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The Execution of Colonel Hayne

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

September 6.—In the Gazette of to-day, is the following letter from aCarolina Exile,” to the printer, on the late execution of Colonel Hayne:—”Sir: So great is my indignation, on being assured that the haughty and bloodthirsty commandant of Charleston, Lieutenant-Colonel Nisbet Balfour, has executed, with every mark of ignominy and disgrace, my amiable and truly worthy countryman, Colonel Isaac Hayne, of South Carolina, I cannot resist the impulse I feel to address through your paper, the public and my fellow-citizens on the subject, though totally unaccustomed to appear in print.

“How long, sir, are we to suffer the rights of humanity to be trampled upon by this upstart, arrogant Briton?1 How long will American pusillanimity (for such I must call it) suffer unavenged the best blood of her sons to be wantonly spilled by the inhuman butchers that are now ravaging our fertile country? When, sir, shall we see a proper attention to the rights of human nature, and a regard to the many, supersede, as it ever ought, the particular interests of a few? How often are we to hear our insolent invaders declare that we dare not retaliate, and suffer them to misconstrue American mercy and generosity into an abject fear of consequences? In my opinion, a longer perseverance in the mild and merciful line, Congress, their generals and other officers, seem to have adopted, will be highly criminal, and amount to something very like betraying the trust reposed in them by the people. All ranks and orders of men must be fully convinced by this time, that nothing but a most exemplary retaliation can check the insolence of our enemies, and show the commandant of Charleston and every British officer, that we are determined to punish every future breach of the laws of nations and of war.

“For your information, and that of the public at large, I beg leave to add that Colonel Hayne was one of those virtuous patriots who refused the British protection till reduced to the last extremity,2 and then only accepted it on special terms of never being obliged to turn out to oppose his friends and countrymen in arms. As soon as he was called on, contrary to his agreement, to draw his sword against the friends of his bosom, his relations and dearest connections, he thought himself justified in vacating, on his part, the contract which the British had broken on theirs. He flew to arms and accepted of a commission either from our American general -or the governor of South Carolina. Being afterwards made prisoner in a skirmish with the British horse, it is said he was not even tried by a court-martial, but though an officer of the rank of colonel, he has been hanged like a common felon, after being led, bound with his hands behind him, through the principal streets of Charleston, as a spectacle for Tories, protection traitors, and the vile rabble of the British army to scoff at.

“Could my weak pen do justice to your character, my dear departed countryman, how pleasing would the task be! With what satisfaction would I show to the world those virtues for which you were so highly eminent! With what rapture would I paint you in the amiable lights of a tender husband, an affectionate father, kind master, sincere and benevolent friend, and honest patriot! But I am unequal to the task. Suffice it to say, that you are entombed in the breast of every virtuous Carolinian, and that your country will one day rejoice in an opportunity of erecting a more permanent monument to your memory.

“When the British major Andre suffered the just fate of a spy, all pens were ready to heighten his character-, and even that of a distinguished American soldier was devoted to emblazon him, attributing to him virtues as his own that existed nowhere but in the sympathetic and generous breast of the writer. How great disservice the author of that panegyric on that officer has done to his country, and the cause of liberty, he does not know. I am indeed sure he could not have intended any by praising an unfortunate enemy whom he thought virtuous. One fact, however, Mr. Printer, I aver and can fully prove: that when the intelligence of Andre’s execution was brought to St. Augustine, the unhappy defenceless exiles there had well-nigh fallen victims to the rage of an inflamed soldiery, encouraged and set on by the most brutal officers that ever disgraced any service. It is to that ill-timed praise of a man taken earning money in a way the most dishonorable and disgraceful to a soldier and a man of virtue, (if he really were such,) that I attribute the cruel execution of my worthy countryman.

“The high encomiums passed by American writers on a British spy, have been made use of to justify a charge of want of humanity in our excellent commander-in-chief, and the court of officers that condemned him; and the author of these lines has more than once heard British officers declare that the very first opportunity would be catched at, to put to death some distinguished character among the Americans. To this vindictive spirit Colonel Hayne has fallen a sacrifice, though in no way circumstanced like Andre?

“If the unprincipled robber of a public library,3 the cringing insidious sycophant4 and base spy could call forth so many pens to celebrate him for supposed virtues, how much more ought to be said of the brilliant virtue and unsullied character of a Hayne, our own countryman?

“I trust, Mr. Printer, that a severe retaliation for this murder will take place by order from Congress, not on protection men and such insignificant miscreants, (to destroy these would please Colonel Balfour and his peculating herd of police;) but on British officers of rank. I wish to see one of equal rank hanged whenever in our power. I expect shortly to be enabled to take the field with the southern army, and am ready to submit to my fate, should it be my misfortune to fall under the power of British butchers. No apprehension of consequences, however, will prevent my avenging with my own hand, (should an opportunity offer,) the blood of my illustrious and unhappy countryman. I am mistaken and do not know the feelings of my fellow-citizens, if such will not be the determination of every honest Carolinian.”5


1 This redoubted Lieutenant-Colonel Balfour is the son of Balfour the auctioneer and bookseller at Edinburgh. The father is employed almost daily in knocking off eighteen-penny lots of old books and pamphlets in sweet Edinburgh, whilst the son, forgetful of the ancestors he sprung from, assumes more state and consequence than the first peer of the British realm.
2 Colonel Hayne was not taken in Charleston; but after the fall of that garrison, when the small-pox became so very fatal in his neighborhood as to threaten the total destruction of his family, he went to Charleston in hopes of getting a parole for the country, and to be enabled to get his wife and children inoculated by a surgeon; but notwithstanding every exertion by himself and friends, the inexorable commandant gave him no alternative but protection or a prisonship. The impending distress of his family prevailed, in a heart replete with fine feelings, and he took protection, after many days’ debate, on special conditions, but too late to effect the purposes he intended, as his family had taken the infection, whereby he lost his wife and two or three children.
3 The library of the University of Philadelphia received as a preset from the Academy of Sciences in France, by the hands of Doctor Franklin, a complete copy of that most invaluable work called L’Encyclopédie, which the virtuous and gallant Major Andre stole, and carried off with him. This fact is too well known to need a mention of the names of the witnesses; if necessary, however, they can be produced.
4 Major Andre had the address to insinuate himself so much into the favor of his commander-in-chief, that he was said to have gained an absolute ascendency over that officer. The consequence was that he disposed of all offices and favors, and drove out of Sir Henry Clinton’s family all his former friends and favorites, who possessed too much independency of soul to accept any thing through the medium of Mr. Andre, and were too honest to stoop to use those means by which this pattern of virtue succeeded. This is by no means a private anecdote, but was the public conversation of officers of various ranks in Charleston, after the surrender of that place.
5 Pennsylvania Packet, September 6.