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THE EDGEFIELD SOUTHERN EMIGRATION SOCIETY
The Edgefield Southern Immigration Society
Excerpted From: A Confluence of Transatlantic Networks Pages 37-45
By: Laura Jarnagin
Where one would expect to find kinship ties among families from any given locale who chose to relocate to Brazil, a high degree of common kinship and professional ties also existed within the larger migrating population as a whole. Well a comprehensive accounting of this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this book, the point can be illustrated by examining some of the members of the Edgefield Southern immigration Society of South Carolina.
The first meeting of this organization, also known as the Southern Colonization Society or the Edgefield Immigration Society, was held on August 30, 1865 at the Odd Fellows and Masonic Hall. It’s president, Major Joseph Abney had been briefly one of John C. Calhoun’s law partners at Abbeville. He is said to have "entered vigorously into the plans of Brazilian emigration" immediately after Lee's surrender. Edgefield was a major Broad River community, located near Abbeville. In Brazil, the societies advance agents, Robert Meriweather and Dr. Hugh A. Shaw, combined efforts with James McFadden Gaston, who had gone to Brazil on his own but was also from the Edgefield vicinity. Gaston's wife was the former Susan Brumby, daughter of Richard Trapier Brumby, A noted scientist, then of Marietta, Georgia, who served as an agent for perspective emigrants. Brumby, a fervent Calhoun supporter, had put his beliefs into action when he ran the Tuscaloosa State Rights Exposior and was one of the "most talented and effective of all Nullifier editors."
John C Calhoun's brother, James Edward Calhoun, had himself spent time in Brazil long before the Civil War. Between 1817 and 1829, James served in the U.S. Navy in Mediterranean, Caribbean, and South American waters. The last two years of that service were on the USS Boston when it posted to Brazil, where he is said to have made a number of friends.
Another scion of the Calhoun family, James M. Calhoun, provides us with ties to yet another key player in southern immigration to Brazil, namely, William Hutchinson Norris of Spring Hill, Alabama, and of Broad River dissent. Calhoun, nephew John C. Calhoun and a native of South Carolina, had moved to Alabama by the mid-1830s and served as a state representative from Dallas County for the rest of that decade, returning to that position in the late 1850s and early 1860s. A Cahaba nullifier, Calhoun was president of the Alabama Senate in 1838, 1857, and 1862. Villa Americana founder, Norris and James M. Calhoun served caoncurrently as two of the three state representatives from Dallas County in 1839 snd 1842. Norris, characterized as an “influential Whig,” continued in this capacity annually through 1845.
The Calhoun denominator is found again among at least three of the “first families of Edgefield” who intermarried with the Calhouns and were among the migrants to Brazil. They were the Brooks, Butler, and Pickens families. Another scion of the extended Calhoun family was D. C. McIntyre, an Alabama resident at the time of the Civil War whom Charles Grandison Gunter was anxious to have join him in Brazil. McIntyre's grandfather migrated from Glencoe, Scotland, to Laurinburg, North Carolina, in late 1775 or early 1776. D. C. Mother’d maiden name was Colquhoun, a spelling variation of Calhoun.
Some of the McIntyrs later moved to South Carolina, and it was from there that D. C. McIntyre migrated to Alabama. An 1859 letter to his sister about his cotton crops suggest he had not been in Alabama long and that the family were guests of the Gunters. McIntyre visited Butler and Wilcox Counties “to look for land but did not find any for sale to suit.” He therefore planned “to turn his attention to Marengo county to see some land described to him by Mr. Polmitz, Will Gunter's father-in-law.” John C. Calhoun and his eldest son, Andrew Pickens Calhoun had acquired property in partnership with one another in Marengo county in 1858.
Charles Gunter’s son Will was married to the former Ellen Polmitz, daughter of Charles Augustus Von Poellnitz.. The Polmitz’s were descendants of a colorful German nobleman, Baron Frederick Carl Hans Bruno Von Poellnitz, a “courtier, scholar, diplomat and Lord Chamberlain” in Frederick the Great’s court. He and his third wife, Lady Anne Stuart, migrated to the United States from temporary residence in Bordeaux in 1782 following two years of correspondence with Benjamin Franklin. Poellnitz was married four times and divorced three. His wives were variously from the Dutch East Indies, Switzerland, England and South Carolina. After a brief stay in North Carolina, the Baron moved to New York City and, in the mid 1780s, acquired a property in Manhattan called Minto. There he conducted agricultural experiments, employed a newly invented threshing mill, cultivated fruit trees and flowering shrubs, and hosted George Washington, who became a personal friend. In 1790, the Baron swapprd Minto for almost 3000 acres along the PeeDee River in South Carolina, site unseen. The transaction with Robert Richard Randall, which took place in Alexander Hamilton's office, resulted in the Barons removal to South Carolina for the remainder of his life.
The Baron’s fifth child by his second wife, the Swiss aristocrat Charlotte de Bondeli, was Julius Poellnitz, who married Elizabeth Rogers. Their son, Charles Augustus Poellnitz, was a lawyer, planter, and close associate of the Presbyterian clergyman James H. Thornerll,, known as the Calhoun of the church in the antebellum period. Charles married Mary Peay of the Huguenot descended piedmont family. Ellen Poellnitz was their daughter. Ellen sister Stella was the second wife of Robert a Hardie, son of John Hardie, originally of Scotland, and the former Mary Meade Hall, a couple who eventually settled in Talladega, Alabama. Meade was a personal friend of Reverend Ashbel Green Simonton, the first representative of the Presbyterian Church in the USA to Brazil, who arrived there in 1859. John Hardie's younger brother, Alva Finley Hardie became a Presbyterian missionary to re-post Civil War southern community in Brazil and msrried Katherine E Hall. Her grandfather, Hervie Hall, a native of Vermont, lived in Saratoga Springs, New York, moved to Georgia, and migrated to Brazil in the postbellum era.
Charles Gunter’s daughter Eliza was married to Dr. Thomas DeYampert of Marengo county. He traveled to Brazil, lived there briefly, then reportedly died at sea in 1867, apparently on a return voyage to the United States. The DeYampert’s were a Broad River family of French-Dutch origins and therefore, in all likelihood, would have been descendants of Huguenots, as were many of the Broad River families. By the 1800s the DeYamperts of Georgia and later Alabama were variously intermarried with the Broad River Meriwethers and Taliaferro's, who in turn were interrelated with the Gilmers, one of whose offspring, Peach R. Gilmer, was Charles Gunter's neighbor in Montgomery in 1860. Among these interrelated families, the attractiveness of Brazil varied considerably. Writing to his son Will, Charles Gunter remarked that “Dr. DeYampert.....may try to discourage you and others who may wish to emigrate but get ready and come along.
Other linkages among the migrating population that can be traced from Edgefield and James McFadden Gaston include his brother, Dr. J. B. Gaston, who moved to Montgomery in the antebellum era and later migrated to Brazil with Charles Gunter. From J. Be. Gaston, we find a connection to the Florida immigration Society of Madison. A copy of it articles of agreement, which was to be delivered to Dan Pedro II in person by the society’s commission, specified that the potential migrants interest was in “lands between the coast and the mountains, at 10-30° latitude South.” Broad River surnames occurring among the Florida society’s members include Whitner and Dozier. Huguenots who originally settled at Manakin, Virginia, the Dozers intermarried with the Gilmers, among other Broad River families. A. J.. Dozier became one of Charles Gunter’s sons in law.
J. B. Gaston's brother-in-law, Samuel Darwin McConnell, was also part of the Florida society whose members wanted "to get away from this country but don't know where to go. Dr. Gaston my brother-in-law will start for Brazil this week to see what chance there is of living there. If he brings a good report, I may go out there." Two members of the L’Engle family, Edward and F. F., Also belong to the society. F. F. Originally offered to make Edward one of the societies commissioners but then had to downplay his influence as there became “many interested and fit to go,” perhaps “two or three hundred.” He assumed those going to Brazil would be relying primarily on agriculture and stock rating,” but he and Edward were considering setting up an export business. "Your idea of forming a business acquaintance at the north is good for you personally, but not necessary for the general interest as there are many of our numbers to my knowledge who have such connections already.” F. F. L’Engle aspired to buy just “two or three slaves in Brazil and hold them as long as the damnable abolition spirit of the age will permit me."
About a year later, in May 1866, Edward was in Jacksonville where his father, Captain John Claudius L’Engle, had been one of the first planters to settle in the St. Johns River region and ship from what became the port of Jacksonville. The elder L’Engle was the scion of a French family that moved to Charleston, South Carolina from Haiti. In addition to planting, some of the L’Engles were important Florida statemen both before and after the Civil War. Edward received a letter from C. C. Williams of Quincy, Florida, who reported he had sold certain household articles as instructed by L’Engle in preparation for departing to Brazil and noted making a payment to a Gr. Hentz from the proceeds.
Meanwhile, a letter from McConnell to Edward L’Engle indicates he had decided to stay in the United States. Edward had helped McConnell get a certificate of admission to the Georgia bar, an option he was planning to exercise the following term. Returning the favor, McConnell sent L’Engle professional cards to his brother James in Savannah to circulate among the merchants there. McConnell reported that Gaston had returned from Brazil “very pleased” but as for himself, “The passage of the civil rights bill by Congress, had caused others here to think of emigrating, but I do not believe that there are many who will do so. I don't think that I could better my condition pecuniarily by such a step, and will therefore try to “bear the ills we have” with as good grace as possible. Business seems to be thriving in this part of Georgia, and even the lawyers are living, though they say that they make very little. All concur in the belief that the practice will be lucrative after a little.”
McConnell's fatherer was William Phinzey McConnell, who's middle name presumably connect him in some unknown way with the Broad River Phinzey family. Their members included major cotton factors of Augusta Georgia, such as Ferdinand Phinzey, reputedly the wealthiest man in Georgia at the time of his death. In 1870, Mary Louise Yancey, a niece of Alabama fire-eater William Loundes Yancey, married Ferdinand Bowdre Phinzey. Also in the postbellum era, the crippled McConnell became the first mayor of Ocala, Florida, and married Mary Eloise Brumby, Susan Brumby Gaston's sister.
Edward L’Engle’s reference to “Dr. Hentz” takes us back to Alabama and into the Keyes family, who like the Norrises, were from Spring Hill and migrated to Brazil, first settling with the Guntersters at Lake Juparana. The Keyes family provide some of the richest first hand accounts of southerners’ daily lives in Brazil in the papers of Julia Louisa Hentz Keyes and the 1867 diary of her daughter, Jenny Keyes, which was published in 1930 by the Alabama Historical Quarterly. The Dr. Hentz to Whom L’Engle referred was Julia's brother, Charles Arnould Hentz. Julia's parents were Nicholar Marcellus Hentz, a French born 1816 immigrant to the United States, and the former Caroline Lee Whiting of Lancaster, Massachusetts. Nicholas, who had studied medicine and miniature painting in Paris, became a noted entomologist specializing in arachnids. Caroline, the daughter of General John Whiting, was a novelist who penned The planters Northern Bride, in defense of the peculiar institution. Dr. Hentz taught at private boys and girls schools and seminaries in Massachusetts, Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, and Georgia, and was a professor of modern languages and belles lettres at the University of North Carolina. The Hentz family moved to Marianna, Florida in 1851 for health reasons.
In Tuskegee, Alabama, Julia has married John Washington Keyes of Florida in 1846. And 1849 - 50, he studird dentistry and medicine in Ohio and earned ther degree of doctor of dental surgery. In 1857, the couple moved to Montgomery. Like his wife, Keyes had Massachusetts roots, his paternal grandfather, John Wade Keyes, was from the Boston area. His paternal grandmother, Louisa Talbert, from Alexandria, Virginia, was the niece of president James Monroe. Early in life, John’s father, George moved from Virginia to Limestone County Alabama where he and his brother engaged in merchandising and planting. In 1820 George married Nelly Rutledge of Sullivan county, Tennessee, a niece of Davy Crockett.
Wow Yankee soldiers were in camped by the Keye’s family garden fence in July 1865, John was ready to decamp to Brazil. +The Dr. is bent on leaving the country and like many others has his heart turned Brazil-ward, Julia wrote to her cousin, “but I am not willing to go until I see some one who has been there and can assure me that our condition will be bettered, in every respect. I am entirely dissatisfied with this regime, but I must know what I am doing before taking such a journey.” John was more in emphatic,” I am going to Brazil whether anyone else goes or not,-- I do not feel that I am living here—only camping-- I can make money here but I must get where I can breathe.”
John Washington Keyes was attracted to Gunter’s settlement in part because he wanted to quit dentistry. Joining them there were twenty families “and more in all,” including the McIntyres and sons of William Lowndes Yancy. When the colony failed by mid-1868, Keyes moved his family to Dixie island in Rio’s Guanabar Bay and into a new 16 room house in the city itself by May 1869. Their eldest daughter, Eula and her husband, Dr. John W. Coachman, we're already in Rio where they had settled upon arrival. Coachman, who was also a dentist, had established a practice by the time his in-laws arrived from the lake.
Julia Louisa Hentz Keyes hated the Rio Doce but enjoyed and admired Rio, the food, the theater, the opera, and even the sewage system. Once established in the city, Julia was delighted with Brazil. You cannot know how much we talk about all our friends and wish to see them, but I do not care to return to the States. I am so satisfied with this climate and I believe when we become settled we can live much more economically than there, coming to matter of fact-- and that is a consideration, you know. Julia’s emphasis on the cost-of-living undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that she and John had fifteen children. By 1870, however, A portion of the Keyes family did go back to Alabama. In a letter to a cousin notifying her of their impending return, Jenny Keyes wrote: “Emigration has ceased, and we rarely ever make a new acquaintance.” Her father appended a counterstatement, Check--Emigration has not ceased, quite a number came on the last steamer and many more are expected to follow. I don't want to return and but for the children would not-- may get off in two months or two years. The Coachman and Charles Whiting Keyes (the older son) remained in Brazil, at least into the 1890s and, in Charles's case, into the early 1900s,living variously in Rio, São Paulo, and Petropolis, the location of the emperor Summer Palace in the cooler mountains above Rio.
The two interconnected reasons for migrating are evident, first, the prospect for a better life in a material sense over what the foreseeable future of the postbellum South might have had to offer, and second, the need to be part of a community of individuals with a common set of values and aspirations. With respect to the former motive, it is important to recognize that these migrants were caught in the throes of what proved to be the first major paradigmatic shit that took place within capitalism, whose defining edge was evolving from being agrarian-based, and largely predicated on slave labor in the Americas, to being industrially driven. Elite southerners who were involved in export commercial agriculture, (either directly or indirectly,) were obviously aware of the changes being wrought by industrialization in “the great commercial round” of the antebellum era. However, as Maury and DuBow’s illustrates, there was also an assumption that differentiated but inter-dependent production zones would be able to coexist in in a mutually reinforcing, egalitarian way: industry in the northern United States, the British Isles, and northwestern Europe, and the raw materials that fed it and consumed a portion of its value added output variously in thr U.S. South, the opening regions of the West and the Americas’ tropical climes.
While these Southerners’ understanding of the “global” nature of the capitalist system were correct, their assumption that in its zoned of production somehow enjoyed equal weight because of their interdependence was not: capitalism’s core, semiperiphery, and periphery are so delineated precisely because their interdependent relationship to one another is hierarchical, not egalitarian. For those living in the times of capitalism's first major shift however, it would have been difficult to grasp the foll significance of the rapid incorporation of new areas of the world into the system’s periphery as industrialization in the core and it's grrowing appetite for raw materials proceeded apace. From the second half of the 1700s through the first half of the 1800s, the Ottoman Empire, the Indian subcontinent, the Russian Empire, China, Ssoutheast Asia, and West Africa were all networked into capitalism’s periphery. By the mid 1800s, virtually all areas of the globe had been “pulled inside” the system.
Consequently, by the mid-1800s, Cotton was being grown in many places in the world that had only recently become incorporated into the capitalist system, this challenging the US South’s earlier, more privileged commercial enclave position within the periphery as a cotton producer. Further, as the system expanded geographically, the value of the raw material commodities that the periphery produced was decreasing relative to other goods and services because of their sheer volume and relative accessibility. In the process, slave-based agrarian capitalism was in the final stage of morphing into free labor industrial capitalism.
The system’s very “success” over time at incorporating territories it did not originally occupy not only took it to an appreciably high level of sustainability but also irrevocably modified it in ways that adversely affected those whose livelihood and lifestyles were dependent on earlier systemic configurations, including the elite southerners. Meanwhile, as Wallerstein explains, the newly incorporated zones of the world gave hegemonic Britain a wider market so that it needed a second layer of industrializing countries to take up the slack and leave it free to pursue new technological advances. That second echelon included France, Belgium, western “Germany,” Switzerland, and the northern United States. This placed the United States as a whole in ascendancy, moving from peripheral to semi peripheral status as the North industrialized. By the late 1800s, the United States and a newly unified Germany became the upstart challengers to a then declining Britain, much as the once peripheral and semi peripheral England, France, and Netherlands has surpassed the original European capitalist core in previous centuries. To mount a successful challenge to the British dominated capitalist core, though, the U.S. North needed the South to be its own “internal” periphery, not someone else's.
Amid these major changes in the system as a whole, we find that those southerners who sought to reposition themselves elsewhere in capitalism's periphery tended to be related to others in the migrating population. For the present, though, it must remain as an unproven hypothesis that the majority of the purpose of migrants from the south held some degree of kinship with others in the pool, though whether we are dealing with one large, relatively seamless network or several networks that intersect at a few points remains to be determined. Additionally, one of the reasons southern migration to Brazil never became a widespread phenomenon attracting many thousands of former confederates may be that once the kinship lines of those who did migrate had run their course, the scope of the most likely migrants was a Likewise defined. The significance of this high degree of familial interconnectedness among the migrants does not stop at the borders of the US South, however. These migrants, (or would be migrants) also belong to interlocking elite kinship networks that had spanned me geographic regions of the Atlantic capitalist system for centuries and has contributed to the systemic integrity and expansion.
THE HUB OF THE COMMUNIYU - PETERSBURG, GEORGIA
There was plenty of social entertainment in Petersburg, including plays, balls, promenades, picnics, and community celebrations. The upper class was well represented in the town, and among its residents were doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Petersburg also has the distinguished honor of being the only town in the nation's history to produce two U.S. senators, William Bibb and Charles Tait, who served at the same time. Petersburg and the Broad River valley also loomed as a crucial arena for the development of political alignments in Georgia's history during the early national period, especially between factions claiming Virginian ancestry and those linked to North Carolina families.
An important factor in the growth and development of Petersburg was the existence of two rival towns—Lisbon, founded by Virginian Zachariah Lamar in 1786, just across the Broad River in Lincoln County, and Vienna, founded about 1795, on the opposite side of the Savannah River in South Carolina. Both Lisbon and Vienna were clearly visible from Petersburg. Although Lisbon and Vienna competed with Petersburg for trade, neither town rose to a position of economic dominance. There was, however, a constant ferry service that ran between all three towns.
As long as tobacco remained an important staple crop in the Broad River valley, Petersburg flourished. Tobacco was packed into wooden casks, known as hogsheads, for shipment down the Savannah and Broad rivers on flat-bottomed "Petersburg boats" designed to carry ten to fifteen hogsheads of tobacco. The boats were propelled along by river currents and poles manned by a crew of five or six hands. After tobacco crops were inspected in Petersburg or Lisbon, the Petersburg boats made their way to Augusta, about sixty miles downriver, to deliver their cargo. Often the trip to Augusta and back took about a week to accomplish.
Signs of Petersburg's demise were increasingly evident by the 1820s. Lot number eighty-one, for example, sold for $2,500 in 1818. However, the same lot sold in 1826 for only $275. By 1830 the town was fast falling into decay. Many of the original families caught western fever, abandoned the region, and moved to the newly opened lands in western Georgia and in Alabama and Mississippi. Periodic outbreaks of yellow fever in the Broad and Savannah river settlements during the 1820s hastened the town's decline. Many of the area's farmers had abandoned the production of tobacco by the turn of the nineteenth century and turned their attention instead toward the cultivation of cotton. Unlike tobacco, cotton did not need inspection. Consequently, cotton farmers transporting their crops to Augusta by river and road avoided the town altogether. Railroads completely bypassed the region, and steamboat navigation to the area was not possible because of rocky shoals and shallow water.
The cumulative effect of these problems was that by 1854 only three families remained in Petersburg, which was a decayed shell of its former glory. The last bit of excitement at Petersburg took place during the last phase of the Civil War (1861-65) in the spring of 1865, when Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, fleeing from federal troops, crossed the Savannah River just below the town. Here, the Confederate government dispersed its treasury of gold and silver to accompanying troops and, according to some accounts, cast the golden seal of the Confederacy into the Savannah River.
The remnants of Petersburg succumbed to the waters of Clarks Hill Lake when the Corps of Engineers built the reservoir during the early 1950s. Today, Petersburg is the major historical attraction at Bobby Brown State Park in Elbert County. The town's site is accessible to visitors through a wooded path that leads to the lake's shore.
Georgia's third largest town, Petersburg, located in the forks of the Broad and Savannah rivers in Elbert County, is now submerged under the waters of Clarks Hill Lake. During prolonged droughts, or when lake levels are down, it is possible to walk along the site and see the remnants of what was, from the 1780s to the 1820s, a thriving frontier community.
Before the founding of Petersburg, the naturalist William Bar-tram traveled through the area and left his account of Fort James, a small British outpost located on the town's future site and named after Georgia's Colonial governor, James Wright. According to Bartram, the square fort was manned by fifty rangers and covered an acre of ground along a plateau overlooking the forks of the two rivers. Just above the forks was a series of Indian mounds that Bartram described in detail. Like Petersburg, these mounds no longer exist and the site is underwater. Wright's plans to construct a town named Dartmouth on the site of the fort were frustrated by the coming of the American Revolution (1775-83).
After the American Revolution, many white settlers, especially from Virginia and North Carolina, came to the region. Of particular relevance were several families of Virginians, led by George Mathews, who settled along the Broad River valley and established a frontier community known as Goose Pond. Among the Virginia transplants was Dionysius Oliver, a Revolutionary War veteran who acquired several land grants from the state for his wartime participation. One of the grants included the land between the forks of the Savannah and Broad rivers. In 1786 Oliver petitioned the state for permission to set up a tobacco inspection warehouse on his property. The state promptly agreed to Oliver's request. Most of the citizens in the Broad River valley were planting tobacco at the time, and there was a dire need for warehouses in the region to inspect the crops.
The idea of a tobacco warehouse blossomed into a plan to construct an entire town on the small peninsula. Named for the place of Oliver's birth in Virginia, Petersburg was divided into eighty-six lots of one-half acre each, and Oliver was immediately besieged with buyers. Speculation drove lot prices to high levels, and the town's population began to swell. By 1800 it was estimated that Petersburg had a population of approximately 750 permanent inhabitants. The time of its greatest prosperity was from the 1790s until about 1810. During its boom years, Petersburg attained many facilities essential to a town of its stature, including a post office, which began service in 1795;
A newspaper (the Georgia and Carolina Gazette), which began publication in 1805; several mercantile firms and businesses; a number of taverns; a town hall; and a jail. In addition to a number of residences, Petersburg also boasted a cabinet shop, a tailor shop, a seamstress shop, horse stables, a church, a few schools, and tobacco ware-houses.
Petersburg Town Plan
On a peninsula of the Broad River
The population was 4,750 at the 2010 census.
It is the county seat of Edgefield County.
Edgefield is part of the Augusta, Georgia metropolitan area.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Edgefield has a total area of 4.3 square miles (11.1 km2), of which 4.2 square miles (10.8 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km2), or 2.71%, is water.[
The story of Edgefield is more than a quarter of a millennium long, reaching back to before the first European settlers arrived, when only Native Americans roamed the forests. At that time the area which later became Edgefield County was a vast wilderness of virgin forests, occasional prairies, great cane brakes, and sparkling rivers and creeks. It was bisected by the fall line, with sandy soils on the southeast side of this line growing primarily pine trees, and rich clay soils on the northwest side growing primarily oak and hickory. Wildlife was abundant with deer and turkey, but also with elk, buffalo (bison), panther, and bear.
The initial settlement of present-day Edgefield County occurred in the quarter century between 1750 and 1775. Some settlers came up from the South Carolina Lowcountry but more poured down "the Great Wagon Road" from the colonies to the north. In this colonial period the economy was primarily a subsistence one, in which the settlers consumed what they raised. Initially there were no courts or law enforcement, but beginning in the mid-1760s, the law-abiding settlers began their struggle to bring law, order, and government to the "backcountry" of South Carolina.
The colonial period was followed by the prolonged conflict with Great Britain which began in 1775. By this time there were many settlers living in present-day Edgefield County and almost all of them were involved, on one side or the other, in the Revolutionary War. Some Edgefieldians were die-hard patriots from the outset, who believed that the American colonies should be free and independent. Others were loyal to the king who had granted them land and provided a home for them in the New World. Still others wanted no part of the conflict but were inevitably drawn into it by partisans on each side. Finally, others were strictly opportunists who switched sides back and forth as they perceived their best interest. The conflict was, in this area, a bitter civil war in which personal vendettas often superseded politics as the cause for fighting. Cousins fought against cousins and neighbors against neighbors. When General Lighthorse Harry Lee later wrote about the Revolution in this area, he stated that "in no part of the South was the war fought with such asperity as in this quarter. It often sank into barbarity."
Following the Revolution, citizens turned their attention to establishing local government and to rebuilding the economy. In 1785 the 96 District was divided into smaller counties. The boundaries of Edgefield County were established at that time and the courthouse site was designated. Although a substantial but unsuccessful effort was made in the late 1780s to bring tobacco to Edgefield County as a money crop, short staple cotton began to assume that role in the late 1790s. For the next two decades the cultivation of cotton spread like wildfire across the county. The rich clay soils of the piedmont proved ideal for growing cotton. African slaves were brought in to provide the labor for cotton cultivation, resulting in a mushrooming of the slave population of Edgefield County. During the first two decades of the 19th century, Edgefield County, like most of piedmont South Carolina, began to experience unprecedented prosperity.
With the construction of the jail and courthouse at the designated county seat beginning in 1785, a village began to grow up around the public buildings: first houses for the public officials, then a tavern, then a store, gradually other houses, and then other stores. By 1811 a school was established, then several churches and more houses. By 1826 South Carolina architect Robert Mills could describe Edgefield Courthouse village as "a neat little village ... [with] between forty and fifty [houses]. The buildings are neat, commodious, and generally painted . ... The population is estimated at 300."
In the antebellum era, Edgefield was not the market town of the District. In the Plantation economy, the plantation owners took their cotton to market in Augusta or Hamburg and bought the majority of their supplies from mer-chants in those market towns. The merchants of Edgefield Courthouse village primarily filled in the needs of the planters between trips to the larger market towns.
During the first several decades of the 19th century, Edgefield, being the courthouse village of a large and pros-perous district, began to develop its reputation as a center of law and politics. A number of the sons of the wealthy cotton planters and other ambitious young men, after attending elite schools and colleges across the nation, came to Edgefield to practice law and engage in politics. Many of these young lawyers and politicians also maintained large plantations out in the District. These budding leaders built substantial houses in town and created a social atmosphere which attracted more similarly-situated young men.
The social prestige of being a planter with broad acres and many slaves, and dabbling in law and politics, caused many ambitious young Edgefieldians in the antebellum period to develop a self-confidence, an overdeveloped sense of honor, and an aristocratic worldview which did not always serve them well. One result of this was a widespread devotion to the Code Duello, which resulted in a number of Edgefield's best and brightest becoming involved in tragic duels. Another result was a sense of invincibility, which caused many to approach war with a cavalier attitude and to focus on the glories of victory rather than on the horrors of death and defeat. These young men also accepted violence, which had been a common occurrence in Edgefield from its earliest days, as an inevitable part of life, and in some cases even glorified it. Edgefield had a "violent reputation". "Since before Edgefield was officially a town, it has been known for violence and scandal."
While planting, politics, and violence captured the imagination of most white Edgefieldians, a number of other bright young men looked for opportunities in industry and commerce. Dr. Abner Landrum developed a pottery industry which was to have a major impact on Edgefield for more than half a century. Henry Schultz, a German immigrant, developed Hamburg, a new town on the Savannah River, which became an important commercial center during the antebellum era. Another German immigrant, Christian Breithaupt, built the first textile mill in this part of the state at Vaucluse. A number of Edgefieldians participated in bringing the South Carolina Railroad to Ham-burg. The Plank Road from Edgefield to Hamburg was built. William Gregg, a Charleston silversmith, came to run the Vaucluse factory and wound up developing the Graniteville factory, the most successful textile operation in the antebellum South. These industrial and commercial enterprises were a significant part of the fabric of antebellum Edgefield and a number of the Edgefield lawyers and planters were involved in these endeavors.
However, the most significant contribution of antebellum Edgefield to our nation's history was the intense section-alism which began in the mid-1820s and evolved to 1860. Edgefield Congressman George McDuffie (later Senator and Governor) initiated the fight against federal tariffs which were imposed on imported goods to protect New England manufacturers. He believed that the interests of this section of the country were being sacrificed for the good of New England.
McDuffie, together with South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, developed the doctrine of "nullification", which postulated that a state had the right to nullify a federal law with which it disagreed. This doctrine was put to a test in 1832. South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification, and President Andrew Jackson threatened to send troops to the state to enforce the tariff. Edgefieldians, like most South Carolinians, reacted violently to the Presi-dent's threats. Militia units were called up and the state braced for war. A national crisis was averted only by a last minute compromise that gradually reduced the tariffs.
Later, as the anti-slavery movement gained momentum and began to threaten the economic basis of the South's prosperity, most white Edgefieldians, like most white South Carolinians, embraced this sectionalism. National unity was again threatened in 1850 when many leaders throughout the South began to speak of secession. The 1856 caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Edgefield Congressman Preston Brooks on the floor of the United States Senate galvanized the nation and set South Carolina on a course for secession and Civil War. By the fall of 1860 when Abraham Lincoln was elected President, all but a few Edgefield citizens were convinced that the time had come for the South to go its own way. A convention was called and Edgefield's delegation joined in the unanimous declaration of secession.
At the outbreak of war in April 1861, the vast majority of Edgefieldians welcomed the conflict, believing that they would defeat the North in short order and the risk of slavery being outlawed would be eliminated. Hundreds of Edgefieldians volunteered for service and were quickly sent to Virginia to take on the federal forces. Little did they realize the sacrifices which they would make during the ensuing four years. Before the war was over almost every Edgefield male between the ages of 15 and 60 had been involved in some way in the war effort. Although the war never got closer than Aiken (Edgefieldians have always claimed that Sherman was afraid to come to Edgefield!), the people of Edgefield endured four bloody years in which nearly one-third of their fighting age white males became casualties. The incalculable devastation of the war is hard to comprehend. Almost all the liquid assets of the citizens had been invested in Confederate currency or bonds which were now worthless. The emancipation of the slaves wiped out a huge portion of the county's wealth, and giving them the right to vote brought an almost total reorgan-ization of the political, economic, and social systems.
During the eleven-year period of Reconstruction, the newly freed slaves, called "freedmen", became sharecroppers, farming the land on shares with the landowners. They also acquired the right to vote and hold office. Together with "carpetbaggers" (Northerners who had come South seeking opportunities) and "scalawags" (Southern anti-slavery whites who had joined the Republican Party), the white population lost their control of local and state government. Intimidated by the occupying Federal troops, the white population were militarily and politically dominated by what they perceived as corrupt Republican administrations imposed upon them by force by their Northern enemies.
The Red Shirt Campaign of 1876, largely orchestrated by the former Confederate generals Martin W. Gary and M. C. Butler of Edgefield, was a massive organized effort on the part of the white population to regain control of the political machinery of the state. Violence was a calculated part of the strategy to remove Republican dominance. The Freedmen and their Republican allies tried valiantly to maintain their political control in the face of the fierce campaign by the former Confederates. By the middle of 1877 the Red Shirt strategy, along with an increasing willing-ness on the part of the rest of the nation to allow the South to go forward on its own terms, proved successful in bringing the control of the state back into the hands of the white population. In the ensuing decades the black population of Edgefield, like that of the entire South, was thrust back into second-class citizenship by the persistent efforts of the of the whites who were determined to see that the conditions of Reconstruction were never allowed to return.
One of the principal results of the breakdown of the antebellum plantation system was that goods were no longer purchased centrally by the planters and then parceled out during the year, but rather freedmen and other small farmers purchased their own goods as they saw fit. This, together with the proliferation of manufactured consumer goods in the late 19th century, led to the development of a vigorous commercial economy in which every town and every crossroads sprouted new merchants. These new merchants, who often used questionable practices to benefit themselves at the expense of their customers, enjoyed a long period of prosperity.
During this period the village of Edgefield suffered a series of fires which destroyed practically all of the commercial area of the town except for the courthouse. In 1881 and 1884 the entire eastern and northern portions of the town were laid waste in devastating fires. In 1892 the southern and western sides of the Public Square were burned. A town ordinance was passed in 1884 requiring that all new buildings constructed within 500 feet of the town square be built of brick. It was from the ashes of these tragic fires that most of the current buildings of the town were raised. Prosperous merchants and other town leaders built new stores and, in many cases, they built grandly. The commercial district around the public square and down Main Street began to take shape.
The continuing development of railroads, such as the Charlotte, Columbia, and Augusta Railroad, built through the eastern part of the county in the late 1860s and the Augusta and Greenwood Railroad built through the western part of the county in the 1880s, resulted in the development of numerous railroad depot towns, including Ridge Spring, Ward, Johnston, Trenton, Clark's Hill, Modoc, Parksville, Plum Branch and McCormick. These new towns took on a prosperity of their own and began to sap commercial activity which might otherwise have come to Edgefield.
During this same period, the movement to bring government closer to the people resulted in the creation of a number of new counties, four of which took substantial portions of Edgefield. Aiken County was created in 1871; Saluda in 1895; Greenwood in 1897; and McCormick in 1916. Edgefield County, the area serviced by the Courthouse Village, was reduced in size to just over a quarter of what it had been.
The county's agricultural economy began to suffer in the 1880s. The combination of a dramatic increase in the production of cotton, the continued depletion of the rich soils of the piedmont regions of the county, and other general economic ills which were also affecting farmers throughout the nation, made farming increasingly difficult. One Edgefield farmer decided to do something about these problems. Benjamin Ryan Tillman, believing that the state's political leaders were not doing enough to help the farmers, instigated the farmers’ revolt, got himself elected Governor in 1890, and turned out of office the old guard of the state, including the principal leaders of the 1876 Red Shirt Campaign.
In the thirty-odd year period from the late 1880s through the early 1920s a number of positive developments took place in Edgefield. The railroad finally reached Edgefield, the first telephone was installed, the Edgefield Mill was constructed, the first automobile came to town, electrical power was installed, water and sewer systems were built, a new hotel was constructed, and the streets around the town square were paved. As World War I proceeded, cotton prices shot up and a general prosperity prevailed. The town's population had exploded, going from approximately 500 in 1880 to 2,500 by 1920. Edgefield, it seemed, was finally getting back on its economic feet.
Unfortunately, beginning in 1921 and 1922, the boll weevil, which had come from Central America and had been marching across the South since the turn of the century, finally arrived in Edgefield County, devastating the cotton crop on which the economy was almost entirely based. Farmers saw their production of cotton plummet by as much as 90 percent. Lands which had been devoted to cotton for more than a century were allowed to go idle.
Sharecroppers, no longer able to make a living, left the farms and many left the state. Throughout the 1920s farm incomes sank; merchants, unable to collect accounts from destitute farmers, were squeezed; banks failed. Then, when it seemed as if economic conditions could not get worse, the 1929 market crash and the Great Depres-sion further impoverished the county. The population of Edgefield County began to decline and continued to decline in every census from 1920 to 1970.
World War II brought changes of other kinds. Young men throughout the county entered the service. A number of Edgefield families contributed multiple sons to the war effort. Former State Senator and Circuit Judge Strom Thurmond, West Side native J. L. Doolittle, Trenton native Fritz Huiet and Johnston native Robert Herlong all participated in the Normandy invasion. Women back home took on jobs which had traditionally been held by men. Rationing significantly affected everyone who remained in town.
After the war, the soldiers returning brought back with them a new confidence and an ambition to improve the county. A well-organized effort to bring new industry to Edgefield enjoyed moderate success as the Crest Manufac-turing Company was brought to town in the late 1940s. The neighboring town of Johnston was more successful as it secured both the Milliken and Riegel plants during the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s Edgefield added to its list of new industrial recruits the National Cabinet Company, Star Fibers, Federal Pacific Electric, and Tranter, each bringing a substantial number of new jobs. During this same period, farmers on the eastern side of the county began to expand their production of peaches which, by the 1960s, had become nationally significant.
African-American soldiers had also fought valiantly in World War II, and when they returned, they came with a determination to improve their status in American society. A sustained campaign for Civil Rights developed at a national level in the late 1940s. The primary focus of this campaign was to overturn the "separate but equal" doctrine, legitimized by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision of the United States Supreme Court. In 1954 the court, in its unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision, reversed the earlier decision and ruled that segregated facilities, even if equal, were unconstitutional.
The late 1960s and the early 1970s brought other new developments to Edgefield: a new water line capable of supplying the county for decades to come, a new country club, a new private school, a new county hospital, the National Wild Turkey Federation headquarters, and a new congressman, Butler C. Derrick, Jr.
Edgefield has rich clay deposits which provide the source for alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery which was developed by Dr. Abner Landrum in the early 19th century. The slave potter David Drake, who produced many large storage jars in the period between 1830 and 1870, was literate, signed his work, and became more widely known as popular artists a century after his death. Unsigned pottery from kilns in Pottersville and Edgefield today are known by the names of their owners; the artists were largely undocumented.
The upland area also was developed for cotton plantations, after invention of the cotton gin made growing short-staple cotton profitable. Several mansions and a plantation have been preserved from this era: Blocker House, Cedar Grove, Darby Plantation, and together with the Edgefield Historic District, Horn Creek Baptist Church, and Pottersville, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On February 14, 2014, at 10:23pm, Edgefield had a 4.1 magnitude earthquake, followed by an aftershock of 3.2 on February 16, 2014, at 3:23pm.On February 14, 2014, at 10:23pm, Edgefield had a 4.1 magnitude earthquake, followed by an aftershock of 3.2 on February 16, 2014, at 3:23pm.
Edgefield is located slightly east of the center of Edgefield County at 33°47′N 81°56′W (33.7868, −81.9278). U.S. Route 25 passes through the southwest part of the town, bypassing the center, and leads north 33 miles (53 km) to Greenwood and south 26 miles (42 km) to Augusta, Georgia. South Carolina Highway 23 passes through the center of the town, leading east 26 miles (42 km) to Batesburg-Leesville and west 17 miles (27 km) to Modoc on U.S. Route 221 near the Savannah River.