Facing Freedom: Anderson County’s Path Toward Reconstruction
This post is an excerpt from the temporary exhibit at the Anderson County Museum. We hope that you’ll come visit the exhibit to see the complete story.
The Nature of Slavery
When Anderson County was first carved out of the Upstate in 1826, slavery had long been present in the area. Some of the largest slave holding families from Pendleton District, and later Anderson County, included the Maxwells, Earles, and Calhouns. Robert Anderson, the Revolutionary after which our county was named, owned slaves on his plantation opposite Andrew Pickens’ famed Hopewell plantation on the Seneca River. Indeed, slaveholding became a firmly established way of life, encouraged by agricultural innovations that made profit all the more possible by the 19th century.
In addition to its economic advantage to white land owners, slavery as a system was reinforced religiously, socially, and politically. Many of South Carolina’s enslaved population had either entered the country as African captives through Charleston, or were born into slavery, descended from those ancestors. By 1860, Anderson County’s population was 37% enslaved, equating to approximately 8, 400 people who lived in about 1,200 dwellings. This meant that each dwelling held two to three families on average who were usually allotted a minimum in regards to food, clothing, and medicine.
Even before the nation’s founding, voices came out against slavery which eventually drew a line between slave and free states. By the mid-1800s those voices would grow loud enough to affect some tangible changes. Abolitionist movements were emboldened by instances of rebellion, stories of unbearable cruelty, and the lives of freed black citizens in both North and South who lived as examples of what freedom could look like in America.
Free People of Color in Anderson District
Though far fewer in number than their enslaved counterparts, Free People of Color (hereafter FPOC) did live in the Anderson District and left their own footprint on the white, slave owning society. The 1850 Census shows 99 FPOC living in the district and 160 by 1860, many with their own households, lands, and occupations. Several were free black and mulatto women living in their own homes with a racial mix of mulatto, black, and white children. These women were likely wives to those still enslaved or second families to white men. Free People of Color usually adhered to many of the same social structures as their white neighbors. They attended white churches (some of which had enslaved church members), bought land from whites, and engaged in business by selling their labor or goods.
The largest family of Free People of Color in the Anderson District were the Peytons. The Peytons were led by their matriarch, Fanny Peyton, who was born to a free white woman in the 1820’s. This family would go on to be prominent brick layers in the community and Amaziah, one of Fanny’s children, even had enough clout to sue two white men who refused to pay him for his work. This action forced him to leave town, unable to return until after the Civil War. Like most who lived in the District, many FPOC worked in agriculture, usually on family farms. However, several more worked in more skilled jobs such as dressmaking and tailoring or as barbers, mechanics, and blacksmiths.