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William Wragg

Death: September 02, 1777 (58-67)
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Wragg and Marie Wragg
Husband of Henrietta Wragg
Father of Charlotte Smythe

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Immediate Family

About William Wragg

Loyalist. Wragg was born in South Carolina, the son of Samuel Wragg and Marie DuBosc. His father was a prosperous merchant and influential member of the Royal Council. William benefited from his father’s wealth and influence and was educated in England at Westminster, St. John’s College, Oxford, and the Middle Temple. Called to the English Bar in 1733, he practiced law until he returned to South Carolina about the time of his father’s death. In England he married Mary Wood, and the union produced one son. Mary Wragg died in 1767, and William married his cousin Henrietta Wragg on February 5, 1769. His second marriage produced four children.

When Samuel Wragg died in 1750, William inherited substantial property, including the 6,000-acre Ashley Barony, a Charleston townhouse, 6,900 acres on the Pee Dee River, and three plantations: River Settlement, Middle Settlement, and Wampee. In 1777 Wragg’s estate included 7,100 acres and 256 slaves with an appraised value of £36,359 sterling.

Wragg continued his father’s tradition of public service. Named to the Royal Council in 1753, he supported the council in its controversies with the Commons House over the tax bill. Wragg became the spokesman for the council and for the crown as the ultimate source of authority. Ironically, in an attempt to appease the Commons House, Governor William Henry Lyttleton asked the crown to suspend Wragg because of his vociferous support of the crown. On December 6, 1757, Wragg was suspended, and he was later removed.

In 1758 St. John’s Colleton Parish elected Wragg to the Commons House of Assembly, where he would represent the parish until 1768. He declined further service because he did not support the Massachusetts and Virginia Resolutions. St. Helena’s Parish elected him in 1773, but again he refused to serve. During his time in the Commons House, Wragg consistently supported the prerogatives of the British crown. He opposed the actions of the Stamp Act Congress. In 1769 he published “Reasons for Not Concurring in the Non-Importation Resolution” in the South-Carolina Gazette. He also protested the erection of a statue honoring William Pitt, suggesting one of King George III instead. In 1769 Wragg declined appointment as chief justice for South Carolina because he did not wish to profit from his devotion to the crown. He also declined reappointment to the Royal Council.

In 1775 Wragg refused to sign the Non-Importation Association or to recognize the authority of the Continental Congress. Confined to his plantation, Wragg refused to take an oath of abjuration in 1777. Banished from South Carolina, Wragg left his wife and daughters and sailed for Amsterdam in July. On September 2, 1777, his ship, the Commerce, foundered off the coast of Holland. Wragg drowned trying to save the life of his son.

The English honored Wragg’s loyalty with a tablet in his memory–the first erected for an American. Now in Westminster Abbey, the inscription is a fitting tribute to his devotion to England: “In Him, Strong natural Parts, improved by Education, together with Love of Justice and Humanity, Formed the compleat character of A Good Man.”


William Wragg, a South Carolina born attorney, legislator, and plantation owner, practiced law in England but returned to South Carolina circa 1750. Wragg's first wife was Mary Wood (d. 1767). He married second his cousin Henrietta Wragg (1737-1802), and their children were William Wragg (d. 1803), Henrietta Wragg (who married Rev. Milward Pogson), Elizabeth Wragg, and Charlotte Wragg (who married William Loughton Smith). William Wragg Smith (1808-1875) was the son of William Loughton Smith and Charlotte Wragg.

William Wragg holds an interesting place in loyalist history. He is the only civilian participant in the American Revolution to be memorialized within London's Westminster Abbey. Within the same hallowed walls lie the bodies of General Burgoyne and the British spy John André, but a plantation owner from South Carolina is the lone American loyalist to have his name engraved in the abbey.

Wragg was born in 1714 in Charleston, South Carolina to the merchant Samuel Wragg and his Huguenot wife, Marie DuBose. Three years after his birth, William's father bought a 12,000-acre plantation, naming it Ashley Barony. Samuel Wragg was not always supervising his many slaves in the fields as he also had to oversee his transatlantic trading company. One such business journey threatened to be the end of both the plantation owner and his young son.

Four year-old William was no doubt thrilled to be sailing with his father on the Crowley in May, 1718. However, when when the ship was just off of Charleston, it was attacked by pirates who were blockading the city's harbour. And not just any buccaneers -- these men were led by Captain Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, the scourge of the seas. His ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, and three others had already plundered four colonial merchant ships when they boarded the Wraggs' ship.

Teach had all of the Crowley's 80 passengers thrown into the hold, including little William. Locked in the dark and cramped quarters, none of the hostages had any reason to believe they would live another day. Samuel Wragg tried to negotiate the release of Blackbeard's captives, finally convincing the pirate that they could be exchanged for ransom. Oddly enough, Captain Teach's only demand was for a chest of medicine. (Besides suffering from the wounds of battle, some of Blackbeard's crew had contracted malaria and syphilis.)

Samuel Wragg volunteered to go ashore and procure the chest. He offered to leave little William behind as a guarantee that he would return. (No doubt his four year-old son was still down in the hold when his father proposed such an alarming arrangement.) Blackbeard did not let Samuel leave his son; he recognized that the wealthy merchant was too strategic a passenger to release, and so he sent another hostage to secure the needed medicine.

After days went by and no drugs were delivered to his ship, Blackbeard threatened to have Wragg killed and then ransack Charleston. He ordered his small flotilla to sail for the undefended city. Men quickly took up muskets to ward off the pirates while women and children desperately sought out hiding places. In the end, a chest containing £300- 400's worth of medicine was sent out to the Queen Anne's Revenge. Satisfied, Blackbeard stripped the Crowley's passengers of most of their clothes and had them put ashore where they were forced to walk through the woods back to Charleston.

Miraculously, little four year-old William Wragg survived his imprisonment and the long walk to Charleston. Unabashed by his encounter with Blackbeard, he once again boarded a sailing ship a few years later, this time to receive an English education. He attended Westminster School, Middle Temple and then Oxford University. (Did he persuade any of his school mates that he had actually been held hostage by the pirate Blackbeard?)

After a short time in the legal profession, Wragg returned to South Carolina. He married Mary Wood, and the couple had two daughters. The speaker of South Carolina's House of Assembly, John Matthews, made Miss Mary Wragg his wife in 1766; Judith Wragg would marry an English soldier in the Prince of Wales Regiment in 1781. At the death of his father in 1750, Wragg became one of the wealthiest men in South Carolina and the lord of the family's massive estate.

A later writer described the new master of Ashley Barony as "a man of lofty character, highly respected, and of abundant fortune". He was one "who dared to differ with his people and to sacrifice everything for the truest of all liberty, the liberty of his own conscience".

Political Career

Had he not involved himself in the politics of South Carolina, the most exciting time in Wragg's life would have been his days as a child hostage of Blackbeard. However, the storm clouds of the American Revolution were beginning to gather on the horizon. Wragg was appointed to the colony's Royal Council, but by 1756 he had become involved in a power struggle over whether the council or the colony's assembly should control the tax office. The new governor of the colony suspended Wragg for being "the chief incendiary" in the dispute.

Over the succeeding years, his sense of duty led Wragg to defend British policies, creating many enemies within the rebel faction. He put his loyalist views into print in 1769 with the publishing of "Reasons for Not Concurring in the Non-Importation Resolution".

In 1774, the rebels of South Carolina declared that the 60 year-old Wragg was "inimical to the liberties of the Colonies" and confined him to Ashley Barony. In July of 1777, the revolutionary council banished him for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the rebel cause.

Leaving Henrietta and his daughters behind, Wragg boarded the Commerce for England. His son Billy and African slave Tom were his only company. What was supposed to be a transatlantic journey to the safety of Europe would prove to be yet another tragic voyage for a travelling Wragg father and son.

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William Wragg's Timeline

May 14, 1774
September 2, 1777
Age 63