While Charleston, South Carolina, absolutely overflows with history dating all the way back to colonial times, I had the chance to explore a particularly historic churchyard recently. St. Michael’s Episcopal Church sits on the corner of Meeting Street and Broad Street, and tucked into its small graveyard are not one but two signers of the U.S. Constitution: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Rutledge.
“Their years of public service, 1762-1825, saw both State and Nation well on the road to greatness,” says a plaque on the wall outside the churchyard.
St. Michaels describes itself as “the oldest church edifice in the City of Charleston, standing on the site of the first Anglican Church built south of Virginia.” The congregation dates back to the 1680s. The current building dates back to a cornerstone laid in 1752, with services as far back as 1761. You can read more about the church’s history here.
The plaque, which faces Meeting Street, lists their respective services to the nascent nation:
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825)
Lawyer and Legislator; Major General, U.S. Army; Minister to France; Presidential Candidate
John Rutledge (1739-1800)
Lawyer and Statesman; Governor of South Carolina; Chief Justice of U.S.
Inside the churchyard, each of the Founders’ graves is marked with signs that offer additional biographical information.
In the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Rutledge served on five committees, chaired three, including the critical Committee on Detail that write the first draft of the United States Constitution, and created the all-important process of resolving issues of federal and state power. The final Constitution was approved by the Convention and ratified by the requisite number of states as of July 4, 1788.
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The French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States while preparing his seminal book, Democracy in America, published in 1835. After studying the first hand journals and documents of the Convention, de Tocqueville concluded “there is no mystery about it—the authorship of the Constitution is quite clear—a man named John Rutledge wrote it.”
Pinckney’s sign is more of a list of bullet points, including details of his service in the Continental Army, his position as minister to France during the XYZ Affair (“Millions for defense not a cent for tribute,” the sign quotes), his Federalist candidacy for vice president in 1800 and president in 1804 and 1808, and the fact that he “Actively campaigned against dueling in South Carolina,” as well as various civil and church positions. “He combined the virtues of the patriot and the piety of the Christian,” the sign says.
I also passed the gravesite of a member of the Continental Army, Thomas Singleton, commemorated with a small plaque and mementos left behind by respectful visitors.