Our History: The Fourth of July celebration in Walterboro in 1856

by | June 30, 2018 5:00 pm

Last Updated: June 27, 2018 at 10:49 am

By David W. Hiott

(Writer’s note: A news article was stumbled upon from an event that happened here 162 years ago. I have simplified and shortened the report and have added identifying information in parentheses on most individuals from our Colleton Genealogy Society sources.)

The 82nd anniversary of our nation’s independence was actually celebrated locally on July 5, 1856, since the 4th had fallen on a Sunday that year. The Walterboro (then spelled Walterborough) festivities were reported in the Charleston Mercury newspaper a few days later.
The local militia unit, the Colleton Rifle Corps, a company of more than 100 men, organized the celebration. At that time the men were under the command of Capt. Josiah Bedon Perry, a very popular officer, as we shall see. The spirit shown by the Colleton Rifles that day reminded the Mercury reporter of the “former military spirit in the days of 1832.” (This apparently alluded to military posturing that was taken during the nullification standoff at Charleston in 1832 between the federal authority of President Andrew Jackson and “states rights” proponents. The president won that confrontation.)
At 11 o’clock, the Colleton Rifle Corps formed in line and marched to the Colleton Court House, where Rev. E. E. Bellinger offered a prayer. (Rev. Bellinger, though first trained in law, had ascended to a different profession — he ministered to St. Jude’s Episcopal congregation for over four decades. His illustrious ancestor, Edmund Bellinger, the sea captain, became one of the original landgraves of Carolina Colony, owning thousands of acres of Colleton land, including Ashepoo’s Poco Sabo.)
Robert Campbell read the Declaration of Independence. (He was probably the young son of our venerable Archibald Campbell. Robert was studying law at the time. This sounds like a long reading, but it only runs 1328 words, followed by 56 signatures.)
This was followed by the oration of the guest speaker, Roswell T. Logan. (He was a Charleston Mercury reporter, who had graduated from the College of Charleston with honors in 1855. He made frequent references to religion and clearly was a supporter of nullification. Because he was the invited orator, this day of celebration in Walterboro was destined to be printed for posterity in Charleston’s popular newspaper.)
After the speech, the Colleton Rifles performed drills. Then all 400 people in attendance, militia and visitors alike, assembled under a fine grove of trees, where an excellent dinner was provided. The caterer and provider of the repast was William Box Robinson (now usually spelled “Robertson”), doubtless a barbecue man par excellence, since the corps officers had insisted on him. It was mentioned that his efforts “administered to the gratification of the inner man.”
Then the cloth was removed from the tables, and a series of toasts were made. First came the mandatory toasts to things like the Fourth of July, states’ rights, the governor, Senator Hammond, the late Senator Evans, and Representative L. M. Keitt. Then toasts were drunk to Senator Douglas (Lincoln’s opponent), free schools, agriculture and the farmers, the Charleston Mercury, the orator of the day, and finally, to “woman,” apparently a way of that time of honoring womanhood in general.
After this came “volunteer toasts.” This was where politicking began to be slipped in, as people had opportunity to bring up an honorable name — who just happened to be offering, or at least available, for high public office. I mention these in particular, since they offer a rare look into Colleton society of that day:
R. T. Logan, the orator of the day, toasted William Porcher Miles, a rising political “star.” (Miles, having some Walterboro roots, became Charleston’s mayor, then a U. S. Representative, and later a college president.)
Dr. Frederick W. Fraser (he was both a physician and, oddly, an attorney) gave a toast to “southern hickory.” (This was an indirect word of praise to Congressman Preston Brooks, who had entered the Senate chamber and caned Senator Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner previously insulted South Carolina’s elderly Senator Butler. Representative Keitt assisted in the assault. The popularity of this hickory caning also explains why so many Southern babies were named “Preston Brooks” after 1856.)
Dr. Fraser’s father, Capt. Frederick Fraser (Colleton planter), also felt inspired to offer an additional toast to the women.
Col. A. M. Peeples (visiting from the Hampton area) and Archibald L. Campbell (engineer and son of the elder Archibald, who did the original surveys of Walterboro) both toasted Rep. L. M. Keitt, offering attributes. William Sanders (probably the Mashawville farmer), Joseph Fraser (a Colleton carpenter who later moved to Alabama), and John Rumph Jr. (St. George Parish farmer) later made similar toasts. Suggestions were made that Keitt run for Senator.
Josiah Bedon (later died in war) rose to toast ex-Governor James H. Adams (a Yale graduate, who had just completed his term), mentioning that Adams would make a fine senator. Thomas Pye (Walterboro planter), however, countered next, with a tribute to Chancellor Dargan, expressing wishes for him to be our next senator.
L. C. Hiott (perhaps a misprint of Samuel Capers Hiott, local farmer?) gave a tribute to Captain Perry, who was said to be “wise and brave in defense of the cause of his constituents.” Soon came other toasts by Capt. Lewis Reeves (a merchant in what is now the Cottageville area), J. J. McGuire (not identified), and J. D. D. Weimer (or J. David P. Wamer, St. George merchant) for Capt. J. B. Perry, praising his virtues and military abilities. They also noted what a fine, prospective senator to Washington he might be. (Capt. Perry was a prosperous local attorney and planter, who made time to command the snappy, local militia company. One of his ancestors was Rev. Archibald Stobo, an early Lowcountry Presbyterian minister.)
Capt. Perry, being loudly called upon to speak, modestly confined his toast to agriculture, free schools, and similar worthy issues, as did Oliver Perry Williams (attorney and Baracada Plantation planter), Dr. Charles Pinckney (physician), and Carlos Tracy (attorney).
A couple of gentlemen apparently were unable to attend, but sent their toasts by others. Thus, Lewis O’Bryan (local state representative and senator) was able to toast the Colleton Rifle Corps, and Daniel Sullivan Henderson (local attorney and state representative) sent his toast to the memory of George McDuffie, saying, “South Carolina never had a more brilliant, noble, fearless and unselfish son.” (McDuffie, who died five years earlier, rose from modest means to become S.C. governor and U. S. senator. He was a strong advocate of nullification.)
Joseph Malachi Ford (local merchant and Ashepoo schooner captain) chose to direct his toast to Archibald Campbell Sr. (Campbell, 1799-1866, served Walterboro in many capacities. An immigrant from Scotland as a youth, he surveyed and laid out the lots of Walterboro, ran a store, served as clerk of court, became Walterboro’s second postmaster and then commissioner of equity. By 1856, he moved to Beaufort, then on to Charleston to become superintendent of the orphanage there. Later he would become Charleston’s treasurer.)
Finally, Capt. Charles F. Hiers (Colleton teacher) gave the last toast: “To the Colleton Rifle Corps, under the command of their spirited captain, a happy exponent of the American military, useful citizens and efficient soldiers!”
As a final comment, it is exciting to find these ancestors and predecessors of Colleton District and to have them come to life for us in this little slice of time and place. It is good to be able to relate to that same feeling of love of country (and of good food). At the same time it is sad to feel the ferment of the era that would lead to war for all, hunger and death for many, but, happily, new freedom for others. Have a great 4th of July, everyone!

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