Thomas Heyward, Jr. And the Charleston Library Society established the first Colonial American museum today in 1773. Now WE know em


Thomas Heyward, Jr. Was born July 28, 1746 in St.Luke’s Parish, South Carolina.

As a teenager, Thomas went to study law in England where he became a member of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.

A 26 year old Thomas married 19 year old Elizabeth Mathews in 1772.

After his wedding, he built his ‘Heyward House’ in the orgiginal walled portion of Charles Towne and furnished it with some of the finest locally made furniture of the day.

With an eye on the future, and inspired in part by the creation of the British Museum in 1753, Thomas and the local Library Society established the first Colonial museum in his home on January 12, 1773, thereby making it the first American museum even though South Carolina was still a British colony.

Its mission was to preserve and interpret the cultural and natural history of South Carolina’s Lowcountry as well as the towne of Charles.

The museum would not officially open to the public until 15 years after Thomas Heyward’s death.

In 1775, Thomas was elected to the Continental Congress representing South Carolina and signed the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation as a Founding Father.

American Revolution

In 1778, Thomas returned to South Carolina to serve as a judge.

Operations of the museum in his home were suspended during the American Revolution and many of the collections were put into storage for safekeeping.

Unfortunately, a fire in 1778 destroyed most of the original museum collection.

Then while in command of a militia force, Thomas Heyward was taken prisoner by the British during the Siege of Charles Towne in 1780.

While he was being held captive in Philadelphia, his brother-in-law John Mathews was chosen as Governor of South Carolina by the General Assembly.

His wife Elizabeth came to visit him in Philadelphia and became pregnant with their sixth child. She died in childbirth late in 1782 at Philadelphia. Only one son, Daniel, would survive childhood.

After the city was freed from the British in December of 1782, the city’s name was officially changed to Charleston in 1783.

Thomas married his second wife, also named Elizabeth, and went on to have three children that lived to adulthood.

In 1791, President George Washington made his ‘Southern Tour’ and accepted temporary residence with Thomas Heyward and his family in 1792.

Today, Thomas’ home is now referred to as the “Heyward-Washington House.”

Thomas continued to serve as a judge after the war, retiring from the bench in 1798.

Thomas Heyward, Jr. Died March 6, 1809 at the age of 62.

The Charleston Museum

By 1824, the Heyward-Washington House had become known as “Charleston’s Revolutionary War House.”

Then finally, the “Charleston Museum” located in Revolutionary patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Heyward’s original home opened to the public as the first American museum.


Thomas Heyward House

Thomas Heyward House

Furnished with magnificent Charleston-made furniture, the collection included a priceless Holmes Bookcase, considered to be the finest example of American-made furniture in existence.

The exquisite formal garden was comprised of plants from that period.

Today, the museum’s exhibits include natural history and local history displays and decorative arts, including silver.

The museum also owns and operates the Joseph Manigault House.

In addition to the two houses, the museum also maintains The Dill Sanctuary.

In 1852, Harvard scientist Louis Aggasiz declared the collections of the Charleston Museum to be among the finest in America.

Operations of the museum were again temporarily suspended due to the Civil War, but resumed shortly after the conflict.

Acquired from the late 18th century to the present, the Charleston Museum’s collections now present the oldest-acquired and the most comprehensive assemblage of South Carolina materials in the nation.

The museum’s present building was completed in 1980 at 360 Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina.

Now WE know em


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