Letter from B.F. Whittemore to Governor Chamberlain regarding the assassination of Alfred Rush, a state representative, 15 May 1876
On 13 May 1876, Alfred Rush, a black state representative for two terms during Reconstruction, was assassinated about 1½ mi. from his home. Rush, who represented what was then Darlington County in the S.C House 1868-70 and 1874-76, was also a deacon at Savannah Grove Baptist Church. Rush was returning from a picnic at Mt. Carmel Church near Timmonsville, when an unknown gunman ambushed him and his wife in their buggy. Alfred Rush was killed instantly. Several Darlington County officials signed this letter to Gov. D. H. Chamberlain requesting the following:
“It is earnestly desired that you should offer a reward for the apprehension of the murderer, which will no doubt allay the excitement now existing, and I hope you will send one of the detectives at Columbia to aid in the capture of the murderer or murderers.
Benjamin Franklin Whittemore, the author of the letter, served as chaplain of the Thirtieth Massachusetts Infantry and was stationed in Darlington District, South Carolina, when the war ended. Securing a position with the Freedmen’s Bureau, he was assigned to the eastern military district in South Carolina as superintendent of education (1865-1867). While with the Bureau, he founded approximately sixty schools and churches, and worked closely with freedmen and others in providing educational opportunities and uplift to the local African American population. By the time of this letter, Whittemore was a state senator representing Darlington District.
The letter contains 17 additional signatures of Darlington County residents supporting Whittemore's plea for an investigation. Among these residents were several judges, the local sheriff, and other officials. The subsequent investigation failed to bring the assassin to justice.
In 2008, the Florence County Historical Commission erected a state historical marker to commemorate the assassination of Afred Rush. The text of the marker and more information is available at the website for S.C. Historical Markers Online. A set of lesson activities relating to Rush and other topics are available in A Teacher's Guide to African American Historic Places in South Carolina. The activity relating to Rush is located on page 3 of this PDF link.
B.F. Whittemore to Governor Daniel Chamberlain, 15 May 1876. S518004. Papers of Governor Daniel Chamberlain. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
May 15th 76
Gov D.A Chamberlain
I have just received the following intelligence concerning the murder of Alfred Rush, one of the members of the General Assembly from this County. vis:
He had been to a picnic at Mt. Carmel Church, about 2 ½ miles from Timmonsville, and was on his way home and about 1 ½ miles from home riding in his own buggy with his wife – where ^ about 1 ½ hours before sundown ^ a white man, in his shirt-sleeves, fired at him from behind a stump, by the side of the road three times; each shot taking affect = as follows – one through the brain – one through the cheek and one through his heart – the horse, taking fright at the shots – broke from the buggy and went home – Mr. Rush fell from his buggy, between the wheels of the same, and remained there until a post-mortem examination was held which was yesterday ^ Sunday ^ morning about 8 ½ o-clock.
This was a cold blooded murder and our people are very much excited over it. Threatenings are also made about other prominent men connected with the Republican Party. It is earnestly desired that you should offer a reward for the apprehension of the murderer – which will not doubt allay the excitement now existing and I hope you will send one of the detectives at Columbia to aid in the capture of the murderer or murderers.
We the undersigned residents of Darlington County earnestly hope the Governor of this State, will take immediate steps in the matter referred to by Senator Whittemore that justice may be done in the case, and the guilty party arrested.
[A list of 17 names follows.]
Standard 5-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of Reconstruction and its impact on racial relations in the United States.
Indicator 5-1.1 Summarize the aims of Reconstruction and explain the effects of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on the course of Reconstruction.
Indicator 5-1.3 Explain the effects of Reconstruction on African Americans, including their new rights and restrictions, their motivations to relocate to the North and the West, and the actions of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Standard 8-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact of Reconstruction on the people and government of South Carolina.
Indicator 8-4.1 Explain the purposes of Reconstruction with attention to the economic, social, political, and geographic problems facing the South, including reconstruction of towns, factories, farms, and transportation systems; the effects of emancipation; racial tension; tension between social classes; and disagreement over voting rights.
Indicator 8-4.2 Summarize Reconstruction in South Carolina and its effects on daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, small farmers, freedmen, women, and northern immigrants.
Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.
Indicator USHC-4.1 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction on the southern states and the roles of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments in that era.