Thomas Lynch Jr. ( August 5, 1749 – 1779 )
The short but tumultuous life of Thomas Lynch Jr. is a story of persistence in the face of difficulty, and potential cut short.
Thomas’s family had a distinguished lineage, reaching back through Ireland, England, and Austria. His great-grandfather emigrated to the Colonies from Ireland, and his forebears raised themselves from poverty to riches by means of land investment, and hard work in rice farming on Hopsenee and Peachtree Plantations in South Carolina. Thomas Sr. was one of the biggest indigo planters in the Georgetown area with his home base at Hopsenee. He also had a residence in Charleston where he lived part of the year so that while he was one of the prime representatives of the Georgetown planter class, he had his fingers in Charleston politics too.
On a nearby farm, and born a year and a half earlier, Elizabeth Shubrick and her family also found fortune, and as Thomas got to know her, they fell in love as childhood sweethearts. Their acquaintance was interrupted when Thomas went away to school in England, after graduating from a private school in Georgetown. Thomas went to Eton, with the lords of England, and then Cambridge, where he distinguished himself well.
In 1772, after a nine-year absence, Thomas returned to the Colonies and found the country divided over the question of independence. His father desired that he study law, but after a short time at The Temple, a respected law school, Thomas persuaded his father that given their economic status and standing in the community, it was unnecessary for him to obtain a law degree. He found his relationship with Elizabeth to be as ardent as ever, and they married on May 14, 1772. Elizabeth was the beautiful daughter of “an old and prominent family.” Elizabeth and Thomas began their marriage on a plantation given to them by Thomas’s father, Peachtree. Thomas was appointed to the first South Carolina provincial assembly.
The Lynches were active in the politics of the nascent nation. Thomas Lynch Sr. had attended the Stamp Act Congress in New York and he had traveled extensively in the North, meeting men who would become the country’s leaders. John Adams wrote in his diary, “… we were all vastly pleased with Mr. Lynch. He is a solid firm man.” Thomas Sr. was also an advisor to George Washington.
As a consequence of the war talk sweeping the colony, Thomas found himself leading a regiment of militia. He raised his troops and marched with them to Charleston. En route, Thomas contracted swamp fever and had to finish the journey in the back of a wagon.
After some recovery time, he rejoined his regiment, only to receive word that his father was gravely ill, having suffered a stroke, or apoplexy as it was then known. Thomas Lynch Sr. was attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He urgently applied for leave to attend his father but was denied. Everyone thought his father would die. Thomas was elected to replace him, forcing his commander to relent. Thomas went to attend his father, taking his place in Congress. The South Carolina Provincial Congress passed a resolution “to agree to whatever measures Congress thought necessary for the general welfare,” giving the delegates power to join with the other colonies in whatever action they all decided upon at the Continental Congress proceedings. The Lynches were both wary of a republic as were the other South Carolina delegates; they hesitated to make a break with Britain. South Carolina was considered to be a key faction in the debate for independence and when its delegates all finally agreed to consent to go along with ‘this awesome decision to declare independence a triumph was realized by proponents of the measure. Though both father and son signed the letter which informed South Carolina’s President, John Rutledge, that independence had been declared, only Thomas Lynch Jr. actually signed the historic 1776 document. His father was too ill, and there is a poignant empty space on the Declaration of Independence where the signature of Thomas Lynch Sr. was to have been written.
The stress of travel and the swirl of debate proved too much for Thomas Jr.’s weakened health. Soon after the signing, he journeyed south with his father. Thomas Sr. died en route, and Thomas Jr. arrived home in a severely debilitated state. He largely withdrew from public life. A doctor suggested a change of climate would help, but with the war going on, such a journey was difficult. Finally, he found a vessel departing for St. Eustatius in the Dutch Antilles. He thought the French Riviera might provide just the cure he needed, and planned to journey on to the south of France on a Dutch vessel, thus avoiding complications with the British.
Thomas and Elizabeth embarked together on the adventure, not knowing how long they might be away. Sadly, their ship went down, and both were lost at sea. The exact date is unknown.
After the war, a nephew invited George Washington to Peachtree, but at the last minute, the invitation was rescinded, due to a bout of measles in the Lynch family. Peachtree burned to the ground in the 1840s, and the land is now privately owned.