Monday, December 20, 2010

Descendants View South Carolinia Ordinance of Secession

Civil War: Remembering Secession Ordinance signers
Amid Old South nostalgia on 150th anniversary, some acknowledge signers unleashed war

The great-great-grandsons and great-great-granddaughters of the signers of the Ordinance of Secession, along with at least one cousin “four-times removed,” gathered Sunday to honor their ancestors and remember the 1860 convention in Columbia and Charleston that sparked the Civil War.

The United Daughters of Confederacy sponsored the memorial event, held at the S.C. Department of Archives and History, which displayed the historic document for the 200or so spectators. There was a wreath, a roll call of signers, ladies in period costume, salutes to the U.S., South Carolina and Confederate States of America flag, and a rousing chorus of “Dixie” at the conclusion.

But amid the Old South nostalgia was some acknowledgement that the signers — mostly powerful, wealthy, slaveholding men — had unleashed a bloody war that would leave the South devastated and destitute for generations.

Eric Emerson, agency director and state historic preservation officer of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, pulls out the original 1860 Ordinance of Secession from the climate controlled archives. Descendants of signers of the 1860 Ordinance of Secession gathered Sunday at the SC Department of Archives and History to hold a memorial service for the signers. The event, sponsored by the SC Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, is part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession.

“This was an act which carried with it a great price,” said David Rutledge, a descendant of the secession convention’s president David F. Jamison. “D.F. Jamison and men like him would sow the winds of war but it would be his wife, his children and his children’s children who would reap the whirlwind.”

Jamison himself would die during the war and his sons suffer. His family plantation, Burwood, was destroyed by Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, leaving Jamison’s wife, Elizabeth, and minor children in abject poverty, Rutledge, a Greenville attorney, told the gathering.

Another signer, John Saunders Palmer, lost two sons in the war. When a locket worn by his son James Palmer was returned to him, along with the bullet which killed him, John Saunders Palmer told his wife: “You take the locket, I’ll take the bullet — I’m the one who put it in him,” Rutledge recounted.

Everyone, it seemed, had a story to tell and at the reception following, many shared family stories handed down from generation to generation. Carol Perrin Cobb of Greenville and Jean Perrin Derrick of Lexington, great-great-grand-nieces of signer Thomas Charles Perrin, of Abbeville, had slightly different versions of the tale of their ancestor allegedly throwing the great seal of South Carolina into the Savannah River.

Cobb said she has never felt anything but pride in her ancestor’s participation in the secession convention and gets perturbed when others suggest their cause was tainted by the Confederates’ fierce adherence to slavery.

“They don’t realize that we were fighting the Revolutionary War again,” she said.

But Rutledge noted that the “good names of the signers have been sullied” over the last 50 years, a development he regrets.

Over those years, historians have delved more deeply into the causes and impact of the war and the federal Reconstruction period that followed, probed the lives of slaves and their descendants, and drawn connections to the civil rights era and 21st century politics.

As the sesquicentennial is marked in the state, Eric Emerson, executive director of the S.C. Department of Archives and History, hopes that people will develop “a deeper level of understanding” of secession and war that goes beyond the nostalgia and gets at the heart of one of the most turbulent and talked about periods in South Carolina history.

Rutledge said he would hope that that the “the names of our ancestors will be continued to be honored — by ourselves, by our children and by our children’s children.”

But he said his own children, in their 20s, have no interest in the Civil War.

About 75 descendants were among the 200 who attended the afternoon event, said Nita Keisler, registrar of the Mary Boykin Chesnut chapter of the UDC.

Most were graying, but there was at least one young descendant, who was a great-great-great-great-grandson of one of the signers.

Read more: