South Carolina - The 1800s

Overview of the 1800s in South Carolina

Less than two decades after Independence, the turn of the century in South Carolina brought many new promises and exciting times to those willing - and unwilling - to face them. As of 1801, Democratic-Republican Governor John Drayton was well into his first of two terms, the Santee Canal had just been completed (1800), the General Assembly had just abolished (1800) the unsuccessful county court system implemented in 1785 and replaced it with the district court system that continued until after the Civil War (1868), and the state was divided into twenty-seven (27) districts - some new, some dating back to 1785 - that were slowly figuring out just what their responsibilities were and were not.

The emigration waves of the 1790s continued well into the early 1800s, and South Carolina - like so many of the original thirteen colonies/states - was struggling to keep its territory populated in the early nineteenth century. Free land, offered by newly-opened territories in western Georgia, Alabama, northern Florida, and even as far into the frontier as Mississippi, drained some parts of the State and caused considerable hardship on those choosing to stay. The War of 1812 resulted in another unpredicted stall in those coming to South Carolina directly from Europe - after 1815, there just were no large migrations into the State until the mid-, to late-1800s. Due to these two factors, by 1820 the white population finally exceeded the slave population - the first time since the early decades after Charles Town was first established.

Things were not bleak for those who remained. Capable leaders were elected into the fledgling legislature, the governor's office, and into the Court of Appeals - the State was in good hands, and it had great representation in the also-new Federal government with members of the US House of Representatives and US Senate. John C. Calhoun rose to great heights in the Federal government - as Secretary of War, Secretary of State, US Representative, US Senator, and Vice President under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Initially, Calhoun was a staunch Federalist, but after the US legislature voted for the Missouri Compromise in 1820 he saw the errors of his ways and soon began a lifelong campaign for "States Rights."

The roots of the US Civil War were planted long before the US Revolution - that discussion is not part of this overview - and as the new United States grew, with new states joining the Union and "manifest destiny" clearly becoming in the forefront of the minds of thinking men all across the burgeoning nation, many "ideals" soon began to surface and of course they began to clash. Certainly, some of these "ideals" were of moral fiber, while others were purely political. As soon as the ink was dry on all of the signatures to the Missouri Compromise, the "hotspurs" in political power within South Carolina immediately thought of Secession. Yes, the "s" word had been around long before the Civil War was actually initiated in 1861.

South Carolina had plenty of challenges internally such that Secession was not the only thing on everyone's mind. Progress had to be made - by those willing to make it - in every facet of life. The Upcountry folks continued to be irritated with the political power held in the Lowcountry, especially in Charleston, of course. Those in the Lowcountry were furious with new Federal laws prohibiting the importation of more slaves from Africa - and were dismayed to watch their fellow citizens emigrate "south and west" along with many useful (and increasingly expensive) slaves driving their wagon trains into "the frontier." Such capital leaving the State and going to "gawd knows where" was more than an inconvenience - it was a definite drain on the local economy. And.... way of life.

Yet, progress still had to be made. Until the War of 1812, there continued to be a trickle of new immigrants arriving in Charleston by ships from Europe, and a few intrepid folks continued to follow the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania through Virginia into the Carolinas - some decided this was good enough, some went further south and west. The population was never completely stagnant, but the growth rate was tepid to say the least in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

In 1801, the South Carolina College (to become the University of South Carolina) was chartered in Columbia. In 1811, the General Assembly (legislature) authorized $1 Million for the establishment of public schools in every district - but the administration of these funds were so ineffective that it would be decades before South Carolina had anything resembling a decent school system. Private schools sprang up all across the state - those that could afford it sent their offspring to these instead of considering helping out in the public school concept.

In 1812, the State chartered the Bank of the State of South Carolina - a quasi-public entity that was wholly-owned by the State. It had branches in the heavily-populated districts (counties) as well as a few branches overseas. The State printed its own banknotes - and these were honored as well as respected all over the South. Private banks soon followed, even with their own banknotes, but these were only respected locally.

One of the pressing concerns for the "everyman" was transportation. It was simply downright difficult to get around the state - and almost impossible for those in the Upcountry to get their goods to the sea - for sale in Charleston or to ship overseas. Likewise, anyone in Charleston or elsewhere along the coast found it equally difficult to get their goods to the Capital, much less to the Upcountry. As businessmen, even the most ardent politician knew that something had to be done, so the General Assembly passed legislation - starting in the past century - to address this pressing issue. The Santee Canal Company was chartered in 1786, and the State launched a large-scale transportation program to get the goods to market.

The "Canal Plan" of 1786 called for a total of eight canals - four on the Catawba and Wateree Rivers above Camden, two on the Saluda River to reach the Upcountry, and two on the Broad River to reach 110 miles above Columbia. As stated above, the Santee Canal opened in 1800 with much success. The others were finished in the early 1800s, but they were not used by "the people" and therefore not profitable. By 1838, six of the original eight canals were abandoned.

The next solution by the Legislature was to fund the building of Toll Roads. The first State Road was constructed between Charleston and Columbia in 1829 - it was planned to be continued to the Greenville District, but the first section turned out to be a total failure. Again, the people saw no need to "pay" a toll when there were other roads, albeit in worse conditions. When the State finally made this Toll Road free, it was immediately in constant use.

In 1827, the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was chartered, and 136 miles of track was laid between the edge of Charleston (the populace didn't want the railroad coming into town) to Hamburg, in the Barnwell District. At completion, this was the longest railroad in the world. On Christmas Day, 1830, the first run of the "Best Friend" averaged twelve miles an hour. In the 1840s, this small railroad hauled over 100,000 bales of cotton per year to Charleston. In the 1850s, over 700 miles of track was laid, and by 1860 there were eleven railroads operating in the state.

As with most other Southern States, Cotton was King. Not only the growing of cotton, but also the associated textile uses were soon becoming the backbone of the South Carolina economy. At the beginning of the century, nearly 100% of the state's cotton was exported, primarily to New England where the textile mills were being built in large numbers. It took the locals a few decades to realize that they had sufficient resources internally to build their own mills. There was a flurry of construction of textile mills in the 1840s - the pioneers were David R. Williams of Darlington District, William Bates of Greenville District, and Dr. James Bivings of Spartanburg District. William Gregg requested a charter for his new vision, the Graniteville Cotton Mill in the Edgefield District in 1845, and soon it was the largest, most modern facility in the state.

By 1860, there were eighteen (18) cotton mills in the state - all above the fall zone. Many were destroyed in the War and in 1880 there were only fourteen (14). In the 1880s, mills were opened in Anderson, Greenville, and Spartanburg counties. In 1895, the textile boom hit South Carolina in full force - between 1895 and 1907 over sixty (60) mills were built.

There was a down side to King Cotton. Quite simply, it destroyed the soil it was planted in. In the 1820s, a glut of cotton hit the European markets thanks to the opening of the Suez Canal, and South Carolina was hurt considerably as a result. Two decades passed before growing cotton was profitable once again. It would be quite a few decades more before the planters realized that they needed to rethink their cotton plantings and how it was hurting their farmlands.

The years marched on, and new "frontiers" continued to be opened up in the West. The emigration slowed down, however, and South Carolina's population began to increase steadily once again. Charleston was still the largest city in the state, but Columbia was not far behind. Small villages began to spring up in every district (county) as the people first began to consider that "rural life" wasn't necessarily better than having friendly faces nearby. With the textile industry came the first "mill towns." Typically, there was a small to moderate sized family-owned mill built near a viable river source for energy, and folks simply started clumping nearby where they could find paying work.

Other villages arose near important bridges, crossroads, and useful river landings. At the start of the century, every district (county) had a District Seat with a court house, jail, and other pertinent facilities - and these District Seats were "the place to go" for just about any type of business, from deed transactions, to proving wills, to finding that "must have" necessity for the old homestead. At the start of the century, there were barely fifty (50) towns and villages (or even hamlets) established across the twenty-seven (27) districts (counties) in South Carolina. By the end of the century, over 3,000 locations had been established as either a village, hamlet, or full-blown city across the now forty (40) counties - most of which "disappeared" within a year or two.

Of course, the Civil War was the prominent "event" of the 1800s in South Carolina. As stated above, the idea of Secession was first uttered in the 1820s (or perhaps even before) after the Missouri Compromise was enacted by the Federal government. The concept of Secession was not "owned" by South Carolinians - from the 1820s to 1860, many other people in all parts of the Nation were also thinking about it, however, mostly "Southerners." The others were mostly thining about stopping South Carolina from actually doing it.

On December 20, 1860, the prominent figures within South Carolina voted to do just that. They had had enough of "Federalism" crammed down their throats for decades. As most everyone today knows, the key issue was slavery. What most refuse to consider is that this was not the only "issue" for Southerners. The thing about slavery in the "South" was that the southern states' economies and "way of life" had evolved for almost two hundred years with no other concept in mind - threaten to take away an "entire way of life" and you'd be more than mildly irritated, as well. No - slavery is not "right" in any form in any place in the Universe, and it certainly had to be abolished, even in the South. Had "the War" not happened when it did, it would have happened eventually - those living at the time certainly saw "life" from two completely different perspectives. And, the results made this country much better.

The "War" started in South Carolina at Fort Sumter, just offshore of Charleston in April, 1861. Since there is a complete section herein solely focused on "the War," little will be offered in this summary. It was a terrible war, and it ruined many lives for many years afterwards. Reconstruction was painful, and it took decades for the people of South Carolina just to get back to any semblance or normality - some never did.

Forget Hell !!! Most folks don't get it and most never will. Yes, "the War" is over. The right results happened - eventually. However (yes there's always a however), NO ONE should ever forget that war is hell, Reconstruction was hell, and those who profited from and took undue advantage during Reconstruction in the South should have been prosecuted to the extent of the law - or strung up. 'Nuff said. We all should never forget that "the victors" need to take responsible actions after winning any war, or any other struggle. With all of the carpetbaggers and the corrupt miltary taking whatever they wanted from the dispirited locals who had no way to protect themselves, many families were truly destroyed. Forget Hell !!!

Reconstruction in South Carolina was long and difficult, especially since "the War" started here. Martial Law was quickly established by the Union Army all over the state. Governor Andrew Magrath was imprisoned on May 28, 1865. On June 30th, President Andrew Johnson appointed Benjamin F. Perry as "provisional Governor" - he had been the editor of two pro-Union newspapers before the war - but, he had also been a state representative before the war.

As a direct result, South Carolina's Constitution was re-written after "the War," and it was directed (by the Federal government) to revamp its entire political system from top to bottom. The Federals didn't like the nomenclature of "districts," so South Carolina renamed them all as "counties" in 1868. The Federals didn't like the way the Governor was elected by secret ballot, so in 1865 all gubernatorial elections were public decisions. This was just the beginning of how things had to change after "the War." For more than ten years this went on and on, but finally South Carolina stood back up and took the reigns of her destiny.

In 1877, Wade Hampton III was elected Governor by popular vote, and he has often been called the "Saviour of South Carolina" in his sweeping reforms to alter the course of the State. Some look back at his term in office as "painfully necessary," while others look back in disdain - as is true about most prominent politicians. Hampton could not and did not do it by himself, and the course he put the State on has not been straight and narrow. But, it was a start, and South Carolinians finally began to hold their heads up during his term.

They finally dusted themselves off as well, and progress had to be made - by the willing and the unwilling. Race relations had to be worked on - and still are to this day (but, this is true for just about any place on Earth). The newly-freed slaves had to adjust to their freedom - as did their former masters. Many ex-slaves quickly left the state. Most quickly left their immediate locations - simply to be anywhere else. Some accepted work from their previous owners, although not many. The entire South Carolina economy had collapsed after "the War," and everyone was busy picking up the pieces, testing out new relationships, with some pushing the envelope.

Progress was made in every aspect of life - painful and slow as it was in many aspects. The freed slaves got the right to vote, and they made great use of it - for a while. Whites found new ways to disenfranchise the blacks, and blacks found new ways to get around them. Many simply found ways to get along with each other - and some found new ways to respect each other. Business was business, and South Carolina was getting back to business. There were crops to plant, tend, and harvest. There were textiles to manufacture. There were railroads to build, roads to build, newspapers to publish and deliver, food to prepare and serve, clothes to mend, baskets to weave. Ah - Commerce. The only thing we all have in common in a free society.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the Telephone - and everyone's still talking about it. In less than three years, the city of Charleston had the first telephone exchange in South Carolina. In 1880, Columbia had a telephone exchange; in 1882, the towns of Newberry and Greenville each had their own telephone exchange; in 1891, Sumter installed its telephone exchange, and by 1894, the town of Florence was talking on its own exchange. Ah - Progress.

The South Carolina Statehouse was the first fully-electrified building in the State in 1884. Beginning in Columbia in 1887, individual towns either built or gave franchises to private companies for municipal power plants - for the generation and distribution of electrical power to its citizens. The town of Greenville followed suit in 1888; the town of Sumter had its power plant operational in 1889; the town of Spartanburg provided electricity to its citizens in 1890; Darlington in 1894; Anderson in 1895, and the town of Union's plant was running in 1896.

The summer of 1885 brought a Category-3 hurricane to Charleston - when it finally abated, over 90% of Charleston was destroyed. To add insult to injury, a major earthquake hit the Lowcountry the next year - in 1886, and it too brought much devastation. Some claim it was a magnitude 6.6, others claim it was 7.5 on the Richter scale. True to their nature, the South Carolinians picked themselves up, rebuilt, and went on with life.

In 1896, the Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural, and Mechanical College of South Carolina was chartered in Orangeburg, with Thomas Ezekial Miller as the first president. It is now known as the South Carolina State University (SCSU) - it began as a small portion of the Claflin College in 1872, but was created as its own institution with its own buildings in 1896.

From 1801 to 1900, twelve (12) new counties were established across the state. They were: Horry (1801), Lexington (1804), Anderson and Pickens (1826), Clarendon (1855), Oconee (1868), Aiken (1871), Hampton (1878), Berkeley (1882), Florence (1888), Saluda (1895), and Bamberg, Cherokee, Dorchester, Greenwood (1897). The State's population increased from 345,491 in 1800 to 1,340,316 in 1900 - a fourfold increase in one hundred years.

At the end of the 1800s, South Carolina was looking forward to the 20th Century, and it was poised for growth. The 1900s brought the prospect of many new promises and exciting times to those willing - and unwilling - to face them.


 


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved