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Sepia Saturday and a Fearless Female: Child, Young Woman, Grandmother. Can You ID Her Through the Years?

My grandmother, Laura Fraser, was a woman who knew her own mind. She chose to marry Tom Kirven, a South Carolina farmer who lived two counties away from her family. Their wedding was in 1897, and she gave birth to six children before 1907.

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina, Laura Fraser, Tom Kirven

Laura Fraser in the 1890s. Property of Mariann S. Regan

In 1908 a deranged tenant farmer ambushed her husband and blasted him with a shotgun. Tom survived only because a thick memo pad, in the left pocket of his jacket, blocked enough of the shot to keep him alive – but not in good health. Laura saw Tom through his recurrent “bad spells.”

In the years after the shooting, Laura endured two miscarriages and several months in a TB sanatorium before she and Tom had one last child in 1915 (my mother). When Tom died prematurely in 1921, Laura and her oldest son teamed up to manage the family farm.

Yet it was Laura alone who decided in 1933, when the Depression hit Sumter County full force, to yield their farm to the bank. All those now living on that farm (Laura’s son, his wife and children, and Laura herself) had to move 30 miles to Eastover and sharecrop another man’s land. It was a hard blow to the family—a kind of exile. Those were hard times. I have Laura’s account book for the first year of that Eastover period.

Laura died in 1935, before she could know that the family would be able to regain their original farm and finally move back home in 1943.

Let’s try recognizing Laura over the years. Here is a photo from the 1880s of four siblings. One of them is Laura, but I don’t know which one. Their names, in alphabetical order, are Donald, Harriett, Laura, and Miller. Can you see Laura?

Fraser, Sumter, South Carolina

Four Children of Ladson L. Fraser, c.1885. Property of Mariann S. Regan.

The two boys have “Little Lord Fauntleroy” decorative collars, and the two girls do look rather fearless, especially with their short haircuts. Did the family choose a reverse-gender gamin look for the girls, just for fun? Here is Manet’s 1862 sketch of a boy, “le gamin au chien,” meaning “the urchin with a dog.” (It was well into the 1900s before Audrey Hepburn and others popularized the female gamine style.)

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina

Edouard Manet, "Le gamin au chien." Wikipedia commons.

You may recall my earlier post of Coit and Marion, two of Laura and Tom’s sons, with bows on their hair. Well, my family did like practical jokes.

Finally, here are the sisters (in alphabetical order) Harriett and Laura, years later, when they were both grandmothers. I’ve been told that this photograph was staged as a joke. Harriett’s nickname was “Hat,” and that’s why each woman is sporting a silly hat.

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina, Laura and Harriett Fraser

Two Sisters in the 1930s. Property of Mariann S. Regan

Can you tell which one is Laura? (This time, I do know.)

How difficult is it to see Laura through the years as a child, young woman, and grandmother?

What about your own ancestors? Can you identify them through the years?

Your thoughts are welcome!


Goodbye to the Black and White Church. Part 3 of 3.

We’ve been reading a historical document written in 1909. It’s a 100th anniversary retrospective of an old Southern church.

We’ve seen that in referring to the times of slavery, the writer has mentioned “the great interest in the welfare of black brothers manifested by our fathers.” He has assured his audience, “Ample provision was made for the religious instruction of this unfortunate class [the slaves].” We read the church rules for slaves in the last post.

Going further, the records show that before the Civil War this church received 184 colored members “on profession.”  And this church was zealous about raising funds for the Southern Board of Foreign Missions. Both these facts suggest, possibly, that this church was not insular–that it was accepting of all people.

Father Kizito Sesana embraces a child. Father Kizito Comboni is founder of the Koinonia community association that brings together the abandoned children of Kenya. istockphoto.

Then came the Civil War itself. Did that earth-shaking event provoke discussions of the issues of slavery, morality, and religion within this church? After all, the entire nation seemed to be debating the justice or injustice of slavery. What did this church believe?

I found only two glancing references in this historical church document to the Civil War and its aftermath.

Here is the first reference:

  • “Although the services for the colored people under the shed were discontinued shortly after the war, the records show that quite a number were received into the church as late as 1867, and on the 18th of May of that year 12 were received, and two weeks later 7 others. On the 19th of October two others were received, but the days of Reconstruction had come and there were not more accessions. Indeed a large proportion of the colored members had already forsaken the church, and on the 29th of June, 1869, after having twice cited them to appear and show cause for their protracted absence from the church, the Session dropped from the roll the names of 87 colored members. There were still a number whose name were retained upon the roll, but while we find no record of it, they were in all probability dropped very soon for the same reason.”

This seems to mean that most freed slaves voted with their actions and left this church. Nothing here about the issue of slavery.

The other glancing reference is this passage about how white church members would gather before church services to discuss the progress of the Civil War:

  • “[To tell] . . . of the tense feeling and blanched faces as little groups gathered together and repeated in whispers the rumors of some great battle, and the loss of friends and loved ones; the intolerable suspense, long drawn out, often ended only by a confirmation of the worst fears. There is no hint of those sage discussions which went on out under the spreading oaks, as the movements of armies were traced, of the tactics of Lee and Jackson criticized: discussions that grew so absorbing at times that even when the strains of music from worshippers within reminded them that the service had begun, it was felt that it was needful to tarry yet a little, until some point which involved the welfare of the country might be settled. After the lapse of nearly half a century, how the scene comes vividly before us! Even now we can see that good old elder as he takes from his vest pocket that snuff box, and tapping the lid, opens and passes it to his neighbors as they stood around, and then after a flourish of the bandanna, and the conventional sneeze, the discussion would begin afresh!”

Nothing here about the issue of slavery, either. This scene of the “little groups” of parishioners is full of nostalgia and warm emotion—like a story by Hawthorne, that typical romantic American novelist.

By contrast, the account of the slaves’ disappearance from church seems factual and unemotional.

Portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Charles Osgood, 1841 (Peabody Essex Museum)

On balance, it seems to me that this church history document is virtually silent on the moral or religious questions about slavery.

What does that silence say to you? Interpretations welcome.

[Thought question. No wrong answers.]

Destroyed during the fighting that engulfed Harpers Ferry in West Virginia during the Civil War, the ruins of St. John's Episcopal Church stand high atop the historic town and overlooks the Potomac River. istockphoto.




The Church Was Black and White, Part 2. Commandments, Rules, Slaves, Owners.

The last post began to examine a document from an old Southern Presbyterian church. It was written in 1909 to review and celebrate 100 years of the church’s history.

Thank you for all your thoughtful comments! This document surely does prompt many interpretations.

The moral “discipline” of the church seemed to apply to both slaves and masters. The Session met to judge infractions by members and mete out punishments. They suspended offenders from church for given periods—or “indefinitely.”

Session House. By Spencer Wagner (sp?) in 1978. Property of Mariann Regan.

Moving on, the author of the document writes,

  • “As we read these records of the past we are constantly reminded of the institution of slavery, and of the great interest in the welfare of black brothers manifested by our fathers. . . .”

On the “welfare of black brothers” he offers the following thoughts, quoted here in sequence:

  •  “Ample provision was made for the religious instruction of this unfortunate class. Under date of June 1837, the Records show the following action:
  • ‘Resolved [that the Session meet with a delegation from another church] for the purpose of employing a missionary for the improvement of the colored people.’ . . . A shed, with comfortable seats, was erected near the church, for their benefit, and there the pastor preached for them regularly. . . . This service was held before the regular church service, and they were then required to repair to the galleries of the church. . . . As a result of these efforts in their behalf, 184 were received into the communion of the church during the pastorate of Mr. V, who was especially zealous in his work among them.
  • “The following ‘Rules for the Regulation of Colored People’ adopted in 1847, will prove of interest:
  • “Rule 1st. That the colored people required when they arrive at the church in time, to repair immediately to the shelter constructed for their accommodation.
  • “Rule 2nd. That no colored person, or persons, will be allowed to come to the church without a good excuse, after regular service is commenced.
  • “Rule 3rd. That all colored persons, from about ten years old, be required, with the exception of such as have infants under their care, or are nurses, for white persons, to go to the gallery, before services commence in the church.
  • “Rule 4th. That colored women with their children be required to stay in an orderly manner, immediately about the church, and that nurses of course be subject to their owners.
  • “Rule 5th. That boys in attendance on their owners will not be allowed to come down from the gallery until service is over, except in case of rain, or they are called by their owners.
  • “Resolved. That four persons be requested by this church to see that the foregoing rules be observed, and when they are violated, to discipline, or cause to be disciplined the person, or persons, who may violate them—the mode of discipline to be whipping.”

Here I’ll include a previous passage, with further examples of church policy on the behavior of black members.

  • “The following black members were admonished and suspended for irregularities in their Christian character: Billy, the property of W, for playing the Violin where a party of blacks were collected together, Arthur the property of X, for offering to sell eggs on the Sabbath, Binah and Cato, the property of Y, for quarreling.”

In the practices of this church, the beliefs of Christianity and the regulations of slavery appear to be combined and pieced together. To some it may have seemed like a natural “fit,” but to others perhaps not. The abolitionists thought that slavery was fundamentally un-Christian, and that abolishing the institution would help save the souls of the slave masters.

Religion and slavery were both powerful institutions in the South. Some Bible verses were used to justify slavery, while others could be used to condemn it.

Liv @claimingkin, an exceptionally generous reader, has shared with me relevant Scripture and interpretive Christian teachings. I am indebted to her references for the following concepts and passages:

On the one hand, the model of the Suffering Servant, in imitation of Christ, could assure a slave that suffering under an unjust master was good in the sight of God. 

On the other hand, some Christian thinkers point out that “slavery in the ancient Roman Empire was closer to the modern-day employer-employee relationship, not the slavery of other eras based on kidnapping and racism, which Scripture abhors.”

The vast range of Bible verses about slavery includes this sample:

1 Peter 2:18: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”

1 Timothy 6:1-2: Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.”

Ephesians 6:9: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”

Colossians 4:1: “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”

Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The historical document of this church allows us to glimpse the daily lives and behavior of our ancestors, both black and white. It lets us make better-informed guesses about their inner lives—their minds and hearts.

What are your own thoughts and interpretations? What does this document suggest to you about how our black and white ancestors viewed themselves, each other, their religion, and their customs?

(Thought questions. No such thing as a wrong answer.)



The Church Was Black and White. Your Thoughts?

Here is the Church,
Here is the steeple.
Open the doors
And see all the people.
–Old childhood rhyme


Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

Not long ago, one of my second cousins—I’ll call him Fred—located me through this blog. Fred was new to me—a twice-removed relative of my maternal grandmother (née Fraser), but with another surname.

Another unknown South Carolina relative had handed Fred my family memoir. Copies of my book are being passed around down there in the South, from one unknown relative to another. Several new cousins have written to me. No one has complained. Yet.

When Fred read my book, he decided to send me all the Fraser material passed down to him by his great-grandmother. Fred wanted me to verify or correct the details and then prep this material to be archived, maybe by the South Carolina Historical Society.

Fred didn’t have to ask me twice. He was offering a ton of material, a treasure trove. More for the family tree!

Fred’s stash gave me the first clues for discovering those once-famous planters / slaveholders / ancestors I’ve been blogging about during the last few months—such as the English immigrant from Barbados with a land grant. Or those wealthy Irish and English rice planters whose plantation houses are still open to the public for tours in South Carolina. I have more ancestors like these, to be described in later blogs.

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

But right now, I want to discuss a document I found yesterday, on one of Fred’s computer discs.

This document is a nineteen-page typed history of a typical old South Carolina church I’ll call Q Church. It was delivered as a celebration address to the membership in 1909, at the church’s 100-year anniversary.

This church was Presbyterian. They had both black (slave) and white (free) members, as did my Kirven ancestors’ Black Creek Baptist Church in Darlington. They believed strongly that the church should have full oversight of moral infractions by church members.

Background: Many antebellum Southern churches acted as moral guardians of their members’ behavior. The Black Creek Baptist Church of my Kirven ancestors sent four deacons to your home if you were charged with moral infractions like dishonest business deals or fistfights. The deacons “labored with” you and perhaps gave you another chance. If you were judged past reclamation, you were thrown out of the church. My great-great-great grandfather was expelled for drunkenness, and my great-grandfather for an unproven charge of bastardy.

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

The author of this 100-year anniversary celebration address laments the recent lapse of church “discipline.” He fondly recalls antebellum times, when “utmost care was exercised in the reception of members . . . cases of discipline besprinkle the pages of the records very freely.” He cites examples from the records he has studied:

The Session of Q. Church met . . . for the purpose of taking into consideration a charge brought against Daniel, the property of R.S., for lying. After taking the testimony of Old Friday and Bess, his wife, the property of T.U., it appeared that there is a small deviation from the truth, in a single word, by Daniel. . . . We have therefore resolved that Daniel stand suspended for six months from church privileges. . . .

But this exercise of discipline was by no means confined to the negroes. The very first case on record is that of one of the most prominent members, who had an affray with a neighbor, and while the Session acquitted him of blame in the matter, it took occasion to express the hope that in the future all members should avoid such altercations. 

Only two pages further on, we find a matron in the church indefinitely suspended for making a statement derogatory to another, and then denying that she had made such a statement. Later on we find four ladies brought before the Session charged with “a want of filial affection towards their father, a violation of the 5th commandment,” and were indefinitely suspended, and the decision announced to the congregation. . . .

As we read these records of the past we are constantly reminded of the institution of slavery, and of the great interest in the welfare of black brothers manifested by our fathers. . . .

Here are a few questions for your comments: (But comment on anything you wish.)

  • What do you suppose this document goes on to say about slavery and this church’s members who are slaves?
  • This document is full of surnames. Do you think it is more of a genealogical document or a historical document? Or is there no distinction between the two?
  • In general, what do you think of this tradition of church discipline? Do you believe it is no longer practiced, or does it linger even today?

A "manse" was a house for a full-time preacher. Photo credit Mariann Regan



Sepia Saturday 2: Answers to Photo Quiz for “Boys with Bows.” With added photos.

Hi! This is Saturday’s blog from 2/16, with the answers added after each round of questions. ENJOY!

To help distract us from the “February frazzles,” I thought a photo quiz might be fun.

(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here are three of my uncles. They are brothers. From left to right they are William Coit Kirven, McDonald Fraser “Donnie” Kirven, and Joseph Marion Kirven. The photo was taken about 1910 in is Sumter, South Carolina.

  1. Can you identify the kind of outfit each of the two younger boys is wearing?
  2. Why do these two have bows in their hair?
  3. What object are they both holding?
  4.  Look at the three expressions. Which boy do you think grew up to be Chief of Police in Sumter?
Question 1: I considered “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” which was a running joke in my family, but those images typically showed a white and lacy collar. I looked up “sailor suits,” prompted by Coit’s clothes, but most images didn’t quite fit, especially for Marion’s collar. Yet among the images I also found turn-of-the-century Victorian clothing for boys, with dark collars that were not always flared like a sailor’s. The search engine delivered to me the following image among others from a “sailor suit” search — a vintage photo of a Victorian boy, descending the stairs, whip in hand, with a collar somewhere between Coit’s and Marion’s collar styles. The person who answered “sailor suit” in the comments, though, is essentially right. So Kudos to Mary–who probably noticed that both boys’ ties are also sailor-style.
Question 2: My best guess: They both have bows because they both still have curls. Bows accompany curls — though dark bows, to match the suits. They haven’t gotten their “boy” haircuts yet. This custom still lingers in some families, where the first trip to the barber’s is a rite of initiation into boyhood. The toddler curls are left on the floor of the barbershop.
Question 3:  This one stumps me. I can’t see what is within the circle of white ribbon, and even if I could, would I know what it was? Maybe Maureen Taylor’s book will tell me. Thanks for the suggestion, Cheri!
Question 4:  In my opinion, Coit wears the most unflappable expression. But one person guessed “Donnie,” which also makes sense–good guess, Nigel. (In my own larger version of the photo, Donnie’s expression does look a good bit softer.) Coit became Chief of Police in Sumter, soon after his daring solo exploit at the Claremont Hotel in 1934, when he alone foiled two escaping robbers in the middle of the night. There was a shoot-out, two against one. Coit killed one robber, and suffered in return only a hole in his hat. The whole story is in my book. Here is what Coit looked like then:

From The Item, September 20, 2009

Now, the next photo:

(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here is one of the three boys, years earlier.

  1. Which one is he?
  2. Why is he dressed like a girl?
Question 1: This is Marion. Just look at his eyes, here and in the first photo. I thought this would be the easiest question, but no one guessed it.
Question 2: Infants of both sexes–this is 100 years ago–were often dressed for photos in long, sometimes lacy clothing. I don’t always see a bow on boys, even in those photos. But this face just calls for a bow. A girl-boy face, I suppose, and that’s why i used it on the cover of my book as an icon of “The Baby” who always needs saving.
(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here are two of the three boys, years after the 1910 photograph.

  1. Which two are they?
  2. Why is one sitting and the other standing?
Question 1: This is Coit and Marion. Again, look at Marion’s eyes. Notice the “turn of the century” long socks, as in the picture above of the Victorian boy. One person commenting thought it might be a “memorial photo,” and I can see that Marion does look somewhat “stiff.” As the youngest boy, he was usually on guard. In adulthood, though, he developed an irresistible sense of humor that endeared him to everyone.
Question 2: Marion was unusually short, as a man. One (fairly tall) relative tells me, “You could stick a broom handle straight out from your shoulder, and Marion would walk right under it. He was hilarious.” In my opinion, Coit is sitting down to hide his relative height–the photographer doesn’t want him to tower over Marion.

Thanks for playing, everyone!


“Boys with Bows”: A Short Quiz on Three Old Photographs. Interpretations Welcome!

To help distract us from the “February frazzles,” I thought a photo quiz might be fun.

For some of these questions, I know the answers. For others, I have a fairly good guess. For still others, I’m asking for your ideas!

(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here are three of my uncles. They are brothers. From left to right they are William Coit Kirven, McDonald Fraser “Donnie” Kirven, and Joseph Marion Kirven. The photo was taken about 1910 in is Sumter, South Carolina.

  1. Can you identify the kind of outfit each of the two younger boys is wearing?
  2. Why do these two have bows in their hair?
  3. What object are they both holding?
  4.  Look at the three expressions. Which boy do you think grew up to be Chief of Police in Sumter?

(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here is one of the three boys, years earlier.

  1. Which one is he?
  2. Why is he dressed like a girl?

(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here are two of the three boys, years after the 1910 photograph.

  1. Which two are they?
  2. Why is one sitting and the other standing?

In your comments, reply to any or all of these eight questions. I’ll collect your answers and respond by blog in a few days.




Slaveholders among the Founders. Part 3 of 3.

How many signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 owned slaves?

Out of 56 signers, one-third to one-half of them owned slaves. Estimates vary.

My kinsman who signed as “Thomas Lynch Junior” owned slaves and a plantation as well. He did not free his slaves afterwards. Some of the signers did free their slaves after proclaiming that all men are created equal, but many others—like Thomas Jefferson—kept their slaves indefinitely.

I wonder about the mental landscape of those Founders who did not free their slaves.

Lynch, Fraser, Kirven, Declaration of Independence Signers

Signature of Thomas Lynch, Junior (Thomas Lynch III). Names of other South Carolinians are Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward Junior, and Arthur Middleton. Wikipedia

The Declaration of Independence, with its proclaimed self-evident truths, does seem to rule out slavery. Many in those days believed slavery might soon disappear. The Declaration “gave lyrical expression to a widespread belief that a general emancipation of slaves was both imminent and inevitable . . . [T]here was a prevailing consensus that slavery was already on the road to extinction.” The original Declaration even had a section blaming King George for fostering the nefarious and criminal slave trade, but the Continental Congress deleted this part before the document was signed.

In retrospect, though, the Declaration could not fulfill its implied promise of extinguishing slavery in the colonies. The Congressional debate of 1790 reveals that many slaveholders, especially in South Carolina and Georgia, vigorously insisted that they needed to keep their human property. In that conviction, they resembled the Founders who kept their slaves. And they were like many of my ancestors.

In my view, these slaveholders were wrong. They acted inhumanely (to understate the pont). Yet the more we can fathom their minds, the more wisely we might act to prevent future inhumane convictions, like theirs, taking hold in our society.

Let’s focus on my kinsman Thomas Lynch III, the signer. What values, what pressures did he absorb from his ancestors? Here are his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father:

  • His great-grandfather, Jonas Lynch (1650-1691), came to South Carolina from Ireland. He had apparently been promised a land grant (see previous 1/27/13 post). He labored in hostile frontier surroundings to leave a small bequest.
  • His grandfather, Thomas Lynch I (1675-1738), parlayed his modest inheritance into seven rice plantations, worked by hundreds of African slaves. He was a pioneer in rice cultivation. He made a fortune, and he built a comfortable home on the Wando River (see previous 2/2/13 post).
  • His father, Thomas Lynch II (1727-1776), established himself at Hopsewee on the Santee River, in a house built for him by Thomas Lynch I.  Tidal rice was expanding in South Carolina, and more slaves were needed to work the rice fields. Slave numbers at Hopsewee grew from 11 in 1738 to over 180 in the 1850s. The plantation cultivated 475 acres of tidal rice, using barges to ferry the slaves back and forth to the marshes of Lynches Island. It was an immensely profitable business, and Thomas became a leading planter.
  • Thomas Lynch II also “married up” and pursued a distinguished public service career. His wife was Elizabeth Allston of Brookgreen Plantation, whose family claimed to trace their tree back to King Alfred the Great. Among his many offices, he served as delegate to the Colonial Congress in 1765 and The First and Second Provincial Congresses in 1775 and 1776, He was a member of the Continental Congress in 1774-1776. (2) He was appointed an advisor to George Washington, along with Benjamin Franklin and Colonel Benjamin Harrison.
  • The plantation house at Hopsewee still stands today, on the National Register of Historic Places as the idyllic site of the birth of Thomas Lynch III, signer of the Declaration of Independence. It is built of black cypress on a brick foundation, and it measures 40 feet by 50 feet. The piazzas are reminiscent of the West Indies.
Lynch, Fraser

Hopsewee Plantation House, with its location on the Santee River in South Carolina. Wikipedia.


For Thomas Lynch III, these three ancestors gave him quite an act to follow. He was born in 1749 into a family of great status. They had begun as exiles from Ireland, but now they had significant wealth, land, slaves, links to elite families, and a national reputation.

Thomas III may well have been taught, from childhood, that his family’s many accomplishments signified their hard work, virtue, persistence, and inherited strength. After all, their surname was Lynch—they were one of the 14 dominant tribes of Galway.  The young man Thomas may have felt honor bound to uphold family standards of estate management, leadership, and courage. The hypothetical of freeing his slaves, under the principle of “all men are created equal,” may have seemed very small beside his duty to preserve the Lynch name. Alas.

Lynch, Fraser

Thomas Lynch III (1749-1779).

His father gave him a superb education. (3) At age 12, he traveled overseas to study at Eton College, Cambridge (he graduated with honors) and the Middle Temple in London. This high-class education took about 20 years, and he returned to the colonies in 1772. Soon he was a company commander in the 1st South Carolina regiment, adding military valor to his resume.

Then chance and fate intervened.

Thomas Lynch II was serving in the Continental Congress in 1776, while they were working toward the Declaration of Independence, when he was struck by a cerebral hemorrhage.

His son Thomas III was at the time marching toward Charleston with the 1st South Carolina regiment, having recently suffered a violent attack of “bilious fever” (severe intestinal sickness). He had recovered only in part.

At the news of his father’s stroke, he Immediately he asked for leave to join his father in Philadelphia, but was denied by his commanding officer, Colonel Gadsen. The official response to this denial was swift: Thomas III himself was selected as a delegate. He rushed to Philadelphia to his father’s side and found him still alive, but too ill to sign the Declaration of Independence. Thomas III, himself still unwell, signed in his father’s stead, the fifty-second signer at 26 years old.

As father and son traveled home to South Carolina in December of 1776, Thomas Lynch II died from a paralytic stroke. He was buried in St. Anne’s Churchyard, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Lynch, Fraser

St Anne's Parish Episcopal, Annapolis, MD.

Thomas III, the bereaved son, retired from public life. He remained ill and often feverish. He stayed at Peachtree Plantation with his wife Elizabeth Shubrick. Eventually on the advice of his doctor, he and Elizabeth sailed to France in 1779, by way of the West Indies. The ship disappeared at sea in a storm, with all passengers, and was never found.

The sharpest clue to young Thomas III’s worldview may have been his will, made before he left for the West Indies.  It stipulated that heirs of his female relatives must change their surname to Lynch in order to inherit the family estate. The family name seems to have been first on his mind. If it ever did occur to him to free his slaves, the felt need to preserve his family name from extinction would have loomed much larger.

As he wrote this strange (to me) provision into his will, he may have suspected he would have no children. And he did not. He is my kinsman, not my ancestor. I descend from his father, Thomas Lynch II, and his sister, Sarah Lynch Baxter. He is my 1st cousin six times removed, according to Ancestry.

What about the other Southern Founders and planters who insisted on keeping their slaves? Did they share the priorities of Thomas Lynch III—concerns arising from a family’s sudden success in wealth and land and title? What can happen to a society that over-values wealth and position?


(1) Joseph R. Ellis, Founding Brothers. New York: Random House, 2000. 89.

(2) His life is summarized in the Biographical Directory of the U. S. Congress, 1774-2005.

(3) article written by Karen Holt, June 2, 2012.



Thomas Lynch I: Beauty and Violence on the South Carolina Frontier. Part 2 of 3.

Beauty. Jonas and Margaret Lynch sailed from Ireland to the Carolina coast sometime before 1675, the year their son Thomas was born. Watching from the ship, they could have shared with the first Carolina settlers of April 1670 that fair sight of the New World:

  • To the west was an ocean of leaves, glorious and lush in the varied but lively landscape of spring vegetation. The lower branches of cypress and oak were bent by the weight of trumpet vines, their summits towering above the endless expanses of marshland and oyster banks. But it was the appearance of the boundless forests . . . that spoke of grandeur. (1)
Lynch, Fraser, New World

Grand Old Bald Cypress, Santee River Valley: photo from Wikipedia

They must have hoped for refuge from that Old World of interminable wars. Jonas was granted several hundred acres of land on which to farm, build a home, and start a family. They called that land Blessing.

Violence. Jonas and Margaret may have known little about the Lowcountry’s bloody history. In the 1500s, Spanish and French expeditions had massacred each other’s settlers there. Indian tribes had befriended both and warred with both, with much bloodshed. After the Spanish had settled in Florida, Sir Francis Drake had burned St. Augustine.

For the new settlers after 1670, the violence lingered. Native Americans tribes helped the English at first but then sickened from English infectious diseases. Some of the multiple tribes launched frequent raids against English settlements. The city of Charleston became a walled and heavily fortified town. In 1702-06 Charleston attacked the Spanish in Florida, and the Spanish retaliated. Charleston did not feel safe enough to dismantle its walls until 1717, a quarter century after Margaret and Jonas Lynch had died in 1683 and 1691.

Lynch, Fraser, Kirven

Colonel Thomas Lynch, 1675-1738. Shared on

Beauty, Success. Even in this hard frontier environment, Thomas Lynch’s parents managed to accumulate a small inheritance for their son. Thomas was their only child to live through adulthood—one sibling, a brother (Johnson), seems to have died in his twenties. Thomas invested his inheritance in rice cultivation. By experimenting with higher yields, he prospered and grew rich. He came to own seven plantations, some on the fertile bank of the Santee River. Rice production in Carolina reached more than 1.5 million pounds by 1710, when Lynch was 35 years old.

Thomas constructed his own dwelling house in 1713, not on the Santee but on the east bank of the Wando River. Placed on a vast tract of land, with orchards and fields next to virgin forest, his new home was made of halved cypress timbers. Archeological records suggest it was an English hall-and-parlor house, modest in size but fit for entertaining the elite, with rich furnishings and a well-appointed kitchen. (2) Thomas was able to inhabit the beautiful landscape his parents had envisioned.

Lynch, Fraser, Kirven

The Charleston Coast and Its Rivers. Photo from Wikipedia.

Violence. All this wealth came from people Thomas Lynch—my 8th great-grandfather—had enslaved by force. His first slaves were probably Native Americans. As a young captain in the local militia, charged to protect the plantations from raids, he could capture Native Americans—for defense purposes—and then either sell them to the West Indies (e. g. Barbados) or make them his own slaves. He and his fellow militiamen would likely have followed this practice.

Thomas Lynch soon learned to buy his slaves from rice-growing regions of West Africa, to use their expertise on his plantations. Peter Wood, in Black Majority, paints a benign scene: 

  • When New World slaves planted rice in the spring by pressing a hole with the heel and covering the seeds with the foot, the motion used was demonstrably similar to that employed in West Africa. In summer, when Carolina blacks moved through the rice fields in a row, hoeing in unison to work songs, the pattern of cultivation was not one imposed by European owners but rather one retained from West African forebears.
  • Even more unique to rice slavery was the “task system.”  Rice slaves negotiated with their overseer through a “driver” slave. Once the driver and overseer agreed on a reasonable amount of work for a given week, the slaves set out on the task. After completing the work, any remaining time belonged to the slaves. During this period, they were free to work their own gardens, fish, and some even hunted wild game – though hunting was very rare. In contrast, cotton plantations employed the “gang system” with no concept of free time.

This idyllic description does not convince me that these African slaves were all right with being enslaved. Hardly. And Lynch’s popular rice-growing methods required increasing numbers of slaves. The slaves on his plantations grew into the hundreds. By the mid-1700s, two-thirds of the people in South Carolina (3) were African slaves. Following the pattern in Barbados, slaves were in the majority.

These numbers mean to me that most of the people in Thomas Lynch’s world were desperately unhappy. Thomas Lynch and his fellow planters must have realized the violence inherent in this situation, for they customarily carried loaded guns to church.

Sickness on the Plantations. African slaves on the rice plantations were thought to be constitutionally suited to toil in the heat, unlike whites. Being “Barbadosed” to cultivate sugar, I recall, was considered a death sentence by heat, labor, and disease.. I wonder about the mortality rates in these locations, for blacks as well as whites. I have not yet searched them.

Among my own ancestors, I’ve noticed many early deaths in both Carolina and Barbados. Thomas Lynch’s brother died in his twenties. His first wife, Mary Fenwick, seems to have died in childbirth, and her daughter lived only five years. Two of Lynch’s children by his second wife, Sabrina Vanderhorst, died in infancy. Theophilus and Elizabeth Patey, whose children were born in Barbados, saw only 3 out of 8 children live to adulthood.

Beauty and Peace: An Interval. From their marriage in 1720 until his death in 1738, Thomas and Sabrina Lynch appear to have lived in relative peace, without wars or raids or uprisings. Though they lost two children in infancy, they were able to plan a future for their son Thomas II, born in 1727. They prepared a beautiful plantation house for him on the Santee River. The construction of their son’s house, from 1733-1740, bridged the year of the father’s death. Thomas II was the longest-lived of their three surviving children.

Fraser, Lynch, Kirven

Thomas Lynch Marker. (Historical Marker Database)

Brackets of Violence. The peaceful period enjoyed by Thomas and Sabrina was framed by violent events.

In 1715, before Sabrina and Thomas were married, the Yamasee tribe launched a fierce attack on the plantations. The settlers fled to Charleston. It took many months for the militia to hunt down the Yamasee and kill them all.

In 1739, the year after Thomas died, the Stono Rebellion terrified the settlers. Thomas Lynch II would have been 12 years old then. Sabrina would have been 39.

The Rebellion began on Sunday, September 9, when 20 African slaves marched on the road southward from the Stono River, carrying a flag with the single word “Liberty!” They were headed to Spanish Florida, where they could attain their freedom. They gathered recruits and weapons along the way, until they numbered 80 men. They burned plantations and killed 20-25 white people. The next day the militia caught the slaves at the Edisto River and killed 44 of them. “The colonists mounted the decapitated heads of the rebels on stakes along major roadways to serve as warning for other slaves who might consider revolt.”

This rebellion was a prelude to later slave uprisings, and ultimately to the Civil War in the next century.

But first, Thomas Lynch II and Thomas Lynch III would become famous figures in the colonists’ struggle for independence from Britain. See next week’s post.


(1) M. Patrick Hendrix, Down and Dirty: Archaeology of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Charleston: The History Press, 2006. 56.

(2) Hendrix, 54-79.

(3) North Carolina and South Carolina were made separate colonies in 1729.





Leaving Ireland to Grow Rice with Slaves. Part 1 of 3.

As I trolled for hints on, I found this line about my 9 x g grandfather, Jonas Lynch (1650-1691):

“Imigrated [sic] Developed Rice Cultivation, Ireland.”

I had unlikely visions of some mad experimenting ancestor, with seeds and homemade sunlight deflectors, obsessing about rice 300+ years ago in the Emerald Isle.

“I’m about to Google rice cultivation in Ireland,” I told my husband, who is used to hearing the crazy twists of genealogical research.

He looked up at me.  “If you do that,” he predicted, “they’ll reply, How stupid do you think we are here at Google?”

Well, I did find a cute website that patiently explained to me: Rice is not a potato, and rice is not grown in Ireland.

Never mind. When Jonas Lynch arrived in South Carolina from Ireland in the 1670s, he and others did plan to cultivate rice there.

I wish I could make visible onscreen, at a glance, the long family tree branch leading from me back to Jonas Lynch. Andy Kubrin in his thoughtful blog (check it out) discusses presenting a readable family tree onscreen, in some detail. I like that idea. Diagrams of others’ family trees would help me to read their blogs.

So why did Jonas leave Ireland? He and other Galway Lynches were expelled from Ireland because they had been defeated in the Irish wars between Jacobites and Williamites. Jacobites supported Catholic James II of England and Williamites supported Protestant William of Orange. The wars of that decade—involving the Dutch, French, English, Scots, and Irish—are complex enough to baffle anyone. Eventually, though, William III took the English throne in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He and his wife Mary II ruled as joint monarchs.

Jonas Lynch

Charles Towne Landing from

Jonas Lynch arrived on the South Carolina coast near Charles Towne “before Apr 30, 1677.” He is listed as a Gentleman, Esquire, and a Justice of the Peace. The record appears to quote his statement about his destination: “of Wattesaw als the blessing.” (1) These words made no sense to me until I found this entry in a local history:

  • BLESSING, THE – This former RICE plantation on the east shore of the Cooper River’s EAST BRANCH was first granted to colonist Jonah LYNCH in 1682, at a“place called Wattesaw also the Blessing.” WATTESAW was the Native American word for the area, meaning unknown. . . . It is presumed that the name “Blessing” came from the ship of the same name that brought Jonah Lynch to the colonies in 1671. (2)

When Jonah arrived, “The Blessing” meant simply the property he had been granted, 780 acres. Today there is a plantation house there on the Cooper River, called The Blessing:

Jonah Lynch, Thomas Lynch, Fraser

Blessing Plantation House. South Carolina Department of Archives and History

A blessing for some was a curse for others. The land of opportunity for a few white families in South Carolina became the land of enslavement for multitudes from Africa.

Those European settlers were serious about their rice cultivation plans. There was even an experimenter with seeds, though it wasn’t my ancestor:

  • The first recorded effort at rice cultivation was conducted by Dr. Henry Woodward. . . . in 1685. Dr. Woodward obtained the rice seed from Captain John Thurber, who had sailed his ship to Charleston from the island of Madagascar. . . . [website]

Yet the white planters of Charles Towne, Jonas Lynch among them, realized how little they knew about growing rice. They needed African slaves to teach them, and it took them years—past Jonas’s lifetime—to get rice cultivation up to speed.

  • The planters’] early experiments . . . were mostly failures. They soon recognized the advantage of importing slaves from the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa. . . . [They] were willing to pay higher prices for slaves from the “Rice Coast,” the “Windward Coast,” the “Gambia” and “Sierra-Leon”; and slave traders in Africa soon learned that South Carolina was an especially profitable market for slaves from those areas. . . . [They] ultimately adopted a system of rice cultivation that drew heavily on the labor patterns and technical knowledge of their African slaves. (3)

Under the duress of chattel slavery, these slaves contributed the knowledge and labor that made Carolina rich. Barbados had already demonstrated to the world, since the 1640s, that slave labor enforced by violence could bring great wealth.

Jonas Lynch, Thomas Lynch

Rice Cultivation in the South.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.  – Abraham Lincoln 

Coverage of President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address, a few days ago, has often included this passage from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, addressed to the crowd in 1963:

  • [M]any of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

The “destiny” part of this statement has been ironically true since the 1600s, when chattel slaves in South Carolina began teaching white planters how to grow rice. But what about the reciprocal and interwoven “freedom” between races? As a country, we’re still trying to figure that one out.

Next week:  Jonah’s son, Thomas Lynch. Rice plantations flourish, and slaves increase in number.


(1) Agnes Leland Baldwin, First Settlers of South Carolina, 1670-1680. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1969.

(2) Suzannah Smith Miles, East Cooper Gazetteer: History of Mount Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island, and Isle of Palms. History Press: May 2005. 26-27.

(3) Joseph A. Opala, The Gullah: Rice, Slavery, and the Sierra Leone-American Connection.