By September, Charleston seethed with political activity. Following two Democratic meetings earlier in the week in which blacks explained why they had left the Republican Party, on the night of September 6 in Charleston, a black Democratic club held a meeting at Archer’s Hall on King Street. Two black speakers, including J.R. Jenkins, criticized the Republicans, including an insult to black women. After the meeting white Democrats escorted the last speaker from the meeting, and they were followed by Republicans who had heard the speech. The whites fired a pistol above the heads of gathering black Republicans but that attracted more African Americans, and fighting started. US troops escorted the black Democrats to safety, but the whites and police were outnumbered and could not quell the mob. Blacks continued to roam, looting on King Street and nearby, as the outnumbered police (a mixed group racially) could not quell their activity. They were escorted safely to The Citadel grounds at Marion Square. Unusually, more whites than blacks were injured in this riot; the one white death was attributed to a mistaken shot by a white man.
No Democratic rifle clubs intervened that evening after consultation with the police; they feared provoking a larger riot. Their officers met the next day, making a plan to have rifle clubs available at short notice every night when political meetings were held. Tensions remained high in the city. but their officers met the next day, and guns for sale in the city were quickly gone. Two nights later the Democrats met at Hibernian Hall without incident. The inability of Governor Chamberlain and the local law authorities to preserve the peace convinced the people of the state of the failure of Republican rule. Southerners portrayed the actions of freedmen as menacing, trying to win over public opinion in the North. Northerners found the continuing insurgency in the southern states to be disheartening. Historian Ehren K. Foley noted that the event “demonstrated the continued mobilization and strength of both the Republican party and the African American community in the low country of South Carolina. The event also demonstrated the willingness of both sides to deploy force for political ends.”
The Ellenton riot was reported to have started near Silverton in Aiken County. On September 15, Mrs. Alonzo Harley said two black men tried to attack her while her husband was working in the fields, but she grabbed her gun and drove them away. White citizens tracked down a man, Peter Williams, who was taken to the Hartleys for identification. When he tried to get away he was shot, but when Mrs. Hartley saw him, she said he was not the man who attacked her. Williams died of his wounds about a week later. While the incident was initially portrayed as racially based, it was connected to several other violent political incidents in the weeks before the 1876 election, in which white paramilitary groups in support of Democrats tried to suppress black Republican voting.
A warrant was issued for the arrest of Fred Pope, supposedly Williams’ accomplice. A posse of 14 white men was formed the next day. Pope was defended at Rouse’s Bridge by armed black men, and the whites retreated. By September 18, it was reported that 500-600 white men from Augusta and Columbia County, Georgia, members of rifle clubs or paramilitary groups, had entered the area. They attacked part of the Port Royal Railroad tracks, tearing up a portion. The white mobs spread out and killed freedmen working in fields, or hunted down or on the street. The official record of Deputy US Marshalls indicated between 25 and 30 black men were killed. A New York Times reporter in an article stated as many as 100 blacks were killed in the conflicts, which extended to September 21, with several whites wounded.
At the trial of some black men in May 1877, numerous witnesses testified that the whites had repeatedly said “they intended to carry the election [of 1876] if they had to wade in blood up to their saddle girths. Other testimony said that many of the white men involved were from Georgia and had openly said they had come into South Carolina to try to win the election of Wade Hampton III. This incident has not received as much attention from historians as other events of this period, such as the Hamburg Massacre, which occurred in Aiken County in July, perhaps because of the confusion as to the events, the duration of the troubles, and the total casualties.
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