Pierce Butler, Signer of the US Constitution

public profile

Pierce Butler, Signer of the US Constitution's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


Pierce Butler, I

Birthplace: County Carlow, Ireland
Death: Died in Philadelphia Philadelphia County Pennsylvania, USA
Place of Burial: Christ Episcopal Church and Churchyard Philadelphia Philadelphia County Pennsylvania, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir Richard Butler, 5th Baronet Cloughgrenan and Henrietta Butler (Percy)
Husband of Polly Butler (Middleton)
Father of Sarah Mease; Harriett Percy Butler; Frances (twin) Butler; Ann Eliza (twin) Butler; Pierce Butler, II and 3 others
Brother of Sir Thomas Butler, 6th Baronet

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Pierce Butler, Signer of the US Constitution

Reference: "Wister and Butler Families Papers" at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Both the Wister and Butler families were prominent in Philadelphia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and had ties to numerous other prominent families in the Philadelphia region, Georgia, and Great Britain.

Major Pierce Butler (1744-1822) was born in Ireland, the son of Sir Richard Butler, the fifth baronet of Cloughrenan, and Lady Henrietta Percy Butler. He first came to the United States in 1758 to fight for the British during the French and Indian War. In 1772, he married Mary Middleton, the daughter of a wealthy South Carolina planter, and resigned from the British Army. In his new life as a Southern planter, Butler eventually built up his land holdings to more than 10,000 acres. His primary holding was Butler's Island plantation, a large producer of rice located near the Altamaha River off the southeastern coast of Georgia.

Butler spent the rest of his life concerned with planting and politics. He served as a representative from South Carolina in the Second Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, the U.S. Senate, and the South Carolina Legislature. He also served a short stint in the South Carolina Militia to fight off the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War.

Butler and his wife had eight children, five of whom lived to adulthood: Sarah (circa 1772-1831), twins Anne Elizabeth (Eliza) (1774-1854) and Frances (1774-1836), Harriot Percy (circa 1775-1815), and Thomas (1778-1838). After Mary Middleton Butler's death in 1790, the family lived primarily in Philadelphia and at a summer home on Old York Road in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Butler became estranged from daughter Sarah and son Thomas. His other daughters never married, and Butler relied on Frances to administer the family's plantations and other properties. She was treated generously in her father's will and served as executor of his large estate.

Butler included a provision in his will to allow Sarah's three sons to inherit part of his estate, but only if they changed their last names to Butler. Sarah's son Pierce (Mease) Butler (1810-1867) did so in 1827 as a teenager, and his brother John (Mease) Butler (1806-1847) belatedly followed suit five years later.

In 1834, Pierce married well-known British actress Frances Anne (Fanny) Kemble (1809-1893). Fanny was the daughter of Charles Kemble, a noted English actor and sometime manager of London's Covent Garden, and Marie Theresa de Camp Kemble. Her uncle John Philip Kemble and aunt Sarah Kemble Siddons were also well-known actors. Fanny joined the family business reluctantly, but was an immediate success. She met Pierce during an acting tour of the U.S. that she and her father undertook in 1832.

Pierce and Fanny married in 1834, but their marriage was plagued by rumors of infidelity on his part and disagreements over the Butlers' reliance on slavery. As described in her 1863 memoir, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, Fanny was appalled at the fact that nearly everything around her was produced by the toil of enslaved people. She left Pierce in 1845 to return to her native England, and they divorced in 1849. By the late 1850s, Pierce had nearly bankrupted the plantation, and sold off nearly half of the 1000 enslaved people he owned. Despite his mishandling of the plantation business, the land remained in Butler family hands until the 1920s, when it was sold to land developers.

Before they divorced, Pierce and Fanny had two children, Sarah (1835-1908) and Frances (1838-1910). Frances shared her father's pro-slavery views, and moved with him to Georgia at the end of the Civil War to attempt to rejuvenate the family's plantations. After his death in 1867, she continued those efforts alone. She married Rev. James Wentworth Leigh in 1871, and had one daughter live to adulthood, Alice Dudley Leigh. In 1877, after years of frustrations with the plantation and continual quarrels with Sarah and her husband about the way in which the estate should be managed, Frances and her family left Georgia for parish life in England.

Her sister Sarah married Dr. Owen J. Wister of Germantown in 1859. Sarah and her husband disagreed with Pierce's and Frances' pro-slavery views, and sided with the Union during the Civil War. Sarah had one child, Owen ("Dan") Wister (1860-1938). The younger Owen Wister later went on to write the celebrated Western novel, The Virginian. In 1898, he married his cousin Mary Channing ("Molly") Wister (1869-1913). The two had six children.


Pierce Butler was a soldier, planter, and statesman, recognized as one of United States' Founding Fathers. He represented South Carolina in the Continental Congress, the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the U.S. Senate. One of the largest slaveholders in the United States, Butler defended American slavery for both political and personal motives, though he had private misgivings about the institution, and particularly about the African slave trade. He introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause – Article 4, Section 2 – of the U.S. Constitution, but his authorship of this clause has been questioned.












Pierce Butler pp. 70-76

Pierce Butler grave in Philadelphia, PA Find a Grave http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GScid=641287&GRid=2852&

=Birth: Jul. 11, 1744

County Carlow, Ireland Death: Feb. 15, 1822 Philadelphia Philadelphia County Pennsylvania, USA

United States Constitution Signer, Continental Congressman, US Senator. Served in the British Army. Sent to America in 1758 to quell unrest in Boston. Resigned his commission and became a planter in South Carolina. Supported the Whig cause in the Revolutionary War, as served as South Carolina’s Militia Adjutant General. Elected as a Delegate from South Carolina to the Continental Congress, serving in 1787. Member of the U.S. Constitution Convention of 1787, supporting the Madison-Wilson caucus, and defended the interests of southern slaveholders. Signed the Constitution for South Carolina. Elected US Senator from South Carolina, serving from 1789 to 1796. Elected again to the US Senate from South Carolina to fill the unexpired term of John Ewing Colhoun, who died in office. Served from 1802 until his resignation in 1804. Moved to Philadelphia in his last years to be near his daughter, who married a Philadelphia physician. (bio by: Russ Dodge)

Family links:

 Mary Middleton Butler (1750 - 1790)*

 Sarah Butler Mease (1772 - 1831)*
 Pierce Butler (1777 - 1780)*
 Thomas Butler (1778 - 1838)*
  • Calculated relationship

Burial: Christ Episcopal Church and Churchyard Philadelphia Philadelphia County Pennsylvania, USA

Edit Virtual Cemetery info [?]

Maintained by: Find A Grave Record added: May 03, 1998 Find A Grave Memorial# 2852


Pierce Butler (July 11, 1744 – February 15, 1822) was a soldier, planter, and statesman, recognized as one of United States' Founding Fathers. He represented South Carolina in the Continental Congress, the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the U.S. Senate. As one of the largest slaveholders in the United States, you defended American slavery for both political and personal motives, though you had private misgivings about the institution, and particularly about the African slave trade. You introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause of the U.S. Constitution during the convention, and supported other measures to benefit slaveholders, including counting the full slave population in state totals for the purposes of Congressional apportionment. The compromise measure provided for counting three-fifths of the slave population in state totals, which led to Southern states having disproportionate power. In late 1785 you returned to the United States. You became an outspoken advocate of reconciliation with former Loyalists and of equal representation for the residents of the backcountry. Testifying to your growing political influence, the South Carolina legislature asked you to represent the state at theConstitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787.Your experiences as a soldier and planter-legislator led to his forceful support for a strong union of the states. You had come to appreciate the need for a national approach to defense. As a planter and merchant, he understood that economic growth and the international respect to support trade depended upon a strong central government. At the same time, you energetically supported the special interests of his region. He introduced theFugitive Slave Clause (Article 4, Section 2), which established protection for slavery in the Constitution. In addition, while privately criticizing the international trade in African slaves, he supported the passage in the Constitution that prohibited regulation of the trade for 20 years. By the time of the Constitutional Convention, some northern states had already abolished slavery, and others soon did so, leaving the new country largely divided between the slaveholding South and the free labor North. Similarly, Butler supported counting the full slave population in the states' totals for the purposes of Congressional apportionment, but had to be satisfied with the compromise to count three-fifths of the slaves toward that end.This gave the Southern whites (and states) representation out of proportion to their population, ensuring that the Southern planter elite would exert strong influence in national politics for decades.While supporting an institution integral to the Southern economy, Butler displayed nconsistencies that would bother associates throughout the rest of his political career. For example, Butler favored ratification of the Constitution, yet did not attend the South Carolina convention that ratified it. Later, he was elected by the Georgia state legislature to three separate terms in the United States Senate, but made abrupt changes in party allegiances during this period. Beginning as a Federalist, he switched to the Jeffersonian party in 1795. In 1804 he declared himself a political independent. Vice President Aaron Burr was Butler's guest at his St. Simons plantations in September 1804. Burr was, at the time, laying low after shooting Alexander Hamilton in the July 1804 duel. The states of New York and New Jersey had each indicted the Vice President for murder in the wake of the post-duel controversy. Burr had traveled during August,to Butler's plantation under the pseudonym Roswell King, which was Butler's overseer's name. During Burr's stay in early September, one of the worst hurricanes in history hit the area, and we have Burr's first-hand description, documenting both his stay and this event It is interesting to note that Butler's politics and public involvement mirror the political rise and fall of his friend Burr.After these successivechanges, voters did not elect him again to national office. They elected him three more times to the state legislature as an easterner who spoke on behalf of the west.Butler retired from politics in 1805. He spent much time in Philadelphia, where he had previously established a summer home, and where his oldest daughter Sarah lived with her family. She had three surviving sons before her father died, two of whom would become his heirs by irrevocably taking his surname. More than a decade before he died, he disinherited his only surviving son Thomas Butler, together with his French-born wife and children.Continuing his business ventures, Butler became one of the wealthiest men in the United States, with huge land holdings in several states. Like other Founding Fathers from his region, Butler also continued tosupport the institution of slavery. Some historians claim that he privately opposed slavery, and especially the international slave trade, but he tried to protect the institution as a politician because of its importance to the Southern economy. But, unlike Washington or Thomas Jefferson, for example, Butler never acknowledged the fundamental inconsistency in simultaneously defending the rights of the poor and supporting slavery. Associates referred to him as "eccentric" and an "enigma." He followed his own path to produce the maximum of liberty and respect for those individuals whom he classed as citizens. He wanted to maintain a strong central government, but a government that could never ride roughshod over the rights of the private citizen. He opposed the policies of the Federalists under Alexander Hamilton because he believed they had sacrificed the interests of westerners and had sought to force their policies on the opposition. He later split with Jefferson and the Democrats for the same reason. Butler emphasized his belief in the role of the common man. Late in life he summarized his view: "Our System is little better than [a] matter of Experiment.... much must depend on the morals and manners of the people at large."Following his wife's death in 1790, Major Pierce Butler sold off the last of their South Carolina holdings and invested in Georgia Sea Island plantations. Major Pierce Butler hired Roswell King as the manager of his two plantations on the Georgia Sea Islands. They had some conflicts as Butler wanted more moderate treatment of his slaves than was King's style. King left in 1820 to operate his own plantation near Darien. He also pursued plans in the 1830s to develop cotton mills in the Piedmont of Georgia, where he founded what became Roswell, Georgia in 1839.Butler disinherited his only surviving son, Thomas Butler, along with his French-born wife and children. He initially planned to leave his whole fortune to Pierce Butler Mease, the eldest son of his daughter Sarah Butler Mease, the only one of his daughters to marry and have children. The boy died in 1810 at age 9. Butler told Sarah he would leave his estate in equal parts to her surviving three sons (including one born that year), provided they irrevocably adopted Butler as their surname. Two of her sons, John and Pierce Butler Mease (born 1810 and named after the grandfather and the brother who died), did change their surnames after they came of age in order to inherit portions of the estate. Until they came of age, Butler's daughters Fraunces and Eliza inherited the most productive lands.In 1820 Major Butler hired Roswell King, Jr. as the manager of the plantations, which continued to be enormously profitable. After Butler died in 1822, King Jr. continued as manager on behalf of the estate, staying until 1838. He moved on to his own plantation in Alabama after the two Mease grandsons came of age, adopted the surname Butler, and inherited their portions. may you rest in peace! - MFPS

view all 12

Pierce Butler, Signer of the US Constitution's Timeline

July 11, 1744
County Carlow, Ireland
Age 26
Age 27
Charleston, SC, USA
Age 28
Charleston, SC, USA
Age 29
Charleston, SC, USA
Age 29
Charleston, SC, USA
Age 32
Charleston, SC, USA
Age 33
Charleston, SC, USA
February 15, 1822
Age 77
Philadelphia Philadelphia County Pennsylvania, USA
February 15, 1822
Age 77
Christ Episcopal Church and Churchyard Philadelphia Philadelphia County Pennsylvania, USA