, 1779-1782

Richard H. Tomzcak, SUNY Brockport

Description

On May 12, 1780, Charleston formally surrendered to the British Army. The Continental Army’s southern divisions, the militia, and the French garrison at Charleston lost 5,618 prisoners to the British. Furthermore, the British considered the civilians inhabiting Charleston as subject to the policies governing prisoners of war. Civilians taken prisoner included prominent members of the South Carolina gentry, such as Lieutenant Governor Christopher Gadsden, representatives of South Carolina to the Second Continental Congress Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge, and General William Moultrie.

The southern gentry imprisoned at Charleston attempted to retain their role as the social, political, and cultural elite. Stemming from the gentry’s leadership on the mustering field, southern officers felt a deep contractual obligation to the soldiers under their guidance, and led escapes to rejoin their men. Prisoners also sought to preserve business relationships by holding social appointments. Acting as political leaders, members of the South Carolina assembly broke parole, convened secret assembly meetings, and undermined British authority by encouraging loyalist militia units to desert. In an attempt to preserve their economic independence, prisoners corresponded with their estates emphasizing the upkeep of their plantations, named acting executors to their plantations in their absence, and purchased items that allowed for a comfortable lifestyle. To exhibit individual autonomy, prisoners practiced occupational habits and participated in celebrations unique to the colonial South.

 
Apr 26th, 2:30 PM

'So far as number and rank apply': Social Status and Prisoners of War in the Revolutionary South, 1779-1782

Edwards 102

On May 12, 1780, Charleston formally surrendered to the British Army. The Continental Army’s southern divisions, the militia, and the French garrison at Charleston lost 5,618 prisoners to the British. Furthermore, the British considered the civilians inhabiting Charleston as subject to the policies governing prisoners of war. Civilians taken prisoner included prominent members of the South Carolina gentry, such as Lieutenant Governor Christopher Gadsden, representatives of South Carolina to the Second Continental Congress Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge, and General William Moultrie.

The southern gentry imprisoned at Charleston attempted to retain their role as the social, political, and cultural elite. Stemming from the gentry’s leadership on the mustering field, southern officers felt a deep contractual obligation to the soldiers under their guidance, and led escapes to rejoin their men. Prisoners also sought to preserve business relationships by holding social appointments. Acting as political leaders, members of the South Carolina assembly broke parole, convened secret assembly meetings, and undermined British authority by encouraging loyalist militia units to desert. In an attempt to preserve their economic independence, prisoners corresponded with their estates emphasizing the upkeep of their plantations, named acting executors to their plantations in their absence, and purchased items that allowed for a comfortable lifestyle. To exhibit individual autonomy, prisoners practiced occupational habits and participated in celebrations unique to the colonial South.