Until 1760 William Moultrie had a fairly undistinguished career as a member of South Carolina's provincial assembly. But after playing a central role in putting down a Cherokee Indian uprising, he became a leader in his colony's military affairs, and early in the Revolution his expertise won him the command of the Continental army's Second Regiment. In 1776 his successful defense of the fort guarding Charleston harbor against a British fleet made him a national hero. Four years later the British captured him, and until 1782 he remained their prisoner.
In the original version of this portrait by Charles Willson Peale, a single star on the subject's epaulet indicates that Moultrie sat for it before Congress promoted him from brigadier to major general in late 1782. In this somewhat later replica, the artist updated his likeness by adding the second star. To commemorate the South Carolinian's finest moment in the field, Peale painted him against a rendering now barely perceptible, of the Charleston fortifications that he had so ably defended six years earlier.