Letter from Francis S. Parker to Governor Andrew G. Magrath regarding the unrest among the enslaved in the Lowcountry, 24 December 1864
This letter comes from the papers of South Carolina Governor Andrew G. Magrath (1813-1893). He served as governor from 1864 to 1865 in the closing months of the American Civil War. As the last Confederate governor, his papers document the frustrations, anxieities, fears, and hopes of South Carolinians.
It’s Christmas Eve. Parker, writing to Governor Magrath five days after the latter’s inauguration, describes the activities of a Lowcountry Police Court—but more pointedly to request that its officers be exempted from conscription and the “dignity and usefulness” of the Court be maintained “or its existence abolished.” Here is a rare glimpse into areas where the historical record is often hushed or silent. Parker admits that the “constant presence and proximity of the enemy exercise an unhappy influence” over local slaves.
That is, the knowledge that Federal forces are near has created excitement among the enslaved, in an area of South Carolina where African-Americans vastly outnumber whites. We can surmise, if we listen for their voices, that slaves acted toward freedom. Some have run off; some have performed acts of sabotage; some have acted as spies or worse—or at least that is what white themselves believe. And they in turn have acted to stop it. “In the first three years,” Parker writes, “eleven have accordingly been sentenced to suffer the extreme penalty of the law and have been executed, and others have been punished for offenses committee against the peace and good order of the community.” Parker does not describe those punishments. His summary is coldly chilling—perhaps truth, perhaps a part-truth designed to make sure Magrath continues to grant the Court members their exemptions from conscription: “A condition of perfect quiet now exists here among us.” --Dr. Paul Anderson, Clemson University
Francis S. Parker to Governor Andrew G. Magrath. 24 December 1864. Series 513004. Governor Andrew Gordon Magrath, Letters received and sent, 1864-1865. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction and South Carolina’s role in these events.
Indicator 3-4.5 Summarize the effects of the Civil War on the daily lives of people of different classes in South Carolina, including the lack of food, clothing, and living essentials and the continuing racial tensions.
Standard 4-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the Civil War and its impact on America
Indicator 4-6.6 Explain the impact of the Civil War on the nation, including its effects on the physical environment and on the people—soldiers, women, African Americans, and the civilian population of the nation as a whole.
Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.
Indicator 8-3.6 Compare the effects of the Civil War on the daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, women, Confederate and Union soldiers, African Americans, and children.