Alexander Hewat's Historical Account
The Colonial Legacy Vol. 1 Loyalist Historians

edited by Lawrence H. Leder (Harper and Row)

Alexander Hewat's Historical Account

GERALDINE M. MERONEY (extracts: 25 July 1997

Alexander Hewat's An Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the Colonies of South Carolina and Georgia was published anonymously in London in 1779. Alexander Hewat proposed in his Preface "to present the world with a particular, but imperfect, detail of its [South Carolina's] most memorable and important transactions."3 He wanted to inform his readers of conditions in the southern colonies so that the British might better understand the colonies' importance to Britain and that the colonists might better understand their own history and Great Britain's importance to them.

Hewat included detailed descriptions of climate, geography animals and insects, rituals and customs of neighboring Indian tribes, conditions of slavery, and all the environmental dangers or advantages experienced by southern colonists in America. He considered these details instructive for those unacquainted with them and supportive for his analyses of causal relationships in the progress of colonial society.

3. Alexander Hewat, An Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the Colonies of South Carolina and Georgia, 2 vols., (London, 1779), 1:iii.

4. Elmer D. Johnson, "Alexander Hewat: South Carolina's First Historian," The Journal of Southern History 20 (February 1954) :52; Kraus, History, p. 123.

Hewat accomplished a remarkable task with impressive care and accuracy. Many authors found the American Revolution a propitious occasion to publish historical accounts of the colonies in order to declare their own partisan views, but Hewat did not enter the controversy, though exiled as a loyalist from South Carolina while writing his history. Only the last few pages of his history dealt with the causes of the rebellion. He believed that both the colonies and Great Britain would benefit if their community remained intact. His purpose in writing was not to expound the royalist view, but to resolve the controversy through instruction and to give weight to reason in the struggle against forces of destruction.

Contemporary historians in Great Britain regarded Hewat highly. George Chalmers, whose study of the American colonies was also published in 1779, sought Hewat's advice on some of his later writings. William Robertson, then principal of the University of Edinburgh, probably recommended the Doctor of Divinity degree that the University granted Hewat in 1780.9

9. Letters from Alexander Hewat to George Chalmers, National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS. 81.9.8, ff. 13-14, Adv. MS. 21.1.12, ff. 19-20; David Laing, Catalogue of the Graduates . . . of the University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1858), p. 245; Hew Scott, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (Edinburgh, 1928), 7:382. In a letter dated 2 October 1969, Charles P. Finlayson, Keeper of Manuscripts, Edinburgh University Library, suggested that since their copy of Hewat's book, received under the Copyright Act from the Stationer's Office, was anonymous, Hewat might have sent a personal copy to Principal Robertson.

In his description of the treatment of slaves, Hewat reflected a deep indignation against turning helpless human beings into legal property: "Their natural rights as human creatures are entirely disregarded . . . they are exposed defenceless to the insolence, caprice, and passions of owners, obliged to labour all their life without any prospect of reward, or any hope of an end of their toil until the day of their death." Describing the punishment meted out to slaves, Hewat thought such treatment would "fire them with desires of liberty and vengeance" and give their oppressors grounds for fear. He also condemned the neglect of religious instruction for the slaves: "It would strike a stranger with astonishment and indignation, to hear . . planters . . . tell you they [Africans] are beings of an inferior rank, and little exalted above brute creatures; that they have no souls, and therefore no concern need be taken about their salvation." After a short essay on the benefits of the tempering influence of Christianity, he indicted slavery: "To keep the minds of human creatures under clouds darkness, neither disciplined by reason, nor regulated by religion, a reproach to the name of Protestants especially in a land of Christian light and liberty." Even Catholics pitied "the miserable condition of negroes living among the protestant colonies" and offered them the "advantages of liberty and religion at Augustine" to induce them to revolt.

In South Carolina, a burst of prosperity made that colony one of the richest in America. Hewat felt that few colonies had "in the space of an hundred years, improved and flourished in an equal degree." Charleston was a beehive of activity tempered by an aura of leisure, pleasure, kindness, and well-being: "Travellers could scarcely go into any city where they could meet with a society of : people more agreeable, intelligent and hospitable than that at Charlestown." Details drawn from Hewat's own experience enriched this description, and his affection for his adopted home was evident.

Hewat's views of the origins of the American Revolution have particular historical value since he lived in Charleston from 1763 to 1777 and witnessed colonial reaction to the Stamp Act and its repeal One could wish that he had carried his narrative to the outbreak of hostilities, for it would have been a rare account.

An account of Hewat's life throws some light not only on the history he wrote but on the history he could not write. He was a young man of about twenty-four when he arrived in Charleston in 1763 as minister of the Scots (First Presbyterian) Church there.14 He had received his early education at Kelso Grammar School in Scotland and had attended the University of Edinburgh'. On the recommendation of "the College at Edinburgh, " Hewat "was. appointed by the Election of the [Scots Presbyterian] Society" in 1763. Since the Scots Church usually commissioned several distinguished persons in Scotland to seek out and recommend a candidate, Dr. William Robertson the historian and principal of the University of Edinburgh was possibly responsible for selecting Hewat.l5

14. Hewat's name appears on a list of Charleston ministers drawn up b Rev. Elam Potter in 1767 as "Mr. Huit, aet. 28, Edinburgh," cited in Howe Church History, 1:363. The South.Carolina Gazette, 13 November 1763, not' the arrival the preceding week of "Rev. Mr. Hewett for the Scots meeting in this town." Judge Mitchell King, whose biographical record of Hewat forms the basis for later accounts, noted that in the church records, in what King believed to be Hewat's handwriting, was a notation that Hewat had presided as moderator at the meeting of the session on 20 March 1763. Since Judge King never knew Hewat and the church records were destroyed in the American Civil War, it is not possible to verify King's statement or to reconcile the discrepancy between his statement and the notice in The South-Carolina Gazette. Judge King's sketch forms the chapter on Hewat in William Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, 9 vols. (New York, 1857-69) 3:251-53.

15. Hewat refers to his study at Kelso in his Sermons, 2 vols. (London 1803-5), 1:386. According to University records, Hewat attended the 1755-56 session and studied logic and metaphysics under Professor John Stevenson. Letter of Charles P. Finlayson, Keeper of Manuscripts, Edinburgh University Library, 2 October 1969; Memorial of Alexander Hewat, Loyalist Transcripts, 53:593. When in 1792 the Scots Church again needed a minister to succeed Hewat, Dr. Robertson was one of those commissioned, along with Dr. Alexander Hewat and a Dr. Blair Sprague, Annals, 3:251-52.

Hewat's congregation in Charleston numbered about seventy families, many of whom were leading merchants and planters. He received a salary of [sterling]250 sterling per year, plus the rent of a house worth [sterling]35/14/2, all of which came to about [sterling]2,000 Carolina currency, not an inconsiderable amount for an unmarried man with thrifty habits. Hewat soon became an influential member of the presbytery and a man of prestige and dignity in the Charleston community.16

16. Howe, Church History, 1:319, 363; Memorial of Alexander Hewat, Loyalist Transcripts, 5 3: 594.

Shortly after his arrival in Charleston he was elected to the St. Andrew's Club, an organisation of native-born Scotsmen formed to promote sociable and charitable enterprises. This society included some of the colony's leading men, among them Sir Alexander Cumming, Bart., whose curious treaty with the Cherokees Hewat described in his history; Alexander Skene, a member of the Council when the proprietary government was overthrown; John Fraser, trader among the Yamassee whose experience with the Indian Sanute prior to the Yamassee War was recounted by Hewat; and, as honorary members, all the royal governors of the colony. When Hewat was invited to join, the membership included John Stuart, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District; James Wright, royal governor of Georgia; Chief Occonastota of the Cherokees; Robert Wells, editor of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette; and a number of royal officials and members of the Council and Common Assembly.l7 Through these associations, Hewat also came to know other leaders of the colony, among them Lieutenant Governor William Bull, whose family had been among the first settlers of Charleston and whose father worked closely with Oglethorpe in the early settlement of Georgia. The Bulls were probably the single most politically prominent family in South Carolina.

17. J. H. Easterby, History of the St. Andrew's Society of Charleston, South Carolina, 1729-1929 (Charleston, S.C., 1929), pp. 21-22, 2S-26, 45-46, 50-52; The South Carolina Gazette, 26 November 1763: "The entertainment . . . was elegant . . . his Excellency the Governor [Thomas Boone], the members of his Majesty's Council, and many other gentlemen of note . . . being invited thereto."

Hewat's interest in the history of the southern colonies must have been aroused by these friends, A man of learning and culture--the only requisite for an eighteenth-century historian-- Hewat had the chance to secure authentic evidence and firsthand experience for his historical narrative. He lead the unique opportunity of knowing the participants in many recent events of South Carolina's and Georgia's history and those who preserved an oral tradition not far removed from the events themselves. His association with royal officials gave him access to official documents which he used in his history. In their company, he had the vicarious experience of being a man of affairs, familiar with the workings of government and commerce. He observed firsthand the customs and conduct of neighboring Indians, travelled into Georgia, and probably visited the Purrysburg settlement on the Savannah river. During his fourteen years in Charleston, Hewat also experienced the dangers of the climate and on at least one occasion left Charleston to recover his health.18 His experiences and travel in the two colonies were reflected in his precise descriptions of their physical features, Indian customs, system of slavery and debilitating climate. He used all these factors in his analyses of causal relationships.

18. Memorial of Alexander Hewat, Loyalist Transcripts, 53:597. In 1766 he had to leave the colony "in a very bad state of health," according to the Journal of Rev. Archibald Simpson, cited in Howe, Church History, 1:319 James Simpson, a witness for Hewat before the Loyalist Commission, stated that Hewat was "much Beloved by his Parishioners insomuch that finding it necessary to come to Europe some years before the Troubles for his Health They paid his Exps. and continued their Subscriptions as before." Memorial of Alexander Hewat, Loyalist Transcripts, 53:595.

Hewat found Charleston a most agreeable place, and his description of life in that city, of which he was himself an intimate part, formed a significant portion of his history. He seemed to have had every intention of settling permanently, for in 1772 he purchased one thousand acres of land in Craven County, and in 1777 he bought three hundred acres of unimproved land in Colleton County on the Savannah River near Augusta for his brother Andrew, who was at that time in Nova Scotia raising a company to fight for the king.19

19. Ibid., pp. 591-92.

Although Hewat took no overt action against the revolutionary government, he tried to give "an Example of a stedfast adherence to his King and Country" and claimed singular success in "preserving those under his Influence steady and Loyal almost to a Man which however in event proved the Occasion of much harsh treatment to himself and severe persecution and Dispersion to his Parish." When the British fleet under Admiral Parker arrived at Charleston in the summer of 1776, many people, including some members of Hewat's congregation, were imprisoned for refusing to take up arms against the British.21 When Hewat, along with other Charleston ministers, was ordered on 3 August 1776 to pray no more for the king, he "changed the form to `those in Lawful Authority over us' which gave great Offence," but complied with the letter of the order. Despite the dispersion of his congregation. and the absence of many friends, Hewat remained in Charleston] until the summer of 1777. When the revolutionary governments required that he renounce his loyalty to the king and give open support to Congress, he refused to do so.

21. Memorial of Alexander Hewat, Loyalist Transcripts, 53:585. An elder of his church, Robert Rowand, was imprisoned until the threat was over and then confined to his plantation until banished in 1778. (Memorial of Robert Rowand, Loyalist Transcripts, 54:298-301.) Other members included William Ancrum, Robert Philp, Dr. Robert Wilson, and William Glen, all of whom were ultimately banished and their property confiscated in the Act of 1782 Lorenzo Sabine, Loyalists of the American Revolution, 2 vols. (Boston 1864), 1:475; 2:471, 566, 597. Scc also Centennial Celebration of the Dedication of the First Presbyterian Church, Charleston, South Carolina (Charleston, S.C., 1915), p. 123.

Given sixty days to leave the colony or suffer imprisonment and perhaps death, Hewat left his congregation and his property and took passage to Nantes; from there, he went to London. Before leaving Charleston, Hewat had secured a testimony of his loyalty to the king from James Henderson, moderator of the Presbytery of South Carolina, and upon arrival in London he secured testimonies from Governor Lord William Campbell and from Lieutenant Governor William Bull. With these testimonies, Hewat secured a temporary Treasury allowance of [sterling]100 per year until he could return to Charleston.22 He now devoted himself to completing his history, which he published anonymously in 1779.

22. Memorial of Alexander Hewat, Loyalist Transcripts, 53:590-91; Public Record Office, A.O. 13/129, Nos. 568, 575, 577; A.O. 12/99, p. 175.

Like other loyalists, Hewat assumed that the troubles would soon end and he could return to Charleston and resume his old life there. He may have published his history anonymously in order to avoid indicting his work of many years with the partisanship of his temporary political exile. Charleston had been recaptured by British forces by the time Hewat received the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Edinburgh University on 12 July 1780. Hewat obviously expected to return to his home, for he signed the Laureation Book of the University as a resident of "Charlestown, South Carolina."23

23. Laing, Catalogue, p. 245.

When Lieutenant Governor Bull departed for South Carolina on 1 December 1780, all subsistence allowances being paid to South Carolina loyalists in Britain were withdrawn "upon the Presumption of the Province returning to its Allegiance." Hewat, now without funds and "having Encouragement to Return to his Living," applied to the government for a "sum of money to enable him to return to Charlestown." He was advanced [sterling]100 under the government policy of assuring its military gains by the presence of Loyal subjects in South Carolina. Hewat booked passage in a fleet sailing from Torbay in the summer of 1781, which was taking many royal officials and exiled loyalists back to America. But before sailing, Hewat learned that "There would be no use going out" because his congregation in Charleston had scattered and he would have no income. With the financial support of his brother and "another Gentleman a Merchant of London," he remained in Britain and tried to secure another congregation. In the summer of 1782, he went to Scotland to preach at the chapel of his old school at Kelso, but he soon returned to London.24

24. Memorial of William Bull, Loyalist Transcripts, 57:16 Public Record .Office, A.O. 12/52, A.O. 13/129, No. 569, A.O. 12/99, p. 175. The Royal Georgia Gazette, 1 November 1781, dated "Charlestown, October 16 [1781]," announced the arrival the day before of a British fleet bringing many royal officials to South Carolina and "the Rev. Alexander Hewat." Since Hewat did not sail with this fleet, his name must have still remained on the passengers manifest when the fleet arrived in Charleston. The Journal of Rev. Mr. Simpson states that Hewat's church was being used as a "place for the Royalists from the country to live in." Cited in Howe, Church History, 1:474; The Centennial Celebration of . . . the First Presbyterian Church, pp. 122-23.

At the end of the war, Hewat considered returning to iris church in Charleston, since the legislature there showed signs of being lenient toward returning loyalists. However, a letter from William Ancrum, a loyalist member of his congregation who had returned to Charleston, gave him no encouragement since "most of his congregation were loyalists and therefore dispersed," and the church could not pay Hewat's salary arrears. On 9 April 1783, Hewat applied to the Loyalist Commission for compensation for his loss of benefice and property in America and was granted a temporary allowance of [sterling]60 per annum, later increased to [sterling]100. In July 1788, when the allowance was replaced by a life pension of [sterling]120 per annum, Hewat testified that this was his only income.25

25. Public Record Office, A.O. 13/129, No. 571 (letter dated 25 March 1783); A.O. 12/99, p. 175, T. 50/8 through T. 50/47; A.O. 13/83, No. 174.

On 7 November 1785 Hewat presented to the Loyalist Commission his claim for [sterling]3,500 for loss of property. The Commission allowed a claim of [sterling]2,027, which, was later "disallowed for want of satisfactory proof of loss." Hewat continued to seek compensation and in March 1798 sent a packet of testimonies to three former loyalists in Charleston, asking that they place them before the commissioners of American claims whom Hewat thought would "visit the Capital Towns in each State." But the commissioners, who sat only in Philadelphia, dropped his name from their list and never received the testimonies, and by 1802 Hewat still had not heard from his friends in Charleston. He wrote the commissioners in London in 1802 and again in 1808, but he evidently never received compensation.26

26. Memorial of Alexander Hewat, Loyalist Transcripts, 53:584-595; Public Record Office, A.O. 12/47 A.O. 13/129, A.O. 12/109, p. 166. Hewat testified as witness to the memorial of James Brisbane, a planter of Charleston, on 31 January 1785 (Egerton, Royal Commission, p. 296), and to the memorial of Robert Rowand on 23 February 1786. Loyalist Transcripts, 54:314; Public Record Office, T. 79/21.

In 1790 Hewat visited in Edinburgh, but met with unfriendliness and even suspicion: "With Doors barred and Guards planted; with suspicion hinted, and doubts and fears expressed--no freedom or friendly intercourse even exists." Perhaps his loyalist views or his unwillingness to return to his church in Charleston caused this hostility toward him. He desperately needed money, but he was unwilling to humiliate himself by asking favors from "such as I have but too good reason to despise." He secured an advance on his pension through George Chalmers, then chief clerk of the Privy Council in London, and with another small sum, secured as "Provision against starving," he left Edinburgh for London. When the reactivated Scots Church in Charleston selected him to serve with Dr. William Robertson in 1792 to choose their new pastor, Hewat's "absence from Edinburgh," whether from lack of money or because of Edinburgh's lack of cordiality, "prevented him from joining in its execution"27

27. Letter from Alexander Hewat to George Chalmers, National Library of Scotland Adv. MS. 21.1.12, ff. 19-20 (cited by permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland). Another letter from Hewat to Chalmers of uncertain date seems to have been written from London. National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS. 81.9.8, ff. 13-14. Sprague, Annals, 3:252; The Centennial Celebration of . . . the First Presbyterian Church, p. 10.

He remained in London for the rest of his life, living for a time at No. 36 Bury Street in Westminster and later at No. 8 Great Quebec Street near Whitechapel. He served in the Gospel Mission in London, and in 1803-5 he published two volumes of sermons. He married a Mrs. Barksdale from Charleston, a widow who had come abroad for the Health of her two children, both of whom had died before Hewat met her in England. After her death, Hewat wrote a warm letter to her relatives in Charleston, sending pictures of her children.28 He continued to feel affection for his congregation in Charleston and provided that a sum of [sterling]50 be left to the Scots Church at his death.29

28. Public Record Office, A.O. 13/83, No. 174, T. 79/21; Sprague, Annals, 3:252. Letter from R. J. Watson, Hon. Librarian of the Presbyterian Historical Society of England, dated 31 December 1969; states that a careful search in his records reveals no mention of Hewat. Hewat's wife was probably "Eliza, wife of Rev Dr. Hewat" whose death is recorded in Gentleman's Magazine. for May 1814. See Percy Scott Flippin, Dictionary of American Biography, s.v. "Hewat, Alexander." Letter of Alexander Hewat to George Edwards of Charleston, dated from the Carolina Coffee House, London, 28 September 1820, now in the possession of the Charleston Library Society.

29. Sprague, Annals 3:252. This sum was received by the treasurer of the church on 4 October 1829. There is a portrait of Hewat in The Centennial Celebration of . . . the First Presbyterian Church, p. 118. This rare volume was made available by the generosity of the Rev. Dr. Edward G. Lilley of Charleston, S.C.

Alexander Hewat was one of the casualties of the American Revolution. American animosity against those who had not supported the rebellion relegated loyalists to historical oblivion; nor did the British receive them with generosity or pay them honor for their sacrifice. Hewat lived out his life in London without a congregation and without recognition. No record of his death or burial has been found. But if the record of Hewat's last pension payment, made to his executors, may be assumed to date his death, Alexander Hewat died on 3 March 1824 at the age of 85.30

30. Public Record Office, T. 50/47. In space for "Quarter 5 April 1824" is written "19.2.5 for 58 days Pension to 3rd March 1824--Ed to Exors." There are no further entries.

Copyright Notice: The above has been abstracted for academic research purposes only from material which is copyright by Geraldine M. Meroney, Lawrence H. Leder and Harper and Row Publishers.

Alan William Hewat (