Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> A New Simms Letter of 1867 >> Page 3

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Correspondence | 1999
Transcription A Key New Simms Letter of 1867


James Everett Kibler

In 1998, a very significant Simms letter was acquired by purchase by the
South Caroliniana Library. From a time sparsely represented in the collected
Simms letters, this document details Simms's view of the post-war South from
its economics to its future. Desolation, distress, deprivation, and despair are its
themes.
Simms's fears of a "general massacre" were not ungrounded, and in fact
proved prophetic. In nearby Cainhoy, 300 extremist Republican blacks, led by
carpetbagger whites, shot, beat, and mutilated with axes white and black
Democrats at a political meeting. The Charleston News and Courier of 24
October 1876 gave extensive coverage to the massacre, including the reporting of
deaths of men and young boys hacked to death. For example,
Old Mr. Simmons, a decrepit man of seventy, took refuge in the
vestry, but [was] dragged out, chopped with an axe, broke, by
beating, almost all his bones, and then shot while lying on the
ground....As we picked him up the broken bones grated together,
though he was at the time twelve hours dead....The wounded were
lying in the [Cainhoy Brick Church] chapel, and every one of them
had been not only horribly mutilated, but they, as well as the dead,
had been robbed of their clothing....The mattresses were literally
soaked in blood. 1
This slaughter had followed recent mob violence in Charleston itself. As
the Courier of 7 September 1876 reported it, King Street "was for more than two
hours in full possession of a fierce mob of negroes, cursing the whites, and
savagely attacking and beating every white man who chanced to be on that street."
This was known as the King Street race riot of 1876. Simms's letter reveals that
his finger, as usual, was accurately taking the pulse of the current situation. His
forebodings and despair were thus not gratuitous.
The letter's addressee is as yet unknown. She does not appear in the
collected Simms letters. Neither is she mentioned in Simms's biography. She
likely hails from outside South Carolina, because Simms is filling her in on details in
in the state, and assuring her that the "accounts" she has had are accurate.
Apparently, she had heard something of Barnwell, and had heard some news of
the dire condition of one of its citizens. The Mr. Robert Martin of Barnwell was a
neighbor and distant acquaintance of Simms. Hallenquist is unidentified.


1 Gene H. Kizer Jr., "Slaughter at Cainhoy," Paper presented at the College of
Charleston 7 May 1998.