Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reconstruction-era Clinton, SC

 According to Dr. William P. Jacobs, the first building in Clinton was erected in 1852, in the middle of a mud hole or stagnant pool of water, at the corner of Broad and Pitts Streets.  The words 'BARROOM' were painted on its side.  A log from the doorway to terra‑firma was the way of approach and many an unlucky fellow who walked straight in, walked out so crooked, that he would topple over to the pool below.[1] Other little wooden shanties and homes were put up, but by 1864
"there were only a half dozen good dwellings and one brick store building in the place."[2] 

Clinton was originally incorporated in 1864 under the Confederate South Carolina government, and immediately a dispute arose over the naming of the town.  Some wanted the name “Five Points” because of the number of roads coming together and because it was the name of a section of New York City. Some voted for “Round Jacket” after one of the town’s citizens.  As they stood arguing, General Assemblyman Henry Clinton Young who "always caught the Clinton vote" was passing through to Newberry.   Someone suggested the town be named “Clinton” for him, and the appellation stuck.  For ten years after the war Clinton had almost no mail service, and train service was intermittent.  The nearest bank was in Newberry, so "everybody bought on credit and paid high prices." A barrel of flour, for example, was $6 cash and $10 credit.[3]

Clinton's leading citizens during Reconstruction were Mr. and Mrs. Phinney who owned a general store and gave out general advice, Captain Robert S. Owens, and Captain Barney Smith Jones who lived just east of the (First) Presbyterian Church. He was a former member of the Legislature and was later killed by a run‑away horse while he was sheriff of Laurens County.  Mercer Silas Bailey ran a store in town, and by 1881 would be lending so much money he would open M.S. Bailey & Son, Bankers.  
The most eminent citizen of little Clinton, though, was Dr. William Plumer Jacobs[4] (March 15, 1842‑September 10, 1917), pastor of the Presbyterian Church and founder of Thornwell Orphanage and Clinton College (later Presbyterian College).  Jacobs knew six languages:  English, Latin, Greek, French, German, and Hebrew, and was a student of metaphysics, history, astronomy, and shorthand.  His mother was an orphan, and he attended Columbia Seminary, where the great Southern Presbyterian theologian James Henley Thornwell had a great influence on him. He came to the disorganized Presbyterian Church in Clinton of only forty‑seven members in 1864.  They called his vision of an orphanage for wartime orphans "Jacob's Folly."

Mail in Clinton was sporadic and usually laid out at Mr. Phinney's store for people to pick up.  The first postmaster was H.M. Martin who was paid $50 a year.  The Presbyterians in 1866 raised money to help their African-American members build their own church.  Rumors were afoot of a rebirth to the railroad.  There was a loom for weaving cloth in every home.  "Cloth could not be bought for love or money, and cotton was a drug on the market."  Little girls, both white and black, would help in the sewing of jeans and cotton goods, Jacobs records.[5]

[1]Jacobs, Literary, p. 60.
[2]Jacobs, Literary, p. 12.
[3]Jacobs, Literary, p. 47.
[4] Greenville News, July 9, 1961.
[5]Jacobs, Literary, pp. 14‑15.