Countless invaluable contributions were made during Revolutionary times by great leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison. Yet, many of them, while learned and accomplished, never served in any military capacity.
But for the ones who did, it was not only an “additional feather” in their proverbial “caps,” but also lent another dimension to the way in which they served their country, a sort of courage that is rarely tested in quite the same fashion in the civilian realm. There are some lessons that are only to be learned on the battlefield and Robert Barnwell of South Carolina was indeed a student schooled in the finer points of “soldiering on.”
Barnwell was born on this day in 1761 in the beautiful coastal jewel of Beaufort, South Carolina. A mere 16 years later that spirited young man entered the Continental militia as a private.
Sadly in the summer of 1779, he sustained a whoping 17 wounds in the Battle of Matthews’ Plantation (Johns Island, SC). Not surprisingly, he was presumed dead and stripped of his supplies on the field. Thankfully though he was discovered alive by a kindly slave who transported his war-wracked body to the home of his aunt wherein he miraculously recovered.
Never one to be labeled a quitter, the experienced young soldier re-enlisted and was assigned the rank of lieutenant in the spring of 1780. Yet again, hardship quickly befell him as he was taken prisoner during the siege of Charleston. He was held captive for over a year on a prison ship called Pack Horse.
Once released, an older and wiser, and certainly even braver Barnwell again re-entered Continental forces and once the Revolutionary War was over, he found himself at the prominent rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
As successful soldiers are often compelled to do, Barnwell entered the political arena in his home state. He served honorably at both the state and federal level. Perhaps his highest achievements in public service were serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1788-1789) and as a representative to the South Carolina Convention that was responsible for the ratification of the United States Constitution.
So just what makes Robert Barnwell such a fine example of an American Patriot? Of course, in his later years, he served in some rather esteemed public offices and that is certainly impressive in the worldly way in which we tend to regard success.
But when you look farther back in time to that impressionable and spirited boy who, with great zeal, joined in the fight for American independence, you will perhaps see another facet of what qualifies as a true and resounding success story. Not only did he enter into the service of his country at the tender age of 16. But after experiencing that which would make a seasoned soldier opt not to extend his tour of duty, Barnwell did just that, twice, in fact!
Remarkable when you consider that, taking into account his injuries and imprisonment, no one would have thought him anything other than an honorable and brave man had he opted out of continued military service after his initial injuries. Yet, he persevered in spite of unimaginable tribulation that he knew, firsthand, could await a soldier during those tumultuous years.
And so it would seem, to Patriot Robert Barnwell, that liberty was worth the steep price he willingly paid.