Christopher Gadsden, later to achieve renown as a military and political leader in the southern states, was born in Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina, in 1724.
His father, Thomas Gadsden, can be regarded as the founder of the American Gadsden family; Thomas had English origins â he was born in Stepney, London, in 1688. Thomas married in 1715, in Barbados, Elizabeth Terrey, daughter of a sea captain, Christopher Terrey. Thomas and Elizabeth's first three children died in infancy. When the fourth was born he was named Christopher after his maternal grandfather.
At this time Thomas Gadsden was Collector of Customs for the port of Charleston, and gradually buying up land for plantations where rice and corn were the main products grown. Christopher's mother, Elizabeth, died when the boy was about three years old and at the age of eight Christopher was sent to be educated in England, returning to Charleston when he was sixteen. Almost immediately his father sent him off to Philadelphia as a clerk to a well-known merchant, Thomas Lawrence.
Christopher showed promise in mercantile matters and soon went into business for himself, later establishing an import and export firm in Charleston and constructing a large wharf. He began to acquire his own rice and corn plantations outside of Charleston. When his father died in 1741, Christopher inherited most of Thomas's considerable estate.
Supporter of independence
A man of strong opinions and uncompromising character, Christopher at a youthful age gravitated towards public affairs and served as a member of the commons house of assembly. An outspoken opponent of 'taxation without representation' of the colonies by Britain, he was one of the earliest leaders to propose independence for the colonies. In 1765 he was one of the delegates to congress in New York to petition against the Stamp Act. On hearing the news of the repeal of this Act he and a group of his friends ('Liberty Boys') gathered just north of Charleston under an oak tree (later called the 'Liberty Tree'), where Christopher spoke vigorously against the general rejoicing at the repeal of 'this obnoxious Act' stating that it was clear that Britain would not relinquish her pretensions in the colonies. He was shortly to be proved correct.
Christopher served in the Continental Congress which enacted the Declaration of Independence on 4 July, 1776, and during the Revolutionary War was a Brigadier General of forces defending Charleston.
In 1780 Christopher was taken prisoner and held in the fort of St Augustine in Florida, being released as part of an exchange of prisoners in 1781. While incarcerated he 'improved his solitude by close application to study and came out more learned than he entered.' He was elected Governor of South Carolina but declined to take on this role, though he accepted a Lieutenant Governorship. He again took up his mercantile operations but retained a close interest in politics, the military and other public affairs until his death at the age of 81.
At his request, Christopher Gadsden's body was placed in a plain wooden coffin and buried without any marker stone. In the cemetery of St Philip's Church, Charleston, is a memorial slab (probably not the original one) commemorating the resting place of Thomas and Elizabeth Gadsden and some of their descendants. Later, these words were added: 'General Christopher Gadsden, son of Elizabeth & Thomas Gadsden, 1724-1805, Patriot.'
He designed the Gadsden 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, using the rattlesnake emblem on a yellow ground, when he was serving on the Naval Committee of the Continental Congress. This flag was first seen unfurled from the mainmast of the Alfred, the flagship of the Continental Navy, as she lay at anchor off Philadelphia on 20 December 1775.
More on the 'Don't Tread on Me' flag at http://www.infobarrel.com/Don't_Tread_On_Me_Flags_-_What's_Their_Story%3f