The American Revolution in South Carolina

Thomas Lynch, Jr.



1749 - 1779

Thomas Lynch, Jr., was born in South Carolina on August 5, 1749. He received an education in England and graduated with honors at Cambridge. He studied law in London and then returned home in 1772. He was politically engaged as soon as he returned home, and was commissioned a company commander in the First South Carolina regiment in 1775. Soon afterward he was elected to a seat in the Continental Congress and he resigned his commission in April of 1776. He fell ill shortly after signing the Declaration and retired from the Congress. At the close of 1779, he and his wife sailed for the West Indies. The ship disappeared and there is no record of his life afterwards. 

Thomas Lynch, Jr. was the son of a gentleman of the same name, and was born on the 5th of August, 1749, at Prince George's, Winyah Parish, in the province of South Carolina. The family was an ancient one, and is said to have originally emigrated from Austria to England, where they settled in the county of Kent; sometime after which, a branch passed over to Ireland, and thence some of the descendants removed to South Carolina. The name of the family is said to have been derived from a field of pulse called lince, upon which the inhabitants of a certain town in Austria lived, for some time, during a siege which was laid to it; and from which circumstance they changed the name of the town to Lince or Lintz, which name was adopted by the principal family of the place.

The precise period when Jonack Lynch, the great-grandfather of Thomas Lynch, the subject of the present memoir, emigrated from Ireland to America is uncertain, but, probably, at an early period after the settlement of the colony. At his death, he left his son Thomas, a slender patrimony, which however, by his industry, and especially by the purchase of a large tract of land, which he devoted to the cultivation of rice, was increased to a princely fortune. This fortune, at his death, was left to a son by the name of Thomas, father of the subject of the present sketch.

At an early age, young Thomas Lynch, Jr. was sent to a flourishing school, at that time maintained at Georgetown, South Carolina. Before he had reached his thirteenth year, his father removed him from this school and sent him to England, to enjoy those higher advantages, which that country presented to the youth of America. Having passed some time in the collegiate institution of Eaton, he was entered a member of the University of Cambridge, the degrees of which institution he received in due course. On leaving the university, he sustained a high reputation, both in respect to his classical attainments, and for the virtues which adorned his character.

This intelligence, communicated by some friend to his father, was so highly flattering, that he was induced to continue his son abroad for some years longer, and wrote to him, expressing his wish that he should enter his name at the temple, with a view to the profession of law. This he accordingly did, devoting himself with his characteristic zeal to the philosophy of jurisprudence, and to the principles of the British constitution.

About the year 1772, after an absence of eight or nine years, young Thomas Lynch , Jr. returned to South Carolina. He returned an eminently accomplished man; in his manners graceful and insinuating, and with a mind enriched with abundant stores of knowledge, justly the pride of his father, and an ornament to the society in which he was destined to move.

Although he was eminently qualified to enter upon the profession of law, he succeeded in persuading his father to allow him to relinquish the pursuit of a profession which his fortune rendered it unnecessary for him to pursue. Such a preliminary course was unnecessary to entitle him to the confidence and esteem of his fellow citizens. These he at once enjoyed.

In 1775, on the raising of the First South Carolina regiment of provincial regulars, he was appointed to the command of a company. Having received his commission, he soon enlisted his quota of men, in some of the neighboring counties, and at the head of them took up his march for Charlestown. Unfortunately, during the march he was attacked by a violent bilious fever, which greatly injured his constitution, and from the effects of which he never afterwards entirely recovered.

On his recovery, he rejoined his regiment, but was at this time unable, from the feeble state of his health, to perform the duties of his station according to his wishes. Added to this affliction, the unwelcome intelligence was received of the dangerous illness of his father, who was at that time attending in his place upon the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He immediately made the necessary arrangements to hasten to a dying father, if possible to administer to him the support and consolation which an affectionate son only could impart. To his surprise, his application for a furlough for this purpose was denied by the commanding officer, Colonel Christopher Gadsden. This disappointment, however, and the controversy which grew out of the above refusal, were terminated by his election to Congress, as the successor of his father. He now lost no time in hastening to Philadelphia, where he found his father still living, and so far recovered that the hope was indulged that he might yet be able to reach South Carolina.

The health of the younger Mr. Lynch, soon after joining Congress, began also to decline with the most alarming rapidity. He continued, however, his attendance upon that body, until the Declaration of Independence had been voted, and his signature affixed to that important instrument. He then set out for South Carolina in company with his father, who had hitherto been detained by feeble health in Philadelphia; but the father lived only to reach Annapolis, when a second paralytic attack terminated his valuable life.

After this afflicting event, the son proceeded to South Carolina but such was his own enfeebled state of health, that he had little reason to anticipate the long continuance of life. A change of climate, in the view of his physicians and friends, presented the only hope of his ultimate recovery. A voyage to Europe was at that time eminently hazardous, on account of exposure to capture. A vessel, however, was found proceeding to St. Eustatia, on board of which, accompanied by his amiable and affectionate wife, he embarked, designing to proceed by a circuitous route to the south of France.

From the time of their sailing, nothing more is known of their fate. Various rumors were from time to time in circulation concerning the vessel in which they sailed, but their friends, after months of cruel suspense, were obliged to adopt the painful conclusion, that this worthy pair found a watery grave during some tempest, which must have foundered the ship in which they sailed.

Although the life of Thomas Lynch, Jr. was thus terminated, at an early age, he had lived sufficiently long to render eminent services to his country, and to establish his character as a man of exalted views and exalted moral worth. Few men possessed a more absolute control over the passions of the heart, and few evinced in a greater degree the virtues which adorn the human mind. In all the relations of life, whether as a husband, a friend, a patriot, or the master of the slave, he appeared conscious of his obligations, and found his pleasure in discharging them.

That a man of so much excellence, of such ability and integrity, such firmness and patriotism, so useful to his country, so tender and assiduous in all the obligations of life, should have been thus cut off, in the midst of his course, and in a manner so painful to his friends, is one of those awful dispensations of Him whose way is in the great deep, and whose judgments are past finding out.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 443-447. [with minor edits]

Thomas Lynch, Sr. and Thomas Lynch, Jr. were the only father and son to serve in the Continental Congress. The junior Lynch, at 27, was the second-youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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