Gadsden began his rise to prominence as a merchant and patriot in Charleston. He prospered as a merchant, and built the wharf in Charleston that still bears his name. He served as captain of a militia company during a 1759 expedition against the Cherokees. He was first elected to the Commons House of Assembly in 1757, and began a long friction with autocratic royal governors.
In 1765 the assembly made him one of their delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City, which was called to protest the Stamp Act. While his fellow delegates Thomas Lynch and John Rutledge served on committees to draft appeals to the House of Lords and Commons respectively, Gadsden refused any such assignment, since in his view Parliament had no rights in the matter. He addressed himself with outspoken support for the Declaration of Rights produced by the Congress. His addresses brought him to the attention of Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, and the two began a long correspondence and friendship. Gadsden was eventually known as "the Sam Adams of the South".
On his return from New York, Gadsden became one of the founders and leaders of the Charleston Sons of Liberty. He had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the militia. He was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress the following year. He left Congress early in 1776 to assume command of the 1st South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army and to serve in the Provincial Congress of South Carolina.
In February 1776, South Carolina President John Rutledge named him a brigadier general in charge of the state's military forces. As the British prepared to attack Charleston, Major General Charles Lee ordered outlying positions abandoned. Rutledge and the local officers disagreed. A compromise was reached and as William Moultrie prepared the defenses on Sullivan's Island, Gadsden paid for, and his regiment built, a bridge that would allow their escape if the position were threatened. The British attack was repulsed. The Continental Congress rewarded Gadsden by appointing him as a brigadier general in the Continental Army in September 1776.
When the British laid siege to Charleston in 1780, John Randolph, as president of the council fled to North Carolina to ensure a "government in exile" should the city fall. Gadsden remained, along with Governor Rawlins Lowndes. General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered the Continental Army garrison on May 12 to General Sir Henry Clinton. At the same time, Gadsden represented the civil government and surrendered the city. He was sent on parole to his Charleston house.
Gadsden was also a member of the state convention in 1788 and voted for ratification of the United States Constitution. He died from an accidental fall on September 15, 1805, in Charleston, and is buried there in St. Phillip's Churchyard.
Fiery "Lover of Country": A Man of Explosive Temperament, South Carolina's Christopher Gadsden Willingly Endured Solitary Confinement Rather Than Forsake the Cause of American Independence
Apr 18, 2005; The South Carolina legislature elected 58-year-old Christopher Gadsden governor on January 18, 1782, but South Carolina's leading...