Governor, congressman. Born in Charleston on January 28, 1806, Aiken
was the son of William Aiken, a prominent Charleston merchant and planter,
and Henrietta Wyatt. Aiken received his early education from private
schools in Charleston and was graduated from South Carolina College in
1825. An extremely wealthy planter, Aiken made a fortune raising cotton
and rice and was equally successful in his investments in railroads and
other businesses. According to 1850 slave schedules, he possessed 878
slaves in Charleston and Colleton Districts. By 1860 census takers valued
his real and personal estates at $290,600 and $72,000, respectively.
On February 3, 1831, Aiken married Harriet Lowndes, a union that produced
one daughter, Henrietta.
secretary of war, vice president of the United States, U.S. senator.
in Abbeville District on March 18, 1782, the third
son of Patrick Calhoun, an upcountry planter and former legislator, and
Martha Caldwell. A prodigy, the young Calhoun lost his father at an
early age. His
older brothers, William and James, already successful cotton planters
and merchants, helped finance his education. Calhoun attended rural
academies before entering Yale at age twenty and graduating in two years.
He then attended Litchfield Law School in Connecticut before reading
law in Charleston with the distinguished attorney William Henry DeSaussure,
a prominent Federalist. Calhoun returned to Abbeville and began the
of law, which he disliked. He quickly turned his attention to politics,
election to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1808. During his one
term as a state legislator, Calhoun supported a white manhood suffrage
to the state constitution (adopted in 1810). In 1810 Calhoun ran successfully
for Congress as a Jeffersonian Republican and an aggressive champion
of national rights in the international arena, thus beginning a long,
and controversial career in national politics. Before taking his seat
in Congress, Calhoun attended to some personal business, marrying his
cousin Floride Bonneau Colhoun on January 8, 1811. The couple eventually
had ten children, of whom seven lived to maturity.
senator, soldier. Born on January 18, 1815, at Camden, Chesnut
was the son of James
of South Carolina’s wealthiest planters,
and Mary Cox. Chesnut attended local schools before entering the College
of New Jersey (Princeton) as a sophomore in 1832. He gave the valedictory
address at his graduation in 1835. Returning home, Chesnut sought a position
as aide to the governor but at his father’s insistence read law at
the Charleston office of James L. Petigru. He was admitted to the bar in
1837 and began to practice law in Camden. With the death of his older brother
in 1839, James became the heir apparent to his father’s vast fortune.
On April 23, 1840, James married Mary Boykin Miller of Stateburg. The
couple had no children.
Diarist. Chesnut was
born on her father’s plantation near Stateburg
in Sumter District on March 31, 1823. She is recognized as “the preeminent
writer of the Confederacy” because of the diary she kept during the
Civil War and revised for publication in the early 1880s. No other southern
writer of her era possessed the combination of literary cultivation, psychological
perception, opportunity to observe closely the upper echelons of the Confederacy,
and a willingness to write candidly about people, events, and issues—including
slavery. The resulting publication, much revised and more appropriately
labeled a memoir, secured her place in southern literary history.
Legislator, congressman. DeLarge was born on March 15, 1842, in Aiken, the son of a slave-owning mulatto tailor and his Haitian-born wife. At a time when few African Americans received any schooling, DeLarge attended primary school in North Carolina before returning to South Carolina to attend Wood High School in Charleston. He learned the barbering trade before enlisting in the Confederate navy. DeLarge’s reasons for supporting the Confederacy are unknown, but as a free person of color and member of South Carolina’s brown elite, he may have viewed Union troops as invaders. Apparently he later regretted his actions since he donated most of his wartime earnings to the Republican Party. Read Entire Article
Author, planter, politician. Elliott was the scion of one of South Carolina’s wealthiest and most distinguished families. He was born on April 27, 1788, in Beaufort, descended from the pioneer families of the old Beaufort District, principally the Elliotts and the Barnwells. His father, William Elliott II, was a patriot soldier in the Revolutionary War and pioneer of Sea Island cotton culture in South Carolina. As a consequence, William Elliott III, the eldest son, became one of the wealthiest planters in South Carolina. In 1860 he owned twelve plantations in the lowcountry; a summer home in Flat Rock, North Carolina; and 217 slaves. Read Entire Article
Free black entrepreneur. Originally named April, Ellison was the mulatto offspring of a slave woman and one of the Ellison men who owned her near Winnsboro in Fairfield District. In approximately 1802 he began an exceptional fourteen-year apprenticeship with a local cotton-gin maker. While slaves sometimes acquired skills, they typically remained unskilled all their lives. April’s apprenticeship allowed him to learn the craft of gin making, which also required mastering the skills of the blacksmith, machinist, and carpenter along with reading, writing, and arithmetic. As he gained more experience, April visited outlying plantations and did repair work there. During his free time he worked for wages, and by 1816 he had acquired the funds to purchase his freedom. Once free, April relocated to the town of Stateburg in Sumter District. By 1817 he purchased and freed his enslaved wife Matilda and their daughter Eliza Ann. In 1820 April legally changed his name to William. In freedom, the Ellisons had three sons. Read Entire Article
Politician, planter, poet, essayist. Grayson was born in Beaufort District on November 12, 1788, the son of William John Grayson and Susannah Greene. He spent much of his youth on Parris Island, the inspiration for his later pastoral verse. An avid reader, Grayson attended boarding schools in the North and graduated at the top of his class in 1809 from South Carolina College. He married Sarah Matilda Somarsall of Charleston in 1814 and amassed a fortune as the owner of two Wando River plantations and 170 slaves. Throughout his life he held numerous public offices, serving terms in the S.C. House of Representatives (1813–1815 and 1822–1826); the S.C. Senate (1826–1831); the U.S. House of Representatives (1833–1837); and as Charleston’s customs collector (1841–1853). Read Entire Article
Abolitionists. Sarah Moore Grimké, born on November 26, 1792, and her sister Angelina Emily Grimké, born on February 20, 1805, were the daughters of jurist and cotton planter John Faucheraud Grimké and Mary Smith. With familial ties to many of the lowcountry elite, the Grimké family was among the upper echelon of antebellum Charleston society. However, Sarah and Angelina rejected a privileged lifestyle rooted in a slave econo¬ my and became nationally known abolitionists no longer welcome in South Carolina. They first became involved in the public sphere through charity work in Charleston. Their mother was the superintendent of the Ladies Benevolent Society in the late 1820s, and both sisters were members. Serving on the society’s visiting committees, they entered the homes of the poor white and free black women of the city. They later described the conditions in which the poor lived in speeches and letters. Sarah also worked as a Sunday school teacher for blacks at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. In this capacity, she questioned why African Americans could not be taught to read the Bible instead of relying on oral instruction. Both sisters began to challenge the contradictions between the teachings of Christian faith and the laws and practices of slaveholding society. Read Entire Article
governor. Hamilton was born near Charleston on May 8, 1786, to James
Hamilton, Sr., a rice planter, and Elizabeth Lynch. He was
educated at Newport, Rhode Island, and Dedham, Massachusetts, before returning
to Charleston to read law under the tutelage of Daniel Huger and William
Drayton. Admitted to the bar in 1810, Hamilton began practice in Drayton’s
office and later became a partner of James L. Petigru. Volunteering for
service in the War of 1812, Hamilton eventually rose to the rank of major.
On November 15, 1813, he married the lowcountry heiress Elizabeth Heyward,
gaining three plantations and two hundred slaves. The couple had eleven
Jurist, U.S. senator. Born on January 17, 1790, on the West Indian island of Antigua, Harper was the son of the Reverend John Harper, a Methodist missionary, and Henrietta Hawes. Brought in 1791 to Charleston, where his father preached at Trinity Church, William grew up in a religious environment. His family later moved to Columbia, where William received his early education in the public schools. He then attended Mount Bethel Academy in Newberry District and Jefferson Monticello Seminary in Fairfield District. In 1805 he became the first student to enroll in South Carolina College, where he graduated in 1808. Read Entire Article
Soldier, U.S. senator, president of the United States. Jackson was born in the Waxhaw settlement of Lancaster District on March 15, 1767, the son of Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson. He is the only South Carolinian to serve as president of the United States. Fatherless at birth, Jackson was raised by his mother in the home of relatives and attended local schools. He lost his mother and older brothers during the Revolution to illnesses. His activities against Tories led to his capture by the British in April 1781. During his capture, an officer demanded that young Jackson clean his boots. Jackson’s refusal was rewarded with a sword slash that left scars on his head and hand. Read Entire Article
Free black entrepreneur.
Jones belonged to Christopher Rogers, a tailor. Under Rogers, he learned
tailoring trade, becoming proficient his in
his own right. When Rogers manumitted him in 1798 for £100 sterling,
Jones set up his own business. Jones succeeded and expanded the business
with his oldest son, also named Jehu.
was born in Charleston on October 15, 1831, the third of fourteen children
the attorney Edward McCrady and Louisa Rebecca
Lane. After receiving his basic education in Charleston, McCrady attended
the College of Charleston from 1846 to 1850. A superior student, he was
strongly influenced by the Charleston lectures of Louis Agassiz and, at
various times between 1852 and 1855, attended the Lawrence Scientific School
of Harvard College to study with that renowned naturalist. On September
1, 1859, he married Sarah Dismukes. The couple had six children.
Congressman, governor, U.S. senator. The son of John and Jane McDuffie, George McDuffie was probably born on August 10, 1790, in Columbia County, Georgia. His family was poor, and he received little formal education in his early years. By age twelve he was clerk in a country store. Soon thereafter he moved to Augusta, Georgia, to clerk for James Calhoun, an older brother of John C. Calhoun. Impressed with McDuffie’s intelligence, Calhoun sent him to live with his brother William. McDuffie attended Moses Waddel’s school for a year, then entered South Carolina College in the junior class. After graduating in 1813, McDuffie was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in Pendleton. In 1815 he became the law partner of Congressman Eldred Simkins in Edgefield. On May 27, 1829, McDuffie married Mary Rebecca Singleton. They had one daughter before Mary died on September 14, 1830. Read Entire Article
congressman, diplomat. Born in London on September 28, 1770, Middleton
was the son
of Arthur Middleton, a prominent lowcountry
planter and patriot, and Mary Izard. His early life was shaped by the Revolutionary
War. Middleton was in Philadelphia when his father signed the Declaration
of Independence. Later in the war Middleton saw his father imprisoned by
the British and sent to St. Augustine, Florida. Although well tutored at
home, Middleton regretted that the Revolution and his father’s premature
death in 1787 prevented him from attending a university. His uncles Charles
Cotesworth Pinckney and Edward Rutledge sent him north in 1790 to obtain “a
thorough Knowledge of . . . his own Country.” He then went abroad
for several years. In England on November 13, 1794, Middleton married Mary
Helen Hering, a daughter of a British army officer. The couple had fourteen
children, four of whom died in infancy.
Lawyer, soldier, adjutant general. The descendant of a Sephardic Jewish family from Alsace and the French Caribbean, Moise was born on May 21, 1832, in Charleston, the son of Abraham Moise and Caroline Moses. He was a member of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Charleston’s oldest synagogue, and was educated in local schools. As a young adult, Moise was employed as a clerk. On September 20, 1854, he married Esther Lyon of Petersburg, Virginia. The following year Moise went to work for his uncle Raphael J. Moses, a successful attorney and plantation owner in Columbus, Georgia. Moise ran his uncle’s flour mill, kept his books, and read the law. Read Entire Article
One of antebellum South Carolina’s preeminent
Unionist political leaders, Perry was born on November 20, 1805, in Pendleton
District (now Oconee County), the son of Benjamin Perry and Anna Foster.
Alternating farmwork with school, Perry was given complete management of
the family farm by the age of fourteen. He attended one term, respectively,
at the Asheville Academy in North Carolina in 1822 and the Greenville Male
Academy in 1823. Perry began his legal studies in Greenville, which was
to remain his lifelong residence, with the prominent state attorney Baylis
J. Earle in March 1824. He was admitted to the bar on January 10, 1827.
On April 27, 1837, Perry married Elizabeth Frances McCall of Charleston.
They had seven children.
Lawyer, politician. Petigru was born near Abbeville on May 10, 1789, the eldest child of William Pettigrew, a farmer, and his wife, Louise Gibert, a well-educated Huguenot. He attended Moses Waddel’s Willington Academy, graduated from South Carolina College in 1809, and taught at Beaufort College while he read law. Admitted to the bar in 1812 shortly after changing the spelling of his name, he served as Beaufort District’s solicitor from 1816 to 1822. In 1816 he married Jane Amelia Postell, with whom he had four children: Alfred, Caroline, Daniel, and Susan. Read Entire Article
governor. Born on April 7, 1807, in St. Paul’s
Parish, Pickens was the son of Governor Andrew Pickens, Jr., and Susan
Smith Wilkinson. Reared among his father’s extensive landholdings
in South Carolina and Alabama, Pickens attended Franklin College in Georgia
before entering South Carolina College as a sophomore. He was active at
the latter in the Clariosophic Society and was known for his oratory skills.
He left college in 1827 without graduating following a student revolt over
compulsory mess attendance. On October 18, 1827, he married Margaret Eliza
Simkins. After reading law with her father, Eldred Simkins, Pickens was
admitted to the bar on December 2, 1828. Pickens amassed considerable property,
including land in South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, as well as
a sizable number of slaves. The 1860 census lists him as the owner of $45,400
in real estate and $244,206 in personal property, including 276 slaves.
Although heavily encumbered with debts, he still had considerable landholdings
at the time of his death. Pickens’s first wife died on August 12,
1842. He was married on January 9, 1845, to Marion Antoinette Dearing,
and that marriage lasted until her death on August 14, 1853. On April 26,
1858, he married Lucy Petway Holcombe of Texas. His three marriages produced
U.S. secretary of war. Poinsett was born on March 2, 1779, in Charleston,
son of the Huguenot physician Elisha Poinsett and
his English wife, Ann Roberts. As a child, Poinsett spent six years in
England, where his formal education probably began. In 1794 he entered
the Greenfield Hill, Connecticut, academy of Dr. Timothy Dwight but stayed
only two years because of his frail health. Returning to England, Poinsett
attended private school at Wandsworth, where he excelled in languages.
In 1797 he began medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland, but remained only
one year. Returning to Charleston, Poinsett briefly studied law in 1800,
but his interest quickly waned. In 1801 Poinsett set out for Europe, where
he would spend most of the next seven years traveling across the continent.
His fluency in foreign languages helped him form associations with several
powerful European leaders, including Napoleon I, the French financier Jacques
Necker, and Czar Alexander I of Russia.
Congressman. Rainey was born a slave in Georgetown to Edward L. Rainey and his wife Gracia on June 21, 1832. His father, a barber, purchased the family’s freedom, and they moved to Charleston about 1846. The elder Rainey also purchased two slaves. By 1860 Joseph Rainey had become a barber at Charleston’s fashionable Mills House hotel. Read Entire Article
Congressman, U.S. senator.
Rhett was born Robert Barnwell Smith in Beaufort on December 21, 1800,
eighth child of James Smith and Marianna Gough.
The Smith sons changed their surname to Rhett in 1837 to honor their ancestor
Colonel William Rhett. Robert Barnwell Rhett attended Beaufort College
and later read law in the Charleston office of Thomas Grimké. Rhett
was admitted to the bar in 1821 and two years later formed a law partnership
in Colleton District with his cousin Robert W. Barnwell. On February 21,
1827, he married Elizabeth Washington Burnet. The couple had eleven children.
After the death of his first wife in 1852, Rhett married Catherine Herbert
Dent on April 25, 1854. His second marriage produced three more children.
Legislator, congressman. Smalls was born in Beaufort on April 5, 1839, the son of Lydia Smalls, a house slave, and possibly her master, Henry McKee, or a slave named Robert Smalls. In 1851 McKee hired out twelve-year-old Smalls as a laborer in Charleston. Smalls worked as a waiter, a lamplighter, a stevedore, and eventually a ship rigger and sailor on coastal vessels. On December 24, 1856, Smalls married Hannah Jones, a slave woman fourteen years his senior. The couple had three children. After the 1883 death of his first wife, Smalls married Annie Elizabeth Wigg on April 9, 1890. They had one child. Read Entire Article
These entries were reproduced from The South Carolina Encyclopedia, edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. All text © The Humanities Council SC.
The South Carolina Encyclopedia is available through your local bookseller and directly from the publisher (800-768-2500, www.uscpress.com).