Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Laurens County (SC) living in 1872

Our series on Laurens County, SC, during Reconstruction continues with life in 1872 Laurens County.
Clinton (SC) Presbyterian Church built 1855
         As Laurens County, SC, dealt with the Conspiracy Arrests in 1872, the doctrine of human depravity continued to show itself elsewhere in the county as well. The Laurensville town council warned robin shooters in March, 1872, that because of careless and reckless shooting, the ordinance against discharge of firearms would be strictly enforced. Also the corncrib of the widow Mrs. Minerva Dial was robbed of twenty‑ five bushels and her house of a sum of money. These were days when, "it is necessary in these times to sleep with one eye open, and your shot gun well loaded."

            In Columbia, state representative Joseph Crews had submitted to the General Assembly a bill to repeal the charter of the town of Laurensville.[1] With the town charter repealed, Thomas Bissell Crews, editor of the Laurensville Herald, reported in mid March that five or six black citizens got into “a general drunken row and fight . . . , shouting as they went in, 'no town council‑‑no marshal now!' and at it they went. However no shots were fired and we believe no clubs, rocks, brickbats, or knives nor pistols were brought into requisition‑‑Nature's clubs being the favorite weapons on the occasion. The men continued to fight until sundown while Trial Justice Byrd watched and took notes for fines. The Herald concludes, “Casualties: Shotwounds‑‑none, 'bloody faces'‑‑none, Negroes wounded by whiskey‑‑all, between ten and fifteen."[2]

            Winter seemed to be holding out against spring in early March 1872, as Laurens received a ninth snow, "and according to the prophets three more are yet to come, The Herald reads. “The snow on Friday night was the largest of the season measuring, we are told, fully six inches on fair ground. This count of the number of snows does not include small skiffs, rain‑freeze, and sleets, but large full‑grown in the 'old way.'""[3]
          Despite the snow and the political machinations of Joe Crews, hope was again springing in the hearts of Laurens County citizens. The little hamlet of Clinton, so close to extinction in 1871, was showing some encouraging signs.  A young entrepreneur named Mercer Silas Bailey had decided earlier in 1870 to expand his store in Clinton into new businesses. After the dark days of the riots and arrests passed, M.S. Bailey would grow his Clinton enterprises to include a saw, flour, and grist mill, a shingle factory (one of the first in the state), and a sash, door, and blind factory all before 1880.[4] Dr. Jacobs enumerated several small improvements in Clinton that included a 
“fence around the Methodist Church, work on my house, new steps to Copeland's store and the lodge, a new kitchen at Charlie Franklin's, [and the idea of] a project in my head which, like many other projects, is, I fear, to be finally unsuccessful. I propose the establishment of an orphan asylum under the care of the South Carolina Synod, the same to be placed here and to be taken care of by the Presbyterians of South Carolina. If I were a man of faith and energy I could easily carry it into effect, but . . . were I to undertake it, it would be a signal failure.[5]
Dr. William Plumer Jacobs
           There were exciting rumors of a resurrection of the Laurens Railroad, but according to the Clinton Presbyterian Church pastor, Dr. William Plumer Jacobs, some of "the Laurens people say they are going to build a railroad from Laurensville to Augusta and throw away ours altogether. If so, goodbye Clinton."[6] On and off rumors about the prospects of the railroad did not deter Mr. Green who restarted his mill in Clinton in 1872, where there were still forty families resident with a population of 450. Dr. Jacobs says that Clinton was a village of twenty-nine Presbyterian families, eight of the Methodist faith, two Baptist, and one Jewish.

            At the Laurensville Herald, Joseph Crews’ brother, Editor T.B. Crews, was pushing for acceptance of the new sub‑soil plow. Crews writes, "Captain John Robertson, with his big plow, was in our town recently, and literally 'ruined' as some of our old fogy friends predict, two or three gardens‑‑our own among the rest. The aforesaid plow is one of Ames' large two‑horse steel implements, with the North Carolina sub‑soil attachment, which penetrates mother earth to the depth of fully 12 inches. 'Dad' by which endearing [name] the Captain is perhaps better known, has a trio of these noble brothers, with which he 'ruins' all his bottom lands." [7]  

            In 1872, a young man named James S. Blalock resigned his position as overseer of an estate in Chester and Union Counties and came to Martin's Depot. Blalock was a Rhett Butler prototype. He had run cotton through to the British West Indies during the War and received payment in gold. With that gold, Blalock bought great tracts of land at Martin's Depot. The people were so amazed at this gesture that the place came to be called Goldville.[8] In all, Blalock purchased 7,000 acres of land and produced 1,000 to 1,500 bales of cotton per year. And the money was good. The Laurensville Herald reported that cotton at Charleston was bringing 21½ ‑23¼ cents/lb., and at Augusta it was 21½.[9] The Blalock estate had seventy plows, and one plow could handle about twenty acres. In later years, James Blalock saw the need for a mill, and he hired convicts from the state to make bricks, build a five thousand spindle mill, and farm his land.[10]

            The Laurensville Herald opined in its March 22, 1872, issue what undoubtedly many South Carolina whites were beginning to think: "Wesley once said that 'Many a good farmer or mechanic had been spoiled to make a poor preacher.' There is little doubt in the minds of many who have witnessed the remarkable gyrations of some of the members of the General Assembly that many a good harlequin has been spoiled to make a very poor legislator. We have this to say to the Republican party of this State. If there is not a change for the better in the next Legislature then God help the State." Just over a week later the Laurens County conspiracy arrests and trials would begin.

[1]           According to South Carolina Counties, "Laurens County", 3, we see for the first time in the re‑charter of 1873 the name change to drop the ‑ville for Laurens.
[2]           All from Laurensville Herald, March 1, 8, 22, 1872. The article about the fight illustrates the conservative sensitivity to the Republican newspapers: "Who will be kind enough to report to the Union? Come now ye racy, ready correspondents of said paper, don't all speak at once; but let it be said that several letters were received from Laurens county giving accounts of a riot."
[3]           Laurensville Herald, March 8, 1872.
[4]           Jacobs, Life, 99‑100. Scrapbook, 93.
[5]           Jacobs, Life, 94.
[6]           Jacobs, Life, 94.
[7]Laurensville Herald, March 8, 1872, "PLOWING RIGHT." March 22, 1872. According to South Carolina Counties, "Laurens County", 3, we see for the first time in the re‑charter of 1873 the name change to drop the ‑ville for Laurens.
[8]           Foy, 20‑21; Scrapbook, 72; Eleven years later the name change was made official.
[9]           Laurensville Herald, March 8, 1872.
[10]             Laurens Advertiser, June 10, 1970.