Drayton’s Secret Committee and The Effigy

Prewar Politics (<1775)

July 4, 2014
by Wayne Lynch Also by this Author


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Eighteenth century politics remain an incredibly interesting topic. The history of the American Revolution provides a number of good examples. For instance, following the recommendations of the 1st Continental Congress in January 1775, the Provincial Congress of South Carolina decided to form a Secret Committee that would work to promote the Patriot Cause in South Carolina. To lead the Secret Committee, they chose none other than that one certain fire breathing rebel, William Henry Drayton. He then picked Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Arthur Middleton, and two others to serve alongside him.

The Secret Committee had a mandate to “procure and distribute such articles, as the present insecure state of the interior parts of this colony renders necessary, for the better defence and security of the good people of those parts, and other necessary purposes.”[1] Drayton took this broad and purposefully vague grant of authority to heart and moved his new committee into action in April with a raid on the public magazines located throughout the colony. They “seized the public powder at the Hobcaw Magazine; and another party, possessed themselves of the powder in the Magazine at Cochran’s on the Neck between Ashley and Cooper Rivers; while a third party, assembled at the State-House at eleven o’clock at night” and raided the armory in Charlestown. The magazine raiders succeeded and “in less than three hours, eight hundred stands of arms, two hundred cutlasses, beside cartouches, flints, and matches, were removed from thence.”[2]

Naturally the Crown government officials reacted quickly and with alarm. Lt. Governor William Bull wrote an appeal to the state assembly and recommended “this important matter to your investigation, and most serious consideration.”[3] The appeal got little respect from the Assembly as they “laughed at this act of Government” and set up a fake committee that simply reported themselves that they were unable “to obtain any certain intelligence relative to the removal of the public arms, and gun-powder mentioned in his Honour’s Message.” They went on to taunt the officials by calling the theft a “consequence of the late alarming accounts from Great Britain.”[4]

Quite pleased with themselves over the powder episode, Drayton and the other members of the Secret Committee moved on to their next project. In light of the news of Lexington and Concord, Drayton felt the time was right “to bring forth something, calculated to arrest the public attention; to throw odium on the British Administration; to put down the Crown officers in the Province; and to invigorate the ardor of the people.”[5] Always one who knew how to play a crowd, Drayton came up with just the right idea.

The Secret Committee had some effigies constructed representing the Pope, the Devil, and two British Prime Ministers, Lord Grenville (past), and Lord North (current). The Pope and Devil had moving parts with help from a couple of Patriots hidden in the bottom of the wagon mounting all four dummies. Lord Grenville and Lord North sat stiff between them. The public spectacle began:

“No sooner, did any of the Crown officers, Placemen, Counsellors, or persons known to be disaffected to the common cause pass by, than the Pope immediately bowed with proportioned respect to them; and the Devil at the same moment, striking his dart at the head of the Pope, convulsed the populace, with bursts of laughter. While on the other hand, the immoveable effigies of Lords Grenville and North, appearing like attendants on the Pope, or Criminals; moved the people with sentiments of disgust, and contempt against them and the whole British Administration: for the many oppressive acts, which they had been instrumental in procuring to be passed, through both Houses of Parliament.”[6]

Once the display had been “paraded through the town the whole day, by the mob”, the effigies were taken to a place outside of town and burned in a great bonfire. The celebration continued unabated and the young men “roused their youthful spirits into a detestation of oppression”. In fact, the event was so successful that “many of those very boys, supported with their services and blood; the rights, and liberties, of their country.”[7]

As the new leader of the Patriot movement in South Carolina, William Henry Drayton was off to a grand start. His Secret Committee had seized and hidden the colony powder supplies along with all its surplus arms and weaponry. They followed that quickly with political displays in Charlestown designed to recruit young Patriots for the cause. Now their attentions turned to the Assembly whose June session would begin with organizing two regiments of infantry and one regiment of rangers to come primarily from those same young patriots of the South Carolina low country.[8] Drayton could turn his attention to the men of the backcountry. If he were to have a say in the matter, all of South Carolina would soon join the movement for Liberty.


[1] Resolution of the Provincial Congress, 16 January 1775, reprinted in John Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution, (Charleston, SC: A. E. Miller, 1821), 221.

[2] Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution, 222.

[3] William Bull to the Speaker, 24 April 1775, Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution, 224.

[4] Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution, 225.

[5] Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution, 226.

[6] Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution, 227 – 228.

[7] Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution, 228.

[8] William Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution (New York: printed by David Longworth, 1802), 64 – 65.


  • Wayne,
    That is a great account and I would have loved to seen the parade of effigies with their various movements; I’m sure it was a hoot! There must also have been some “ardent” spirits passed around the mob.

  • Thank you so much for this article. I am descended from a patriot who was supposedly a member of this secret committee. Had i not had access to this article, i wouldn’t have understood how colorful it was.

  • Thanks Scott, Boston may have had Sam Adams but, once turned to independence, no Patriot felt the fire with more passion than William Henry Drayton. He was a true zealot for the cause.

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