The South Carolina Estate Confiscation Act of 26 February 1782

Introduction By Phil Norfleet

In January 1782, even though the British still retained control of the area around Charles Town, the South Carolina Whig government boldly convened its General Assembly at Jacksonburgh (Jackson borough), a village on the Edisto River, about thirty miles west of Charles Town.  Governor John Rutledge opened the proceedings with a stirring speech that reviewed the trials through which the state had passed during the British occupation and called for renewed efforts to raise and maintain the force necessary to expel the invaders. Furthermore, the Governor called for the confiscation of the property of those individuals who had aided the British.  Rutledge suggested four classes of persons who were fit subjects for such confiscation; these four categories were very similar to the exception categories he had defined in his offer of pardon that he had made in September 1781 to SC Loyalists.

Over the next six weeks the General Assembly debated the terms of such legislation and which specific individuals should suffer such penalties. British control of Charles Town and the nearby coastal islands made it impossible for many members chosen from those lowland parishes, to attend. Therefore, members from the interior and the more distant coastal parishes were in the unusual position of legislating a confiscation policy that would fall with special force on the property of Charles Town loyalists and collaborators.  Also, the more important militia leaders, such as Marion and Sumter, were able to strongly influence this legislation, particularly in the Senate - a body that rarely had more than half of its elected members in attendance.

I believe that revenge was a strong motive among these legislators.  They were aware of the suffering that the war had brought to the SC Backcountry and they were not very sympathetic to the current plight of the Loyalists in and near Charles Town.  Even so, I think that the primary motive for Loyalist Estate confiscations was the urgent need for money!  The Whig Government was totally bankrupt and any proposal that could generate needed revenues would be readily adopted.

The House was the first legislative body to consider the matter of confiscating loyalist property; committees were established and specific names of prominent Loyalists considered.  The House committees considered as many as 700 individuals during the course of its work. Ultimately a reduced list of 118 names was sent to the Senate. Also sent to the Senate was a motion that allowed for the amercement of "Persons whose conduct was not considered sufficiently criminal to merit confiscation." Those amerced would be required to pay a fine in lieu of forfeiting their estates or suffering banishment from the state.

The smaller Senate debated the bill as a "Committee of the Whole" and doubled the number of estates marked for confiscation. The confiscated estates were grouped into the four categories that Governor Rutledge had recommended, with one addition, persons who had "petitioned to be embodied as royal militia."  After several days spent in reconciling the House and Senate versions, a final bill was submitted and passed by both houses on  26 February 1782.

The Confiscation Act of 26 February 1782 was actually a bill of attainder.  The act, South Carolina Number 1153, confiscated the real and personal property of more than 200 persons, listed in six categories (see next section below). Of the persons named in the act, eighty-five had been contributed by the House, eighty by the Senate; more than 60 other names were added during the deliberations of the various committees during the legislative process.

An Amercement Act was also passed on 26 February 1782.  This act cited forty-seven persons who had accepted British protection, although "bearing high and important trusts and commissions" from the state, or who had subscribed money to equip the South Carolina Royalists as cavalry.  These people were fined 12 percent of the appraised value of their estates. In addition, a Pardon Act was passed that required persons who had not met the terms of Governor Rutledge's pardon proclamation of September 1781, but who had since performed military service for the state, to pay a fine of 10 percent in specie or in slaves.

To implement the confiscation legislation, special commissioners were appointed to seize and sell the affected Loyalist estates. These "Commissioners of Forfeited Estates" conducted the first sales during the summer of 1782:  auctioning land and personal property at Jacksonburgh in May, at Pocotaligo; in June, at Georgetown; and again at Jacksonburgh in August.

Essay References

1.  History of South Carolina in the Revolution 1780-1783  by Edward McCrady (published 1902), pages 555-588.

2.  South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution by Robert Stansbury Lambert (published 1987), pages 237-240.

3.  Unification of a Slave State by Rachel N. Klein (published 1990), pages 120-122.


Lists of Loyalist Estates to be confiscated

The Royal Gazette, a Loyalist newspaper then being published in Charlestown, monitored the proceedings at Jacksonburgh.  The newspaper first printed Rutledge's address, and later, on 20 March 1782, published lists of the persons purportedly named in the Confiscation Act.  These 227 names, in the six confiscation categories, are provided at this hyperlink.

The specific names of the Loyalists affected by the South Carolina legislative acts of 26 February 1782 were appended to the official copies of the legislation. Unfortunately, these lists were omitted from the official published version of these acts, i.e., the work by Thomas Cooper and David J. McCord (published in 1836-1841) entitled The Statutes at Large of South Carolina (Volume 4, Part 2).  The authors subsequently corrected this omission by adding these lists to Appendix 2 of Volume 6, Part 2.  The Cooper and McCord (C&G) version of the lists contains a total of 238 names (11 more names than those published in the Royal Gazette).  The C&G lists are provided at this hyperlink.

Biographical sketches for seven men included in the above cited lists are provided at this web site.  All seven are found in list/class number 5 and have been highlighted in red on the listings.

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