Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer

By Rod Andrew Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
THE PATRIARCHS

The intertwining concepts of honor, paternalism, and chivalry together defined everything that Wade Hampton III of South Carolina was supposed to be. When he entered the world on March 28, 1818, and received the name of his father and grandfather, his elders assumed and fervently hoped that he would represent the best of all three ideals—that he would be ferocious in defense of home and family; physically powerful; brave; honest (or at least publicly seen as such); an able master, provider, and protector of women, children, blacks, and poor whites; and zealous in defense of his personal reputation. All three ideals— paternalism, honor, and chivalry—rested on the assumption of his social superiority. He was to protect, lead, and command.

Wade Hampton III was sixteen years old when his grandfather, Wade Hampton I, died. Wade I had been one of the two important male elders in the boy’s life. The youngest Wade had no surviving uncles or greatuncles, and his siblings were all younger than he was. “Grandfather,” or “General Hampton,” as Wade III alternately referred to him, was the source of the family’s wealth, reputation, and social prominence. He was undoubtedly the most important authority figure in the Hampton clan, even after Wade III’s father reached adulthood and started his own family. Yet, as important as “Grandfather” was to young Wade, he usually exerted his influence from a distance. His plantation was only a few miles away from where the boy grew up, but in later years, his descendant rarely recalled spending time with him. Both in public and in private letters, he referred to his grandfather in terms of pride rather than love. Still, in an Old South society that venerated ancestors and their heroic feats, the story of the first Wade Hampton’s life was of the utmost importance to his descendants.1

When Wade Hampton I died at his home in Columbia in 1835, many people at the time believed that he was the wealthiest planter and slaveholder in the South. Yet Wade I had not always been wealthy. He had reached his lofty position in the southern aristocracy through a combination of battlefield valor, shrewd opportunism, and ruthless ambition. He was the fifth (surviving) son of Anthony Hampton, a “lesser planter,” militia captain, and frontier trader, and he had grown up with his four brothers and two sisters in the North Carolina backcountry. The

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