In commemoration of his finest moment in the war for independence, Moultrie is depicted with a background of Charleston fortifications, including a palmetto tree, Fort Moultrie, and the Palmetto flag proudly flying.
General William Moultrie (born Charleston, S.C. 1730 - died 1805) became a national hero after his successful defense of the fort guarding Charleston harbour in 1776. As second in command of the city's defenses, Moultrie was charged with the building of Fort Sullivan, which was later renamed Fort Moultrie in his honor. Having no stone available for the construction, he used palmetto logs and sand. On June 28, 1776, Commodore Peter Parker began his bombardment of the Fort, but the spongy palmetto logs and sand absorbed the impact of the cannon balls, and Parker and the British fleet were ultimately repelled. This important victory gave new hope to the fight for independence, and in 1777 Moultrie was commissioned a Brigadier General in the Continental Army. He went on to command at Beaufort, South Carolina, February 3, 1779 and defeated 200 British troops, and helped organize Charleston's defenses when General Prevost threatened the city a few months later. He was captured by the British following the siege of Charleston on May 12, 1780, and remained imprisoned for the next two years. He was freed by exchange in February, 1782, and promoted to Major General later that year. He was twice elected to the Continental Congress, but declined to serve. He went on to serve in numerous public offices, including Senator and two terms as Governor of South Carolina.
Peale's portrait of Moultrie predates his promotion, as Moultrie is depicted with only one star on his epaulette. This is likely the portrait painted by Peale for his series of Eminent Americans that hung in the Peale Museum, and is listed by Peale scholar Charles Sellers as "unlocated." This is the portrait upon which engravings and later copies were based, and its discovery confirms Seller's prediction that it was "essentially the same as the family portrait (illustrated by Sellers p. 303), though with but one star on the epaulette and certainly in the smaller, gallery size, 24 x 20." Sellers presumes that it was painted in the summer of 1782 after Moultrie's release, when he may have travelled to Philadelphia and sat for it. Most of the extant copies by Peale and his relatives include two stars on Moultrie's epaulette, dating them to the period after his promotion in late 1782. These copies include one at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and a second at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston. The Freeman's Journal, Oct. 13, 1784, gives the first listing of the portraits "which Mr. C.W. Peale has now in his collection of celebrated personages" and included in this list is a portrait of William Moultrie- likely this portrait. It is not clear when it entered the Stevenson-Easby family, but it has remained unlocated and unpublished until now.