John Rutledge

Family Life

American Founding Father John Rutledge, the eldest child of Dr. John Rutledge and Sarah Hext Rutledge, was born in Christ Church Parish in 1739. He died in Charleston on July 23, 1800 and is buried at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. His father was an Irish immigrant and one of the first to practice medicine in the parish. His mother was a member of the prestigious Boone family. Thus, John Rutledge was a great grandson of Major John Boone and Elizabeth Patey Boone who founded Boone Hall Plantation. Rutledge’s parents had a family plantation in the vicinity of today’s Laurel Hill Plantation on Route 41 in Mount Pleasant.


Rutledge received his early classical education from his father. When he was a little older, Rutledge studied under Anglican priest John Andrews followed by classical scholar David Rhind. He read law for two years under James Parson and then studied law at London’s Middle Temple. Rutledge was admitted to England’s bar, in 1760, but returned to Charleston by 1761. He established himself quickly in private practice and was a successful, reputable attorney. Like most members of the wealthy planter class, Rutledge was politically active. In 1761, residents of Christ Church Parish elected him to the Commons House of Assembly. He married Elizabeth Grimke, in 1763, and together they had ten children. Elizabeth died on July 6, 1792. Her death caused John grief-related illness for the remainder of his life.

Founding Father John Rutledge
Founding Father John Rutledge Signature

Professional Life

While practicing law, Rutledge served in numerous state and national public offices. He is considered one of the nation’s most significant Founding Fathers. His offices included: 1764, 1765 Attorney General Pro Tempore; 1765 delegate to the Stamp Act Congress; 1774-1775, 1782-1783 member of the Continental Congress; 1776-1778 President of South Carolina; 1784 State Chancellor; 1784 delegate to Constitutional Convention; 1787 member of State Ratification Convention; 1784-1790 Commons House of Assembly; 1789, appointed Associate Justice U.S. Supreme Court (accepted, confirmed but did not serve); 1791-1795 Chief Justice South Carolina Court of Common Pleas; 1795 Chief Justice of U.S. Supreme Court (not confirmed).

Rutledge provided decisive leadership to South Carolina’s citizens during the American Revolution. He arranged the new government and prepared the colony for attack by the British. Before the American victory at Fort Sullivan, on June 28, 1776, provincial General Charles Lee predicted that Patriot troops would be slaughtered by the British. Rutledge ordered General Moultrie to stand his ground. He wrote: “General Lee wishes for you to evacuate the fort. You will not do it without an order from me. I would rather cut off my hand than write one.” Rutledge bore the mantle of leadership with strength during both the war period and afterwards in the establishment of South Carolina’s government.

As a member of the Continental Congress, Rutledge was assigned to five committees, attended every session, and was an active, vocal participant. He was known as a moderate nationalist. Rutledge recommended that executive power be given to a single individual and this idea was adopted. Rutledge also argued passionately against the requirement of property as a qualification for white men to vote. As a judge, he held strong opinions about the rules that should govern the justices of the Unites States Supreme Court. Rutledge was one of the most influential framers of the United States Constitution.

Bibliographic Summary: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774-Present, <>, s.v. “John Rutledge,” (accessed 06/07, 11); James Haw, John and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997), 3, 8, 86-9, 198-203, 204-9, 215; Founding Fathers: Delegates to the Constitutional Convention, <>, s.v. “John Rutledge,” (accessed 06/0 7/11).