He was the eldest son of Colonel Daniel Heyward, a wealthy and highly respected planter, and was born in the parish of St. Luke, South Carolina, in 1746. His opportunities for obtaining a liberal education were freely afforded by his father, and were faithfully improved by the son. He became ardently attached to the Greek and Roman classics, and dwelt with rapture upon the history of republican freedom The principles of rational liberty became deeply rooted in his mind at an early age, and when manhood dawned upon him they were thoroughly matured.
After completing his elemental education he commenced the study of law with Mr. Parsons, who stood high as a member of the bar. The proficiency of Mr. Heyward in that intricate science was creditable to himself and gratifying to his numerous friends. He possessed an investigating and analyzing mind, and never passed over a subject superficially. He was a close student, and explored the opening fields of civil and common law with a zeal and rapidity seldom known; When he became familiar with the principles laid down by Sir William Blackstone, and understood fully the rights secured to persons and property by Magna Charta and the British Constitution, and compared them with the iron rod of restrictions held over the colonists by the mother country, he was roused to a just indignation.
After having completed his course with Mr. Parsons, he repaired to England, and entered the middle temple, Where he became a finished lawyer and an accomplished gentleman. Although amply supplied with money, he was not led astray by the allurements of fascinating pleasures, that first flatter and please, then ruin and destroy. To enrich his mind with science and useful knowledge, was the ultimatum of his soul.
He mingled with what was termed refined society in London, which formed a striking contrast with the republican simplicity of that of the same grade in his own country. The fastidious hauteur of English etiquette was far from being congenial to his mind, and did not accord with his ideas of social life. He there met claims of superiority over native Americans that he knew were based alone upon pride and ignorance. His feelings were often wounded by indignities cast upon the colonial character. All these things combined to rivet his affections more- strongly upon the land of his birth. They operated as fuel for the livid flame of patriotism, already glowing in his bosom. The pomp of royalty and the splendour of kingly courts had no charms for him. The awful distance between the haughty prince and the honest peasant, the towering throne and the worthy yeomanry, operated upon his mind like a talisman, and gave his soul a new impetus towards the goal of equal rights. The more he saw of practical monarchy, often the automaton of corrupt and corrupting advisers, the more he became opposed to its potent sway.
After closing his course in the law temple, he made the tour of Europe, and then returned to the warm embrace of his relatives and friends, richly laden with the treasures of classic science and useful knowledge.
Exposure to European Despotism
He had become familiar with the theories of European governments, and had seen their principles practically demonstrated. He understood well the feelings and policy of the mother country relative to her American colonies. He had witnessed her political artificers at the forge of despotism, preparing chains for his beloved country. He had seen her coffers yawning wide, to receive the ill gotten treasures, wrested from his fellow citizens by hireling tax gatherers, in violation of chartered rights, legal justice, and the claims of mercy. His own estate had been laid under contribution to swell the unholy fund. His neighbours around him were groaning under the lash of British oppression. To enlighten their minds, and make them understand fully their danger, their interest, and their duty, became the business of this zealous patriot. Possessed of a bold and fearless mind, directed by a clear head, an honest heart, a sound judgment, and a rich fund of useful intelligence, his exertions were crowned with glorious success. His salutary influence was extensively felt his sterling worth was duly appreciated.
Entry into Politics
He was a member of the first assembly of South Carolina that set British power at defiance, and was also a member of the council of safety. He discharged his duties with firmness, prudence, and zeal. No fugitive fear disturbed his mind, no threatened vengeance moved his purposes. His eyes were fixed on the temple of freedom, his soul was insulated by the fluid of patriotism, his heart was resolved on liberty or death. His life, his property, and his sacred honour, were pledged in the noble cause.
He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, but at first declined serving, in consequence of his young age. A large delegation of citizens subsequently waited upon him, and, at their urgent request, he took his seat in that august assembly of sages in 1776, and became a warm advocate for that memorable instrument, that proclaimed the birth of our nation to an astonished world, and shed fresh lustre on the intellect of man. His voice and his signature sanctioned its adoption—his conscience, his country, and his God, approved the act.
In two years after he was called to perform more painful duties. He was appointed a judge of the civil and criminal courts of his native state, under the new order of things. Several persons were arraigned before him, charged with a treasonable correspondence with the enemy—they were found guilty, and condemned to be hung in sight of the British lines at Charleston. With feelings of humanity, but with the firmness of a Roman, he performed his duty, and pronounced upon them the penalty of the law.
Judge Heyward also participated in the military perils of "the times that tried men's souls." He commanded a company of artillery at the battle of Beaufort, and was severely wounded. At the attack upon Savannah he was also actively engaged. At the siege of Charleston he commanded a battalion, and was one of the unfortunate prisoners who were transferred to St. Augustine. During his absence his property was pillaged, and his amiable and accomplished wife, the daughter of Mr. Matthews, whom he had married in 1773, was laid in the grave. The tidings of these in afflictions did not reach him until he was exchanged and returned to Philadelphia. With the calm and dignified fortitude of a christian, a philosopher, and a hero, he met the shafts of afflictive fate. He mourned deeply, but submissively, the premature exit of the companion of his bosom. His physical sufferings and loss of property he freely offered at the altar of liberty, without a murmur or a sigh.
Return to the Judiciary
He again resumed his judicial duties upon the bench, and discharged them ably and faithfully until 1798. He was an influential member of the convention that framed the Constitution of South Carolina in 1790.
Old age and infirmity finally admonished him that his mission on earth was fast drawing to a close, and he retired from the public arena, covered with epic and civic honours, lasting as the pages of history. In the full fruition of a nation's gratitude and of a nation's freedom he spent his last years, and in March, 1809, went to his final rest, leaving his second wife, Miss E. Savage, and his children, to mourn the loss of a kind husband and tender father; and his country to regret the loss of a devoted patriot, an able judge, and an honest man.