Henry Middleton, the second son of Arthur Middleton and Sarah Amory, was born near Goose Creek on the original land grant received by his grandfather Edward, who emigrated from England via Barbados. When his father died in 1737, twenty-year-old Henry inherited his home place, The Oaks in St. James Parish, and another 1600 acres of land on the Cooper River.
Four years later, Henry married the heiress Mary Williams. Her dowry and inheritance included a three-story brick house perfectly situated on a high bluff over the Ashley River and the surrounding five hundred acres. The couple established the family seat there, known ever since as Middleton Place, and, over the ensuing years, they developed the formal Gardens. In 1755, Henry further complemented the garden design and improved the indoor living spaces at Middleton Place by adding two dependencies, or flankers, on either side of the main house.
Like his father before him, Henry became an influential political leader in the colony. He served as Speaker of the Commons, Commissioner for Indian Affairs and a member of the Royal Governor’s Council until he resigned his seat in 1770 to become a leader of the opposition to British policy. He was chosen to represent South Carolina in the First Continental Congress and on October 20, 1774, was elected its second President. He was also elected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and once again was elected as its president, but declined to serve due to poor health. Despite this, he lent money for the revolutionary effort and sat on the Council of Safety, the Legislative Council, and the South Carolina Senate. Although he served the colony with honor and dedication, Henry’s conservative stance and concern for his family led him to accept the actuality of a British victory in South Carolina, and he was among those who sought protection under the Crown in 1780. He then retired in semi-exile to The Oaks in Goose Creek, distressed by the fate of his sons and sons-in-law.
Family was always at the heart of Henry Middleton’s actions, but often this heart was broken. He and his wife Mary Williams had twelve children, but only seven survived to adulthood. Mary died in 1761, and Henry married Maria Henrietta Bull the following year. After Maria’s death in 1772, he married Lady Mary Mackenzie, who survived him.
Henry Middleton was among the wealthiest landowners in South Carolina with more than 50,000 acres and at least 800 slaves. After the death of his wife Mary Williams, he lived at The Oaks until his death in 1784.
Henry and Mary Williams Middleton’s children surviving to adulthood were:
- ARTHUR (1742-1787): A patriot and Signer of the Declaration of Independence.
- HENRIETTA (1750-1792): Married Edward Rutledge in 1774 and accompanied him to Philadelphia during Continental Congress sessions, where he was a Signer of the Declaration of Independence.
- THOMAS (1753-1797): Educated in England; active in politics and in the militia during Revolution, inherited The Oaks; married Anne Manigault. Visit the Gibbes Museum of Art in downtown Charleston to see a portrait of Thomas by Benjamin West.
- HESTER (1754-1789): Married Charles Drayton and lived at Drayton Hall.
- SARAH (1756-1784): Married Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
- MARY (1757-1825): Married Peter Smith
- SUSANNAH (1760-1834): Married John Parker