Captain William Lawton

This biography appeared in the Volume 3, 1997/98 issue of The Lawton Chronicles, of the Lawton Heritage Society, of Church Lawton, Cheshire, England.

An 18th Century Planter of Edsito Island, South Carolina – of English Origin.
By Thomas O. Lawton Jn. 1997

By way of personal introduction, I am the current president of the South Carolina Lawton Family Association. Parties from our association have visited Church Lawton on two occasions, first in 1989 and more recently in 1995. The reason for these visits was to learn more about the genealogy of our family, which are all descended from Captain William Lawton. My research has documented the life of Captain William Lawton following his arrival on Edisto Island off the South Carolina coastline, but where in England did our ancestor originate from?

Sometime ago a relative of mine passed on to me a photograph of a pen and ink seal which had been handed down from one generation of South Carolina Lawtons to the next. On viewing this photograph there is no doubt in my mind that the arms in the photograph follow Burkes General Armoury except that the wolf is not shown to be bleeding. (A sketcher probably couldn’t see the drops of blood on the small seal). The seal is somewhat different from the arms on the snuff box that Charles II gave the Lawtons’ of Lawton Hall while in hiding there during the time of Oliver Cromwell. The King’s Arms are on the top of the snuff box and the Lawton Arms are on the bottom. The snuff box arms show a helmet between the crest and the shield and one cinque foil rather than three cinque foils. The snuff box arms also has elaborate mantling. This snuff box was shown to me in 1970 by John Alistair Lawton, the heir apparent to Lawton Hall, when he joined us for dinner at the Churchill Hotel in London.

I am told that the seal itself is affixed to what looks like a hand-held wax stamp which is on a chain that could have been for a watch, this seal is now believed to be lodged in a bank lockbox in Atlanta, Georgia. Another Lawton family group, that could be related to our group, also reside in South Carolina and originate from Dobcross/Saddleworth in Yorkshire. They possess silverware marked with the crest of the Lawtons’ of Lawton Hall.

My search to date for genealogical documentation linking Captain William Lawton with a definite English location has proved unfruitful. His exact year of birth is not known but is likely to lie between 1690-1717. The only William Lawton on the Lawtons’ of Lawton Hall pedigree that is close to these dates was baptised at All Saints’ Church in 1684, he however died without issue in 1714. At one stage I thought that Captain William Lawton was the son of Thomas Lawton and his wife Mary Reeve of Snape adjoining Church Lawton. This was the conclusion of Dr. J. Phillips Dodd, Editor Emeritus of the Cheshire History Magazine, a PHD from the University of London, and former professor at the University of Manchester.

However, Dr. Dodd apparently did not cross check his plausible conclusion, for had he done so, he would have found that William Lawton son of Thomas and Mary of Snape had died unmarried, and without issue, in 1724 back home in England.

Captain William Lawton’s first son was Josiah, could Josiah be a family name, and a possible clue to locating theparentage of Captain William Lawton. I commisioned Richard W. Price & Associates, Genealogical Services of Salt Lake City to investigate the roots of Captain William Lawton. They consulted the International Genealogical Index (IGI), held on computer disk, for all births of William Lawton’s in England 1690-1717 and sixteen possibilities were uncovered. None of these had fathers named Josiah, but one had a brother Josiah. This is a family from Newcastle-under-Lyme, only nine miles from Church Lawton. The father was named William and his wife Mary and they had thirteen children. Their son Josiah was born in 1687 and their son William was born in 1688. We know that Captain William Lawton was a wealthy man. The Parish Registers for Newcastle-under-Lyme show that William Senior was an Alderman in 1688 and he later became Mayor. William Lawton Senior may well have passed some of his leadership skills to his offspring. With a large family, some of the sons would probably have become wealthy unless William Senior left his estate almost entirely to the eldest child. William was the fourth son, this put him in a likely position to have money to travel to the colonies, but not enough of an estate to encourage him to remain in England.

Whether these ideas are along the correct route only time, hopefully, will tell; and why our family group possesses the above mentioned seal also remains an unanswered mystery.

The remainder of this article concentrates on the life of Captain William Lawton following his arrival on American shores and are based on two talks I gave to the south Carolina Lawton Family Association in 1957 and 1989.

Captain William Lawton during his short span of life of less than thirty years in South Carolina, was an exemplary person who served his church, his country and his family well, until his death in 1757.

Recorded documents give a rather comprehensive picture of the life of William Lawton, who died on Edisto Islandbetween October 9 and October 15, 1757. His will referred to him as “Planter” of St. John’s Parish, Edisto Island, Colleton County, but when Joseph Seabrook, Daniel Townsend and David Adams appraised his estate on December 19, 1757, they listed him as “Captain”.

William Lawton was a Lieutenant and Captain of the Edisto Island Company of the Colleton County Regiment of Foot on May 4, 1757, according to the South Carolina Treasury Journals, and one wonders if he died of problems received in fighting Indian Wars, or from some sort of plague that took him and his oldest son, Josiah, to their deaths within a few short days of each other.

Inferences are that Captain Lawton was a Presbyterian or an Anglican, although there are a few extant records of early Edisto Island Churches. James Clark, in his will of April 16, 1750, names as trustees “My loving brothers-in-law, William Jenkins and William Lawton” of a one hundred pound trust “for the use and support of the Gospel in the Presbyterian Congregation in Edisto Island”.

On the other hand the minutes of August 6, 1750, the Vestry of St. John’s Colleton, the Anglican Congregation for Edsito, read “Also this Day agreed that Mr. Samuel Jones and Mr. Joseph Phips and Mr. William Lawton are appointed overseers for the Poor of the said Parish”. Under the statute law, each vestry was required to nominate two or more sober, discreet and substantial persons for this post. The overseers of the poor were also required by statute to meet with the church wardens monthly after services to consult and regulate matters pertaining to the poor and to make accountings to the vestries of their activities. Both the church wardens and overseers of the poor were subject to fines for failing and/or refusing to accept their appointments. Regardless of his denominational affiliation, Captain Lawton was interested in religious literature; his estate inventory lists Watts’ Sermons, Burket on the New Testament,one large and two small Bibles and John Bunyans’ Pilgrims Progress. According to several learned professors of religion the possession of these books would tend to place him in the Presbyterian Congregation, rather than the Baptist or Episcopal churches.

William Lawton was also a man of education and culture. When he witnessed the will of John Sealy on March 13, 1737 (his first appearance on South Carolina records), he was the only one of the three witnesses to write his name rather than use a mark. His library at the time of his death in 1757, included “Two volumes – Family Instructor”, “Drilling Court” and “a Dixionary”. The household list showed the usual tin ware, “old dishes”, trunks, etc and also a number of finer items, such as silver forks and spoons, china, damask table linen, curtains, “looking glasses”, pictures, tea tables, desks “teasters and valiants”, “pavillions”, etc. His personal wardrobe included for dress occasions a broadcloth suit, a wig, gold sleeve buttons and silver shoe buckles. For everyday wear he could select from two hats, three Fustian coats, an old Welch coat, a broadcloth coat, “Coat and Breches Bagathey”, a riding coat and a callico “rapper”. An English horse whip and silver watch were special accessories.

The William Lawton Homestead was a six hundred and sixty acre place, formed by a two hundred acre tract acquired from the Executors of William Tilley in May, 1744, and an adjoining four hundred and sixty acres purchased from James Cuthbert in January, 1756. Thirty six slaves cultivated rice, indigo, peas, corn, and tended four bee hives and the birds and animals, which at Captain Lawton’s death numbered twenty three turkeys, thirty one fowls, fifteen geese, sixty five cattle, thirty six sheep, fifty one hogs and six horses. Implements used to maintain this establishment included cooper tools, reap hooks, branding irons, spades axes, hoes, bellows, saws, eight rice mills, three corn mills, two spinning wheels, one quilting frame, channel pumps and a number of iron and earthenware pots.

Captain Lawton dealt in the slave market. Benjamin Gowen gave him a mortgage for three hundred pounds securingfive slaves in March 1753 and William Fry executed a mortgage to him on two slaves in March, 1754, for one hundred seven pounds, seven shillings and four pence.

Captain William Lawton was married on three occasions. His first wife was Mary Clarke and their union produced four children, Josiah Lawton, William Lawton Jn, Sarah Lawton (later Seabrook) and Jerimah Lawton. His second marriage was to Mary Winborn produced two children followed by his third marriage to Mary Grimball. Joseph Lawton was the only child from the third marriage and his descendants, including myself, are known as the “Robertville, Blackswamp and Lawtonville Lawtons”. At his death, Captain Lawton’s personal estate was appraised at seven thousand nine hundred pounds, seven shillings and six pence, exclusive of land. The inventory of personal property consisted of eighty minutely detailed pages. This amount denotes he was one of the wealthiest men in the Province. According to an article published in the October 1988 issue of the South Carolina Historical Magazine by Richard Waterhouse, History Professor at the University of Sydney, Australia, an inventory of this magnitude would have placed Captain Lawton in the top 1.17% and in the 99.42 percentile for the entire colony.

How he became so rich in the short period in which he lived in South Carolina is one of the greatest mysteriesabout the elusive record of this man!