This article was written by Brandon Inabinet and originally published on February 26, 2018.
The current timelines of the university typically start with the founding date (1826) and then the story that the institution moved quite a bit from its founding until it found a home in Greenville (in 1852) and eventually northern Greenville county (1958). In a slightly more nuanced history, you might find that the antebellum moving had to do with financial exigencies, and the move out of downtown Greenville had to do with overcrowding. But of course, good historians always know there’s more to the story.
Before getting to the Winnsboro model, let’s start with an overview of the moves and the multiple motives for each location.
Religious revival with large numbers of new Baptist converts meant ambitious designs for the growing denomination in the Second Great Awakening. Basil Manly (eventual president and founder of the University of Alabama) helped recruit the Baptist Associations of South Carolina to fundraise, especially from the wealth of slaveholders, to build a schoolhouse for young boys in the backcountry who might go into the pastorate.
Edgefield was too small a city to support an academic institution, but more importantly, too poor to recruit and pay for attendees. After the Georgia Baptists failed to deliver on cosponsoring the institution (instead launching their own institution), it was time to move. A home high above the marshes of malaria-infested Lowcountry South Carolina was the dream of most Charlestonians. That dream was synonymous with the “High Hills” of Santee. Many wealthy slaveowners had a summer home in High Hills, including the now-deceased school namesake, Richard Furman. The school moved near the land still tilled by Furman’s sons, including Samuel Furman, who would help ensure the institution remained solvent and operating, alongside its director, Rev. Jesse Hartwell. Directors and the Furman family members advocated for Baptists to pay for subscriptions for poor students to attend, while asking the SC Baptist Associations to fund campus and payroll.
Jonathan Davis, major South Carolina politician, wealthy slaveholder, and leader of the SC Baptists, enticed these men to move the school to Winnsboro, and shifted leadership of the college to James C. Furman, another son of Richard and now son-in-law of Davis (James C. married Harriet Davis in 1833, and after her death in 1849, would marry her sister). With his wealthy plantation and the success of slavery around Winnsboro (symbolized in the gorgeous carriages that would bring slaveholders to the Fairfield Baptist Church), Davis purchased the land for the college near Fairfield Baptist Church and personally oversaw many aspects of construction.
The “failed” part of the Winnsboro plan was the labor experiment. When it opened in February 1837, the institute had 50 student boarders and 13 local students. Each student was required to work 2 half hours per day (for a total of an hour labor) in the fields surrounding the university–not much at all relative to the agricultural demands of the time. Teachers were expected to work alongside students, all under the supervision of a master farmer.
But rebellious students did not want to do the manual labor typically completed by African-American slaves and freed labor. Students instead frequented local liquor shops. The school burned to the ground in its first year (killing one student) and by the following year, a new model was created for students to live in one- and two-room cabins, placed in a semi-circle behind the rebuilt academic building. This arrangement helped to prevent the chaos of fire but made the unruly behavior of the boys even less easy to control and, as you might imagine, simulated slave quarters. Given the church associated with the college, where students were expected to attend, Fairfield Baptist, frequently had more black attendees than white, the feeling of slight was probably strong for these sons of privilege.
By 1841, there was already discussion of moving campus. The reasons were clear to later president William Joseph McGlothlin, a more “salubrious climate where there was a larger proportion of white people.”
The rest is the Greenville history that is more well known: a small building resembling slave quarters, now known as “Old College,” goes up on land donated by Vardry McBee, with classes starting for the newly branded “Furman University” on February 1, 1851. In a few years time, a beautiful campus is built according to the plans for an Old Main building by Charleston firm Lee and Hall, including the famous Bell Tower.
With each move, questions about the underlying economic conditions, race, and student conduct are often elided in the overview histories. It’s perhaps time that more material history gets its day in the sun.
This article was written by Brandon Inabinet and originally published on February 25, 2018.
Perhaps the best record of the lead up to Civil War is housed in Furman’s Special Collections, the Journal of Belton Oscar Mauldin for 1860. In it, a Furman student documents in his handwriting the slow transition of the area, from pro-Union “backcountry” area to a brutally violent yet celebratory, independent South Carolina. Unused to the massive plantation culture of the lower part of the state, Furman students and faculty did still have the “right” to own slaves and Mauldin’s diary captures some of these transactions as best we have them. While we have no record (to date) of the university’s purchase or sale of slaves, and many students would have been too poor to own any themselves, this journal helps capture the economic and social system that supported the roots of higher education in South Carolina.
The language of the journal will offend our ears today, but captures the attitudes of its time, so crucial sections for understanding this transition are posted below.
Regarding the price of slaves in the Upstate. Inflation from 1860 to 2018 is 2.14% per year, so 2018 values are stated in parenthesis beside each figure. It is hard to imagine these price tags attached to individual human beings, and those numbers being intermixed with the normal activities of students even today.
“January 18th Uncle Joab’s negroes sold well to-day; George brought $3500 ($99,838.25); he is the best- and most-sensible negro I ever saw–a fine mill-wright & one of the best carpenters in town; Prof. Boyce bought him; he has his wife, & altho’ everybody thot [sp] it high Prof. B was offered $4000 ($114,100.86) to-night for him. 24 negroes including children from 2 to 12 years old averaged $1067 ($30,436.40). A great-many people here.”
“March 27th We got excused today and consequently did not recite; learnt & studied Mech. of Eng. this morning. Ma sold Milly a girl 14 years old to-day belonging to my father’s estate for $1235 ($35,228.64) to R.E. Holcombe. Cold & I studied German this evening.”
Regarding the treatment of African-Americans in Greenville, we can see the juxtaposition of treatment. Freedmen and slaves are worshipping at the same Christian churches as white congregants, contributing to Richard Furman’s vision of biracial salvation in the backcountry of South Carolina. Maudlin expresses his amusement in seeing the baptism of an African-American child in the Episcopal tradition, as opposed to the adult elective submersion practiced by Baptists.
On the other hand, we see that Furman classes would be excused to let students attend a lynching, whether in regard to alleged crime by African-Americans or alleged abolitionist influence.
“April 15th . . . I attended Episcopal Church this evening but can’t say I much edified or instructed. The preacher was a stranger to me . . . did not speak distinctly enough for me to understand half the words; saw the farce (cannot call it by a less harsh name) of sprinkling a negro baby (free-negro); the little chap did not seem to take much pleasure in the service was quite an unwilling subject.”
July 15th “Mr. Furman gave us two fine sermons to-day. I taught Gold’s class at negro S.S. this evening, & will till he returns.”
“September 5th . . . Ned & Col. N. each in their buggies went out to request the citizens to assemble at “Filler Hill” to-morrow at 12 o’clock to decide on the case of an old rascal, Bottle [?] John Smith (so-called) who had been taken up & is thot by some to be an Abolitionist; the command of who Ned is a member have him (Smith) guarded & seem disposed to hang the old fellow . . . . Col. opposes hanging Smith but I rather believe I should favor it . . . ”
“April 26th . . . A negro is to be hung to-morrow near the village and I suppose we will have a tremendous crowd here. Ma is sitting up with a young lady Miss Stubbs who is very ill at Female College.”
“Friday 27th Saw the crowd pass on the way to the gallows this morning at 10 O’clock, Prof. Furman excused his Rhetoric class & many of our students went to the hanging a very large crowd there I heard; didn’t go myself. Had no speaking this morning; Tilman R. Gaines gave us a pretty good speech yesterday morning.”
Regarding the events leading toward war, we see the Furman University Riflemen (predecessor to ROTC) running a parade in celebration of American Independence Day. Consider how this pro-Union sentiment, aided by years of media leadership by Benjamin Perry in the area, changed suddenly as James C. Furman and other area leaders shifted public opinion through their oratory and publications, following the election of Lincoln to the Presidency. James C. Furman used not only civic and public grounds (such as the Marietta School House) to spread his viewpoints, but also the pulpits of the area Baptist churches, including Gowensville Baptist Church.
Against secession and James C. Furman were his two closest neighbors, Thaddeus C. Bolling and Benjamin F. Perry, along with J.B. O’Neall, Dr. W.A. Mooney, Maj. J.C. Bolling, and a Furman professor who would have worked for James C. Furman, Dr. James P. Boyce. James C. Furman and others labeled this group the “submission ticket,” using his common tactic of labeling white men as “slaves” to the North if they would allow slavery to be contained to the southeastern states.
“July 4th . . . We had a Parade this morning and Thomas S. Adams’ speech before the University Riflemen.”
November 17th “We found flags flying & tremendous excitement here; a political meeting which begun at 11 this morning was still going on when we arrived; Prof. J.C. Furman made a speech this morning which is praised by every one in the most extravagant terms; he, Gen. W.H. Easley, Col. W.H. Campbell, P.E. Duncan & Dr. Harrison are teh candidates for delegates to represent this District in the State Convention to assemble in Columbia Dec. 17th & they will no doubt be elected; I am a Secessionist now altho’ I have never been before; I can’t bear the idea of living under a Blk. Repub. President, besides I see no hope now of the South ever having given to her that equality which, up to this time there has remained some hope of her finally gaining; & tho’ there may be danger in seceding yet I would welcome any & every danger, even destruction itself in preference to remaining in the Union.”
The increasingly pro-slavery viewpoints and violence toward African-Americans on the eve of war cannot be limited or contained. Some of the “fun” Mauldin discusses below was actually quite common, especially in the U.S. South, as the children of slaveholders repeatedly failed to meet basic norms of respect and human dignity. “Honor codes” were begun as one attempt to regulate such behavior. In the case of Furman University, many of the university’s moves and practices (such as housing students with local families in downtown Greenville) were attempts at controlling such unruly and often violent behavior. The evils inherent in slavery crept into other social realms, whether the treatment of women, political affairs, or the treatment of other minorities.
In Mauldin’s journal, we read about the anti-Jewish crimes committed by Furman University students, just on the suspicion that they might give aid to African-Americans. As the last post demonstrates, Mauldin might feel guilty about his actions, knowing the higher bar their Christian background and education expected, yet seemed immune from doing better.
Posts from the journal will be included uninterrupted to help the reader understand the swirl of nightmarish events from a modern perspective.
November 29th “We had a nice piece of fun last night here; a crowd of men & boys, some 80 or 100 assembled & having proved before the assembled body that a Jew named “Levy” had kissed, or caused to be kissed, both Memminger & Magreth, they went up to Levy’s store, seized him, rode him on a rail up the river, shoved half his head & beard, & made him promise to leave in one week; I was to go with them but missed them, am very sorry I did not go to see the fun; should have enjoyed it.”
Dec. 4th attended a “M.M. meeting to-night; we resolved to have a torchlight procession Saturday night. Willie wanted to join but we objected & I withdrew his name when it was proposed.”
December 5th “I attended a meeting of the “Invisibles” to-night & joined them; they are an Association to rid our community of some persons (Jews) who have become nuisances to the whole community; they are responsible for the action taken in Levy’s case & resolved to-night to give notice to several others that they would be treated in the same way if they do not leave this place.”
Dec 8 “To-night we, “M.M.”, had a grand celebration, a torch-light procession; the streets were crowded & shouting & yelling were the order of the day or night rather; the candidates spoke at the Goodlett House & were enthusiastically cheered especially whenever they referred to the secession of the State; truly Greenville is changing her politics.”
“Dec 14th “The Invisibles” are to give “Somerses” (three Jews) a ride to-night, if they can get hold of them; I should like to be at home ot see the fun, but can’t, & hope they will succeed.”
“Dec 15 “The “Invisibles” did not catch the “Somerses” last night but have fixed Monday night for the “frolic.” Sunday 16th Attended Church to-day. . . . Our Delegates to State convention went down.”
Dec. 17th “Our Convention met today & “S.C.” will soon be an Independent Republic. “Invisibles” about 60 in all set a trap to catch the Somerses to-night who failed because a negro informed them that we were lying in wait for them; we then came down to Somers’ store went in to M. Samuels’ & drank his lager rum, & ate his apples & some had his his negroes w’h was shameful in my opinion. After this they pulled down on Somerses’ sign & rocked the house! It was cold & sloppy.”
Dec 18th After the secession convention and legislature adjourns to Charleston, “The Gas will be lit to-morrow night I understand; the Gas hands have a large Star made of an inch pipe with “S.C.” & “1860” in the center which they will light up the night we hear of “S.C.’s independence” effected by her Secession.”
Dec 19th “To-night the “invisibles” were to meet; consequently I went around & after sitting some time there being only 6 of us, viz; Codington, Hughes, Holcombe & Four Walton from the Shops (Gower & Coy & Picket& I) we determined to take Joe Lowenberg out on a ride; failing in this however we seized “Samuels” & carried him across the bridge at hte upper ford, riding him a short distance on a rail, carried him over in the woods & there I shaved half his head as close as I could with a pair of shears & trimmed his beard also; then turned him loose ordering him to leave town by tomorrow morning which he said he would do; he cried like a baby the whole time & the whole occurrence was quite amusing. John Harrison, Alex. Whisnant, James Divver & Marion Goodlett followed us & saw all. Hughes struck Samuels once on the back of his head but didn’t inure very severely I am convinced, tho one of my gloves quite bloody.” Dec. 20th There has been a great deal of talk about last night’s scape in town to-day & a great many condemning it but this acc’ts to nothing. I shall go ahead & rid the town of the Jews at every hazard. The Gas has been burning nearly all day & this is the first night “M.M.” had a meeting.
Dec. 21st “I have never known such a day & night in Greenville as this has been nor such a day in my life. S.C. is now free & sovereign, has declared herself so & will maintain her declaration; trusting in our God we will go forward. When the news reached us this evening of her Secession yesterday the Bells all over town commenced ringing & pistols, guns & crackers were fired constantly till after dark before there was any cessation in the noises of all kinds shoutings & rejoicings included. “M.M” paraded with “B.G’s” to-night & we had a fine time; I rode Lady being one of the Marshalls & had
some fun holding & gentling her.”
Dec 25 (Christmas): “Invisibles” heard the report of the com. and the gentlemen from Charleston & adjourned “sine die” since these individuals had only come to close up “Messr. Somers” business & not to prosecute.”
Dec. 27 “Have been very busy at my occupation for this year, viz. “doing nothing.” “Have been out to-night with Samuel Dearman watching a man named Neely who we suspect of trading with negroes selling them whiskey; we saw a negro go in his house & from the character of the negro I am satisfied he got the raw stuff there; we will find out yet.”
Dec. 30: [worries about ‘coercion’ but knows South Carolinians will defend the state] “1860 is gone forever, glorious year of “S.C.”‘s Independence & newly-established sovereignty. The memories which to-night come crowding thro’ my mind are not all pleasant, many sins which are to be deplored & O for how many must I in deep sorrow & contrition, ask forgiveness; sinning & deploring my many many sins yet still sinning over & over again the same sins. My God to Thee would I come & yet how far away & how unwilling is my poor heart, to even throw myself, poor worthless wretch, on the mercy, & I can do nothing but coming bowing before Thee ask Thy did for without, Thee I am utterly powerless & must ever be.”
This article was written by Brandon Inabinet and originally published on February 25, 2018.
Dr. Steve O’Neill has been hard at work over the past months to uncover the past, and one of the major histories he’ll be able to define in higher contrast is the role of Richard and, his son, James C. Furman. As a reminder, Richard is the namesake of the institution who died a year before its founding (named in memory by his friends in the SC Baptist Conventions) and James C. is the son who moved the institution to Greenville and led the school through Civil War and Reconstruction as its first President.
In this post, I’d just like to summarize the points of discussion and slow agreement reached among the researchers.
Let’s start with the similarities between the two men:
1. Both were considered very devout men and leaders in the Baptist church.
2. Both were widely imagined to be “benevolent” slaveholders (for all that’s worth).
3. Both were somewhat unusual for their time in becoming politically active at the highest levels.
4. Both lived through rapidly changing times, especially in regard to moral sensibilities.
5. Both were victim to and advocates for the conflation of religious theology with practices that supported their comfort, including racial slavery.
And then the contrasts:
1. While Richard had been nationally renowned in stoking revolutionary fervor in the South Carolina backcountry (Newberry area) against the British and as the creator of the Baptist church associations, James was known locally and regionally (in Winnsboro and then Greenville) for his leadership of the school and his fame came mostly through secession oratory.
2. While Richard was regarded primarily for his intellect, passion for freedom of conscience, and advocacy of education across races (as the vehicle for Baptist growth), James was regarded primarily for narrowing views about the role of races, women, and maintaining a southern order.
3. While Richard lived in a time when slavery was openly questioned nationally and presumed to be suspect to enlightened minds, James lived in a romanticizing period in which more extremist views were openly celebrated.
4. Thus, while Richard both helped and hurt the ideology of slaveholding in his public writings (by unsettling views of slave’s spiritual needs and education while protecting the Biblical defense of slavery), James worked to forcefully and unrepentantly solidify the “civil right” of slaveholding.
5. While Richard made his proslavery defense with some degree of humility and acknowledgment of varying legitimate views, James often employed divisive rhetoric to push South Carolina into antagonism and eventually war, while simultaneously undercutting the dignity of enslaved persons.
For evidence of these claims, regarding Richard Furman, see the exposition letter, as well as the 1807 reply to the question “Should our Association take slavery and the treatment of slaves into consideration?” He wrote back: “Yes, in a wise, prudent, and becoming manner. Perhaps we can do something for the general good of the churches and the benefit of the slaves . . . but it is my opinion that undertaking anything of this kind under the idea of leading to emancipation or representing the holding of Slaves to be a Sin, would destroy the influence of the Association in the community at large.”
For James C. Furman, see the transcribed letter to the Citizens of the Greenville District (22 November 1860), as well as the letter to the Brushy Creek Baptist Church regarding their request that he not preach in his church, partly due to his zealous political advocacy (Oct. 18, 1863). His defense is as follows, essentially arguing that stooping to black rule would be the end of his liberties, an extension of the that wage labor in the North was no better than slave labor in the South:
“If we had meanly and cowardly bent our necks to their yoke, the present evils would have been avoided for a while, but they would have come at a later period with perfect desolation. So far from regretting my action in the convention of the people of the state, I would do the same thing over again tomorrow. I believe that the secession of South Carolina saved civil liberty on this continent. It exists nowhere else now but among ourselves, although we are paying the price of it in precious blood! At the North it is gone already.”
This article was written by Andrew Teye and originally published on Aug 9, 2017.
As a student researcher in the Task Force, I was assigned the responsibility of investigating the construction of Furman’s early campuses. My research is therefore critical in the Slavery Project since it requires me to find leads on potential slave activity during the building of the University, and thus satisfy the initial inquiry of the Project.
I first consulted Robert Norman Daniel’s book Furman University: A History (1951) to gain general knowledge on Furman’s early campuses and came upon an interesting statement. In his book Daniel mentions a report dated November 1st 1852 by Dr. H. W. Pasley, the head of the Building Committee at that time, in which Dr. Pasley recommended the hiring of slaves for the school’s construction at the beginning of 1853. His rationale for employing them was because he thought that “it was difficult to get white men to remain on their jobs long at a time” and he also believed that “in the long run Negro labor would prove cheaper“. However, Daniel made the claim that the tradition of using slave labor for construction during 1852 “is certainly not wholly correct” according to Pasley’s report.