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The Problem of Klan Violence: the South Carolina Up-Country, 1868–1871

  • J. C. A. Stagg (a1)


The period of Reconstruction in the South was marred by frequent outbreaks of racial violence and South Carolina undoubtedly achieved a certain notoriety in this respect. Yet this phenomenon of recurring violence – even in its best known manifestation, the Ku Klux Klan – has not really received much intensive study from either the ‘revisionist’ school of Reconstruction historians or any local historians of the South. There is still a great deal of uncertainty about the questions of why the Ku Klux Klan came into existence in the Southern states, and who organized and participated in its vigilante activities. These questions can be easily posed but, largely because of the lack of source materials which bear directly upon them, they have proved to be extremely difficult to answer satisfactorily.



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1 Swinney, Everette, ‘Enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment 1870–1877’, Journal of Southern History, 28 (05 1962), 217.

2 Horn, Stanley F., The Invisible Empire: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan 1866–1871 (John E. Edwards Reprint, Cos Cob, Conn,, 1969), p. 236; Randel, William P., The Ku Klux Klan: A Century of Infamy (London, 1965), p. 53; Simkins, Francis B. and Woody, Robert H., South Carolina During Reconstruction (Chapel Hill, 1932), pp. 452, 460; Simkins, Francis B., ‘The Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina 1868–1871’, Journal of Negro History, 12 (10 1927), 618–20; Taylor, Alrutheus A., The Negro in South Carolina During the Reconstruction (Washington, 1924), p. 188; Williamson, Joel, After Slavery (Chapel Hill, 1965), p. 260.

3 Predominantly white counties are here defined as counties where Negroes constituted less than 50% of the total population. According to the 1870 census the predominantly white Klan counties – with the percentage of their black populations – were Oconee (20%), Pickens (20%), Greenville (33%), Spartanburg (32%), Anderson (37%), Chesterfield (40%) and Lancaster (42%). Predominantly black counties are those where Negroes constituted over 60% of the population. The predominantly black counties were Abbeville (66%), Newberry (65%), Fairfield (72%), Chester (66%), and Edgefield (62%). Counties where Negroes constituted between 50–60% of the population are defined as having racially bal anced populations. In the up-country, York (50%), Laurens (54%) and Union (52%) counties therefore fit into this classification. The percentage of Negroes in Marlboro, Marion and Horry counties was 54%, 45% and 30% respectively. Admittedly, the 1870 census under estimated the Negro population in the Southern states, but even if the 1880 census is used to calculate the percentage of black and white in the population very few changes would have to be made in the above classification. Of the Klan counties, only Lancaster would have to be reclassified as a county with racially balanced population. Therefore the inadequacy of the 1870 census does not seem to affect one of the main arguments of this essay – that the population of South Carolina's up-country was too variegated to support the assertion that Klan counties were either white counties or counties with even numbers of white and black people. For figures and a discussion of the 1870 census, see Petty, Julian J., The Growth and Distribution of Population in South Carolina (Columbia, 1943), pp. 62, 64, 76, 77, 227, 228.

4 These statements are based on Table 13 in Petty, ‘Percent Gain or Loss by Counties, 1830– 1870’. See Petty, , p. 79.

5 Report on the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States (the Ku Klux Report, Washington 1872). Vols. 3–5 contain the testimony taken in South Carolina. See, for example, pp. 244, 1364, and pp. 1615–1990 which contain the record of the Ku Klux Trials, especially pp. 1987–90. See also New York Daily Tribune, 19 October 1871, p. 5; 7 November 1871, p. 1; 8 November 1871, p. 2; 14 November 1871, p. 1; 18 December 1871, p. 2; 28 December 1871, p. 2; New York Times, 29 November 1871, p. 2.

6 Olsen, Otto H., ‘The Ku Klux Klan: A Study in Reconstruction Politics and Propaganda’, North Carolina Historical Review, 39 (07 1962), 352; Shapiro, Herbert, ‘The Ku Klux Klan During Reconstruction. The South Carolina Episode’, JNH, 49 (01 1964), 4853; Trelease, Allen W., White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction (New York, 1971), pp. 353–4, 363.

7 This is the argument of Shapiro, pp. 36, 43.

8 Trelease, , pp. xli, xliii, xlvii, 64, 115. It should be noted that Trelease's argument on this point is not wholly consistent throughout his study. On p. 64 he observes that the Klan was apt ro appear in counties where the parties or the races were ‘nearly equar, while on p. 115 he states that the Klan counties in South Carolina had a more equal balance of races and parties than did other parts of the state – which is a very different argument. The first statement is demonstrably false as far as South Carolina is concerned; the second contains more truth, but the introduction of a comparative dimension does not explain the problem under consideration.

9 Ibid., p. 73 and cf. p. 369.

10 The newspapers used were the Charleston Daily Courier, the Anderson Intelligencer, the Edgefield Advertiser, the Carolina Spartan and the Yorkuille Enquirer. The election investiga tions are contained in House Miscellaneous Documents, 41st Congress 1st session, no. 17; 41st Congress 2nd session, no. 17; 42nd Congress 2nd session, no. 48. The state of South Carolina also conducted an investigation of the 1868 Presidential election – see Evidence Taken by the Committee of Investigation of the Third Congressional District (Columbia, 1870). Election returns for South Carolina between November 1867 and June 1868 are printed in House Executive Documents, 40th Congress 3rd session, The Report of the Secretary of War, pt. 1, pp. 520–2. The existence of scalawags is assumed if the total vote in a county cast for a Reconstruction measure exceeded the registered black vote. Fraud, violence and the absence of accurate registration figures make it impossible to apply a similar analysis to the elections between November 1868 and October 1870.

11 House Misc. Docs., 41st Congress 2nd session, no. 17, Additional Papers in Wallace v. Simpson, p. 47; Carolina Spartan, 2 April 1868.

12 Additional Papers in Wallace v. Simpson, p. 36.

13 Charleston Daily Courier, 29 October 1870.

14 Bureau of the Census, The Statistics of the Wealth and Industry of the United States (Washington, 1872), pp. 56, 238–41, 362.

15 Of the sixteen most heavily taxed counties in the state in 1870, only four were violent counties. For Union county, see Ku Klux Report, p. 1098.

16 Du Bois, W. E. B., Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880 (New York, 1935), see especially ch. 14.

17 For a description of the Bureau's work, see Abbott, Martin, The Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina 1865–1872 (Chapel Hill, 1967), especially chs. 4 and 5.

18 See Williamson, , pp. 101, 127–30, who describes this practice as ‘share-renting’. See also Rogers, George C. Jr, A History of Georgetown County, South Carolina (Columbia, 1970), pp. 429–36; Simkins and Woody, ch. 9.

19 Hammond, Harry (ed.), South Carolina: Resources and Population, Institutions and Industry (Charleston, 1883), pp. 123, 149–89.

20 Edgefield Advertiser, 15 and 29 January, 1868; Carolina Spartan, 5 March 1868; Enquirer, 16 January 1868.

21 Edgefield Advertiser, 19 February 1868; Yorkuille Enquirer, 16 January 1868.

22 Croushore, James H. and Potter, David M. (eds.), A Union Officer in Reconstruction by John William De Forest (New Haven, 1948), pp. 97–9.

23 Cited in Yorkville Enquirer, 6 August 1868; Ku Klux Report, p. 968.

24 Anderson Intelligencer, 17 June 1868; Yorkville Enquirer, 6 August 1868.

25 Aiken, D. Wyatt, ‘Southern Farming and Farm Labor’, Rural Carolinian (12 1869), p. 141; see also Aiken, 's address, ‘Farming As Adapted to Middle South Carolinar’, Proceedings … of the South Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical Society (Charleston, 1872). pp. 33–8. The Southern Cultivator also contains several letters from South Carolina planters condemning the ‘renting’ system.

26 See Woody, Robert H., ‘The Labor and Immigration Problem of South Carolina During Reconstruction’, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 18 (09 1931), 195212.

27 Williamson, , p. 113; Edgefield Advertiser, 17 and 24 June 1868.

28 Anderson Intelligencer, 22 July 1868.

29 Cited in Charleston Daily Courier, 10 August 1868; Trelease describes Aiken as a man who was ‘perpetually instigating violence’. See White Terror, p. 116.

30 Anderson Intelligencer, 3 and 17 June, 1 and 8 July 1868; Edgefield Advertiser, 4 and 11 March, 5, 19, 26 August, 30 September 1868; Carolina Spartan, 27 February, 5 March, 7 May 1868; Yorkville Enquirer, 19 March and 8 July 1868.

31 Ibid., 2 April 1868.

32 Cited by Bleser, Carol K. R., The Promised Land. The History of the South Carolina Land Commission 1869–1890 (Columbia, 1969), p. 72.

33 Yorkville Enquirer, 18 February, 1 April, 2 December 1869.

34 Cited by Williamson, , p. 120.

35 Yorkville Enquirer, 13 January 1870; Anderson Intelligencer, 13 January 1870; Charleston Daily Courier, 16 February 1870.

36 Yorkville Enquirer, 27 October 1870.

37 Ku Klux Report, pp. 520, 540, 585, 1165–8.

38 Cited in Charleston Daily Courier, 21 April 1871. See Williamson, , p. 127. With the exception of Oconee, Anderson, Pickens and Greenville counties, the extent of violence in 1870–71 was much the same as it was in 1868. The success of the Union Reform party in these four counties in 1870 must be presumed to account for the absence of violence there in 1870–71.

39 Ku Klux Report, pp. 318–23, 996, 1069–76, 1096–8, 1320–32; New York Times, 5 May 1871, p. 1; New York Daily Tribune, 29 November 1870, p. 5, 28 March 1871, p. 1; 28 April 1871, p. 1; 1, 5, 17, 27 May 1871, p. I.

40 Charleston Daily Courier, 24 November 1870, 6 December 1870, 27 May 1871.

41 Cited in Charleston Daily Courier, 6 January 1871, 21 July 1871. See also Carolina Spartan, 20 July 1871.

42 Cited in Charleston Daily Courier, 16 March 1871; Ku Klux Report, p. 1582.

43 Yorkville Enquirer, 15 January 1870, 10 November 1870, 2 November 1871; Post, Louis F., ‘A Carpetbagger in South Carolina’, JNH, 10 (01 1925), 49. Whitecapping was a form of violence that, in the South, often reflected a combination of anti-Negro sentiment and severe economic distress. See Holmes, William F., ‘Whitecapping: Agrarian Violence in Mississippi, 1902–1906’, Journal of Southern History, 35 (05 1969), 165185.

44 Edgefield Advertiser, 3, 10, 16 November 1870, 8 December 1870.

45 Joel Williamson has rightly argued that the distribution of the militia companies during the 1870 election accounts for much of the Klan violence in 1870–71. Yet this argument obviously cannot explain the phenomenon of recurring violence in the up-country counties in the years 1868 and 1870–71. The militia was armed in strength in the up-country in 1870 because there had been extensive violence in the same area in 1868, a fact which suggests there were already present in the local situation other factors which had precipitated the rise of the Klan. See Williamson, , pp. 261–2.

46 Post, p. 63.

47 Descriptions of the Klan raids of 1870–71 are provided in most of the secondary literature on the Klan. See Trelease, , pp. 349–80.

48 Ku Klux Report, pp. 388, 520, 540, 585, 1591.

49 New York Daily Tribune, 27 November 1871, p. 2

50 There is evidence to suggest that some Klan leaders organized meetings to attempt to stop the violence. In York county this development appears to have been launched by Dr J. Rufus Bratton, However, Bratton had personally supervized the hangings of militia leaders in York and probably was in no position to force others to stop what he had once encouraged. See Trelease, , p. 367–8.

51 Woodward, C. Vann, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (2nd ed., revised, New York 1966), p. 81.


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